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City of Banjul
Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Skin bleaching products advertisement on highway billboards

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Dear editor,

As I stepped out of a shop along Kairaba Avenue, I met a heavily pregnant woman entering the shop. What stood out about her was not her pregnancy but that she was so heavily bleached, I could see and read her blue veins like a map. I stepped out of the shop and faced one of the many billboards advertising skin bleaching creams and their accompanying tubes (ladies you know what I mean), soap, intense serums, etc. There was a very light skinned woman advertising the “clarifying” effects of the cream.

Now, we are all aware that skin lightening products were banned by legislation enacted by our Parliament. Whether or not its still in existence, I do not know. What is clear is that Government must regulate the advertisement of products some of which are mostly known to cause harm to women, when used. If billboards were to pop up today all over our country advertising cigarettes, we would probably have some reckoning to do with the World Health Organization, as they cause cancer and are harmful to unborn babies. Cigarette companies go further to put unsightly images of the harmful effects of smoking on cigarette packages (sickly babies, etc.). This is what responsible societies/ Governments do.

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I have a profound belief in the freedom of individuals to choose as they wish. However, we owe a duty to inform people of the harmful effects of certain products- like they do with cigarette smoking. The idea is not to bar women from bleaching but to inform them and disallow advertisement of certain of these products proven to be dangerous to women, without information on the adverts as to their harmful effects, adopting the same approach as cigarettes.

Certain skin lightening products have a similar effect as cigarettes. Studies have shown they can cause skin cancer and dermatologists in countries who are aware of this severely advise pregnant women to desist from using certain skin products, due to the unknown effect on babies. All you have to do is to look around in the Gambia to see women with painful looking skin burns, scarred forever from bleaching, and yet companies are allowed to advertise skin bleaching products, without information as to their harmful effects. Many women have what we joking refer to as “lunette” around the sensitive areas of their eyes. It makes one wonder what the Department of Public Health’s role is.

Please note the emphasis is on allowing advertisement of these products, some of which may contain harmful chemicals, without regulation. In fact, our black sisters in countries in Europe and America cannot have access to skin lightening products that studies have shown are harmful. America recently introduced regulations restricting the sale and use of products with Hydroquinone, one of the oldest bleaching creams in the market, linked to cancer and organ system toxicity. EU has had regulations regulating the import and sale of hydroquinone for a while.

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Awa Dampha

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