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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

New beauty trend in Africa causes serious health problems

Many women in Africa are using bleaching cream to lighten their skin because they associate lighter skin with beauty. Peter Deng, a sophomore from Sudan, remembers when bleaching cream first started getting popular.

“A lot of my friends tried using the cream,” said Deng. “It made their faces and necks look pale, but the rest of their body was their natural skin color. They thought it made them look beautiful.”

Skin bleaching, while it is very popular, contains toxic chemicals that are linked to weakened immune systems, organ failure, and even death.

Yaba A. Blay, a doctoral candidate in Temple University’s African American studies department, conducted a study last summer, in which she surveyed approximately 600 residents of Accra, and interviewed another 40 who reported bleaching their skin.

“Despite attempts by the Ghanaian government to ban bleaching products and the extreme health risks, including skin cancer, brain and kidney damage and sometimes death, the practice of skin bleaching is seemingly on the rise,” Blay, a native of Ghana, said to Diverse magazine. “It appears that in the context of global white supremacy, skin bleaching represents an attempt to gain access to the social status and mobility often reserved not only for whites, but for lighter-skinned persons of African descent.”

Eleanor Branch, assistant professor of English and African American studies, remembers seeing light-skinned individuals on the majority of ads in Ghana, where most people are very dark-skinned.

“I feel that skin bleaching is saying that there is something wrong with black skin,” said Branch, “but it shows how much influence the Western world holds.”

Deng remembers his mother warning his sisters not to use the bleaching cream.

“Luckily my sisters never tried it,” said Deng, “but one of my cousins did. I remember it was a really big deal. The people in my family were very angry and upset about it.”

The trend of skin bleaching in Africa may seem very similar to the trend of tanning in the United States. Young women here are tanning their skin because they think tanned skin is more beautiful.

“I go tanning because I like looking tan,” said sophomore Taylor Brown. “I feel like I don’t look as good when I’m not tan. Some people look better tanned, some don’t. It depends on the person.”

As with skin bleaching, there are many risks involved with tanning.

Evidence links UVA, the type of rays emitted from indoor tanning, exposure to malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

Overexposure to any UV rays can cause loss of skin elasticity, premature aging, and cancer, but these are harmful effects of tanning booths that do not show up for several years after the damage to the skin is irreversible.

Despite all the risks, women continue to try to make themselves more beautiful by skin bleaching in Africa and tanning in the United States.

In addition to the risks involved, Deng believes skin bleaching is disrespectful.

“I am proud of my heritage and where I came from,” said Deng. “It makes me angry to think that so many people would want to hide that.

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