Changing faces of skin lightening

Monday, December 30th, 2019 15:00 |
From topical applications to injections and now to chemical baths, people are finding new strategies to look fairer and lighter.

From topical applications to injections and now to chemical baths, people are finding new strategies to look fairer and lighter. WAMBUI VIRGINIA explores…

For some young Kenyans, looking fair promises them all the nice things in life. It is no wonder many of them still frequent the backstreets for skin lightening creams and lotions despite a ban on these products.

In the past few weeks, a video was doing rounds on social media showing a woman lying on her tummy in a bubble bath. A female narrator states that the woman is immersed in a bath of liquid containing peeling acids. 

Slowly, viewers can see the dark skinned woman ‘cleaned’, turning light. 

This is just one of the ways skin lightening products and techniques have changed faces.

At first glance,  you are likely to think Freda Ouma, one of the pioneers of the new technlogy, has the best skin. Her face is supple, with no pimples at all. Freda operates a shop on River Road where her array of clients seek treatment to look just like her.

“I am usually very busy. I tend to both women and men who come seeking a better appearance. Most of my clientele are women willing to spend money and time on their skin. The more you buy, the stronger the concoction will be and the faster you will become lighter,” she says. Her clients part with close to Sh10,000 for the mkorogo (concoction). On a good day, she gets up to 20 clients. 

As much as she has the baby face everyone seems to be attracted to, Freda has a challenge: her skin has thinned too much and she can’t stay in the sun for long. Her hands have decolourised from handling too many products.

Like an addiction

“Skin lightening among Kenyan women is like a disease. The moment they see what these lotions can do in a short period of time, they want more. It’s like an addiction you can’t do without because you just want to remain fair for long,” she explains. 

Unlike lotions and creams, which tend to backfire and leave an individual with blotched skin, pills and injections, which have more youthful and radiant effect, were introduced in the market. And they are pricey. 

“In one box of glutathione pills and injections proportions vary. For pills you have to take a dosage of 60 pills for up to six months to achieve a fair look and for injections one may need a supply of up to 30 injectibles for one to six months depending on your skin tone,” she says. Glutathione is an antioxidant naturally found in human cells and lightens skin by deactivating an enzyme called tyrosinase that helps in production of pigment.

While pills and injections are still popular, the use of chemical peels, which include a common category of acids called Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acid (BHA), is becoming trendy.

These peels work as exfoliants for treating acne, fine lines, sun damage and dark spots. Chemical peels are used in small percentages and at different times. 

Using more concentrated peels causes severe irritations and may lead to post inflammatory hyper pigmentation, skin discolouration, bacterial and fungal infections and skin sensitivity that lasts for months. 

Skin lightening products are unbelievably popular in Africa. The World Heath Organisation (WHO) terms skin lightening a public health crisis.

Nigeria leads Africa in the use of these products at 77 per cent followed by Togo, South Africa and Senegal at 59, 35, and 27 per cent respectively. India is ranked first globally.

Experts say

The East Africa Legislative Assembly (EALA) recently  passed a motion recommending a regional ban on products with hydroquinone, already effected in Kenya and Rwanda. 

Ghana, South Africa and South Sudan have also recently joined other states to ban skin lighteners. 

Skin whitening has never been the recommended, but most modern women are made to believe being fairer is more appealing. 

As much as they know the dangers, they still try, resulting in a huge market for lightening products, as pointed by dermatologist Dr Maina Kahindu. 

“In the video, she is not removing dead skin as claimed. She is removing the protective top skin layer. Dead skin removal will never result in instant whitening or lightening of the skin.

It is important to note that having your bath, which most of us do everyday, removes dead skin. Sweating helps remove dead skin as well,” he explains.

Dr Kahindu explains if the top most layer of skin, which is vital in wound healing, is removed, it also means if you ever have surgery for any reason, the wound would heal slowly if at all it does and chances of getting scarification is high.

This layer also protects the body against sun’s harmful effects. Taking it away leaves your skin prone to skin infections, thinning, which leads to cuts and tears and worse still, cancer of the skin.

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