Entrenched in the minds of many Africans from a young age is the adage “if it’s white, it’s all right”, a belief that has chipped away at the self-esteem of millions.
In many parts of Africa, lighter-skinned woman are considered more beautiful, are believed to be more successful and more likely to find marriage.
This situation is similar in Asia.
The origin of this belief in Africa is not clear, but researchers have linked it to Africa’s colonial history where white skin was the epitome of beauty.
Some have also suggested that people from “brown nations” around the world tended to look down upon dark-skinned people.
The WHO estimates that up to 70% of women across the continent are using skin lightening creams. But, numerous men have begun venturing into what used to be a thing for women.
The World Health Organization also reported that Nigerians are the highest users of such products: 77% of Nigerian women use the products on a regular basis. They are followed by Togo with 59%; South Africa with 35%; and Mali at 25%.
Research has linked colourism to smaller incomes, lower marriage rates, longer prison terms, and fewer job prospects for darker-skinned people but how true is this?
The dangers associated with the use of some of these skin-lightening creams include blood cancers such as leukaemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys, as well as a severe skin condition called ochronosis, a form of hyper-pigmentation which causes the skin to turn a dark purple shade, according to a senior researcher at the University of Cape Town who spoke to NetbuzzAfrica.com
Skin-lightening is not just a fascination and obsession of women. Some men are currently using special injections to bleach their skin. Each injection lasts for at least six months and it comes with health implications as well.In a bustling African market, it is skin lighteners galore as more women are seen with uncharacteristically light skin faces while the rest of their bodies are darker. Some even have scabby burns on their cheeks from the harmful chemicals used to strip the skin of pigmentation. But they don’t want to speak openly about why they bleach their skin.
Local dermatologists say they are seeing more and more patients whose skin has been damaged by years of bleaching – most of the time irreversibly while psychologists say there are also underlying reasons why people bleach their skin – but low self-esteem and, to some degree self-hate, are a common thread.