Some years back, I was at the salon with my daughter waiting for her to have her hair done when a fellow customer turned to me apologetically, asking what I used for my skin and noting that although I had a good dark and even tone it wasn’t shining and offered to sell me a soap that would make my skin “pop”. I was taken aback by her effrontery and politely declined her offer but I cannot lie that when I got home I took a good look at my skin in the mirror and concluded that she was right about it not shining enough.
I have always been dark skinned and although at times I wished I were a shade or two lighter or even darker (there is a deep black that is very attractive if well maintained), I had always been comfortable with my skin tone.
However, that stranger’s caustic commentary on my skin coupled with the knowledge that I was growing older and needed to take more care of myself, my natural aversion to anything synthetic which had the capacity to tamper with my body’s system and my mother’s admonition whilst I was in university not to use creams like Elizabeth Arden “visible difference” which was the rage back then because it was meant for women in their 50s and not teenagers piqued my interest in natural skin products. I changed my soap from a commercial body wash to Black soap mixed with turmeric and oils, started to apply Shea butter, baobab and argan oils with a moisturiser on my skin and applied the use of skin scrubs. I readily acknowledge that there has been a difference, my skin looks better and youthful and nowadays I receive nice compliments on my skin and wouldn’t change my skin colour for anything.
The incident I described happened over 15 years ago and back then, there were just a handful of people specialising in skin care, most of them trained cosmetologists. Natural skin care was not booming like it is now as most people had a distaste for anything ethnic. Today, there is a proliferation of skin and beauty care shops on almost every corner in every city. In my street alone, I can count four and although they offer creams and potions formulated and mixed by them, majority of these shops are manned by people whose qualifications are suspect – at best the product of a diploma from some obscure school or the ability to mix creams in a food processor.
Not too long ago, a video showing a woman undergoing a skin peel went viral with the eventual sealing of the beauty shop by the relevant authorities (by the way the shop has been reopened for business at the same location). In that video, the patient’s skin was being scrapped like tripe with a razor and it caused a lot of uproar because it looked totally unprofessional and harmful but the owner of the shop was seen to boast about how she was good at what she did and that she didn’t force anyone to make use of her services. I was a bit amused at the hypocrisy the uproar generated though, because some of those who were commenting used bleaching creams themselves.
Bleaching is not new, it’s been with us for a very, very long time and I dare say it has its roots in slavery and colonialism and it’s the lasting legacy they have bequeathed on the coloured man whether his skin is black, brown or red. It is no secret that skin lightening is popular not only in Africa or India but also in Asia where they have lighter skin. The twin ills of slavery and colonialism did much evil in that they made him hate the colour of his skin and to look at the white man’s skin as good and better than his. It became the criteria for favours as people with fairer skin were assigned house duties and lighter tasks by the slave master because they were easier on the eyes. Consequently, we have come to believe the fallacy that the lighter a person’s skin the more beautiful they are but we forget that attractiveness doesn’t always equate to being beautiful.
Although slavery has since ended the desire to have lighter skin seems to be growing in leaps and bounds and there is a proliferation of skin enhancing methods all over the world. People will spend any amount to make their skin lighter and to assuage their guilt most tend to refer to it as toning a means of ensuring that the parts of their bodies which are exposed to sunlight are aligned with the more covered parts which is their true color whilst some are brazen about it and show off their new skin with pride. I must admit that some lightening methods are so well done that one cannot but admire the perfection it casts on the user and conversely, some are so badly done that they nauseate onlookers. The truth however is that no matter how exquisite or gruesome the users look, no matter how expensive or cheap their methods are, the side effects of skin lightening are the same for all.
I am aware that people have a right to do whatever they want with their bodies but the sad thing is that bleaching is no longer restricted to adolescents and adults. A large number of mothers who should know better, some of them being educated now add Funbact A cream which can cause bleaching to the body creams of children as young as one year old in a bid to preserve their childhood colour (whatever that means).
My conclusion as to why people will go ahead with the practice knowing that skin lightening has terrible side effects such as skin burn, the possibility of developing skin cancer, the damage to the natural elasticity of the skin which will cause fast aging and slow recovery from surgery, kidney damage and dementia, is that deep down no matter how successful the person is, they want to be more than they are and it aids their confidence in themselves.
Also, I suspect that for some who have started they cannot afford to stop because of the damage already done to their skins and the likelihood that they will look worse than they started out without the creams, potions, pills and injections they use. I cannot argue much about their whys but it also causes me to wonder about the easy availability of these products which are known to be harmful and the answer to that question is very simple.
The skin lightening industry is a billion dollar one that feeds on the insecurities of people, upholds the ideology of whiteness and white supremacy and because the body constantly produces melanin there is a constant market of people who will always need to continue to use the products to maintain whatever color they desire or have achieved.
There are no doubts that there are immediate benefits to chemical skin lightening however the disadvantages overshadow its benefits and its effects are very difficult to reverse. My candid advice to anyone seeking to nurture their skin is to look at the plethora of herbs and natural substances around us that have the ability albeit slowly to tone, lighten and nurture our skin without damaging it.