Many African countries have banned skin bleaching products but the laws are not enforced as many skin whitening creams and soaps flood the markets in countries such as Ghana, Togo, South Africa, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire.
The products containing harmful chemicals such as mercury, cortisone and hydroquinone have been linked to skin cancer, high blood pressure, thinning of the skin, other forms of cancer, kidney and liver failure.
To curb the harmful effects of the products and to enforce the laws, Rwanda has deployed the Rwanda National Police (RNP) together with Ministry of Health, Rwanda Food and Drug Authority, Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), and Rwanda Standards Board (RSB) among other agencies to crackdown on 1,342 brands prohibited in Rwanda since 2013.
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“So far, we have seized 5,606 assorted pieces of banned bleaching products, including lotions, oils, toilet soaps and sprays. The illegal products were seized from beauty shops in Kigali, and Eastern, Northern and Western provinces where the operations have been conducted so far,” police spokesperson John Bosco Kabera was quoted by local media New Times.
The products they seized include Maxi-White, Skin White, Fair Light, Secret White, Diamond White, Carotene, Diproson, Caro Light, Clear Men, and Epiderm Crème.
The police said it will continue the operation to get the products off the shelves and to prevent importers from trafficking the products into the country.
“Right now the focus is getting them off the shelves and educating the people both on the law and dangers they pose to users, but at the same time strengthening operations on traffickers of these toxic skin whitening substances,” added the police spokesperson.
The operation was launched after President Paul Kagame joined in the debate on Twitter against the harmful skin bleaching products and ordered the police and health ministry to take action.
Despite all the campaigns against skin bleaching, Nigeria hosted American model, entrepreneur, socialite and former stripper, Blac Chyna, who launched a new skin bleaching cream in Lagos on November 25.
Blac Chyna, real name, Angela Renée White, launched the “Whitenicious X Blac Chyna Diamond Illuminating & Lightening Cream” produced in partnership with Whitenicious by Dencia, a luxury skin care line owned by a controversial Cameroonian singer, Dencia.
Her representatives told local American media that “she has been using Whitenicious dark spot corrector for a few years to deal with her hyperpigmentation” and the new product is for people of colour who suffer from skin issues. According to TMZ, a fancy jar goes for $250.
Cameroonian entrepreneur and singer Reprudencia Sonkey, popularly known as Dencia, has come under attack for her skin bleaching cream, Whitenicious, since its launch in 2014. Her luxury skin care products have been described as an “abomination” that teaches young girls to be ashamed of their skin.
The U.S. based artist has insisted on several platforms that the cream is only for covering blemishes and hyperpigmentation, but not to shame dark-skinned women.
“Some people they don’t feel confident, they don’t feel pure, they don’t feel clean with dark spots. I said seven-day, fast acting dark spot remover. It’s called reading comprehension. If people missed that class, then it’s not my fault. If they think that their whole body is a dark spot then fine, because that’s not how I feel,” she said in a television interview.
Dencia herself has gone through several phases of skin lightening and she looks light-skinned as compared to her previous dark skin.
Skin bleaching is a major problem in Africa and diaspora communities across the world. Many women and men go through the risk of lightening their skins to be regarded as “desirable and beautiful”.
The risks associated with skin bleaching inspired Minnesota public health advocate, Amira Adawe, who has made it her personal mission to seek out shops selling skin-bleaching creams and report their activities.
The Somali anti-skin bleaching crusader is a manager for the Children’s Cabinet of Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and host of a weekly radio show dubbed “Beauty-Wellness Talk.” She discusses the issues that prompt women to alter their skin including colourism, self-esteem, social media and self-hate.
There is still a high demand for skin bleaching products in Africa which have now been re-branded as “toning,” “dark spot correction” and “lightening” creams.