No matter how much we use the hashtag, #blackgirlmagic or belt out the lyrics to Beyonce’s 2019 summer hit, “Brown Skin Girl”, there continues to be a growing number of people who engage in the dangerous habit of skin bleaching.
Skin bleaching, which in recent times has been rebranded as skin enhancement, is the intentional alteration of one’s natural skin colour to one that is in most cases substantially lighter in colour, through the use of chemical skin lightening agents.
This habit is practiced among people with darker complexions and has been popular in the Caribbean for some time, with persons going as far as mixing more than one chemical agent to achieve their desired complexion at a faster rate.
The mindset of lighter skin being more desirable has no doubt trickled down the bloodlines of our African and Indian ancestors who were brought to the Caribbean by Europeans and made to believe that lighter complexions were more beautiful and associated with wealth.
Some who engage in skin bleaching may even even report receiving more compliments and increased attention from the opposite sex because of a lighter complexion. Others say that it is the key to upward mobility in the workplace and overall acceptance in society. It can be said that the era of social media only serves to accelerate the habit because for every page glorifying dark skin, there are at least two promoting the beauty of mixed (lighter) women and children.
And as a result, nothing anyone says will change the minds of skin bleachers if when they look into a mirror, they see what they believe to be physically beautiful. But just because this habit has become common place in society, does that mean we should forget about the dangers of using such harsh chemicals on the skin?
Must we ignore the side effects which include the thinning of the skin, liver damage, skin ulcers and skin cancer, which have all been associated with this habit as a result of the chemicals used?
Perhaps a solution, at least for St Vincent and the Grenadines, would be to attack the harmful habit through more rigid control of these chemicals, whether it be an importation ban or high taxes.
But some of the bleaching agents that are being used are everyday products that can be found in the kitchen pantry or under the bathroom sink. What then can we do to stem this dangerous practice?
We must take an urgent multipronged approach. The continued growth of bleaching despite warnings from medical practitioners, coupled with the business success of those who peddle the poisons is a red flag that we must act now.