Monday, February 19, 2007

Today, I spent some time watching TV One's Black Men Revealed. The topic of the day was "Dark Skin vs. Light Skin" and the conversation proved to be interesting. The participants had funny and witty comments from time to time and at other times, made down right ridiculous statements.

Well, after watching for a while, I could not help but think about Nigeria and the various issues my people have about skin tone. Consequently, this post about the 'complexion complex'. I shall define the 'complexion complex' as an inability to accept and appreciate darker skin tones, and a disturbingly particular preference for lighter skin. My definition of this 'condition' stems from my experiences in Nigeria and my interactions with people from other countries such as Cote D'Ivoire, Zaire (now the D.R.C.) and India to name a few. Growing up, it became clear to me that to be dark skinned was not desirable. At school, light skinned students got better treatment from teachers and students alike. Some parents even informed their children to not bring any "dudu" girl/boy home to be considered an in-law. These examples barely scratch the surface of what is the pervasive and complicated practice of skin bleaching in Nigeria.

But, for a concrete example of the 'complexion complex', one need look no further than the popularity of bleaching creams toy Nigerians. According to a document posted at, a 2002 survey showed that the usage of bleaching cream in Lagos was close to 77%. Now, I find that percentage startling and even hard to believe. I also do not pay attention to figures when I do not have any idea of how a set of statistics were gathered. That being said, however, I cannot contest the figure but will simply acquiesce that a lot of people use bleaching creams. Considering the fact that Fela even penned a song about the practice, Yellow Fever, no one can question that bleaching is very popular.

So, why the fascination with this bleaching practice? I personally feel that the source of our 'complexion complex' stems from our interaction with Europeans. I believe, that as a people we were fed the delusion that to be white was superior and thus, many of us aspired to be as close to such superiority as possible. It is no secret that white women are still considered the ultimate symbol of beauty by a large majority of people in and out of Nigeria. Accordingly, those with lighter complexions are thus closer to what is the pinnacle of beauty and success - whiteness.

Skin bleaching is actually a very dangerous custom. The acting ingredient in most bleaching creams, hydroquinone, is known to cause serious skin discolorations and maybe even certain forms of skin cancer (according to tests done on rats). According to a Chicago Sun-Times report in January 2007, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is considering placing a ban on skin lightening creams. Although less potent than bleaching creams, the basis for the potential ban is the health issues these products pose. In fact, the type of bleaching creams that are available on every corner in Nigeria have been banned in the U.S. and other countries for several years. This is because, in addition to containing hydroquinone, bleaching creams contain dangerous levels of mercury which can and do cause neurological disorders and kidney damage.

There is clearly no reasonable need to bleach one's skin. Yet, despite this fact, it is clear that human beings are not always rational actors and therefore, will do things, such as bleaching, that make little sense. To bring this unsafe practice to an end in Nigeria, we will need to embark upon a serious campaign to rewire our attitudes towards complexion. We cannot continue to under-appreciate the beautiful skin that God blessed us with because colonialists enslaved us mind, body and soul in order to control us and our resources. We must let go of our insecurities and slavish dedication to the lies we were fed. When we achieve this, we will diminish the desire to be lighter. By reducing the socio-cultural bias against dark skin, there will be less pressure to apply bleaching creams.

To discourage bleaching, we must educate each other about the potential health risks involved with the practice. Those that are unaware, must be given the necessary information so they can then decide whether the risks are worth the supposed reward of lighter skin. Those that are aware of the health risks must also be provided with clear illustrations of the effects of the practice.

Finally, the government must take precise action to bring this custom to an end. Laws must be drafted to ban the production, importation, possession, sale and use of bleaching creams that contain unhealthy levels of chemicals that cause the previously mentioned health problems. Of course, merely having laws on the books is never a solution, so, the laws must be enforced with the full and complete backing of the authorities. Our government must think ahead and be concerned about the future ramifications awaiting us due to our use of bleaching creams. Productive individuals will be unable to contribute to the economy and society as a whole because they will have to deal with health problems. Assuming that Nigeria eventually gets its act together and creates an effective health care system for most Nigerians, the potential cost of treating thousands, if not millions, of Nigerians will be staggering. It would be much better to avoid the future financial and societal costs of bleaching.

I hope that anyone reading this will stop bleaching and/or never start the practice. I also hope that if you know someone that bleaches, you will strongly counsel them to stop. Above all these, I pray that all Nigerians will let go of the bias we have against ourselves and eventually bring an end to the dreaded 'complexion complex'.

Please read Bleached Skin Isn't The New Black (Folake)

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MsRoxy said...

I only heard that these creams were used in other countries but I had no idea it was such a high percentage. It became popular in Jamaica but then it was banned and I haven't heard much about it since, yet the inferiority complex remains....I think it's because of the media's brainwashing of what beauty is. If they turned around one day and started advertising models with dark skin and natural hair(and I don't mean just a dark model here and there in the background)...I truly believe that the idea of beauty would change.


Yes, inferiority is the issue here and yes, the media does play a large part in maintaining and perpetuating the problem. Portraying more dark skinned women (positively) in magazines and on tv could make a difference, but the diaspora must change its attitude towards skin color as well.

I am glad that Jamaica took steps against this problem. I can only hope that other countries will do the same.

Dee said...

Really interesting thread here,
I never thought much about bleaching creams and the “complexion complex” until now. I’ve carefully avoided bleaching creams or creams containing any lightening chemicals simply becos my skin is soooo dark it would be an experimental disaster. Besides why in the world would I want to look lighter?

Your blog entry got me digging online for resources here and there that would give more insight to medical studies, conditions and policy measures on the Hydroquinone content in creams. Alas, I didn’t find what I was looking for today…maybe tomorrow.

For the moment, I think of Alek Wek and all the beautiful dark skinned women with excellent careers today and jeez it’s really disappointing to note the unchanging popularity of the creams, especially with Africans.

Omodudu said...

Oh well, this is also a common trend amongst African women in Brooklyn USA, oh yes I said it. Those in their early twenties too. I know a certain Nigerian girl in her early twenties that is presently seein a psychologist because of her dark skin. Personally I orefer dark skined women. Hehehe. I do not see the governments role in this, really. Can society afford this much presence of the government in our affairs. Its a cost to the tax payer or in Nigeria, to the already thin Government wallet. I think inidividuals that go ahead are bleach are not fit for the society anyway, so please let them finishe themselves off. Darwin said that will eventually made the society better.

Folake Kuye Huntoon said...

Hello Solomon, many thanks for stopping by. I will certainly include your link on my post as well. Pronto. What an informative read. This is so alarming to say the least. I really wanted to write a long post about this issue, but figured readers might get bored in the process and not get the point, so I settled for a VERY short version in plain and simple English..hoping to reach a wider audience. Glad I found your blog. Will scheme through in hopes of becoming a regular :) Again, thank you!

Omo Oba said...

Word! thank you jare, SSD. Had I seen this more factual post before I wrote my sentimental note on the same issue, I wouldnt have beat the horse again. As you said, talking about this issues is really what will make a difference.

Types of Charts said...


Mike said...

There's always two sides to a story

madrid weekends said...

My friend is very dark.Some tease her calling names.Recently she has developed inferior complex.She avoids facing people.She prefers to be alone.thanks..

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