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Thursday, April 20, 2023

The Economics of Skin Bleaching; A closer look at Supply, Demand and Implications.

Why is skin bleaching common in Africa? Is it just some inferiority complex, or are we missing something? Let’s find out.

the economics of skin bleaching

A few years ago, when I worked at a community pharmacy, a pretty lady walked into the Pharmacy to sell this soap to us. I told her that I don’t call the shot when it comes to procurement and, as such, could not place an order. She understood, but instead of not making any sales, she suggested that I buy for my personal use.

I am usually not a cosmetic person (aside from perfumes), but the fragrance of the soap was very appealing. The scent was similar to Extract (a soap I once used) and was cheaper. Relying on a few pharmaco-economic analyses, buying this new soap seemed like a good option, so I went for it.

However, on a closer look, I saw that this new soap had "whitening soap" boldly written on it. I queried further, and I was convinced by the lady that it was just branding and that they didn’t have the capabilities to bleach. She told me that most soaps have the whitening inscription attached to them (even when they don’t have any capabilities to do such). The idea, according to her, was to drive more sales.

To prove her point, she took me to our cosmetic shelf, and lo, I just discovered that most soaps had ‘whitening soap’ boldly printed on the package, even the Extract I once used. Apparently, I didn’t even notice, and truly the Extract soap didn’t do as much as make my palms whiter when I used it.

READ ALSO - Why men sleep off after having sex.

The main question now is why do soap companies in Nigeria (and Africa) have to brand their soaps in such a way to drive sales? Are we so concerned with bleaching that we need to be deceived by such branding? Perhaps yes, because all that is involved in skin bleaching always comes with a promise to bring out your ‘inner color,’ as if there are some hidden colors or complexion in people.


What will happen if you bleach your skin?


Well, many things can happen if you bleach your skin, but irrespective of the aesthetic result you want, the truth remains that bleaching your skin does not add value to your body or health. Most of the time, you may just be trying to impress people whose opinions won’t count in your journey to a healthy life.

If you feel inferior because of your complexion or you have body positivity issues, then visiting a counselor should be your first step instead of patronizing Instagram vendors who sell one concoction or the other. In cases like this, you don’t need to bleach your skin; you probably need that therapy first. A qualified therapist may guide you through body positivity measures, which can save you from unwarranted health hazards.

body positivity and skin bleaching
Love your body and yourself.

That said, here are a few things you need to know about bleaching your skin:


What is skin bleaching?


According to Healthline, Skin bleaching "refers to using products to lighten dark areas of the skin or achieve an overall lighter complexion." Some products used here are bleaching creams, soaps, pills, and professional treatments like chemical peels and laser therapy.

From a medical point of view, skin bleaching offers no importance, and there is no need to lighten the skin. In fact, very useful evidence suggests that skin bleaching can easily predispose one to certain harmful effects, including skin cancer and kidney failure. 


How is skin bleaching done?

Skin bleaching reduces the concentration or production of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a pigment produced by cells called melanocytes.

The amount of melanin in your skin is determined by genetics. What it means is that you don’t have the willpower to choose the amount you come to life with, as you basically inherit such from your parents. People with dark skin (mainly of African descent) have more melanin.

Applying skin bleaching products to the skin decreases the number of melanocytes in your skin. When this is done, it ultimately results in lighter skin.


Skin bleaching side effects


Several countries have banned the use of skin-bleaching products because of the dangers associated with them. Based on a review of evidence, the products were deemed unsafe for human use. Skin bleaching has been associated with many adverse health effects, some of which include;

1. Mercury poisoning


Some skin-bleaching creams have been linked to mercury toxicity. Mercury is a component of some of these bleaching products.

Signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning include:

  • Numbness
  • high blood pressure
  • fatigue
  • sensitivity to light
  • Neurologic symptoms, such as tremors, memory loss, and irritability
  • kidney failure 

2. Dermatitis


Dermatitis is the inflammation of the skin caused by contact with certain irritants.

Symptoms include;

  • skin redness
  • blisters
  • skin ulcers
  • hives
  • dry, scaly skin
  • swelling
  • itching
  • burning and tenderness


3. Exogenous ochronosis.


Exogenous ochronosis (EO) is a skin disorder that causes blue-black pigmentation. It usually occurs as a complication of long-term use of skin-bleaching creams that contain hydroquinone. People who use it on large areas of the body or the entire body are more likely to develop EO.


4. Steroid acne

Skin bleaching creams that contain corticosteroids can cause steroid acne. Steroid acne mostly affects the chest but can also show up on the back, arms, and other parts of the body.


Symptoms can include:

  • Whiteheads and blackheads
  • small red bumps
  • large, painful red lumps
  • acne scars


5. Nephrotic syndrome


Nephrotic syndrome is a kidney disorder often caused by damage to the blood vessels in your kidneys responsible for filtering waste and excess water. It causes the body to excrete too much protein in the urine. Skin lightening creams containing mercury have been associated with nephrotic syndrome.

Symptoms can include:

  • swelling (edema) around the eyes
  • swollen feet and ankles
  • foamy urine
  • loss of appetite
  • fatigue




Answering whether skin bleaching is good or bad can be very relative. A better way to answer whether skin bleaching is bad is to say that it is often unhealthy for most people. Worthy of note is that irrespective of the lack of specific health benefits to skin bleaching, it can have some desirable cosmetic effects on the skin when used to treat certain skin conditions.

Some dermatologists can use skin bleaching treatments to reduce dark spots on the skin caused by sun damage, aging, and hormonal changes.

skin bleaching uses
Scenarios where skin bleaching products are used

Some skin bleaching treatments may help fade acne scars. They won’t help with active inflammation and redness caused by a breakout, but they may reduce red or dark areas that linger after acne has healed.

How to use skin bleaching products


Use varies from product to product. Skin lightening creams are typically applied only to dark areas of skin once or twice a day.


To use a skin-lightening cream, follow the directions given by a doctor or on the packaging. These directions may often involve:

  • applying the product sparingly using clean hands or a cotton pad
  • avoiding contact with your surrounding skin, eyes, nose, and mouth
  • washing your hands thoroughly after use
  • avoiding touching the treated area against another person’s skin
  • applying sunscreen to prevent skin damage from UV exposure

Many skin-lightening pills are available on the market are taken once daily, though there is no evidence that these are effective.




Most skin-lightening products are not recommended for darker skin tones and could cause hyperpigmentation. Skin-lightening treatments are also not recommended for use by children or people who are pregnant or nursing.

Injectable skin-lightening products are available, but they are largely not recommended. There is insufficient evidence that they work, and there may be health risks.


Home Remedies


Home remedies for hyperpigmentation, like Lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide, can irritate the skin and eyes and cause other side effects.

As with other skin bleaching techniques, these home remedies are recommended for treating dark spots, not lightening naturally dark skin.

Some of these home remedies include:

  • apple cider vinegar
  • green tea extract
  • aloe vera

In Summary, what do you take away from all of these?

1.    Skin bleaching is a personal choice that shouldn’t be made lightly.

2.    It has no health benefits and has been linked to several serious side effects.

3.    If you’re considering skin bleaching, see your doctor or a dermatologist about the benefits and risks.


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