A worrying beauty trend has emerged in Kenya for illegal ‘skin-bleaching’ injections which dramatically lighten the skin’s pigment.
Popular among the Kenyan elite and costing around $70 a pop, the process involves injecting mercury-containing creams which are intended to be applied topically, allegedly because they work much faster to lighten the skin that way.
‘Nairobi is very competitive and Kenyan men like women with whiter skin’, one customer of the procedure, a woman in her mid-Twenties referred to as Mercy, tells A worrying beauty trend has emerged in Kenya for illegal ‘skin-bleaching’ injections which dramatically lighten the skin’s pigment.
Beauticians claim the injections can make customers look six years younger and their skin a shocking ten shades lighter, and they are gaining particular popularity on Nairobi’s River Road – a busy marketplace notorious for it black market commerce and bribed law enforcement.
Rose, a River Road-based beautician and purveyor of the illegal treatment, claims the injectable substance is so ‘strong’, it is capable of turning customers into ‘albinos’.
She has been treating her own skin for five years and her previous, much darker skin tone is only visible in the patches of skin around her knuckles and elbows.
‘The injection lightens you from inside. It makes women clean’, Rose tells the publication. ‘Most of my clients are wealthy and some are national celebrities.
‘Many are Somali or Indian. But, those ones never come to my shop. They send a driver with a photo of their skin color and I supply what they need.
Mercy says that her dream is to be ‘as white as a European’ and her motive is this: ‘My husband prefers half-caste women to darker girls, and he is proud to be mine when we go to the club. I get far more male attention now I am lighter.
Dr Pranav Pancholi, a Harvard-trained dermatologist tells Vice that these black-market injections are ‘completely unregulated’, so it is tricky to predict how harmful they might be.
The creams contain steroids and ‘alpha hydroxy acids’ which are corrosive, capable of causing ‘serious infection’ and can ‘kill body tissue causing flesh to waste away.’
Skin-lightening treatments in various compounds have been popular in Africa, Asia and the Middle East since the 1930s, and one brand, Fair and Lovely, is now one of the most popular formulas in the world. Owned by Unilever, it claims to ‘synergistically lighten skin color through a process that is natural, reversible and completely safe.
Most of these formulas work by lessening the concentration of melanin, the natural human compound which causes the skin to darken in the sun, and the same agent that gives us sun tans.
Controversy surrounding skin-lightening as a whole is nothing new. In recent years, several American-based celebrities of color have come under fire for allegedly bleaching their skin to appear more Caucasian, including Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Beyonce.
In August 2008, for example, cosmetics giant Lâ€™Oreal was accused of â€˜whitewashingâ€™ Beyonce’s skin in an advert by digitally lightening it. Other commentators suspect to this day that Beyonce has been using skin-lightening treatments for years.
And who could forget the drastic transformation Michael Jackson underwent over the course of his career, not just to his skin color but also the shape of his face, all in an effort – it has been speculated – to look less classically African American.
His autopsy in 2010 did reveal that the pop star had a condition called Vitiligo, which causes patches of the skin to lose their pigment and turn pale.
However, his room was also found to be strewn with different varieties of skin-lightening creams, according to The Associated Press, which perhaps he used to even out his skin tone.
Ironically of course, pale-skinned Caucasians from America and Europe have been enthusiastically darkening their skin to gain the highly desirable sun tan since the early 20th Century.
And if there was a single person responsible for popularizing said sun tan, it was Coco Chanel, who frequently sunned herself on yachts in the Mediterranean and declared in 1929: ‘A girl simply has to be tanned.’
Only time will tell if these Kenyan skin injections will have long-lasting damage on the hordes of women who are receiving them, but either way, it’s a sad reflection on the woman all around the world who are simply unhappy in the skin they were born in.