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Are we bleaching for beauty?


Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Are we bleaching for beauty?

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MICHAEL?JACKSON DID?IT. So too did Sammy Sosa and Beyoncé. Vybz Kartel is doing it and so are a slew of black women and men around the globe – bleaching their skin. 
This phenomenon isn’t new, but in an era when Blacks are making inroads into several areas of achievement, the one thing many are lacking seems to be peace with their skin tone, especially when they are leaning to the darker side of the color spectrum.
Why, you may ask in 2011, are black people so caught up with the issue of skin colour? Why is it that they are simply not happy with the skin they’re in? Well it seems, this issue is rooted in history that goes back hundreds of years. Despite escaping the shackles of slavery, its tentacles seem far more difficult to evade. 
The concept of lighter skin as a sign of beauty and acceptance is nothing new. There is an ingrained perception that spans generations that people with lighter complexions receive better treatment, get more attention from men, and generally fare better in life than their dark-skinned counterparts.
Though some may argue that these ideas border on self-hatred, companies who sell skin-lightening products rake in billions of dollars each year. From Nigeria and Senegal to India and Jamaica, it seems like skin-lightening among people of dark complexions is all the rage. 
According to Rolling Out Magazine, Jamaican dancehall artiste Vybz Kartel has bleached his skin in an attempt to change his image. In a recent interview, Kartel likened blacks who lighten their skin to white people who tan.
Neilson Waithe, executive director of Network Services Centre, underscores this, saying that it has a far deeper meaning than simply the superficial.
“The historical fact is that people with a lighter skin seem to get through easier than people with a darker hue. That’s an unfortunate legacy of our Caribbean slave culture and the plantocracy,” Waithe said. There is still discrimination among persons of darker skin. We’ve seen it in commercials on television with lighter-skinned people being used, and therefore persons feel it gives them an advantage in a society that is not mindful of treating people equally.
“It is a self-esteem issue as well. If you’re not comfortable in your own skin, you’re going to feel the need to bleach your skin.”
Even here in Barbados and the wider Caribbean, many people have bought into the ideal that it is better to be light, bright and as close to white as possible.
Dermatologist Dr Tracy Durant revealed that she did have some patients locally inquiring about bleaching their skin.
“I do get quite a few requests for skin bleaching,” Durant said. “Unless there is a specific disturbance of pigmentation that needs treatment there is no need to use a skin lightening agent.”
Some skin creams promise to correct discoloration and even out hyperpigmentation, but many are used to completely alter one’s complexion. That is not to say that there aren’t cases where people may have legitimate health reasons which may require people to lighten their skin, especially when skin conditions arise that they may need to correct.
“There are a number of different skin conditions that can leave dark marks on the skin – like insect bites, eczema, acne, melasma – these can usually be improved by use of appropriate skin lightening agents under a physician’s care,” Durant said. 
“The whole point of doing it medically is to get rid of the dark marks so that can your normal skin colour is achieved.”
Durant stresses that while people may resort to using over-the-counter-products, there are serious health risks that occur from prolonged use.
“The problem with a lot of over-the-counter or black-market products is that some contain corticosteroids which in some cases may be quite potent,” Durant says.  
“With prolonged use you can get thinning of the skin may occur, as well as striae, which are like over-sized stretch marks, and once they have occurred there is really no treatment for them. Hydroquinone is a popular skin-lightening agent prescribed by doctors and also available over the counter, but with continual use ochronosis may occur. This is a very rare, raised dark skin condition for which there is no known treatment. That is why we limit the length of time for use of hydroquinone.
“Continuous use should be for a maximum of six months and skin lightening agents should only be applied to dark marks or patches being treated,” Durant adds. 
With people like Vybz Kartel keeping the discussion about bleaching alive and people around the world doing it, the issue of colour remains at the forefront.
“It transcends the white/black issue because it permeates among Asians as well,” Waithe says.  “These people are trying to level the playing field, as it were. But this is the reality of the society that we live in and some people will be prejudiced. 
“From my own experience travelling around the Caribbean, I’ve seen situations where persons are not given their fair share in society because of where they are. They’re labelled because of their background, educational situation and other factors, so it means we have to work harder even within the context of the Caribbean to transcend these artificial barriers that are there. 
“It goes back to what Bob Marley says in terms of emancipating our minds from mental slavery.” 
 
Read what people on Facebook had to say about the issue. 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
improve skin texture.”Some skin creams promise to correct discoloration and even out hyperpigmentation, but many are used to completely alter one’s complexion. That is not to say that there aren’t cases where people may have legitimate health reasons which may require people to lighten their skin, especially when skin conditions arise that they may need to correct.“There are a number of different skin conditions that can leave dark marks on the skin – like insect bites, eczema, acne, melasma – anything that can be treated by skin-lightening agents, but it should be controlled by a physician,” Durant said. “The whole point of doing it medically is to get rid of the dark marks so that can your normal skin colour is achieved.”Durant stresses that while people may resort to using over-the-counter-products, there are serious health risks that occur from prolonged use.“The problem with a lot of over-the-counter or black-market products is that some have in steroids and those steroids are fairly strong,” Durant says.  “With prolonged use you can get thinning of the skin, or striae, which are like large stretch marks, and once they have occurred there is really no treatment for them. “Hydroquinone is a popular skin-lightening agent prescribed by doctors and also available over the counter, but with continual use a person can get ochronosis, which is a raised dark skin rash and there is no treatment for that. That is why we limit the length of time for use of hydroquinone.”“Skin-lightening agents are not to be used forever,” Durant adds. “I tell patients the use should be for a maximum of six months and should only be used for dark marks and patches, and only applied to the marks themselves.”With people like Vybz Kartel keeping the discussion about bleaching alive and people around the world doing it, the issue of colour remains at the forefront.“It transcends the white/black issue because it permeates among Asians as well,” Waithe says.  “These people are trying to level the playing field, as it were. But this is the reality of the society that we live in and some people will be prejudiced. “From my own experience travelling around the Caribbean, I’ve seen situations where persons are not given their fair share in society because of where they are. They’re labelled because of their background, educational situation and other factors, so it means we have to work harder even within the context of the Caribbean to transcend these artificial barriers that are there. “It goes back to what Bob Marley says in terms of emancipating our minds from mental slavery.” 

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