By Shanea Johnson
“Cool like mi wash mi face wid di cake soap,” is a line from a popular song written by Adidja Palmer who is famously known as Vybz Kartel. The song highlights a number of social issues and challenges within the Jamaican society but let’s turn our focus to the bleaching aspect. One would have been inclined to believe that blue soap or “cake soap” was used only for washing clothes but it seems according to Kartel, it aids with toning the skin. Skin-bleaching is a serious concern for dermatologists, researchers among other professionals or even the common man.
The Jamaica Observer recently reported that researchers from The University of the West Indies (UWI) are campaigning for Jamaicans to lessen the use of bleaching products that contain mercury. The campaign started as a result of their discovery that these skin-lightening products contain “alarmingly high levels of mercury” which is very harmful to the body’s digestive and nervous system. And I am not talking about the planet now. According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) there are numerous implications when one is exposed to too much mercury. Some of these implications include: loss of vision, brain damage, shortness of breath among others.
We are now in the midst of summer, and it is almost normal to see some Jamaicans in black, long-sleeve shirts and pants with head-wraps and white foam-like cream all over their faces. For the past few years, many Jamaicans have been partaking in the skin-bleaching practice and they testify that this time of year is the best time to lighten the skin tone. In an interview focusing on skin-bleaching in Jamaica, conducted by All Angles host, Dionne Jackson-Miller, one interviewee stated that using the skin-bleaching products during this time of year (summer) would allow the skin-tone to “come”. That is to say, the heat of the summer season allows one’s complexion to lighten faster as opposed to using the product during the winter. I am now convinced that some of these skin bleachers are not aware of the harmful effects of these products. It is clear that heat and mercury are NOT a good combination!
Additionally, skin-bleaching seems to have no limits where either age or gender is concerned. Both males and females alike are competing to be called “browning”. Not the ingredient used on meat now… but they want to hear that small whisper that some Jamaican men and women deem as a sign of recognition of beauty. More like sexual harassment but the ignorance is beyond me. Not to mention pregnant women trying to compete in the race as well. Little do they know that they are not only putting themselves but also that unborn child at risk. A baby that cannot fend for itself is innocent and cannot voice his/her opinion and say NO to skin-bleaching. The PAHO further noted that the absorption of mercury within the body causes neurodevelopmental abnormalities within the fetus and is also harmful to children and babies that are breastfeeding. But what really is the culprit of all this?
Is colonialism to be blamed?
Let’s inspect this situation on a more historical level. Is colonialism to be blamed? Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Back in the 1800s when the whites enslaved the blacks, part of their reason was that they saw themselves as whites as being superior to the blacks. The blacks were treated unjustly and the whites were always seen as being of a different class. They had the top class jobs and were seen and deemed as more beautiful.
Fast forward to today, we see the same treatment being meted out occasionally. For instance, many bank tellers are light skinned – almost as if the banks were putting the seemingly best and most beautiful persons on the front-line. Even in some advertisements many of the characters who showcase certain products are light skinned. Not to stray from the topic, but this goes to show where this dinosaur came from. This ideology has been passed down from one generation to the next and is evident even to this very day. Society is still more accepting towards persons with lighter skin but at what cost? Damage to health or even worse – DEATH?
Researcher in the Medical Physics Research Group, Department of Physics at UWI, told the Observer that over 70 samples of popular bleaching products used by Jamaican women were tested and of that sample six showed high levels of mercury. That is still a lot, not to mention the products that have not been tested. While we cannot stop everyone from bleaching we can encourage them to read the labels with the hope that they will comply. Men and women, take care of yourselves. Your health is your responsibility.
We want to hear from you! Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.