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Nigerian-Cameroonian pop musician Dencia is quickly becoming the talk of social media networks and Nigerian blogs with the release of her “skin care” line Whitenicious. Whitenicious promises to help users rid themselves of pesky dark spots by gradually lightening the hyper-pigmented areas of their skin. However, from the looks of Dencia’s own skin, she’s been using it (or something more powerful) to transform her complexion from deep mahogany to vampire white.

According to its website, Whitenicious (priced between $50-$150) is a “fast acting, 7 day dark spot remover” that is “a moisturizing cream enriched with powerful natural ingredients that will nourish your skin and lighten dark knuckles, knees and elbows.” Some Nigerian beauty blogs display before and after photos of Whitenicious users showing their once luminous dark skin transformed to milky white.

Dencia's dramatic transformation.

Dencia’s dramatic transformation.

“Skin toning,” as it’s called in Nigeria, is big business. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 77-percent of Nigerian women, the highest percentage in the world, use skin-lightening products on a regular basis. While some lighten their skin to adhere to a Western standard of beauty, many women bleach their skin because it affords them better marriage prospects and a greater chance at social mobility.

Friend and Nigerian-American rapper Kingsley “Rukus” Okafor explains the obsession:

“It’s hard to understand until you’ve been in the streets of an African nation,” he wrote in a comment on my Facebook page. “There’s a different treatment and desirability factor in Africa for lighter skinned women, well beyond what we experience in the US. It’s an epidemic. You can’t walk a day in the streets of Lagos without seeing someone who has/is bleached. The possible benefits (more respect, increased desirability to men) outweigh the consequences, especially in a male-dominated society where women’s “independence” is frowned upon. Finding a well-to-do husband/sugar daddy is a priority and women are willing to do what they have to, to fit standards of beauty. The euphemism is “skin-toning” and although “bleaching” is banned, skin-toning is a huge money-maker that I’m sure has lined the pockets of enough politicians to allow it to keep being sold despite international outcry.”

Nigerian musician Femi Kuti, son of legendary artist Fela Kuti, says many bleach their skin because they praise Western cultures and products, while dismissing their own.

He told Al Jazeera: “An African will prefer to be called John-Philip. If you said your name was Chukwu Emeka Afongkudong they will say you are from the village. You are backward. How can you have such a name? We really look down on our culture and heritage instead of being proud of it.”

Skin-bleaching has terrible consequences. Skin burns, rashes, and permanent abrasions are commonplace. Moreover many creams contain toxic levels of mercury, and some include agents that may cause leukemia, and cancer of the liver and kidneys. Despite this, skin-bleaching has become a multibillion-dollar business around the world.

Although the practice is rampant in Africa, the industry’s popularity extends far beyond the continent.  Nearly 61-percent of skin care products in India contain bleaching agents, and 40-percent of women in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and the Republic of Korea admit to bleaching.

For her efforts Dencia has been inundated with criticism (and praise) about her skin-toning line via Twitter, but she isn’t fazed. Along with re-tweeting links to mentions of her product, she’s been taking on critics who deride her for promoting and capitalizing on self-hate.

Dencia skin bleaching

h/t Dr. Yaba Blay



  1. @WhatIThink

    I’m not sure if you were addressing me but I’m going to respond anyway, purely in the spirit of dialogue.

    I feel you, I truly do, but as you say this is a slippery slope, and that’s the point, there’s no easy way to traverse a slippery slope. It’s a troubling and extremely complex issue but I do believe that the bottom line, beneath the socio-historical context and pathology, is bodily autonomy and we don’t give enough credence to that.

    Of course there’s other factors in play leading to the decision to undergo dramatic cosmetic changes but at the end of the day if a grown woman decides that she wants to chop of her arm or dip her feet in acid she’s going to do it and most folks who feel like their way is the right way usually attempt to convince others to join them, I think that’s just human nature, to convert others to our point of view.

    There’s a several subcultures dedicated to different types of extreme body modification and I’m beginning to see skin lightening in the same vein, thought I’m fully aware of the conditions that makes it possible for something like that to exist. When you say that folk who talk about free black people never say that black people are free to be who they are without additives or alterations, I can’t say that I agree and if you perceived that from my statement it wasn’t my intention. The point I meant to make was that to be free and black looks different for different people. To some folks being free and black means all natural everything while for others it means a lacefront and silicone. So what I’m wondering is at what point does a black person loose their blackness through altering their physical appearance? Was Michael Jackson still black despite what he decided to do to himself? What about Lil Kim? And that’s where it get slippery. Personally I’ve been trying to expand my understanding and compassion for members of the diaspora that do things or have pov’s that I find repulsive or hard to comprehend, which made me look at this particular subject a little differently.

  2. Ishtar

    The girl above is not even Nigerian in any way. She should be sued by the Nigerian government for false impersonation lol.

    The average Nigerian comes in many different shades and at least half of the country is “fair-skinned”. The people who actually do bleach in Nigeria (which is a small percentage by the way) are usually those who are already light in complexion. This article is heavily biased, and I can see that people are still bitter over the book and list compiled by Tiger Mom which stated that Nigerians were highly successful people. No need to remain angry with us.

  3. Really,hun?

    One question Ishtar, how did this subject of Dencia’s skin color equate to Tiger mom’s book?

    You completely went of the subject. This is a story about a young woman who is being criticized for changed her skin tone and the people who are infuriated with it. You assumed that the people criticizing her thought that there are no lighter skin Africans. So not what these people are implying. They are upset because this girl is giving the wrong message to Black people all over the world.

  4. Talle

    I simply cannot believe in this. I’ve seen several stories like this, and I’m calling it for Photoshop. I have severe acne scarring with hyperpigmentation and have been using hydroquinone products, prescription strength and non, for years now, and while my scars lighten, my base skin tone has not changed one whit. Nor have the scarred areas EVER gotten lighter than my surrounding base skin tone. (For which I am happy.) These people are either doing something else entirely or are taking the piss out of all of us with strategic Adobe use.

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