Written by Jide Ojo - Nigeria
"Say it loud - I'm black and I'm proud"
- R&B legend, James Brown in his 1968 album.
Can you believe that the World Health Organisation has adjudged Nigeria as the country with the highest number of women who use skin-lightening products in the world? In a recent skin bleaching snap survey conducted by NOI Polls from February 3 - 5, and published on March 18, 2014 in Abuja, the polling agency said the assessment result confirms the submission of WHO on the endemic nature of skin bleaching among Nigerian women.
Recall that a report in The Vanguard newspaper of June 3, 2013 had said the WHO had indicated that 77 per cent of women in Nigeria use skin-bleaching products being the highest in the world. The figure compares with 59 per cent in Togo, and 27 per cent in Senegal. Asians are facing a similar trend as 4 out of 10 women in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan use a skin-whitening cream.
The NOI Polls report reads, "Latest snap poll results released by NOI Polls have revealed that 64 per cent of Nigerians are of the opinion that skin bleaching has become highly predominant in the country, especially amongst Nigerian females (97 per cent). This finding supports the claim by the World Health Organisation that Nigeria has the highest number of women that use skin-lightening products in the world. The poll further revealed that despite the negative effects of skin bleaching affirmed by 83 per cent of respondents; the top reasons why people still engage in the practice of skin bleaching are the need to "look beautiful" (35 per cent ) and to "look attractive to the opposite sex" (32 per cent). Skin bleaching was also reported as being mostly predominant amongst Nigerians within the age groups of 18-25 years (48 per cent) and 26-40 years (43 per cent). In addition, respondents identified some of the negative effects associated with skin bleaching to include "skin cancer" (35 per cent) and "skin damage" (25 per cent)".
After reading the report, I went on YouTube and listened attentively to the "Yellow Fever" song of the iconic AfroBeat musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. In that song released in 1976, the inimitable social crusader using pidgin English as a medium of communication identified different types of fever - malaria, jaundice, hay, influenza, inflation, freedom and yellow - and bifurcated yellow fever into original and artificial.
He then chronicled the different symptoms of the original and metaphorically equated skin bleaching as artificial yellow fever. He also described the signs of the artificial "yellow fever" as well as the damaging effects on the skin. He called bleaching "stupid thing, yeye thing, ugly thing, foolish thing". I couldn't agree more with him. With the latest NOI Polls and WHO report on skin bleaching among Nigerian women, it would seem the Abami Eda's (Fela's nickname) warning about the dangers of bleaching has gone unheeded. Pity, sad pity!
Let's do a little dissection of the NOI Polls. I must state categorically that it is not only young girls or ladies that bleach their skins. Older women and indeed boys and men do too. The only difference is that the preponderance is more among young ladies. As rightly pointed out by the NOI Polls, "People of all ages, races, complexions, and social class participate in this global practice regardless of gender or level of education". Skin bleaching is said to be predominant among youths 18 - 40 years old. Yet, it is not as if they are not aware of the dangers inherent in skin bleaching as respondents were able to identify skin cancer and skin damage as two likely consequences of skin lightening. Why then do people indulge in this dangerous habit? The answer lies in the respondents' view that people persist in skin bleaching because they believe it makes them look "beautiful and more attractive to the opposite sex". This is all balderdash!
From my knowledge of this issue, skin bleaching is a delusional fantasy. Toning or bleaching neither makes the practitioners beautiful or more attractive. Rather, it makes them look repulsive and ugly. I remember we call them derogatory names such as "Yellow pawpaw" or someone with "Fanta face and Coke legs" as they have black patches all over their yellowish skin and when they sweat, they have body odour. I also learnt that in the event of a need to conduct surgery on someone with bleached skin, it's usually difficult to suture them as the skin would have become very fragile.
An internet source: http://www.indiaparenting.com/beauty/article.cgi?art_id=309 listed 14 risks of skin bleaching to include the followings: Dark grey spots; skin cancer; acne; swelling of the skin; thinning of the skin; cataracts; setting down of fat on face, chest, upper back and stomach; increase in appetite and weight gain; osteoporosis; neurological and kidney damage due to high level of mercury used in the creams; psychiatric disorders; severe birth defects; asthma; and liver damage. Some of these side effects could be seen almost immediately while some are seen after a prolonged use of skin whitening creams.
Quite unfortunately, skin bleaching products do not come cheap. Bleaching soaps and creams are expensive yet we have this huge number of Nigerians indulging in it. In case you're hell-bent on having a flawless and fair skin, my research reveals that there are natural ways of going about it. Some of the means suggested include dietary change, increased consumption of water, use of limes and lemons, and appropriate application of cleansers.
It states that, "Diet is the most important part that you should take care of if you want a flawless skin. Take away all refined food products and replace them with healthy and nutritious ones. Increase your intake of water. This helps keep the skin free of dehydration and so the look is healthy and unblemished. Take proper care of cleaning your skin. Choose the product that is natural and effective. Pay attention to exfoliating your skin from time to time so that you get rid of the dead skin; lastly, citric acid is natural bleach and will help you have a lighter skin time without any side effect. You can make a face mask with lime juice, few drops of glycerin and flour to make a paste. Apply this on your face and leave for 20 – 30 minutes. Wash with normal water."
Above all, it is important for those wanting to lighten or bleach their skin whether in a natural or artificial way to first seek counsel with their dermatologist so that their craze for beauty does not turn to disgrace and regrets. As for me and my household, we're black and proud!