Skin whitening cosmetics are still on the rise among African women despite its health risks. A number of African countries including Kenya, South Africa and the Ivory Coast have banned whitening creams and soaps, with the prohibition being recent in Ghana. However, both women and men continue to use the products.
In Western Africa, Senegal and Mali top the list of countries with the highest use of skin whitening cosmetics, with the products used by every one of four women. According to a WHO report, 77 percent of Nigerian women apply skin whitening products followed by 59 percent in Togo and 35 percent in South Africa. The report also shows these products are widely used in Asian countries and North America. In India, skin whitening products compose more than 60 percent of the market.
The findings of another study by the University of Cape Town reveal that 22 of 29 percent of skin whitening products have dangerous and prohibited content. The study also reports that although the EU prohibits their use, one-third of these products available in South Africa have European origin. Professor Lester M. Davids of the University of Cape Town said that after tea, soap and milk, skin whitening products are widely used items. According to the researchers, the main reason behind skin whitening is that some African women believe black is not beautiful. Many young girls prefer these products, some of whom continue to use it for even 20 years.
Ivory Coast banned whitening creams because of the negative health effects associated with them, ranging from white spots and acne to cancer last year. If applied liberally, the products 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, however, do not seem to deter consumers.