I want to be lightskinned


UTG Medical Students’ Association

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By Isatou Nyang
4th year medical student

This is a statement uttered by many people all around the world. “Hessal” as many people call it in the Senegambian region has been something ongoing for a very long time. When I was growing up my mates and I would buy food from someone based on their appearance. If they have three different colors as we would say and have burnt areas on their faces in which we are pretty sure that it is as a result of skin lightening then we would not buy the food. Mentality of kids or is it?

What is skin bleaching?


Skin bleaching is a practice of lightening the skin in order to look more beautiful and attractive like many would say. This practice is done by both men and women in different parts of the globe.

Skin lightening products include soaps, creams, pills and professional treatments like chemical peels and laser therapy.

Some use skin lightening products because of medical reasons. When an area of the skin darkens in response to injury, to reduce hyperpigmentation, acne, and sun damage.

How skin bleaching works

Skin bleaching reduces the concentration of melanin in the skin. Melanin is a pigment produced by cells in our bodies called melanocytes. Genetics usually determines the amount of melanin in our skin.

People with dark skin have more melanin. Skin bleaching chemicals can affect melanin production.

Why do people bleach?

Skin bleaching is very common and most people choose to do it for cosmetic reasons. 

Many people may feel this would make them look more attractive, confident and to get the attention of people anywhere they are.

Most women in the Gambia would tell you that if they go for ceremonies, the videographers are usually more focused on the light skinned to the extent that the light skinned ladies would sit in front in order to get better shots. What a cruel society.

Racism also plays a role in why most would lighten up their skins. Due to beauty standards, most people view the European form of beauty as the most desirable and they think skin bleaching would make them have many opportunities.

Some bleach their skin due to influence from their friends who will recommend products for them in order to have a more beautiful skin tone. Once they start, stopping becomes a problem.

Another key driver for skin bleaching is colorism, which is related to racism but different from it. Colorism is a discriminatory practice of preferring lighter skin tone over darker skin tone.

I was having a little chit chat with my colleague who told me she has seen someone bleach in order to have a job at a specific department. I was shocked.

All these factors would make women bleach their skin

Methods and ingredients

There are several active ingredients that can fade areas of hyperpigmentation. Some ingredients also reduce pigmentation in the skin more generally. Skin bleaching products may contain:

o          Vitamin C

o          Vitamin C can bind to melanin, reducing melanin production and addressing hyperpigmentation.

o          Niacinamide

o          Retinol

o          Hydroquinone

o          Mercury

o          Mercury is a toxic metal that harms humans and the environment.

Health effects of skin bleaching

Mercury poisoning

Signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning include:

o          numbness

o          high blood pressure

o          fatigue

o          sensitivity to light

o          neurologic symptoms, such as tremor, memory loss, and irritability

o          kidney failure

o          Dermatitis

Steroid acne

Skin bleaching creams that contain corticosteroids can cause steroid acne.

Symptoms can include:

o          whiteheads and blackheads

o          small red bumps

o          large, painful red lumps

o          acne scars

With all these adverse effects women as well as men should be weary of it. Most would know the dangers associated with it but thoughts of looking better would cloud their reasoning.

I think we need to be confident in our own skin and appreciate our color more. The society has a much better role to play by appreciating all skin types. Be confident because black is beautiful.