Nearly 77 percent of Nigerian women use skin-lightening products on a regular basis, according to the World Health Organization. It is the highest percentage in the world.
“Skin-whitening products represent one of the rapidly growing segments in the global beauty industry,” reports Companies and Markets. “With the concept of beauty in the 21st century revolving around a flawless and fair complexion, there is rising discrimination based on skin color.”
Skin lightening is big business in Africa, especially Nigeria. Take the success of a skin-lightening product Whitenicious by Nigerian-Cameroonian pop musician Dencia (photo above). The product sold out almost immediately after its recent release. Three weeks after its debut in January, sales surpassed 15,000 units as demand grows in Nigeria for skin-lightening products.
Dencia swears by the product and has become the international spokesperson for the product.
“Why did I get a couple of shades lighter than I was? That’s a personal choice,” she said in an Ebony interview. “That is what I wanted to be … I’m very daring. I like trying things. I’m not doing it because I want to have boyfriends. And I’m not doing it because I want anybody to accept me. It’s because I just wanted to do it.”
According to Dencia, however, her product is selling best outside of Africa. Eighty percent of people who buy her products are African American, and 10 percent are white, she told Ebony.
Her African market is just 10 percent, “because guess what? They don’t have credit cards to buy the products and I’m only taking credit cards or PayPal,” she told Ebony. “And they don’t have that access. I have white people from Europe, America, and everywhere buying Whitenicious.”
Many women bleach their skin because it affords them better marriage prospects and a greater chance at social mobility.
Friend and Nigerian-American rapper Kingsley “Rukus” Okafor explains the obsession.
“It’s hard to understand until you’ve been in the streets of an African nation,” he wrote in a comment on Facebook. “There’s a different treatment and desirability factor in Africa for lighter skinned women, well beyond what we experience in the US. It’s an epidemic. You can’t walk a day in the streets of Lagos without seeing someone who has/is bleached. The possible benefits (more respect, increased desirability to men) outweigh the consequences, especially in a male-dominated society where women’s “independence” is frowned upon. Finding a well-to-do husband/sugar daddy is a priority and women are willing to do what they have to, to fit standards of beauty. The euphemism is “skin-toning” and although “bleaching” is banned, skin-toning is a huge money-maker that I’m sure has lined the pockets of enough politicians to allow it to keep being sold despite international outcry.”
Skin-bleaching reportedly has terrible consequences, WHO reports. Skin burns, rashes, and permanent abrasions are commonplace. Moreover, many creams contain toxic levels of mercury, and some include agents that may cause leukemia, and cancer of the liver and kidneys. Despite this, skin-bleaching has become a multibillion-dollar business around the world.
Whitening products aren’t cheap. Whitenicious carries a retail price of $150 for 60 milliliters.