Kenyan socialite Vera Sidika. The use of skin-bleaching products by local celebrities, socialites and social media influencers might drag the fight as many young people compete to having fair skin which they consider as 'beautiful.'

East African governments are set to ban the use of bleaching products which are considered harmful to the health of customers.

The beauty products sold in many cosmetic shops in the region are made with harmful chemicals such as mercury that cause chronic ailment to the consumers over a period of time.

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) on May 15 passed a resolution calling for a region-wide ban on the manufacturing and importation of products containing dangerous ingredients.

The harmful cosmetics have been a point of concern in the recent past with those using the products pointing fingers at the society for the pressure to having a fair skin.

It is this said pressure that made Africans, especially the young generation, a targeted market for these dangerous goods.

If signed by heads of state, the ban becomes law in all six East African Community states, which include Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

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Suzan Nakawuki, a member of the regional assembly from Uganda, noted that hydroquinone is not only used by women but also men.

“We have seen men bleaching seriously even more than women, it’s becoming a problem. If we don’t regulate it, it is going to become very problematic,” she said.

{ Read: Colourism: The harmful beauty in Africa }

Of this six countries, only Uganda has not banned the importation of the said products.

However, the ban on the five countries with exception of Rwanda have not received a fully backed enforcement hence leading to the illegal goods finding their way back to the market.

The ban has led to the cosmetic industry to take a nose dive a clear indication for the high demand of the skin-lightening products.

Kenyan lawmaker Aden Abdikadir said he is concerned a blanket ban will cause “serious trade disruption” for cosmetics.

“We stopped stocking the products that the government said were affecting the health of the consumers. Since then, the sales have been on the low unlike before the ban,” lamented Ms Njeri, a cosmetic trader in Nairobi.

Her thoughts were echoed by another vendor Ms Mwangi who added, “Our customers are still asking when are we bringing those cosmetics. We have lost a lot of customers who have now turned to beauty shops in the estates that are secretly selling the banned goods. Business is not as good as before.”

{ See also: Dr Joyce Gikunda: From pharmacist to beautician }

Another trader said that the move is hurting their businesses but saving health for many Kenyans who were addicted to using skin-lightening products.

“Many women will put in extra efforts to change the colour of their skin and after few years you see them suffering trying to conceal the damages caused by the products which is very visible and can cause people to stare,” said Ms Wambora.

In the city, the banned products have gradually been shed off from the shop shelves with owners living in fear of their businesses being closed by the government when found still selling the banned products.

At a beauty parlor in Arusha, 52-year-old Rose Mselle has been using skin-bleaching products since she was a teenager. She says women like her want to be beautiful, reported Voice of America.

“And in the process of looking for beauty, or for our skin color to shine, we use things that we shouldn’t,” she added.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) last year banned over 100 skin-lightening products including body lotions, soaps and creams that contained hydroquinone and mercury.

{ See also: Skin expert weighs in on the dark side of tattoo }

However, the use of skin-bleaching products by local celebrities, socialites and social media influencers might drag the fight as many young people compete to having fair skin which they consider as ‘beautiful.’

Various photo features on phones and social media also cement the idea that fair skin in ideal courtesy of their many filters that alter looks of a person.

The health consequences of using skin-lightening products are of little concern to the young generation, but the impact of the addiction comes later with serious or chronic ailments such as skin cancer.

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

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