“ THE AL GILKES COLUMN - Odd vibes from the blue soap ”

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Not so long ago, Bajan dancehall queens were caking their necks with mounds of white baby powder that made them look like heavily floured fish ready for the frying pan. Well there is something new washing this way from Jamaica which if, in fact when, it takes off in Barbados, will solve many of the financial woes of supermarkets, minimarts, village shops and other dry goods retailers. Believe it or not, but this magic product is old-fashioned blue soap which you older mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers were very familiar with back in the day when everybody, rich and poor, black and white alike, washed their laundry with nothing but a cake of blue soap. Blue soap is now the talk of the town in Jamaica following the revelation by controversial dancehall superstar Vybz Kartel, after months of speculation, that his Michael Jackson-type skin colour transformation from black to whitish was the result of washing his skin with blue soap. Jamaicans call it “cake soap” and, according to Vybz, the lightening of his complexion was achieved by combining its use with the effect of air conditioning. Those of you familiar with his music would recall that in his song Straight Jeans And Fitted, there is a line that states “cool like mi wash mi face wid the cake soap”.  However, before any of you young copycats make a rush for every cake of blue soap still on the market here and there around Barbados, listen to this. Dr Dhiru Tanna, chairman of the Blue Power Group soap manufacturer in Jamaica, has termed as “rubbish” any claims that the still widely used blue soap or “cake soap” made by his company has any skin-lightening effect. “Blue soap does not bleach. It has no ingredients in it that damages the skin,” Tanna said. “If anybody is saying that it will discolour the skin or take off pigmentation, that is absolutely not true.” On the other hand, he told the Business Observer that “one of Vybz Kartel’s producers called us to use one of the machines we use to make the soap appear in his video”.He said he agreed to the use of the machine, but with the caveat that “they must tell people that the blue soap that we make will have no effect on bleaching the skin”. Tanna said he was assured that this would be done. Vybz Kartel has since released a follow-up song Cake Soap, for which the video was shot, but in neither of the songs has he explicitly claimed that the soap causes bleaching. Tanna said his product is a laundry detergent and even though there are varieties, which can be used for personal care, none of the soaps that Blue Power produces has the effect of lightening the skin. “No, our company would not have the technology. We make laundry and bathing soaps. I don’t know how to make anything else,” Tanna said. But Tanna said Blue Power, which is the largest manufacturer of laundry detergent in Jamaica, was not approached to make it, and that despite Blue Power’s expertise in making soaps, it would not be a business line he would consider going into at this point.   Al Gilkes is head of a public relations firm.