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Colourism: The harmful beauty in Africa

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Despite the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) banning skin lightening cosmetics, the products are still sold in the backstreets of major towns in the country.

The banned cosmetics still find their way to the shelves of many beauty shops since the government fails to enforce the prohibition.

Skin lightening products are very popular in Africa with International Pharmaceutical Students’ Federation (IPSF) recording that 77 percent of women in Nigeria use the harmful products, followed by Togo with 59 percent, South Africa at 35 percent and Mali recording 27 percent.

This implies that producers of skin bleaching agents mint millions of dollars from African women who hope to ‘boost’ their beauty by being light skinned.

Skin lightening products that range from creams, lotions and soaps contain dangerous ingredients such as mercury, hydroquinone, high-dosage of steroids among others.

These ingredients hinder melanin, that gives skin its colour, but they harm the skin by making it weak to infections and vulnerable to skin cancer. They further cause kidney failure and premature aging to the users.

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However, some African governments are taking all precautionary measures to ensure that these cosmetics do not land in their markets.

Countries like Ghana, Rwanda, Ivory Coast, South Sudan, Tanzania, Burundi and South Africa have banned these dangerous cosmetics.

Although the bans have been gazetted in these countries, the enforcement is wanting as the products still flood the beauty industry.

Some countries, though, have gone to great lengths to ensure the products are taken off the shelves in a bid to secure the health of its citizens.

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For instance, at the beginning of the year Rwanda banned the skin lightening cosmetics after an outcry from the social media platforms.

To enforce the ban, government officials were sent across the country to seize the harmful products.

The operation was conducted by technical people with reinforcement from the police to ensure the process was conducted smoothly and safely.

In Nigeria, some women have rejected the use of these products in a campaign  dubbed as ‘Melanin Movement’ that aims to create awareness on the dangers of skin lightening cosmetics to health.

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Those who have bleached or lightened their skins, nonetheless, point their fingers to the immense pressure from the society on dark skinned people.

In the entertainment industry, for example, light people are highly favoured for roles in movies, music videos instead of their talents and qualifications for such jobs.

Recently, Kenyan TV siren Yvonne Okwara revealed in an interview that she was dismissed by being ‘too dark to be on television,’ however, she did not let the skin colour comments get into her path of achieving in her career.

There are, nevertheless,  natural ways of lightening a skin without causing more harm to the body organs with chemical products.

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The use of lemon juice, yogurt mask and washing the face with honey not only give the skin the natural glow, they are also beneficial to the health.

Although the results come gradually, they are better off than harmful cosmetics, as they saying goes, patience pays.

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Brenda Gamonde
Brenda Gamonde
Brenda Gamonde is reporter with Business Today. Email: [email protected]
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