Dark-skinned black and Indian women in South Africa are literally risking their lives to become the fairest of them all.
Despite a real risk of skin cancer and other effects such as irreversible skin thinning, darkening and acne, an increasing number of women and a few men are using skin-lightening products – bought mostly from street vendors – that contain harmful and banned substances such as mercury, steroids and hydroquinone. “We are seeing an increasing number of people presenting with skin complications in clinics and hospitals because of these products. Some of the cases are so severe that the damage cannot be reversed and, in others, the state spends a fortune treating them,” says Dlova chief specialist and head of the dermatology department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
“This shows that people are not comfortable in their own skins. They believe that being fair in complexion makes them more attractive and opens up more opportunities for them,” she says.
“In certain Indian communities, for instance, it is believed that the prospects of marriage are enhanced by fair skin.”
They are famous for raunchy performances on stage, but one other thing US rapper Nicki Minaj, local pop singer Kelly Khumalo and self-styled queen of kwaito Nomasonto “Mshoza” Maswanganyi have in common is how their skins have become lighter and lighter over the years. Minaj, who looks quite unlike the woman she was six years ago, has denied that she is using skin-lightening products, but those close to her insist she is on a quest to look white. Mshoza, on the other hand, has proudly admitted she uses a glutathione-vitamin C drip, while Khumalo has reportedly been using over-the-counter skin lighteners.