What’s Wrong With Skin Bleaching? 


Image of Azaelea Banks posted both on her Intagram and on the page of Whitenicious. 

Artist Azealia Banks, who’s no stranger to controversy, recently posted a photo on her Instagram account that had people asking if she was bleaching her skin.  She proudly stated on social media that she is using the product Whitenicious.  The company posted a thank you for her promotion and openly stated that they did not pay her for an endorsement.  This was done on her own accord.

Banks has been widely criticized for her decision to use skin bleaching products, especially because of her outspoken views on racism and cultural appropriation. How can a proud dark-skinned black woman suddenly succumb to beauty standards that say lighter is better?   She is being called out by fans. She recently responded with a 20 minute Facebook Live video defending her decision. She says that skin bleaching isn’t much different than a person who chooses to get plastic surgery. I disagree.

A couple of months ago, Rapper L’il Kim posted unrecognizable images of herself on both her Facebook and Instagram accounts. Her skin tone obviously lighter.  She has noticeably had plastic surgery over the years and the lightened skin seemed to be the final straw for a lot of fans.

L’il Kim as she appears in photos she posted on her social media.
Before on the right with her chocolate brown skin and and after skin bleaching on the left. L’il Kim’s skin is obviously changed.

The conversation about skin bleaching is not new. In fact Michael Jackson was often accused of bleaching his skin when in reality he suffered from the skin disease Vitiligo, which is a condition where white patches appear on the skin because the pigment forming cells(melanocytes) in the body are destroyed.

Some of my Caucasian (White) readers may have not heard of or been exposed to this conversation of skin bleaching before. Well for those who don’t know, millions of people of colour around the world use skin care products that remove the pigmentation in the skin. “Why?” you ask. Well because for centuries the ideal beauty standard brainwashed on the entire world is that white and lighter skin is better. Images depicted in global media reflect a primarily white ideal.  People have been made to believe that the lighter their skin the better and more successful they will be.

fair and white

Fair & White skin lightening product I saw in Ghana that promises to have whiter skin in 14 days.

Skin bleaching products are the top beauty product in so many countries including Nigeria, Ghana, India, Jamaica and so many more.  According to the World Health Organization’s 2013 report, 77% of women in Nigeria use sking bleaching products. In other countries like Togo it’s 59% and in Senegal 27%.  Meanwhile there are whites who go sun tanning and use artificial tanning beds and creams to darken their skin for a ‘glow’. How ironic.

People who bleach their skin are often accused of hating themselves and their entire race. Some argue it’s just another way of altering oneself for the sake of beauty and isn’t much different than other things women do to alter their appearance.  I disagree on this one.

If we put aside the arguments of race and self-hatred, there is the very real health concern with using these products. Many of the bleaching creams on the black market or sold on shelves in many developing countries have no regulations. Products are being sold with high concentrations of toxic chemicals. Many products are smuggled into Canada, the U.S. and UK and sold in local shops frequented by certain communities.

Mainstream brands like Ambi, are products with very low levels of hydroquinone, one of the main ingredients in skin bleaching products. These kind of brands are designed to help people fade dark spots that have resulted from things like acne, minor cuts or surgery. They follow the FDA regulations as to what levels of these ingredients are allowable without posing a serious health risk. Most over the counter creams designed to brighten dark spots have 2% hydroquinone or less. In order to obtain concentrations up to 4% a person would need a prescription from a dermatologist. But many of the bleaching products used have dangerously high levels of hydroquinone and other toxic chemicals.

Before you consider bleaching your skin you should read these 6 reasons why it’s not a good decision and puts your health at risk.

1. Contains Steroids

Did you know that these bleaching creams often have prescription strength steroids in them? When applied to your skin frequently and often eventually your skin will become so thin you will experience easy bruising and all the blood vessels in your skin become more visible.

2.Skin Cancer

Yes. Skin cancer is a possible side effect of continued use of skin bleaching creams.

3.  Neurological Damage

High levels of mercury in unregulated or black-market products,  can lead to severe damage of the nervous system.

4. Damages Kidney Function

Everyone knows how important the kidneys are to the human body. Excessive and regular use of unregulated skin bleaching creams can lead to toxins in the body that can damage your kidney function.

5. Mercury Poisoning

Some of these creams also contain mecury which is known to cause serious damage to a person’s health.  Because of regular application the high levels of mercury in some of these unregulated creams can seep into your bloodstream through your sking. Mecury in high levels can cause damage to the brain, liver, lungs and your immune system.

6. Refractory Pigmentation

This you’ve probably noticed. When a person bleaches they get these noticeably dark patches and blotches that are significantly darker than the obviously lightened skin. Or when a person stops using the product and there areas of the skin that become darkened or darker than prior to using the products.

skinbleach effects
Woman with damaged skin from skin bleaching. (Image: thewhitewashfactory.tumblr.com)

Everyone must learn to love themselves and not allow the ideals of one race become your ideal standard.  When you look at who colonized the majority world, those countries forced their ideals onto other societies. In the process it has left its mark so strongly that the ideals persist in media today.

women smiling
Women of different shades of brown. We must love who we are. (Image by © Jack Hollingsworth/Blend Images/Corbis)



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