I was 12 years old when it hit me that I could be too dark. Perhaps God had been a bit overeager with the melanin and where the manual said a pinch he threw it all in.
But the preacher says God doesn’t make mistakes…
I was walking through Tejuosho market that blazing hot afternoon and a couple of innocuous market women bored with the fact that they hadn’t made any sales all afternoon decided to shake the very core of my foundation perhaps for sport or maybe the way mothers do when they think they are doing what’s best for you.
“Sisi you too black”
“Come make we give you cream”
“Man no like black skin like this oh”
“No mind her black and shine, come make I give you the one wey go tone you small”
“This one go maintain your colour make you light small, all the big girls use it”
And so they hovered around like birds of prey while I tried desperately to escape their greasy palms.
Something changed that day and I became acutely aware that I had lived with these jibes for most of my life. My friends called me “Blacky shadow”, family often referred to my darker skin tone. I was often described as the black girl which wouldn’t have been weird if I lived abroad but I was somewhat bemused because everyone around me was black- well racially speaking.
I tried to fix my inadequacies by attaining flawless skin by hook or crook! Tried using my mom’s creams and soaps. Even reacted to one of them, a French cream given to her by a friend which turned out to be liquid soap and yours truly slathered it generously on her face before bed and woke up to swollen eyes and lips which took their damn good time to resolve. Or the time I had that one pimple and put an antiseptic soap on my face overnight and woke up with chemical burns! Had to wear my hair like a rockstar, obscuring most of my face and I got laughed at by the unkind kids in church. Needless to say, I was obsessed with my skin. That obsession steered me towards the path of Dermatology and fuelled my passion for dark skin activism.
Last year I decided my dermatology thesis would be on skin lightening because it was the elephant in the room. Every body knew somebody who was bleaching. The media celebrated it, dark skin actors and actresses were sidelined, the cosmetic industry was still making billions of dollars annually and NAFDAC had released a watery statement banning the use of mercury, hydroquinone and steroids in skin lightening agents but of course didn’t enforce it and the market still thrived. I even had medical colleagues that were bleaching- this was certainly going to be an unpopular topic.
Do you know that 77% of Nigerians are currently using skin lightening agents and research shows that the figures may be much higher.
Women who claim to be against bleaching are toning their skin to ‘maintain’ their colour. People are mixing steroid containing creams like Funbact-A into their body creams and acting surprised when their skin gets lighter. Like one woman said “I was lighter skinned as a child, it’s my true colour coming out”. But then she couldn’t understand why she suddenly had unsightly stretch marks.
People are free to do whatever they want with their skin so why am I so concerned with this?
The Federal Ministry of Health warns that smokers are liable to die young…
The Federal Ministry of Health warns that tobacco smoking is dangerous to health…
Boldly inscribed on every cigarette pack! Smokers are free to smoke but fully aware of the adverse effects. People who lighten their skin have no idea what they are signing up for. Research showed that less than a tenth of skin bleachers were aware of the side effects. I want the Federal Government to put inscriptions about the adverse effects of skin lightening on every bottle or jar of skin lightening cream sold in the market. Ignorance is killing Nigerians!
I watched a 25 year old girl die from kidney failure. She had been on maintenance dialysis but her kidneys couldn’t keep up. Her only risk factor was the use of skin lightening agents for a couple of years. She had started in secondary school because a guy she liked picked a lighter skinned classmate over her…
You can’t change the behaviour if you don’t change the perception.
Here are 20 adverse effects of use of skin lightening agents (the list is not exhaustive)
- Poor wound healing
- Skin discolouration (especially on the cheeks, feet and knuckles)
- Kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Ring worm and other fungal infections
- Stretch marks
- Recurrent boils and bacterial infections
- Thinning of the skin and increased skin fragility
- Heart valve infections (from intravenous injections of skin lightening agents)
- Sudden death from air embolism (from intravenous injections of skin lightening agents)
- Skin cancer
- Sun burns
- Increased redness of the skin
- Prematurely ageing skin
- Growth of unwanted hair on parts of the body like the chin and chest in women
- Body odour
- Worsening of pre-existing skin conditions like acne.
People have different thresholds and skin lightening agents have different strengths so people may experience these side effects with varying lengths of time. Some skin-lightening agents especially the newer ones like the organic brands and Glutathione may promise little or no side effects but one thing is for certain, if you strip away your melanin by using skin lightening agents, your skin will be more exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun and your risk of skin cancer and sun burns will definitely increase. Nature has established that those with more melanin live in places with greater sun exposure and that’s why the Caucasians with less melanin have a higher risk of skin cancer with prolonged exposure to the sun. Dear skin bleacher, you are now a Caucasian living under the blazing hot Nigerian sun. That mole may not be ordinary, have it checked out before it gets you!
There’s so much to say about skin lightening but for now I ask that you join my crusade by signing my petition to ban the sale of harmful skin lightening agents over the counter.
Young women and men need to know that their skin colour doesn’t define them. We are Africans and having black skin comes with the territory. Please follow my Instagram page @embracemelanininitiative to join the campaign.