Men and women in South Africa are turning to highly dangerous skin bleaching creams, in a desperate bid to whiten their skin and become “more successful.”
In an underground report, correspondent Tania Rashid takes viewers into the “illegal” yet booming trade of skin bleaching products.
Speaking to young men and women living in Johannesburg, the desire is simple — to create a look of “yellow bone” — which is slang for light-skinned black men and women.
While it is illegal to sell any products that claim to bleach or whiten skin in South Africa, the products are huge business.
Containing the chemical hydroquinone, the creams have been slammed and banned by dermatologists and scientists because they can lead to skin cancer and other potentially deadly skin conditions.
But the warnings do little to deter the alleged one in three men and women who use the cream across the country.
Nineteen-year-old Jeff from Johannesburg, who is a marketing student and has been using skin bleaching creams for two years, says he loves the results from using the chemicals.
“When I compare myself to now, I’m more appealing now because I’m lighter,” he said.
Mixing a concoction of lemon, sunscreen and Lemonvate — it’s a cream many South Africans use as a skin lightener.
Jeff first saw the idea in an advertisement before giving the creams a try for himself.
“I started getting lighter and I just continued using it,” he said.
“The lighter the better, I think.”
Jeff says having lighter skin is the secret to his success rate in picking up women.
“I have four numbers so far,” he boasts while on a night out, indicating that wouldn’t be the case if he had darker skin.
Part of the push is celebrities in South Africa — and around the world — turning to the bleaching creams to enhance their look.
Famous singer and rapper Mshoza, who is “an icon in South Africa” and has been using the creams for many years — says lightening her skin color has completely changed her image, and re-energized her career.
“I can’t stop [young black girls] from doing it. They are already doing it,” she said.
“I am always on the TV, I am on newspapers. They are bound to read and want to be like someone who is on TV.”
Mshoza’s manager, Xolile Sonamzi, said that celebrities need to look lighter to get more work, especially in South Africa.
“It works better on screen,” he said.
“It works better with make-up, and we’re selling an idealistic world out there.
“In TV we have to sell a fake world. That’s our job.”
With some creams able to take skin shades three to four shades lighter, there are some variations that only allow for a slight change in color.
“It depends on how you want to look and what your goal is,” one of the women applying the product to Mshoza said.
Mshoza’s make-up artist, who is also a fan of skin bleaching, said the attention of having lighter skin is worth the risks the product may cause.
“When you walk in the club and you’re yellow, people notice you,” she said.
“Yellow-bone, yellow-bone yeah she’s light skin … you are more visible to people. And even though you go to interviews, and you’re slightly fair skinned, you will probably increase the chance of getting the job by 50 percent. It’s got a huge impact on how people treat you.”
While stockists who sell the product can face prosecution, vendors continue to restock the product through import because of the cream’s popularity.
But the problem is, as soon as the creams are confiscated, the vendors restock through import.
Smuggled into the country, police officers storm shops across the country in a bid to get the product off shelves.
According to dermatologist Professor Ncoza Dlova, almost 90 percent of women who use skin bleaching products are unaware of the risks the products can have on the skin.
She said users “are basically removing the melanin that is protective to skin and prevents damage from ultraviolet rays and skin cancer”.
This article originally appeared on News.com.au.
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