This House believes African nations should ban the sale of skin whitening creams, and similar products.

In our globalized world with an increasingly international media, beauty standards for both men and women are becoming more internationalized - or, perhaps, Westernized. This has included skin tone, with cultural values in many countries favouring lighter skin tones.

One particular aspect of this has been creams aiming to whiten skin. This is not an issue that affects women, the key target of much of the fashion and beauty industry, exclusively - some products are aimed at men. This is not a phenomenon unique to Africa and communities of African origins. India is a large market for skin whitening creams, with a market worth just shy of half a billion US dollars in 2010 and growing at nearly 20% per year[1]. In Hong Kong, around a third of women have used such products
[2]. The issue of people seeking to look “whiter” or Caucasian is not limited to any area or simply skin whitening creams – there are also products and the possibility of surgery to mimic more European-looking eyelids available in East Asia
[3]. West Africa is a key market for these products, with over half of women in Togo and Nigeria claiming to use them. While some contain chemicals aimed at modifying the skin’s transfer of melanin, others use harsh chemicals such as mercury, which can lead to medical conditions from eczema and infections to renal failure
[4].A particular controversy has been generated by the launch of a new skin whitening product in early 2014, known as “Whitenicious”, by Nigerian-Cameroonian singer Dencia
[5], and her comments relating to the product, including a spat with actress Lupita Nyong’o
[6]. Nyong’o, who shot to fame outside her native Kenya following her powerful performance in the popular and well received British-American film “12 Years A Slave
[7]
”, has been critical of skin lightening creams and the conception of lighter skin tones in African mind-sets
[8]. In 2006, the US Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on over-the-counter sales of skin whitening creams
[9]. Is this a solution for Africa?

[1] Vaidyanathan, Rajini, “Has skin whitening in India gone too far?”, BBC News, 6 June 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18268914

[2] Leong, Solomon, “Who’s the fairest of them all? Television ads for skin-whitening cosmetics in Hong Kong”, Asian Ethnicity, 2006,  http://www.sociodep.hku.hk/bbf/BBF%20Readings%20W2/W2%20Who%27s%20the%20fairest%20of%20them%20all.pdf, p169

[3] AFP, “Taiwan places ban on cosmetic surgery for under-18s”, Straits Times (Taipei), 27 February 2014, http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/asia/story/taiwan-places-ban-cosmetic-surgery-under-18s-20140227

[4] Adow, Mohammed, “Nigeria sees boom in skin-bleaching products”, Al Jazeera English, http://www.aljazeera.com/video/africa/2013/04/20134434151827719.html

[5] The New Times, Rwanda, “Is white really pure?”, allAfrica.com, 26 March 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201403270046.html

[6]  Nn, “Skin bleaching pop star comes for Lupita Nyong’o on Twitter: ‘The White Man Owns Her’”, B. Scott, 5 March 2014, www.lovebscott.com/news/skin-bleaching-pop-star-comes-lupita-nyongo-twitter-white

[7] The promotion of the film itself was not immune to racial controversy - in Italy, high profile white actors such as Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender, who have relatively small but supporting roles in the film, were featured more in the promotional material rather than Black British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays lead character Solomon Northup (http://entertainment.time.com/2013/12/27/controversial-italian-12-years-a-slave-poster-stirs-debate-over-movies-and-race/)

[8] “Entertainment editor”, “Fan says Lupita Nyong’o saved her from using Denica’s skin bleaching product”, The Herald (Nigeria, online only), 28 February 2014, http://www.theheraldng.com/fan-says-lupita-nyongo-saved-using-denicas-skin-bleaching-product/

[9] Neuman, Johanna, “FDA attempts to ban skin-bleaching creams”, Seattle Times, 30 August 2006, http://seattletimes.com/html/health/2003234900_skin30.html

 

Title 
These products are dangerous
Point 

Skin whitening creams often contain a wide variety of harmful ingredients – in some cases, mercury. These can cause various health problems; mercury in particular causes renal (kidney) damage, major skin problems as well as mental health issues[1].

States, throughout the world, ban consumer products because they are harmful regardless of whether this is for consumption or for cosmetics. This is just another case where that is appropriate in order to prevent the harm to health that may occur.

[1] World Health Organization, “Mercury in skin lightening products”, WHO.int, 2011, http://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/mercury_flyer.pdf

Counterpoint 

Skin whitening creams often contain a wide variety of harmful ingredients – in some cases, mercury. These can cause various health problems; mercury in particular causes renal (kidney) damage, major skin problems as well as mental health issues[1].

States, throughout the world, ban consumer products because they are harmful regardless of whether this is for consumption or for cosmetics. This is just another case where that is appropriate in order to prevent the harm to health that may occur.

[1] World Health Organization, “Mercury in skin lightening products”, WHO.int, 2011, http://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/mercury_flyer.pdf

Title 
They fuel colourism in society
Point 

Allowing the use of racial overtones – the perception that a product will bring a person towards a “white ideal” is harmful for several reasons. It could cause communities to generate a form of inferiority complex, and it reinforces the structural difference rather than aiming to minimize it.  While it may sound absurd, in the US darker-skinned African Americans (and darker skinned latinos) are less well educated and have lower incomes[1]. Elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, such as in Brazil, race is seen as an issue of colour and socio-economic background, not ancestry highlighting a much more obvious link between whitening creams and racism[2].

