It been years since Ghana started waging war against the multi-billion-dollar skin bleaching industry with a directive to control the influx of hydroquinone -based products which have flooded markets across the country.
The big question begging for answers is this; has the directive deterred people from patronizing such products?
Bleaching is not a new phenomenon. Over the years, medical experts have consistently cautioned against the use of skin bleaching creams, soaps and other substances on the body because of their harmful effects. However, advertisers of these products depict beauty as women with lighter skins and many people seem ignorant about the dangers of skin bleaching despite the obvious results of damaged skin on people who have practiced the phenomenon in our communities.
In Bukom, one of the most populous communities in the capital city and lying in the heart of Accra, children as young as 13 years, both male and female are engaged in skin bleaching.
Richmond Sackifio, a 32-year-old senior high school graduate, born and raised in Bukom in the Odododiodioo Constituency of the Greater Accra Region tells me he has been bleaching since the age of 13.
According to him, bleaching is very common in the area.
The surprising element of his decision to engage in skin bleaching is his reason for engaging in the practice – to attract the attention of ladies.
“If you are not a fair guy, they don’t love you that’s why I have been using some creams so that my colour will be fair,” he explained.
Aside Richmond, almost any other youth on the street of Bukom has once bleached, contemplating bleaching or is bleaching.
48-year-old Oyodaaga, who has been bleaching throughout her life, said she almost lost her legs after using powerful household cleaning detergent, powerzone to bleach.
“Those who know me know that I bleach a lot. When I bleached, I had an infection in the leg so I beg them to stop,” she stated.
Beyond the cosmetic allure, medical experts warn of unseen dangers tied to skin bleaching.
In Ghana, hydroquinone, mercury, and glutathione-based cosmetics are the most popular skin bleaching products on the market.
They work by reducing the amount of pigment created in the skin, which makes it look lighter, according to health experts.
The extensive use of these products can lead to thinning of the skin, development of permanent stretch marks, bad odor and long-term diseases such as diabetes and skin cancer.
“If we apply them on our skin for a long time, then we will find them in our bloodstream,” a dermatologist and specialist at the 37 Military Hospital, Dr. Jeanette Aryeboye, said.
Reports in the November, 2023 analytical fact sheet of the World Health Organisation African Region and the Integrated African Health Observatory (iAHO) indicate that 39% of Ghana’s population is involved in skin bleaching, ranking Ghana fourth amongst seven other African countries.
In October, 2021, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) cautioned citizens against the use of glutathione for skin bleaching. This followed a similar directive in 2017 prohibiting body cosmetic products containing hydroquinone due to its health implications.
However, these skin products can still be sighted in the market, obviously breaking the ban imposed by the FDA.
The Head of Communication and Public Education at the Food and Drugs Authority, Rhoda Appiah, maintains the ban is still in force, adding that the FDA undertakes enforcement actions such as market swoops by officers of the Authority.
She, however, advised that the best form of enforcement is for the public to self-regulate.
In the quest for a fairer complexion, the stories from the streets of Accra echo a plea for change.
Perhaps, it is time for beauty therapy, movie makers and advertisers to celebrate the beauty of dark skin, fostering a culture that embraces diversity rather than harmful and unrealistic beauty standards.
As Ghana navigates its complex relationship with skin bleaching, the need for collective action becomes more apparent than ever.
By Anita Selasi Agbotah