*Aisha, who is 23 years old, first started bleaching when she was 19 years old because she wanted a lighter skin tone. She is aware of the side effects of “bleaching”, but she feels that she is doing it right and she hasn’t run into any significant complications yet.
*Amie, a 26-year-old said, “When I was young, I was dark in complexion and people at school will laugh at me, to a point that I wanted to change my colour but luckily, I found the courage and self-esteem to maintain my dark colour”.
Skin bleaching has proven to be a growing trend in The Gambia. Many people are embracing it for different reasons despite the health complications associated with it. For some people, the need to have a lighter complexion increases their self-esteem.
Skin bleaching is the use of chemical substances to lighten the skin or provide an even skin colour by reducing the melanin concentration in the skin. This is done through the use of creams, soaps, injections or pills.
Skin bleaching is rapidly growing, and it is estimated to be a multibillion dollar industry. However, bleaching is associated with many side effects which include health complications and societal judgment.
Dr. Sonsiama, shared some of the health risks associated with skin bleaching and the chemicals found in skin bleaching creams. He said the chemicals include Arbutin 1% (a Glycosylated Hydroquinone), Mercury and Hesperidin among other harmful chemicals. He also said the medical side effects of bleaching include numbness, high blood pressure, fatigue, sensitivity to light, memory loss, irritability, kidney failure, dark grey spots, skin cancer, acne, increased appetite and weight gain.
When asked about the statistics of skin bleaching in The Gambia, Dr. Sonsiama responded: “No studies have been done in The Gambia to ascertain the percentage of people using bleaching creams and their side effects. This will be an important study to undertake as it’s a silent killer, considering the percentage of literacy in our society”.
“Most women want to have a lighter skin and so that’s why we sell these products to assist their beauty needs. It is mostly women in their 20s and 30s that come to my shop to get this bleaching products,” said a cosmetic shop owner at the Serekunda market.
Discussing other options available to get a lighter skin and still maintain a good health, Dr. Sonisiama said one can eat strawberries, egg, pineapple, lemon, tomato, avocado, gallic and walnut. He said these foods are healthy and do not come with health complications like bleaching products.
He advised people that are bleaching to stop as there is no medical benefit to bleaching. It’s just for cosmetic reasons.
embarking on skin bleaching is a major decision. It can be expensive, time consuming , negative societal views and the results are not guaranteed.
In countries like Rwanda, Ghana and Cameroon they have banned skin bleaching products especially with ones that have a high level of mercury. However, despite the ban, products are still being sold in their markets.
In The Gambia, attempts have been made to ban skin bleaching products from Gambian market, but still to no avail.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality.