Skin Bleaching: Can Rwanda Handle The Fight?



Knowing the famous saying ‘Black Is Beautiful’ you would expect to see all Africans trying to remain darker and protect their skin than bleach it.

Unfortunately , for some, it is not the case.

They will go after what Rwandans call “mukorogo” (cosmetics).

This is a controversial subject.

If you have noticed, lighter skinned people are investigating in tanning their skin, and on the contrary black people are trying all they can to turn their dark and healthy skin into fair light.

African women are mainly fond of this practice.

For some women bleaching is one way of beautifying their skin and becoming attractive, they say so.

It is true that there are African men who prefer light skinned women, this is not to ignore that some men do get bleached, largely through sharing the substance with their spouses.

It is commonly known that some African countries like the Congo and Nigeria, light skinned women are favored, regardless of the healthy effects.

In some African families, men are dissuaded from marrying a dark skinned woman.

They are believed to be less fortunate than the white and fair light-skinned women.

In reaction, dark skinned women will bleach not only to be accepted by men but also to falsely raise their status amongst other women.

Sharon Muhoza is a Rwandan young lady who bleached.

She grew up feeling less beautiful and even less attractive, because she experienced the degrading attitude towards dark skinned women.

Going to school and meeting other girls, she learned that she was not doomed to her dark skin.

She learned from some of her peers that she can make her situation better.

She went to nearby shops in the neighbourhood and purchased a lotion suitable for the skin lighting.

It worked in the beginning when she started bleaching.

Slowly her skin turned light.

The reaction were diverse, but she noticed how she regularly received complements about her smooth light skin.

Everyone was noticing her fair skin, she became the center of attention for some time before her beauty turned out to be a disastrous experience.

Her skin became too sensitive to the sun and the pains were unbearable.

She started carrying an umbrella all the time, whether it was sunny or rainy.

Her skin dried out and developed pimples that were not going away, however much she tried to treat them.

And she started fearing for the worst.

That is when she gave up on the beauty adventure and attraction and chose to stop bleaching.

Luckily, she she recovered.

Dr. K. Kayitenkore is a dermatologist in Kigali.

She told Taarifa that many people who bleach do not understand the effects it causes to their skin.

However, after it has happened, they go to the hospital, get treatment. Many of them recover.

Unfortunately many physicians not advise their patients to stop bleaching because some patients don’t reveal that they have been bleaching.

Bleaching again causes an even worst reaction on the skin, she advises.

“The risks of bleaching are many and very menacing to life. There are lists or cancer, pimples and many others,” Dr. Kayitenkore says.

“Bleaching products reduce the melanin in the skin which makes it very vulnerable to the sun” she emphasizes.

Myths vs business

The global skin lightening products market includes a number of product types such as lotion and cream, foam, gel, serum and toner and scrub.

According to Future Market Insights’ research report, the lotion and cream segment leads the market with a high margin.

This segment is expected to reach a market value of over US$8.9 billion by 2027, up from about US$4.8million in 2017, growing at 6.4% during the forecast period of 2017-2027.

This growth in revenue can be attributed to the wide availability of lotions and creams in the skin care industry.

Sometime back Dr. Kayitenkore was once attending a conference in Nigeria.

One of the major items for discussion was bleaching among the many dermatological sphere.

Dermatology is the branch of medicine dealing with the skin, nails, hair and its diseases. It is a specialty with both medical and surgical aspects.

A dermatologist treats diseases, in the widest sense, and some cosmetic problems of the skin, scalp, hair, and nails

The debate, Dr. Kayitenkore says, was intense and ferocious.

Two main concerns were raised.

One, the cosmetics industry is huge, estimated to be in billions of dollars. Industry players tried to lobby against the debate and had hired some participants to argue against any attempt to disrupt actions that would jeopardised the trade in cosmetics business.

There are dozens of global pharmaceutical firms willing to invest in anything that stop banning cosmetics that are used for bleaching.

The conference was basically hijacked by masqueraders.

The second hot item was women activists who advocated for the rights to bleach, based on the social shortcomings women experience on society.

It was a tag of war. Activists argued that without cosmetics  some women would never get suitors and potential partners.

“Discussions over bleaching were heated,” she said. After all, she added, “scientific arguments were not given consideration.”

The case in Rwanda

There are many bleaching agents available on the Rwandan market.

Many shops across the country have some of the common agents including; Cream Moisturizers, Skin Whitening And Brightening Gel Creme, Neutrogena Fine Fairness Brightening Serum, Pigmentation Reducing Complex, and many more.

All of them are imported.

For many, these products are a God given. “I like them,” says Carine Mutesi, a customer who spoke to Taarifa in Kigali City market after purchasing one of her regular gel. She was hesitate to share reasons why she like bleaching, but said, “it’s my right, not so?”

However, many users of these products tend to share the same reasons for bleaching; stigima, peer influence and ignorance.

Dr. Kayitenkore says those are largely the reasons known, but insisted that when some users are educated about the effects, they easily stop using the products.

“We need a massive awareness, otherwise many Rwandans will continue suffering. Unfortunately many don’t know that one of the consequences is cancer,” she says. “If you are lucky not to get cancer, you may never recover for good.”

Meanwhile, a discussion has ensued on social media over bleaching.

President Kagame has also joined the discussion.

“Quite unhealthy among other things. Includes use of prohibited chemicals,” he said on Twitter, and went on to assign the Ministry of Health and the Rwanda National Police “to reign this in very quickly.”

Question are, can we bite this industry? Can this practice be eliminated from the society?