What is the Cost of Beauty? Kenyan Urbanites are Paying a Hefty Price to Get Fair Skin

What is the Cost of Beauty? Kenyan Urbanites are Paying a Hefty Price to Get Fair Skin

Despite bold steps taken by several nations and regions in protecting their citizens against the harmful effects of some skin lightening products, success seems elusive as people adopt even more dangerous and clandestine methods of skin bleaching.

In Kenya, East Africa, young urbanites are willing to do whatever it takes to get the coveted fair skin. An exposé aired on 18th February 2019 by Citizen TV, one of the country’s leading media stations had a lot to tell.

This revelation that features the skin lightening experiences of two young people, a man and a woman is just but a reflection of what is happening in the lives of many other urban dwellers.

According to them:

Lighter skin is the true definition of beauty; they therefore have no qualms about lightening their skin and wish to continue despite being aware of possible effects.

Driven by this perception, they set out to experiment with various skin bleaching products and based on the compliments they get for their new found ‘beauty’, their resolve to keep up only gets stronger.

Then Comes the ‘Expert’ Advice 

To capitalize on the insatiable demand, the vendors offer ‘expert advice’ on what to use and how to mix different ingredients for better results. A typical concoction may contain up to 10 ingredients.

Among these are bleaching creams, skin ointments, gels, oils, pills and liquid chemicals like hydrogen peroxide. Ingredients may vary depending on who is preparing them and the results they are looking to achieve.

Some users learn to mix their skin lighteners, while others just buy premixed ones with no idea of the contents.

A mixture that lasts for about a month may go for approximately $30-$50.

One concoction graduates to another even more potent one as the desire heightens. There’s more; an unlabelled injectable fluid- ‘the fastest skin lightening product in the market’. It costs anything from $75 and is strictly sold backstreet. Interestingly, it comes with a verbal warning; it will work wonders but if you ever sustain a cut or an injury, it will be hard to heal or even stitch.

Those that have used it swear by it; apparently, the claims that it works better and faster compared to others are true.

So, what is contained in these skin lightening products?

In an investigative quest, Citizen TV’s journalists were able to obtain a bottle of the injectable, a bottle of pills and a jar of cream. Upon testing by The Government Chemist, the results showed large quantities of;

  • Niacinamide/Nicotinamide in the injectable:  

This is Vitamin B3. Although it has skin lightening abilities, its use in large quantities may lead to hypervitaminosis, a condition that may cause nerve damage, liver damage, jaundice, nausea, stomach ulcers and other digestive disorders.

  • Vitamin E supplement and camphor in the pills

Both Vitamin E and camphor are great for your skin when topically used. These ‘Vitamin E’ pills, which evidently contain large amounts of camphor are either taken orally or topically applied on the skin for lightening effects.

While it may take very high doses for Vitamin E to be toxic, the same cannot be said of camphor which should not be taken orally in the first place. When ingested orally or put into contact with broken skin, camphor gets rapidly absorbed into the body and can lead to poisoning and even death.

  • Hydroquinone in the cream

First of all, hydroquinone is banned for use in cosmetics in Kenya and other regions. Despite its skin depigmenting abilities, the carcinogenic compound is associated with exogenous ochronosis -a bluish skin discolouration, and carcinogenicity among other health issues even with minimal concentrations of 2%.

The Takeaway

These are just random samples in a city where many dangerous and illegal skin lightening products are exchanging hands between vendors and customers who have no idea how much of the above ingredients they are consuming.

There are many more skin lightening products out in the streets whose contents have not been tested. It is also possible that many people are suffering due to the use of these and other dangerous skin lightening products such as mercury and steroids.

While the decision to change one’s skin colour is entirely personal, the influence by our society’s perception of lighter skin colour as better cannot be entirely ruled out. Colourism is evident in the media, job industry, Film industry, and sadly, our own homes among other places.

This only proves one thing; as long as colourism remains omnipresent, the battle against harmful skin lightening is far from over!