Fatal Attraction: Dangers of Skin Bleaching

July 2, 2010  |  

If you’re only thinking about Michael Jackson and Sammy Sosa alone, guess again.

My mother, a naturally fair Ghanaian woman, unknowingly passed down the distaste for bleached skin to me. Her dislike was not out of self-hatred but because she came from a country where any shade of ebony was embraced and exalted at one time. To her dismay Africa has now become a victim to Western ideals of beauty.

It’s funny because even though I was born and raised in the States, I can still point out an African woman who uses fade cream from a mile away. It makes me want to scream: Who are you trying to fool?! Don’t you know your black is beautiful?!! Why do you feel like being lighter will make you more attractive? Wouldn’t it just be easier to learn how to accentuate your radiant ebony skin than unevenly tone yourself with disgusting chemicals?!

But let me hit you with a little less passion and a lot more science. The active ingredient in bleaching/whitening cream is often mercurous chloride (aka mercury), which basically inhibits melanin production. Sometimes cheaply made, creams have caused burns, deformities and even death. Fade creams drastically lighten the tone of skin where it’s most often applied. It’s apparent by a lighter tone around the face, excluding the corners of eyes and lips that remain the original tone. The practice started years and years ago and is common in other parts of the world.

Throughout Asia (mainly Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Japan) advertisements, film and music all glorify light skin– often excluding actors of darker tones altogether. In India, where a caste system divides by career and family linage, the “Untouchables” (lowest level) tend to be darker skinned than the high class Brahmins. Causing much tension in the country, people of darker tones often ‘lighten up’ to look more prominent and women more attractive to suitors. According to AC Nielson numbers the whitening cream industry in India will raise by 25 percent this year alone, growing to a $432 million industry and a $7 billion industry in China.

The effect Europeans have had on cosmetics and beauty is really all to be expected. Europeans, who spent the majority of their formative years seizing other people’s lands, have been pushing ideals on those forced to listen for a while now. Even though it’s 2010 and black folks are thought to be more self-actualized and free thinking, droplets of European influence still fall. If in doubt, visit any beauty supply store in any black neighborhood in any black city in the country– you’ll find bleaching cream. And although many say it’s for fading darker spots, a good moisturizer with SPF is the best option that doesn’t change your tone.

Mildred E. Bell, president of Skin Healthcare Solutions and resident Madame Noire expert knows very well about the dangers of bleaching. “Pigment is a natural protective shield, a mechanism of the skin that is stimulated by both sun and irritation,” Bell said. “Bleaching the skin for long periods of time leaves skin unprotected and subject to sun damage, including damage to your DNA. In the case of hydroquinone, using it for extended periods of time can result in sooty-looking dark marks that may never go away.”

Don’t fool yourself into thinking how you were born to look isn’t beautiful. Flaunt the skin you have and love it. It’s not about color tone, it’s about the confidence you have in any shade.

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  • tjo

    I also think this is a subject that needs highlighting. With that said, i think this article comes across as highly judgmental and lacking proper investigation. Perhaps this is incorrect, but with a fair mother, i'm going to assume that you are not a deep ebony woman. As a deep ebony woman, i LOVE myself and have no issues with being black other than the societal prejudices that do in fact exist. But when i have acne/ other scarring, telling me to slab on some moisturizer with spf makes me livid! I KNOW about the mercury in fade creams as well as the carcinogenic components of many of the most popular fade creams as well! This article should have focused on encouraging women with self esteem issues to look into that by giving suggestions as well as addressing women who actually have spots to fade— safe creams/alternatives to use and dangerous ones to avoid! You sound totally uninformed on the "science" of topical treatments and this article was overall disappointing.

  • xx

    great article, but proof reading would help. it should be "seizing other people's land", not "ceasing".