Changing Colors: Demand Grows In Nigeria For Skin Lightening Products

By Ann Brown AFKI Original Published: February 10, 2014, 1:02 pm

Nearly 77 percent of Nigerian women — the highest percentage in the world — use skin lightening products on a regular basis, according to the World Health Organization.

Why? Some men and women think lighter skin makes them more beautiful, gives them upward mobility, and even helps them find a mate.

“Skin-whitening products represent one of the rapidly growing segments in the global beauty industry,” reports Companies and Markets. “With the concept of beauty in the 21st century revolving around a flawless and fair complexion, there is rising discrimination based on skin color.”

Whitenicious and the Rise of Skin Lightening Products

Skin lightning is big business in Africa, especially in Nigeria. Take the success of a skin lightening product Whitenicious by Nigerian-Cameroonian pop musician Dencia. The product sold out almost immediately after its recent release. Three weeks after its debut in January, sales surpassed 15,000 units as demand for skin lightening products has grown in Nigeria.

Dencia is a true believer in lightening skin and said she has become several shades lighter over the years. While her products are meant to correct dark spots and hyper pigmentation, she does admit they will bleach the skin.

“Why did I get a couple of shades lighter than I was? That’s a personal choice,” she said in an Ebony interview. “That is what I wanted to be… I’m very daring. I like trying things. I’m not doing it because I want to have boyfriends. And I’m not doing it because I want anybody to accept me. It’s because I just wanted to do it.”

According to Dencia, her product is selling best outside of Africa. Eighty percent of people who buy her products are African-American, and 10 percent are white, she told Ebony. The African market makes up 10 percent of Whitenicious’ sales, “because guess what? They don’t have credit cards to buy the products and I’m only taking credit cards or PayPal,” she told Ebony.

“And they don’t have that access. I have white people from Europe, America, and everywhere buying Whitenicious.”

Why There’s a Market, Guaranteed Demand

Skin lightening is growing in Nigeria because of the large population, said Olanrewaju Falodun, a consultant dermatologist at the National Hospital in Abuja.

“The Nigerian market is porous with an ease of penetration by marketers of the products,” Falodun told AFKInsider. “The financial gains from sales of these products are enormous.”

Unsurprisingly, lightening products aren’t cheap. Whitenicious costs $150 for only 60 ml of cream.

“Is Whitenicious making me rich? Whitenicious is putting money in my pocket but it’s not as much as the money that I have spent being a celebrity,” Dencia said. “It hasn’t gotten to that point…I’ve made a lot of money off Whitenicous…a lot of money that I didn’t even expect. And I’m using it to build an orphanage in Cameroon.”

Michael Akolawole, cosmetic dermatologist and lecturer at Ekiti State Teaching Hospital also spoke to AFKInsider about skin whitening.

“It is a multi-billion dollar market in Africa with Nigeria taking the largest chunk,” Akolawole said. “It is profitable business for the manufacturer, importers and marketers. Demand is inelastic, and with an abnormal demand curve — meaning that no matter the price — demand will continue to be steady.”

Falodun said use of skin whitening products is based mainly on “wrong” perception.

“There is a wrong belief that the light-complexioned ladies are more beautiful and acceptable to men,” Falodun said. “Over time ladies who are dark complexioned, who have internalized this wrong perception, tend to lighten their skin to improve their sense of self worth. The other reasons are ignorance and peer pressure.”

Despite this notion, he said that he understands the trend. Akolawole cited his own study of 500-plus students and 500 women in the market, revealing that many use skin whitening products to correct blemishes, sunburn, and discoloration from early aging.

“Light skin is attractive and flashy,” Akolawole said. “Dark skin looks dull, except in a few cases of those that appreciate the natural black beauty.”

The chemicals used in skin lightening products are mainly alpha hydroquinone, steroids and mercury-containing creams. Kojic and alpha hydroxy acids are also frequently used.

Health Complications From Skin Lightening

Long-term complications of skin lightening include thinning of the skin, skin infections, stretch marks and exogenous ochronosis — bluish-black discoloration of certain tissues, Falodun said.

Although there are risky side affects, one shouldn’t expect sales of skin lightening products to decrease.

According to Companies and Markets, the skin lightening industry is expected to be worth $19.8 billion by 2018, driven by demand among both men and women predominately from Asian, African and Middle East regions.


Sign up for the AFKInsider newsletter — the most compelling business news you need to know from Africa and the African diaspora, delivered straight to your inbox.

Tags: , , , , ,
  • EAC is better than SADC

    When a people destroy its same culture, destroy its traditional values and all the culture developed in millennias by their ancestors, well, that people is lost.
    Try to take a trip to Senegal, Mali or Namibia… then try Nigeria, you’ll understand what I am saying. Maybe it’s a matter of national security, erase the past to erase the differences between the ethnic groups, indeed it’s sad. Really sad. The hard work of the ancestors is now replaced by “Jeezuz”, “The Bible” and some greedy pastor. It’s sad and I was expecting this from Nigeria tho, the self-hate is there and the worshipping of everything non-African is there too. Sad, for the country number 1 of Africa.

  • Pingback: Elsewhere In The World: Nearly 77% Of Nigerian Women Use Skin Lightening Products | DieHard Beauty()

  • Pingback: Nigeria is biggest market for skin bleaching cream in the world - Experts - The Herald - The Herald()

  • Ogbologbo

    I am surprised about this. I always thought bleaching was no longer fashionable in Nigeria. I look at the ladies around me and I cant see anyone that is bleachng or skin toning, unless I have become color blind. Can someone please correct me.

  • Rose

    Sad that ladies are still looking at physical appearance for self worth.Ladies, it goes deeper than that.Those are issues of the heart and if one is not happy or at peace e.t.c, not even tons of bleaching till one is white as Dencia will help.Being at peace and loving oneself is just the beginning of this self awareness and appreciation.We are spirit and not this ton of meat called body.

  • Dani Chuks

    Its funny how malicious stories on the use of bleaching cream by Nigerians is being carried by News agencies outside Nigeria especially by those in Other African countries. Here in Nigeria the use of bleaching cream is like a thing of the past and I hardly notice them like before

  • Pingback: Ever Lied About Your Ethnicity or Race? | compulsive truth()