Many dark skinned women from Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of the world share this problem and have to battle with it every day of their lives. For them, their skin color is such a disadvantage in a world where all the good stuff seems to be associated with the white and light skinned folks - Power, Success, Recognition, Beauty, Respect Attractiveness, etc. They believe that being light skinned would improve their prospects for Attention, Love, Acceptance, etc. This unfortunate trend has come about largely due to Low Self-esteem rising from various cultural, colonial, and modern day discriminatory experiences. But should this be a credible reason to bleach one's skin. Is it worth the trouble and health risk? Should black women accept this as their place? Should they conform and attempt to assimilate by bleaching their beautiful, God-given skin just to satisfy some beliefs, and to hopefully catch the attention & acceptance of others.

Effects of Skin Bleaching

To Bleach or not to Bleach your skin? As a black or dark skinned African, this is a familiar question I have heard and debated with friends over and again. Skin Bleaching has been a very thorny issue for many and has deservedly earned itself a hot spot on almost every discussion forum for colored women.

Controversy on the subject has arisen from the reasons given by different black women for bleaching their naturally endowed skin.

While a section of women resort to skin bleaching as a form of treatment for their skin discolorations, and for other reasons like toning down dark spots on their skin, etc., it is widely believed that the majority of sisters who bleach their skins, have had to do it for the sheer desire to depart from their naturally dark shades, to take on a lighter skinned look for various reasons which are largely attributed to having low self-esteem, a desire to be accepted or better appreciated, and even for the belief that being light skinned is being beautiful.

The question here is, whether the latter is true among black women, and why it should be?

When 16-year-old Grace, an African student in Canada wakes up in the morning, she stands in front of the mirror that hangs on the wall in her room. The image she sees staring back at her is a disgrace to herself. Her kinky-permed-straight hair pinched back into a ponytail, her broad nose, her thick lips, her dark brown eyes and her dark skin scream "you're ugly" to her. And Grace believes it. She sees this image in the mirror every time she opens her foundation kit to apply the ivory powder to her ebony skin. Each time Grace sees this image, she is reminded that she is black, she is undesirable and her wish to be light-skinned, or even better white, has not and will never come true.

Latoya, a 17-year-old Jamaican set her mind on becoming a "brownin", a term used on the Caribbean island to refer to blacks who have light skin. She coats her face with layers of bleaching creams, some containing steroids.

Regardless of warnings that the practice could damage her skin, rarely a day goes by when Reid does not bleach--and she is pleased with the results. "When I walk on the streets you can hear people say, 'Hey, check out the brownin'.' It is cool. It looks pretty," she said. "When you are lighter, people pay more attention to you. It makes you more important."

Interestingly, Grace & Latoya are not alone in this dilemma. Many dark skinned women from Africa, the Caribbean and other parts of the world share this problem and have to battle with it every day of their lives. For them, their skin color is such a disadvantage in a world where all the good stuff seems to be associated with the white and light skinned folks - Power, Success, Recognition, Beauty, Respect Attractiveness, etc. They believe that being light skinned would improve their prospects for Attention, Love, Acceptance, etc..

This unfortunate trend has come about largely due to Low Self-esteem rising from various cultural, colonial, and modern day discriminatory experiences. But should this be a credible reason to bleach one's skin. Is it worth the trouble and health risk? Should black women accept this as their place? Should they conform and attempt to assimilate by bleaching their beautiful, God-given skin just to satisfy some beliefs, and to hopefully catch the attention & acceptance of others.

A number of social commentators and other intellectuals here have decried skin bleaching as an affront to black dignity.

Afua Cooper, professor of Caribbean and African History at Ryerson University, says that internalization of racist beauty ideals is an offshoot of colonialism and slavery. "After 400 years of being told that your skin colour is ugly and that the lighter you were the better, you're going to believe it," says Cooper. "The black power movement has attempted to reverse these negative ideals but it was difficult because the condition was so prolonged and it has reached such a deep place in our psyche."

The black power movement of the '60s addressed the issue of colourism in relation to beauty. The movement challenged black people to examine the devastating psychic impact of white supremacy. It also demanded that blacks embrace a diversity of black looks. Self-love was the radical political agenda and "black is beautiful" was the slogan that empowered large numbers of women to stop chemically straightening their hair and instead, love themselves and all their blackness. But this didn't last long enough. Cooper says that once blacks started using the process of assimilation to successfully enter the mainstream, things went downhill. "There was a real appreciation of our differences," says Cooper, "but now, we're back to a racial apartheid."

All that said, Skin Bleaching should not necessarily be looked at with a negative undertone. A lot of the time, sisters have had to genuinely apply some creams, with or without prescription, to treat various skin disorders. Moderation in application of such creams should however be exercised, and where necessary, professional advice must be sought to avoid skin burns and infections.

The Health Factor

Doctors have recently reported an alarming increase in patients seeking treatment for skin disorders, some of them irreversible, caused by excessive use of the steroid products or abrasive homemade applications that were administered for skin bleaching.

Some women also use steroids to whiten their skin. Dr Naureen Zaheer, a skin specialist in Pakistan described this as a "lethal combination". "They have a very bad effect on the skin and make it thinner and more prone to disorders. It can cause acne, and could also have the reverse effect and turn the skin black," she warned. "The tissue becomes very delicate and can be damaged even if it is scratched."

The two main bleaching agents in the creams are ammonia and hydrogen peroxide. The ammonia can cause irritation and, according to skin specialists, this is what causes most of the reactions. Mild irritation results in redness. If it becomes worse, the skin can blister and burn. "The burn is usually superficial, but it can go deeper if you leave the cream on for too long," Zaheer said.

The dermatologist cited an example of a patient whose skin was ulcerated and prone to eczema, resulting in the face being covered in marks and blacks spots. "There have been patients whom I have referred to the plastic surgery department because the burns are so bad," she said.


For Those Who Absolutely have to:

The fact still remains that some people will have to fade some dark spots or patches that may occur as a result of pregnancy, reactions to certain medications because of hyperpigmetation resulting from acne scars. The options available today have become so complex it can be difficult to determine what is right for you. One simple lesson to start with is that regardless of the cause of skin discoloration be it from old acne, bug bites, skin trauma, underarm irritation, sun damage (such as freckles, "liver spots") or hormonal causes (melasma); your fading basics remain the same.

Fade creams should be applied ONLY to the dark spot. Select areas that are well defined to clear. This can help improve the ultimate outcome. If you do not have well defined areas to fade, then you will want to use a skin brightener that is safer to use in more widespread areas. Skin brighteners are typically not Hydroquinone based, but based upon botanical ingredients such as Kojic Acid.

Avoid applying the active bleaching agent to normal surrounding skin. Continued use of your bleach on normal skin will slowly lighten the regular skin tone, which can cause severe damage to the skin cells.

Fading should be stopped when the desired effects are achieved. Otherwise, you may end up with areas of the skin that are lighter than your normal skin tone!

Sun protection is crucial. The sun will try to darken up the spots you are working so hard to fade. Sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 that protects against both UVA and UVB as well as sun protective clothing/hat are ideal.

Everyone cannot tolerate hydroquinone (Hydroquinone is the best-known active ingredient used in many types of fade creams), whether it is irritating, causes an allergic reaction, or in very rare instances causes an actual darkening of the skin tone.

Originally appeared in Obaahema.com.