Many women around the world use skin-lightening beauty products in an effort to improve their looks.
The World Health Organization, or WHO, reports that the country with the highest percentage of women using such products is Nigeria.
In its 2011 report, the WHO estimated that about 77 percent of Nigerian women normally used skin-lightening products. That represented about 76 million people.
Nigeria’s beauty care industry is already worth several billion dollars. It has been expanding at a rate of 8 to 10 percent each year.
WHO officials say the biggest danger from skin-lighteners is the chemical mercury, which is commonly used in such products. Mercury is often used because it can slow the formation of melanin, a substance that gives skin its color.
The WHO warns that using skin-lightening products over time increases mercury levels in the body. It says the most serious result of mercury buildup can be kidney damage. Other possible conditions include stretch marks, weakened skin or other skin problems. Mercury can also reduce the skin’s ability to resist infections.
Even with the continued popularity of skin-lightening products, some Nigerian women are choosing to reject them. They say they believe their naturally dark skin is beautiful and does not need to be lightened.
That opinion is not shared by 25-year-old Goodness Ben, a Nigerian model and actress. She says lightening her skin could increase her chances of getting more work in movies. Ben recently spoke to a VOA reporter during a visit to a market in Abuja.
"Yes, this is Nigeria, and a fair skin is business. In the movie industry, most times directors want you to, like, glow.”
Ben added that having lighter skin makes her feel better about herself and is more appealing to others. “Yes, for me to be better, for me to be fair, for me to be more beautiful,” she said.
Some darker-skinned Nigerians have pushed back against the idea that lighter is better. They have launched what they are calling the “Melanin Movement.”
Tina Ohanu says she has no need to lighten her skin to improve her self-image.
"My confidence really doesn't come from my skin, it comes from within.”
She added that she still gets a lot of attention from men without lightening her skin.
Some African nations have taken action to restrict such beauty aids. Ghana, Ivory Coast and Rwanda have banned all skin- lightening products, while Nigeria joined South Africa in barring some that contain the most harmful chemicals.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
Timothy Obiezu reported this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted his report for VOA Learning English, with additional information from the World Health Organization. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
glow – v. give off a warm, healthy appearance
confidence – n. a feeling of being certain in the ability to do things well