Is it not the role of the state to reduce that discrimination, not to fuel it? Banning such creams would help prevent such harmful effects by discouraging the notion that people should aim to make themselves lighter skinned.

[1] Hunter, Margaret L., “If you’re light you’re alright: light skin color as social capital for women of color”, Gender and Society, 2002, http://www.mills.edu/academics/faculty/soc/mhunter/If%20You%20are%20Light%20You%20are%20Alright.pdf, p.35

[2] Telles, Edward, Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Colour in Brazil, 2004, online sample chapter, http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7846.html

Counterpoint 

Banning skin whitening on such a basis also requires the acceptance of the racial overtones. Some form of tan is popular in many societies of people of European ethnic origins – that is not a racial matter, it is more based on economic social perceptions (that of holidays to warmer climates). Ascribing a racial element to everything to do with skin tone is at best a lazy analysis.

Irrespective of issues of race and perceptions of ethnic origins, and its intersection with beauty standards, some people will be given advantages in life due to their appearance. Banning a certain form of cosmetic, even if it can have some racial and ethnic undertones, won’t change that.

Title 
Monetizing colonialism
Point 

Skin whitening can be seen as an attempt to fit in with a form of a neo-colonialist mind-set; a form of cultural imperialism driven by capitalism.

These products, often sold by big international FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) companies feed off a neo-colonialist mind-set – one of a cultural inferiority complex. These products form part of the process of tying African people into a globalised consumer world where non-westerners feel compelled to buy western products that they don’t need. They are therefore kept in a colonial situation where they are dependent on the west both mentally and in terms of the products they buy. That is reason enough for nations that have been victims of colonialism by the Global North to take action against them.      

Counterpoint 

If there is a demand for it, people want it. Not only do indigenous skin-whitening products exist, they are so widespread and popular it cannot be ascribed to a “cringe” on a small area of society.

It is wrong to consider skin whitening to just be a colonial import as if being white is all about looking like a westerner. Many cultures, particularly in Asia but also some in Africa such as Egypt, valued lighter skin tones before colonisation; such tones showed that you were a woman of leisure who did not need to toil under the hot tropical sun.[1]

Maintaining a desire to look lighter may therefore neither be an effect of a neo-colonial mind-set nor create neo-colonial business ties.

[1] Goon, Patricia, and Craven, Allison, ‘Whose Debt?: Globalisation and Whitefacing in Asia’, Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, issue 9, August 2003, http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue9/gooncraven.html

Title 
Personal autonomy
Point 

Like many other debates, this simply boils down to personal autonomy. Individuals should be free to take actions, even ones harmful to them as long as they do not harm others, at least not without good reason. Thus things that are almost entirely harmful such as smoking are allowed.

It is a matter of personal choice – to suggest otherwise non-white women do not have the capacity to make that choice.

Counterpoint 

States can and do ban products that are physically or socially harmful – that’s not illiberalism, it is common sense. It clearly does not suggest that non-white women do not have the capacity; white countries such as the USA engage in similar bans for health reasons.

Anyway, In a society with mass media and celebrity-lead marketing campaigns, do people really make entirely autonomous decisions? Consumers almost never have complete information about what they are buying. When they don’t the government has to prevent them from making mistakes that may be harmful to themselves.

Title 
Prohibition is counterproductive
Point 

As tempting as it is to feel that banning is the solution to problems, it doesn’t work. Almost all states prohibits certain drugs, but that does not stop them being used.[1] Despite being banned in Ghana, skin whitening creams are still openly advertised on billboards[2].

Counterfeit cosmetics of all types exist worldwide[3], they are illegal for a variety of reasons, not least intellectual property abuse: banning skin lighting creams would simply give more space to the counterfeits. A ban could lead users towards either a homemade substance, or pills and injections which would almost certainly be more damaging as a result of a lack of regulation.

[1] See the Debatabase debate ‘This House supports the legalisation of drugs’

[2] Al Jazeera English, “The Stream: Fair Beauty”, YouTube, 22 August 2013, http://youtu.be/paJmsuRBiBA , roughly 18 minutes in

[3] RIA Novosti, “Counterfeit cosmetics: Turning beauties in to beasts”,  RT, 08 November 2010, http://rt.com/news/fake-beauty-russian-cosmetics/

Counterpoint 

Obviously, not every policy is 100% effective. However, a ban on products that is well created and adequately enforced could at least reject a material from the mainstream, and signals disapproval. Not everyone will follow a ban but many will see that the ban is there for a good reason and will not seek alternatives.

Counterfeit cosmetics are a different issue – one is the attempt to capitalize off of a brand, the other is to provide a product to achieve people’s goals.

Title 
Banning these is papering over the issue
Point 

It would be all too tempting for governments to consider that a ban on these products would sort out issues of skin tone discrimination as they would be hidden away from public view.

