Mombasa, KENYA: Despite the fact that the national government in 2001 banned the use of skin lightening products which contain harmful and corrosive chemicals, the importation of the products into the country via the black market is still booming.
Some of the skins lightening products are sold in medicine stalls, some supermarkets and also in open air market such as Kongowea market in Mombasa County. The products are easily available and sold cheaply.
Lynn Mwaniki a Sociologist said the trend of skin bleaching is a major problem to both young women and men, a problem that she blames media for portraying that lighter women are more attractive and beautiful than those with darker skins.
“Sociologically the reason why somebody will want to bleach their skin is because it has been put in your mind that if you are fairer people will notice you more and people will think that you are more beautiful and unfortunately it’s the case in the media as well”. Said Ms Mwaniki.
She added that there is need to have programes that provides both young and old information on the adverse effects of skin lightening and effects of their products.
Dr. Suresh Jari a consultant dermatologist at the Aga Khan doctor’s plaza in Mombasa, said skin lightening can be medically prescribed by qualified dermatologists only and especially if there is visible reaction from the use of a drug or to remove a scar.
“When one has drug reaction, you could use the bleaching cream to get back your color but using it to change your color I don’t think its right.” He said.
According to Dr Suresh Jari, skin bleaching comes with hazardous health consequences which result from reduced melanin in the skin.
Melanin plays the function of reducing absorption of ultraviolet (UV) rays by the skin; loss of this protection results in skin damage by UV rays.
He added that this effect, and the associated toxic compounds contained in the skin lighteners result in cancers such as leukemia and cancers of the liver and kidneys, skin cancer as well as severe skin conditions.
Africa has been known to a be a big market place for marketing of bleaching agents with Nigeria taking a lead according to WHO, followed by other countries such as Tanzania.
Congolese men have also been known for skin lightening.
As a consequence of skin lightening, women from West Africa, Senegal, Saudi Arabia and Mexico have been found with high levels of Mercury according to research done by University of Ohio in 2005.