Published on November 15, 2012 | by Amy Tanikie-Montagnani


Skin bleaching’s darker side

The old age tradition, Ebony Magazine 1959 [Vieilles Annonces]

Skin bleaching and skin whitening is a very old tradition.

With women and men purchasing products all over the world, as well as undergoing vigorous  treatments, bleaching has become the quick fix for a lighter skin complexion.

The Secret Life of Bees by author Sue Monk Kidd addresses bleaching; in the midst of the African-American Civil Rights Movement in 1964, she writes “We can’t think of changing our skin color. Change the world – that’s how we gotta think.”

Celebrities such as Rihanna, Beyonce  Lil’Kim, Tyra Banks and Iman, have all been accused of skin bleaching, yet the truth behind these allegations is still unknown.

There is reason to believe that although icons appear lighter on the TV and in magazines, they aren’t actually lighter in the flesh.

This in itself is a reflection of the media’s digital modification process that alters the complexion, height and weight of icons, giving viewers a distorted vision of what celebrities actually look like.

Reasons why

There are various explanations as to why millions of women and men worldwide use bleaching and lightening creams.

Christopher A.D Charles writes that contemporary colourism processes, “have their roots in the European colonization of Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Middle East, and the Americas…[which was] informed by racism,” in the belief, he says, “that the Caucasian race is superior to other races.”

Although racism is the source of colourism, it is different in the sense that the former discriminates because of race, and the later because of skin colour.

Charles adds that, “The complexion consensus empowers light-skinned people with more opportunities, status, and prestige in nearly all societies, as well as social class, social networks, and educational attainment.”

“I want to destroy and fight and humiliate every person in power who has ever made a black girl think she is ‘too dark” Carlos Andres Gomez

As Comedian Chris Rock once said, “I love being famous. It’s almost like being white,” underpinning the view that the values and norms of the complexion consensus influence some people to bleach their skin.

Whatever the reasons, it seems that lots of women feel they cannot live without their skin bleaching products.

On the online forum, a member wrote: “I have a crazy addiction,” while another typed, “the moment when I run out of the last bit I had. I rush to Ebay and buy more.”


The dangers of using products to help lighten the skin such as glycolic acid, especially by young people should not be ignored. On the skin lightening site one user writes “I was fifteen years old, and used some glycolic peel that burned my face and left it dis-coloured. Since then I joined this board on my quest to heal my skin.”

One blogger Carlos Andres Gomez vented on his blog of the outrage he felt after walking past a shop in Manhattan, New York, which sold a product called, ‘Skin Whitenizer’ and had a giant poster of the merchandise on its shop door.

Gomez writes: “It takes me probably five minutes to process my shock and then convince myself that it’s actually real.” After entering the shop he says he sees, “close to four hundred bottles of the Skin Whitenizer next to the checkout area, along with another smaller poster advertising the skin bleach, taped directly to the register.

“A survey carried out by the British Skin Foundation, found that 16% of dermatologists believe lightening creams are ‘completely unsafe’ and 80% feel they are only safe when prescribed by a dermatologist.” NHS

“It’s clear that it’s a hot seller.” Gomez continues, how after having ripped the poster down, he screams at the people behind the counter, “This is the reason people hate themselves, people kill themselves, people kill each other. You’re contributing to people dying … how does that feel?”

Even though he knows this may be slightly dramatic, he says he cannot help but, “want to rip up every poster and empty every bottle and cry and scream.” He goes on: “I want to destroy and fight and humiliate every person in power who has ever made a black girl think she is ‘too dark’.”

He continues: “Every person on Facebook (after I posted the picture of the Skin Whitenizer) who referenced white people getting tans and how it was ‘like the same thing’.” except he says, “white people are the dominant group and the history of getting tans is rooted in signifying wealth and leisure, of exotic vacations and all that has to do with elevated socioeconomics and status and power.”

Gomez concludes that the advertising of skin bleaching cream is, “an act of the most horrific aggression, a weapon that terrorizes us all, but most harshly targets those who are disenfranchised and oppressed, convincing us the greatest lie ever told:You are not enough.” But apart from the ethical reasons opposing skin bleaching, the practice-particularly of using non-medical, over the counter products can present some serious health risks.

The quick fix for a lightened complexion [Teral Atilan]

The NHS warns, “A survey carried out by the British Skin Foundation, found that 16% of dermatologists believe lightening creams are ‘completely unsafe’ and 80% feel they are only safe when prescribed by a dermatologist.”

“Unfortunately, many skin-lightening creams contain illegal compounds that can damage your health,” says Indy Rihal of the British Skin Foundation. “The most common compounds are high-dose steroids” and some creams also contain hydroquinone, a bleaching agent that is banned from use in cosmetics.

The NHS warn that skin lightening can cause health problems including; thinning of skin, uneven colour loss-leading to a blotchy appearance, redness, intense irritation and (to the contrary of what some users believe) permanent bleaching of the skin.

The more serious side-effects of skin bleaching can even include mercury poisoning, and even though skin bleaching can be permanent (unlike people obsessed with sunbeds to darken their complexion-a practice; which will normally fade after a few weeks) both practices run the risk of causing/making its user more susceptible to the development of skin cancer.

People should never feel internal or external pressure to change the colour of the skin in which they were born, afterall, to quote writer Mark Twain, “the hearts of men are about alike, no matter what their skin colour.”


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