Skin lightening has evolved into a billion-dollar cosmetic industry, but Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, is now taking a stand against this practice due to its known health risks. In February of this year, Moji Adeyeye, the Director-General of Nigeria's National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), declared skin lightening "a national health emergency." This move comes as a response to the alarming dangers associated with skin lightening, which include diabetes, hypertension, neuropathy, hepatic toxicity, and renal toxicity.
Skin lightening goes beyond cosmetics, as it extends to the use of skin lightening agents in the form of pills and tablets, even by pregnant women hoping to lighten their unborn babies' skin—a practice condemned by Ghana's Food and Drugs Authority. Many parents believe that lighter skin offers their children improved social and economic prospects, perpetuating the demand for these products.
While skin lightening is a recognized medical intervention for specific pigmentary disorders, its predominant market is in cosmetics. The industry preys on individuals who believe that lighter skin will enhance their life, love, or employment opportunities, perpetuating long-standing cultural biases and discrimination against those with darker skin.
Skin lightening products cater to various socioeconomic brackets, contributing to a billion-dollar market in Africa and Asia, with further expansion on the horizon. Governments are faced with the formidable task of addressing this issue comprehensively.
NAFDAC's Director-General, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, emphasized the gravity of the situation, revealing that 77% of Nigerian women engage in skin bleaching—the highest percentage in Africa. She stated that skin bleaching has become a national health emergency, warranting a multifaceted regulatory approach.
The harmful effects of bleaching creams include cancer, organ damage, skin irritation, allergies, burns, rashes, wrinkles, premature aging, and delayed wound healing. The Federal Government, recognizing the severity of the issue, has called for stringent measures to combat this menace.
In conclusion, Nigeria's declaration of a health emergency regarding skin lightening underscores the urgent need to address the physical and societal implications of this practice. It is a critical step towards safeguarding the health and well-being of its citizens and challenging deeply ingrained cultural biases.