Wed, Aug 12, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Ivorians ignore whitening cream ban in bid to glow

AFP, ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast

At 26 years old, Fatou’s skin is marbled from layer on layer of whitening cream. Some even call her a “salamander” woman after the little reptile with light spots and translucent skin.

However, nothing can stop the hairdresser from using the skin-lightening cream in her quest for a paler complexion.

“I love light skin,” Fatou said. “I cannot stop.”

Many Ivorian women — as well as more and more men — are using creams with dangerous chemicals for depigmentation, despite government attempts to stop the practice.

In late April, Ivory Coast banned whitening creams because of the negative health effects associated with them, ranging from white spots and acne to cancer.


If applied liberally, the cosmetics can potentially cause high blood pressure and diabetes, said Elidje Ekra, a dermatologist at Treichville University Hospital in Abidjan.

The banned products include creams containing mercury, certain steroids, vitamin A, or with hydroquinone levels higher than 2 percent.

Hydroquinone is often used in black-and-white photography and is banned as a skin-lightening ingredient in Europe as it is considered a potential carcinogen. The dangers do not seem to deter consumers, though.


While no official statistics are available, “tchatchos” — or those with lightened skin, often recognizable by their darker knuckles and elbows — are omnipresent in Abidjan.

Businesses continue to sell the whitening products, because they know people are likely to continue buying them despite the risks.

“We know that our lightening products are dangerous,” an executive for an Ivorian cosmetic company said, adding that a ban would be counterproductive. “It would push consumers to make their own products, which would be even worse. At least we know the composition.”

Some women say that it is societal pressure — particularly from men — that forces them to lighten their skin.

“It is men that push women to become lighter,” said Marie-Grace Amani, who has been whitening her skin for the past four years.

Ivory Coast Minister of Health Raymonde Goudou Coffie said Ivorian men “love women who shine in the night.”

“They bring light and glow in the bedroom,” she added.

Three months after the new law was introduced — which could entail a fine of between 50,000 and 350,000 CFA francs (US$83 to US$585) for violators — salons are still advertising their lightening products. Whitening soaps with names like “Glow and White” and “Body White” leave little doubt as to their intended use.


“After raising awareness, we will move to the next phase of removing products from the market,” Coffie said.

A national evaluation and marketing authorization committee has been set up to help ensure implementation of the measures, but one of the biggest fights could be against cultural beauty standards. Lightened faces continue to proliferate on billboards in Abidjan, with the featured models flaunting fair skin.

Ekra said that while it is a great initiative, the text is still an “empty shell.”


“We see women on national television who use the corrosive products,” Ekra said. “Do those that enforce the measure even respect it?”

If people want to lighten their skin, experts say they would always find a way to do it.

“We tell people it is not good for their health, but if they find something good there ... we cannot forbid someone to do what they wish,” said Paul Aristide Kadia, who sells the products.

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