For centuries, skin bleaching has been the “it factor”. Skin bleaching is very popular in Nigeria, it is what is trending for both men and women. Many people have different reasons for why they bleach, however it all comes down to society and it’s pressures. Some places, like Nigeria emphasize on being light skin. The lighter tone men and women are always preferred. When watching old Nigerian movies, one can tell how harshly dark skin women were treated. Most women at the time, or even now still feel like being light skin can only help them, whether it’s on the topic of love, work, and being social.
Skin bleaching is mainly popular in African, Caribbean, and Asian countries. A 2009 global analyst report showed that the skin bleaching industry was worth $10 billion, rising to $23 billion in 2020. The world health organization also reported that 77% of Nigerian women use skin lightening products regularly, Togo women at 59%, South Africa at 35%, Senegalese women at 27%, and Malian women at 25%. These percentages show how deep skin bleaching is affecting beauty standards.
Bleaching has become not just a want, but a necessity for some. Nigerian women will rather struggle to look for money to buy bleaching products than money for food. It is an addiction that has taken over the minds of thousands of people, having total control over them. Many people do not see anything wrong in preferring light skin over dark skin, it’s just a norm to some. Some people resort to skin bleaching because of hyperpigmentation, vitiligo, or other skin conditions. However once the situation is taken care of, it is hard for some to stop using the bleaching products. From there, they are hooked on it for life.
This ideology of light skin being better than dark skin did not just come out of nowhere. The act of colorism dates back to slavery where the dark-skinned slaves had to work outdoor- in the fields. Whereas, the light skinned slaves were indoors, closer to their masters. White people saw light skin slaves superior to dark skin slaves because they were closer to the pale complexion.
Although it is very popular now, skin bleaching can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, and Greeks. These civilizations used honey and olive oil to lighten their skin. The Greeks also used vinegar and white lead. Relating to these, women use ceruse, arsenic wafers or products that contain lead and mercury. These products are extremely poisonous, but people still use them to get a paler look. Now in modern day, there are various skin bleaching agents such as creams, soap, chemical peels, pills, or even laser therapy.
Although people are made aware of the effects of skin bleaching it is still popular. Skin bleaching can cause life threatening illnesses like kidney failure, lung damage, and increased probability of getting skin cancer. If all of this sounds bad, then why do people still use it till today?
Some people do not see anything wrong with it because being lighter makes them more desirable to others, it gets them the attention they need. Skin bleaching or colorism isn’t just affecting Africa, it’s worldwide. I remember in middle school there was the light skin VS dark skin period. This mentality also dates back slavery and colonialism. Even till today, some men prefer to only date light- skin women. It is sad that in 2021, people are still experiencing this. In 2020, Netflix released a movie called Skin starring Beverly Naya. The movie focused on colorism and exposed how and why some people bleach their skin. However, the movie in a way condenses the women who bleach. It puts blame, and judges those who bleach, which in a way is ignorant and turns a blind eye on the actual reason people bleach. Not being light skin in Nigeria makes dark skin women handicapped. Not for adults, but it happens among children too. At school, peers call each other ugly because they’re dark skin, making the ideology continue to live on. However, it is not their fault. In a way, those that bleach their skin can be seen as victims. Victims of society and its pressures, they can’t be blamed. Judging those that bleach will not help the problem, but informing them about the effects of bleaching. When how you look is deemed unacceptable or ugly, you almost do not have a choice but to conform to society’s standards. Societal standards have lowered people’s confidence, and ideas for the true meaning of beauty.
Adamu, N., & Said, A. (2019, March 21). Colonialism and the origins of skin bleaching. Wellcome Collection. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://wellcomecollection.org/articles/XIfdHRAAAKbQ_FWB.
Adamu, N., & Said, A. (2019, March 28). The desire for lighter skin. Wellcome Collection. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://wellcomecollection.org/articles/XJENpBAAAHUXJHC_.
Santos-Longhurst, A. (2019, July 22). Skin bleaching products and procedures: Side effects and benefits. Healthline. Retrieved November 20, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/skin-bleaching.
Naya, Beverly. Skin. 2019