The Menace of Skin-Bleaching in Nigeria


War Against Melanin

Using cosmetic endeavours aimed at achieving lighter skin is a longstanding tradition among a staggering number of Nigerians. To this group of people—who are conditioned by factors like Eurocentric beauty standards and colourism, melanin is a stain whose trace they strive to eliminate. This has, over the years, led to the development of different skin-lightening beauty methods that focus on faster and relatively thorough results but gape the skin and leave the body open to grave health repercussions.

‘Your instant whitening wash…as you can see, it is very instant, you can see now, it is peeling off…your instant whitening body wash is very effective, just for 30k.’ These words, intended to advertise the ‘instant whitening body wash’ service of a Nigerian ‘skin care’ brand, reveal the extent to which the culture of skin bleaching is serious in Nigeria. For context, the voice features in an Instagram video that captures a woman lying face down in a tub of water as her darker top skin layer is being scraped off with a scoop-like object to reveal a fairer one.  

Nigeria is one of the largest markets for skin-bleaching products in the world partly due to the desire for lighter skin by some dark-skinned Nigerians. In tandem with this is the upsurge of skincare brands centred on skin-lightening and the procedures used to this effect which constantly undergo phases of advancement from bleaching creams and soap to glutathione drips, pills, injections, skin-lightening baths, and currently the ‘organic skincare’ trend which tries to drape a deceptive cloak on the skin-bleaching phenomenon. The names of these products often include keywords like ‘half-caste’, ‘whitening’, ‘lightening’, ‘brightening’, and ‘glow’, all of which emphasize that they are purposed towards achieving fairer skin tones within a short time. 

This essay features in our print issue, ‘An African Feminist Manifesto’ and is only available online to paying subscribers. To continue reading register for a free trial and get unlimited access to The Republic for a week!Already a subscriber? Log in.