Ivo­rians con­tinue to use whiten­ing cream de­spite the clear risks

The China Post - - ARTS LIFE - BY CHRISTOPHE KOFFI

At just 26, Fa­tou’s skin is mar­bled from layer on layer of whiten­ing cream. Some even call her a “sala­man­der” woman af­ter the lit­tle reptile with light spots and translu­cent skin.

But noth­ing can stop the hair­dresser in Ivory Coast’s com­mer­cial cap­i­tal Abid­jan from us­ing the skin-light­en­ing cream in her quest for a paler com­plex­ion.

“I love light skin,” Fa­tou said. “I can’t stop.”

Many Ivo­rian women — as well as more and more men — are us­ing creams with dan­ger­ous chem­i­cals for de­pig­men­ta­tion, de­spite gov­ern­ment at­tempts to stop the prac­tice.

In late April, Ivory Coast banned whiten­ing creams be­cause of the neg­a­tive health ef­fects as­so­ci­ated with them, rang­ing from white spots and acne to can­cer.

If ap­plied lib­er­ally, the cos­met­ics can also cause high blood pres­sure and di­a­betes, ac­cord­ing to pro­fes­sor Elidje Ekra, a der­ma­tol­o­gist at Abid­jan’s Tre­ichville univer­sity hos­pi­tal.

The banned prod­ucts in­clude creams con­tain­ing mer­cury, cer­tain steroids, vi­ta­min A, or with hy­dro­quinone lev­els above 2 per­cent.

Hy­dro­quinone is of­ten used in black and white pho­tog­ra­phy and is banned as a skin-light­en­ing in­gre­di­ent in Europe as it is con­sid­ered a po­ten­tial car­cino­gen.

The dan­gers don’t seem to de­ter con­sumers, though.

‘Women who shine in the night’

While no of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics are avail­able, “tchatchos” — or those with light­ened skin, of­ten rec­og­niz­able by their darker knuck­les and el­bows — are om­nipresent in Abid­jan.

Busi­nesses con­tinue to sell the whiten­ing prod­ucts, be­cause they know peo­ple will con­tinue to buy them de­spite the risks.

“We know that our light­en­ing prod­ucts are dan­ger­ous,” an ex­ec­u­tive for an Ivo­rian cos­metic com­pany said, adding that a ban would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

“It would push con­sumers to make their own prod­ucts, which would be even worse.

“At least we know the com­po­si­tion.”

Some women say that it’s so­ci­etal pres­sure — par­tic­u­larly from men — that forces them to lighten their skin.

“It’s men that push women to be­come lighter,” said Marie-Grace Amani, who has been whiten­ing her skin for the past four years.

Ivory Coast’s Health Min­is­ter Ray­monde Goudou Coffie agrees.

Ivo­rian men “love women who shine in the night,” she told AFP.

“They bring light and glow in the bed­room.”

Mea­sure Still an ‘empty shell’

Three months af­ter the new law was in­tro­duced — which could en­tail a fine of 50,000 to 350,000 CFA francs (US$83 to US$585) for vi­o­la­tors — sa­lons are still advertising their light­en­ing prod­ucts.

Whiten­ing soaps with names like “Glow and White” and “Body White” leave lit­tle doubt as to their in­tended use.

“Af­ter rais­ing aware­ness, we will move to the next phase of re­mov­ing prod­ucts from the mar­ket,” Coffie said.

A na­tional eval­u­a­tion and mar­ket­ing au­tho­riza­tion com­mit­tee has been set up to en­sure im­ple­men­ta­tion of the mea­sures, but one of the big­gest fights could be against cul­tural beauty stan­dards.

Light­ened faces con­tinue to pro­lif­er­ate on bill­boards in Abid­jan, with the fea­tured mod­els flaunt­ing fair skin.

Ekra says that while it’s a great ini­tia­tive, the text is still an “empty shell.”

“We see women on na­tional tele­vi­sion who use the cor­ro­sive prod­ucts,” said Ekra.

“Do those that en­force the mea­sure even re­spect it?”

If peo­ple want to lighten their skin, ex­perts say they’ll al­ways find a way to do it.

“We tell peo­ple it’s not good for their health, but if they find some­thing good there ... we can­not for­bid some­one to do what they wish,” said Paul Aris­tide Ka­dia, who sells the prod­ucts.

The prac­tice is not only present in Ivory Coast, but wide­spread else­where in Africa, as well as in large parts of Asia.

In nearby Sene­gal, peo­ple mo­bi­lized against skin light­en­ing in 2013, but failed to get a ban on prod­ucts.

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