SKIN BLEACHING: Why skin care products are in high demand in Nigeria with over 70 million customers

Skin bleaching also called skin lightening or skin whitening is the use of cosmetic products & procedure to achieve overall lighter complexion of the skin. This aims to improve the appearance of a dark skin or ark patches on the skin to make it lighter.

According to a report by Aljazeera, Nigeria has the highest percentage of women using whitening skin care products in the world. In another report by VOA Media, more than 70 million Nigerians use skin-lightening products. According to a 2011 statistics by World Health Organization, 76 Million Nigerians, mostly women (77%), use whitening skin care products. The beauty industry in Nigeria is worth over $4Billion, as at the Spring of 2019, predicted to increase by 8-10% yearly; this shows how viable that industry is in Nigeria. The costs of skin care products range from as little as N2000 to as high as N200000, depending on brand and potency of the product.

Ojota, a town in Lagos, known as the chemical headquarters of Lagos state has seen a surge in the retail of selling skin care products & chemicals in the last 3 years; this doesn’t look like dropping any time soon. In 2018, American video vixen, Blac chyna traveled to Nigeria to promote her franchised bleaching creams, as she saw a booming market for her product.

Ethnicity & skin color

Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country, made up of diverse tribes within an ethnic group, in the six geo-political zones. Of these tribes:

  • The Igbos of the South-East have a lot of light-skinned persons.
  • The South-South region also has many light skinned persons especially the Urhobos & Isokos.
  • The Yorubas are naturally historically dark-skinned; however in recent times, through inter-marriage they have produced lots of light skinned children.
  • A large number of Fulanis from the North are light-skinned, which is one major feature that separates them from the Hausas, outside their languages.
  • The Hausa are very dark skinned. It’s usually very difficult to see a light-skinned Hausa man 0r woman.

These days, it’s becoming very difficult not to find light-skinned persons in any part of Nigeria. Dark skinned Nigerians are really pulling their weights in turning light, in a bid to join the ‘societal vogue’. What are the likely causes of this bias?

Societal Perception

The statement ‘white is Right’ during the colonial era, has shifted from a political point of view into a daily reality. Worldwide, light skinned people are viewed as superior to dark skins. This is seen in Europe and Western Nation, as the Whites are seen as superior to the blacks. This is a fight that has been pre-colonial era till date. This psychological effect has sub-consciously been sold in to that hearts of an average person irrespective of his race or ethnicity.

Nigerian and PhD researcher at University of Manchester, Edward Ademolu stated that the issue of colorism is an intra-racial complexion-based hierarchy that affords societal, cultural, and economic privileges & favoritisms towards lighter-skinned people, fostering discrimination against those with darker skin complexion.

‘In post-colonial Africa, there is still a premium on light skin. Whiteness is something many Africans aspire to and light skin still has social capital” – Shingi Mtero , lecturer at Rhodes University, South Africa

It is believed that in Nigeria inclusive, Men are easily attracted to fair girls than dark girls. Infact some women claim they have lost their husbands, fiancés to these light skin girls. Therefore, to overcome this, they have to bleach to save their relationships / attract guys to themselves. This attraction towards light-skinned girls didn’t start now; in his 1961 song ‘Omo Pupa’, musical legend Victor Olaiya sang about his desire as a man for a light skin woman.

In some tribes in Nigeria, the bride price you pay for a light-skinned girl is higher than that of a dark-skinned girl. Infact, it is also perceived that light-skinned girls are cleaners, more hygienic than dark skinned girls. This is one factor influencing the ‘prostitution industry’. Sex workers say Men patronize fair girls compared to darker ones. So they have to position themselves as hot cakes in demand, and one of the key ways these is achieved is by having a light skin, as customers are easily attracted to the fair ones. Hence, dark skinned sex workers have to bleach their skin to be part of the ‘gold rush’.

Entertainment Industries

The Entertainment industry is one where a dark skinned person won’t be allowed to be effectively accepted, except the person is light skinned. They get traumatized when they get rejected in some industries because of their skins.

For years, there have been talks about the Nollywood’s obsession for light-skinned actress especially from melanin ones, who claim they don’t always have a chance to get movie contracts because of their skin color. Though unconfirmed, the numbers of light skinned actress majorly those playing key roles are more than dark skinned actresses. We also want to believe this is one reason actresses are one of the key patronizers of these skin care products. Nigerian Model & actress Goodness Ben once said that bleaching her skin increased her chances of getting more movie role, which will help her get famous.