Class and race are both divisive issues, and are often inextricably linked. Those with lighter skin will still have advantages over those with darker skin hues. The banning of whiteners will simply reduce the ability of individuals to change how others perceive them. We can all agree that there needs to be less colourism but that has to be achieved by reducing prejudices. Only broader education on the issue of skin colour discrimination can achieve such a change.

Counterpoint 

No-one is pretending that a ban on whitening products is a solution to every social ill. What is being suggested is that these products are harmful, and that the culture they create is also potentially harmful.

A race-colour-class nexus exists – that is why the proposition is concerned about the normalization of skin bleaching.

Title 
Run education campaigns instead
Point 

Education is an alternative. Campaigns such as #darkisbeautiful (dark is beautiful) in India are the model for advancing equality and marginalizing colourism in India. The campaign has had some success attracting stars, including some such as Vishaka Sing who have modelled for fairness creams, to campaign against the prejudice against darker skin tones.[1]

The heavy hand of legislation is not the correct tool – other methods from social media campaigns to changing practices in the fashion, beauty and media industries (such as has occurred in Dakar Fashion Week[2]) will reduce the cultural demand.

[1] Krupa, Lakshmi, ‘Dark is beautiful’, The Hindu, 8 September 2013, http://www.thehindu.com/features/the-yin-thing/dark-is-beautiful/article5104215.ece

[2] Reuters, “Dakar fashion week bans models who use skin lightning cream”, South China Morning Post, 01 July 2013, http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/fashion-watches/article/1271144/dakar-fashion-week-bans-models-who-use-skin-lightening

Counterpoint 

Educational campaigns can and do work on many issues. However, they can only do so much in terms of making genuine progress. If you want to change attitudes – generally subconscious – more concrete action is needed. Legislation affects everyone while a campaign will only ever reach comparatively small numbers.

Bibliography 

Adow, Mohammed, “Nigeria sees boom in skin-bleaching products”, Al Jazeera English, http://www.aljazeera.com/video/africa/2013/04/20134434151827719.html

AFP, “Taiwan places ban on cosmetic surgery for under-18s”, Straits Times (Taipei), 27 February 2014, http://www.straitstimes.com/breaking-news/asia/story/taiwan-places-ban-cosmetic-surgery-under-18s-20140227

Al Jazeera English, “The Stream: Fair Beauty”, YouTube, 22 August 2013, http://youtu.be/paJmsuRBiBA

Entertainment editor, “Fan says Lupita Nyong’o saved her from using Denica’s skin bleaching product”, The Herald (Nigeria, online only), 28 February 2014, http://www.theheraldng.com/fan-says-lupita-nyongo-saved-using-denicas-skin-bleaching-product/

Goon, Patricia, and Craven, Allison, ‘Whose Debt?: Globalisation and Whitefacing in Asia’, Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, issue 9, August 2003, http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue9/gooncraven.html

Hunter, Margaret L., “If you’re light you’re alright: light skin color as social capital for women of color”, Gender and Society, 2002, http://www.mills.edu/academics/faculty/soc/mhunter/If%20You%20are%20Light%20You%20are%20Alright.pdf

Krupa, Lakshmi, ‘Dark is beautiful’, The Hindu, 8 September 2013, http://www.thehindu.com/features/the-yin-thing/dark-is-beautiful/article5104215.ece

Leong, Solomon, “Who’s the fairest of them all? Television ads for skin-whitening cosmetics in Hong Kong”, Asian Ethnicity, 2006,  http://www.sociodep.hku.hk/bbf/BBF%20Readings%20W2/W2%20Who%27s%20the%20fairest%20of%20them%20all.pdf

Neuman, Johanna, “FDA attempts to ban skin-bleaching creams”, Seattle Times, 30 August 2006, http://seattletimes.com/html/health/2003234900_skin30.html

The New Times, Rwanda, “Is white really pure?”, allAfrica.com, 26 March 2014, http://allafrica.com/stories/201403270046.html

Nn, “Skin bleaching pop star comes for Lupita Nyong’o on Twitter: ‘The White Man Owns Her’”, B. Scott, 5 March 2014, www.lovebscott.com/news/skin-bleaching-pop-star-comes-lupita-nyongo-twitter-white

Reuters, “Dakar fashion week bans models who use skin lightning cream”, South China Morning Post, 01 July 2013, http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/fashion-watches/article/1271144/dakar-fashion-week-bans-models-who-use-skin-lightening

RIA Novosti, “Counterfeit cosmetics: Turning beauties in to beasts”,  RT, 08 November 2010, http://rt.com/news/fake-beauty-russian-cosmetics/

Telles, Edward, Race in Another America: The Significance of Skin Colour in Brazil, 2004, online sample chapter, http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s7846.html

Vaidyanathan, Rajini, “Has skin whitening in India gone too far?”, BBC News, 6 June 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18268914

World Health Organization, “Mercury in skin lightening products”, WHO.int, 2011, http://www.who.int/ipcs/assessment/public_health/mercury_flyer.pdf

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