NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 13 – “Madam! Madam! Come tukuuzie skin bleach ya ukweli (Come we sell to you genuine skin bleach products),” a girl, whose face skin tone does not match that of her hands and feet says to me charmingly.
I am in River Road to find out if several of my previous observations hold any water – the sellers of skin bleaching products have a tendency of calling out to dark skinned women (such as myself) to sell them bleaching creams and hardly pursue light skinned ones, especially those with smooth complexions. Their reasoning is simple as I come to find out; in their opinion, dark skin is not ideal, hence “it needs fixing.”
My caller is not alone. There is a string of similarly bleached girls along the streets claiming to sell ‘mafuta’ as they call out to other women, some offering quick-fire solutions for women with acne problems.
I show interest to my caller, whose name is Ruth, more out of curiosity as I have no intention of buying the products. She leads me into a small badly lit store. Lotions can be seen piled on top of one another, most bearing Indian and Arabic inscriptions with before and after photos of women who presumably had “success stories” following use of the creams and lotions.
After a quick look at me, Ruth recommends a skin bleach lotion called Eclaire 600. She explains that the lotion will work wonders, especially when used with an accompanying serum such as Bio Claire. The former costs Sh600 while the later is Sh1,500.
“You will be a ‘light-skin’ in no time. Attracting attention especially from men will also become easier. You will be the envy of everyone!” she says.
I ask her if there are any side effects that I should expect should I buy the lotions she has recommended. She assures me there aren’t any. After all, the products are hydroquinone free. “I’ve been using bleaches for quite some time and I’ve never had a problem. Plus sijawahi ona mtu akiwa na skin cancer venye watu husema. (Plus I’ve never seen anyone with skin cancer as it has been purported).”
“I’d also recommend you use Bubble Cream for your knuckles. We don’t want people finding out that its bleaching and not your original skin colour.”
Piles of other bleaching creams lie on the shelves of her shop with most lacking the Kenya Bureau of Standards certification mark.
I ask her why she recommended the products she just did without first doing a skin test on my face to determine which product is best for me. She explains that my skin shade is quite common and has frequently tended to it.
On whom her most rampant type of buyers is, Ruth says women, especially college and university going students encompass her most frequent buyers. Those with small businesses such as beauty shops and boutiques are also frequent buyers.
What Ruth fails to tell me and hundreds of her customers is that a majority of skin bleaching products are unsafe and harmful to the skin. For starters most of the sellers, such as Ruth, are not skin care professionals and her knowledge on the topic is limited.