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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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Talle

    Apparently some of the men are bleaching too.

  • Talle

    Those meds work on vitiligo patients because their melanin is already weak. If you go to providers of the medication, however, they will tell you on their websites, in their literature and so on that it does not work on healthy dark skin — it leaves uneven permanent streaks and spots and is just horrible. I’ve spoken to my dermatologist about scar/birthmark removal, and one of the major problems is that on dark skin many of these methods — creams, lasers in particular (very unreliable, they can leave you with either too light spots or make hyperpigmentation worse), but especially that vitiligo medication — are not reliable — they remove too much pigment, unevenly. So I can see why the vitiligo medication would not take off. Better to just put a quality, well-matched foundation over the scars…

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