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fashion and family continue to drive adoption in South Africa




Skin lightening products have been popular for over 40 years among the populations of sub-Saharan Africa. But over the past decade, there appears to be an increase in usage. The latest data would suggest the prevalence is as high as 72%.

The products, promoted by the media and the cosmetic houses as the disappearance of pigments or the lightening of the complexion, were perceived as beneficial. In reality, most of them can be very dangerous. It is because they are acquired illicitly and contain strong and toxic chemicals that can have harmful effects. Side effects. They can lead to serious systemic complications such as diabetes mellitus, tremors, and exogenous ochronosis (dark patches of discoloration on the skin).

Several countries, including Uganda, Kenya and South Africa, have banned import and sale of products containing skin lightening chemicals. Nevertheless, they remain available to consumers illegally due to the high demand for them.

Research in various African countries has shown that this practice is growing in popularity, with a prevalence of 23% in sub-Saharan Africa among young adults aged 16 to 30. This prompted us to study such a trend in South Africa. We recently conducted a investigation out of 401 health science students at the University of the Western Cape.

Only 12% of those surveyed used skin lightening creams. Nonetheless, the investigation provided useful insight into their reasons. Almost half of the participants believed that family and friends were the most likely to influence their behavior. And an even higher percentage of 76% said they believe people who practice skin lightening do it because it makes them look more fashionable.

There was also a clear divide between the cities and the countryside. People living in urban areas were 10 times more likely to engage in the practice compared to people living in rural areas.

Our survey also showed that men and women were equally likely to use such products.

Increase in male users

One would expect the use of skin lighteners to be much more common among women. However, studies have shown that the practice is becoming equally popular among men in several parts of the world, including Africa and Asia.

Skin lightening products on a shelf, with images of Asian men and the name
Packaged products for male users.

In our survey, 10% of men surveyed reported using skin lightening products.

Studies on the motivations for lightening the skin among men are limited. But a few provide information. Such to study conducted in 26 countries showed prevalence among young men in African universities in countries such as Nigeria, Tunisia and South Africa.

Users reported being motivated by the desire for clearer skin and the need to be attractive to their partners.

These findings were also supported by a Ghanaian study in which women said they find fair-skinned men more attractive.

The use of skin lightening products may also be attributed to men more and more interested in grooming and maintaining their appearance.

Thus, the use of lightening products has show be motivated by peoples’ concerns about their attractiveness. They wanted to increase their self-esteem and knew friends and family who used skin lighteners. These factors contributed to their engagement in practice.

The role of the media

It is clear that the media also play a powerful role. In particular, the advertising industry in Africa has played a central role in creating the perception that fair skin is more attractive and desirable.

Social media has also become an influential platform that several companies are using to further encourage product consumption. It would be rare to come across a student who does not have at least one social media account to use as their primary source of news and other information.

People walk past a billboard with a glamorous woman on it, with the words
A billboard in Abidjan, Cte d’Ivoire.
ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP via Getty Images

These platforms then serve as a portal for influential local and international celebrities to share their latest cosmetic trends, some of which are very public on the use of skin lightening products. Undeniably, that makes a impression on young adults.

In our study, despite some participants indicating that social media was a direct motivation for skin lightening practices, the subliminal influence of this platform cannot be ignored.

The increased interest in skin care in recent years has led to the exceptional growth and the popularity of this market. In 2018, it was valued at $ 8.3 billion.

Read more: There is a complex history of skin lighteners in Africa and beyond

Laws in some countries, such as South Africa, prohibit the marketing of products using terms such as bleaching, bleaching or bleaching. But cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies have always found and continue to find alternative ways to advertise directly to their target consumers.

For years this target has been women, but recently there has been a marked shift towards male consumers.

Awareness and Safety

The skin lightening market will always be sustainable as long as the supply and demand the chain remains.

The growing demand for harmful skin lighteners raises the question of whether the necessary vigilance in awareness of the chemicals in these products and their associated side effects has been sufficiently informed. The answer to this question makes studies like ours a continuous journey.

Amy Thomas and Laurentia Opperman were also researchers in this study, which was led by Farzana Rahiman




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