CANCER OF the skin has in recent years, seen an exponential rise in Ghana and Africa as a whole; and, one of the major catalysts of this phenomenon, particularly in Africa, is the menace of skin bleaching.
Skin bleaching, according to studies, is a cosmetic procedure that aims to lighten dark areas of the skin or achieve a generally paler skin tone.
The International Journal of Dermatology posits that skin bleaching “poses a serious public health threat because many contain mercury, which is a toxic heavy metal”.
The journal also adds that chemicals such as hydroquinone and niacinamide are “safer options”, however, “there is no guarantee they will lighten the complexion [of the skin] evenly.”
To put it simply, when one bleaches, the chemicals in the bleaching substances stop the production of melanin in the body, which originally helps to protect the skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, thereby exposing the individual or putting them at a greater risk of developing certain skin cancers.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 40% of African women bleach their skin. Surprisingly, the figure is significantly higher in some countries with a staggering 77% in Nigeria; 59% in Togo; 35% in South Africa; 27% in Senegal and 25% in Mali – all using skin-lightening products. Additionally, studies say that over 80% of skin care products in Africa include bleaching agents.
With a population of approximately 35 million people, Ghana has only 26 certified dermatologists; whereas Australia, in sharp contrast, and with a population of approximately 25 million, has a whooping 500 dermatologists.
Africa’s skin cancer rates are around 5% to 7% but only 27% of these survive – meaning a diagnosis of skin cancer will almost always mean a death sentence.
This brings to bare how serious and crucial the topic of skin bleaching and its attendant skin cancer is.
The Dellasie Aning Initiative
A Ghanaian American entrepreneur, a humanitarian and a recording artiste, Dellasie Aning, has for the past seven years, been blazing the trail in igniting conversations around the phenomena of skin bleaching and skin cancer while promoting sustainable ways of addressing them with an aim of changing the narrative in Ghana, Africa as well as on the global stage.
In an interaction with Daily Guide, she said, “About 50% of skincare products globally, contain bleaching agents, while 80% of those are found in Africa. These agents, she intimated, are however usually “hidden” by manufacturers, who use terms like ‘brightening’ and ‘toning’ to disguise the danger of what it is.
“That’s still so much”, she opined. “These percentages are really, really high. And so it’s important to talk about these things”.
Recounting a bit of her journey, she said, “As an entertainer, I deal with a lot of colourism. And that is something very, very frustrating. And it comes from the idea that you have to look a certain way in order to be marketable in order to sell things like music, movies, beauty products etc. You have to fit into a certain type of stereotype, a look.
So I looked at the dangers and health implications of skin bleaching, and one of those dangers is skin cancer.
It is something that we do not talk about much in Africa, or people of color in general, don’t really have these discussions around skin cancer; and I thought it is important to bring it up because it is an issue that is becoming more and more relevant as time goes on.”
In 2017, the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) banned the importation and use of hydroquinone in the country.
“The FDA wishes to remind the public that hydroquinone ceases to be part of ingredients permitted in cosmetic products on the Ghanaian market with immediate effect,” Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the FDA, Mrs. Delese Mimi Darko, told reporters in Accra.
She explained that the directive was in compliance of standards set by the Ghana Standards Authority (GSA) on hydroquinone which required that cosmetic products should be free of the product.
According to her, the FDA had already informed importers, manufacturers, distributors and retailers that cosmetic products containing hydroquinone were not to be sold on the Ghanaian market and that“anyone found selling such products will be sanctioned, in accordance with the law”.
However, the story is different today. Despite the ban, there was much more work to be done as cosmetic products containing hydroquinone abounds in shops nationwide.
“Once you make the law that is only one step. Now you have to implement the law and regulate the law and make sure that people are minding the law, which is not happening in Ghana, because even though these products are banned and are illegal, they are still getting into the country, being placed in beauty shops all over the nation, and you can easily find them anywhere”, Dellasie shared.
“I noticed every single time I go to the beauty stores here in Ghana, I see an entire section of skincare products dedicated to skin bleaching. I mean an entire section from top to bottom, which means that there is a very big market for this still and that people are still engaging in these practices,” she said.
She, therefore, expressed the hope to “take the fight a step further by pushing for a legislation to be passed, that puts warning labels on all skincare products that include dangerous ingredients, just the way they have done with cigarettes.”
BY Nii Adjei Mensahfio