What is skin bleaching or skin lightening? Skin bleaching is a practice of using chemical substances in an attempt to lighten the skin or provide an even skin color by reducing the melanin concentration in the skin.

How skin bleaching/ skin lightening end up being considered by African countries women? Society and social media had this stereotype where lighter skin girls is considered more beautiful, desirable and valuable than darker skin. This is a result of the historical oppression and discrimination of people of color by white, who associated whiteness with purity, civilization, and power, and blackness with impurity, savagery, and inferiority. This hierarchy of skin color has led to the widespread practice of skin bleaching or lightening, which can have harmful effects on physical and mental health.

In a number of African countries, between 25% and 80% of women regularly use skin whitening products such as Betasol, Carotone, Movate, Bio Claire while others use substance such as Glutathione which is the most common agent taken by mouth or injection in an attempt to whiten then skin.

South African actors and youth mostly use skin bleaching products even elders too, trying to look beautiful and fair in completion while desiring softer skin and wanting to conceal discolorations and raising from pimples, rashes or chronic skin conditions.

Several chemical substances have been found to be effective in skin whitening but some have been proven or suspected to be toxic. This includes compounds containing mercury which can cause neurological and kidney problems . These products also contain collagen, which can be harmful to the skin.

Different types of side effects can cause by skin bleaching “creams”, Glutathione injection and whitening pills:

  1. Acne
  2. Stretch mask
  3. Skin cancer
  4. Hyperpigmentation or Patchy depigmentation
  5. Sun sensitivity
  6. Skin redness
  7. DNA complications

Long term users of skin bleachers can easily develop fungal infections and viral warts. Pregnant users may also experience health complications for both them and their children.

So now we get that beauty standards have psychological and spiritual effects on people, especially women and marginalized groups. They can cause anxiety, depression, dysmorphia, eating disorders, self-harm,low self-esteem and internalized oppression. They can also disconnect people from their true selves, their bodies and their emotions.

The beauty industry also creates unrealistic and unhealthy standards of beauty that are impossible to achieve or maintain, and that constantly change over time, to keep consumers feeling insecure and inadequate, so that they seek to buy more products and services to improve their appearance and self-esteem. 

Funny fact, is that if you are beautiful, your TikTok, video is way more likely to go viral, thanks to the infamous TikTok beauty algorithm, which is based on detailed AI face mapping. In other words, we can fit the standard platform.

Due to face appearance and skin color, some youth face discrimination in the society, community, social media and even at school premises. Other kids call them by different names because they assume they are not enough beauty that’s why you end up meeting someone who appears to be fair only face part instead of the whole body. Society discrimination lead other children to end up bleaching them self due to low-self esteem and peer pressure can also contribute seeing someone doing something you decide to do it too.

In other words, even though we know well how oppressive and harmful beauty standards are, it’s still in our interest to adhere to them, in order to gain some power back. Being pretty paves the way to power, and it takes a lot of privilege to be able to ignore that fact and resist the urge to try. 

So what can we do? All we can do is be aware. We can recognize and acknowledge beauty standards and their impact on ourselves and others. We can question their sources and motives, we can resist and reject the messages and products that promote unhealthy habits, behaviors and mental states. We can embrace diversity and uniqueness and celebrate our body, even if we don’t consider it beautiful, even if we haven’t managed to love it. 

We can create new narratives and practices of beauty that are more holistic, inclusive, and empowering. Although it’s too late, the beauty industry is already on that. I guess we could work on liking people for their character, personality and behavior. Making some aware about illegal products and their side effects on human skin although we know majority of them already using those skin bleaching.