Beauty may only be skin deep, but millions of people in Africa are willing to possibly put their lives at risk to attain an interpretation of it.
The Rwandan government has begun enforcing a ban on cosmetics products used for lightening or “bleaching” skin.
Many users like Sifa Godance – who lives in the Rwandan capital Kigali say people should be allowed to choose for themselves.
I am very sad that these products have been banned. We will just use what is locally available.
“I am very sad that these products have been banned. We will just use what is locally available, but the people who made that decision need to know that these products make a woman feel beautiful,” she said.
An other residzent, Agne Amiwana is also not happy. She says she has been using skin-lightening cosmetics for seven years to “make herself more attractive to her husband who prefers light-skinned women”.
She also used to sell her own skin lightening ointments, but must now look for another source of income and quickly use up her remaining stock.
“If I don’t have these products, I am afraid I will become too dark like I used to be.“If I don’t have these products, I am afraid I will become too dark like I used to be. she said.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame catalysed the crackdown when he weighed in on a recent discussion on social media, about the growing use of skin-lightening products with a tweet saying: “Quite unhealthy among other things. Includes use of prohibited chemicals. MoH (Ministry of Health) and RNP (Rwanda National Police) need to reign this in very quickly!”
African countries like Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa also have prohibitive laws, but like Rwanda, they struggle to come between willing buyers and smugglers operating in a global industry worth billions of dollars.
“We are now putting much effort, like educating people, going around and seizing those illegal products, so we are also joining those countries who are also in this fight of the use of those illegal sick lightening cosmetics,“said Director of Cancer unit Ministry of Health, Francois Uwinkindi.
The World Health Organization estimates that at least four in every 10 African women bleach their skin.