Music as well as Movie directors usually say that light skin girls appear better on screen than dark skin girls.

Even in corporate world, anecdotally, women with lighter skin are more successful in securing certain jobs and attaining certain positions than those with darker skins. Marketing & sales department in the bank is a good example.

The Influence Public Figures

It should be recounted that late Mrs Stella Obasanjo (former first lady) was an ‘influencer’ of the first bleaching & skin care ‘surge’ amongst the female populace in Nigeria.

Actresses, Video vixens on social media influencers are one of the key influencers of the bleaching movement in Nigeria. Put on your Tvs, and you will see how many celebs and public figures especially women are all whitening their skins and promoting the use of these products through adverts.

The influence of social media

The wave of the moment on social media platforms like Instagram & Tik-Tok is the ‘influencers business’, whereby you gain lots of followers for the content you dish out. Fashion & Lifestyle are hot cakes on these platforms and one aspect of these making waves is in the aspect of Beauty, where skincare comes in place. Infact, Females are the most populous in this social networks as they use their

Instagram is one platform where the sale of these Skin care products is so evident, leading to a high in demand of these products. Female influencers such as video vixens, actresses, etc. are used to promote these products, something many young millennial and Gen Z see it as the order of the day.

Should we be worried as a people?

In as much as looking good is awesome, the craze in the adoption & use of whitening skin care products should be worrisome to the Nigerian Populace at large.

  1. Many people are doing this for the wrong reasons and motivation, which is becoming an excess. The aftermath of skins that have bleached is so bad, as patches and different colors are seen on those skins. This is even worse if one can’t continue to buy these skin products for maintenance due to financial constraints.
  2. Medically, many of these products haven’t been well tested in the laboratory, hence can lead to a rise in skin cancer. Bleaching creams contain chemicals such as hydroquinone, corticosteroids, mercury, etc. These products have lasting negative effects on the skin such as kidney failure, adnormal skin odor, skin cancer, excessive sweating, poor wound healing, aging faster, etc.
  3. Many ladies are getting worried & depressed because they want to look like their friends, actresses, etc. who are light skinned but they can’t afford the products. Many have resulted into criminal activities, prostitution and some delinquent activities in order to raise money to join the train of those that bleach their skins.
  4. This craze is a sign of inferiority complex as many people are not proud of their dark skins, but see the light skinned ones as superior particularly in beauty.

Putting a control

Celebs and Influencers should be educated on this issue and be used as major influence to encourage people with dark skin. In recent times, musicians have been singing about the beauty of the dark or brown skinned girl. Grammy Award winner, Burna boy, verbally attacked American video vixen, Blac chyna for coming to promote bleaching creams, which was followed by attacks from dark skinned girls in Lagos. Infact, dark skinned Nigerian ladies have started a movement called ‘Melanin Movement’, to repel the idea that ‘lighter is better’. This is also aimed at giving every lady, irrespective of her skin color equal chance in any industry they find themselves.

In 1976, Afrobeat King & Legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti mocked women who bleach with his legendary song ‘Yellow Fever’. Patoranking & Olamide in their collaboration also teased and mocked ladies who bleach with their song ‘Bora’.

Ghana and Rwanda are some of the African countries that have banned whitening creams in their country. However, Medical Doctor and founder of Flying Doctors Nigeria, Dr Ola Brown stated in an article with CNN that “Banning bleaching products will not completely solve the problem of unsafe skin bleaching unless other measures are also put in place. African women don’t bleach their skins because they are vain, rather it because fair skin is often seen as more attractive & provides them with an economic advantage”.

The Nigerian Government has a huge role to play in this. They need to work with the media & NGOs to spread the awareness of the negative effects of bleaching, regulating production of skin care products and encouraging dark skin person to be proud of their skins. Employments at work places should be given on merits and not based on your skin color. That isn’t different from Racism and it should be sternly discouraged.

‘Black is beautiful’ is a narrative that has to be ingrained in the hearts of the average Nigerian either light skin of dark skin. It is to tell the light skin persons they are not superior to the dark skin ones, while encouraging the dark skins ones to be proud of their skin color.

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