Published On: Tue, May 7th, 2019

Is Africa Losing Its Fight Against Skin Bleaching? Rwanda Enlists the Help of Police to Enforce the Laws

We all know how controversial the issue of skin lightening is across the world, with many countries banning the use of skin lightening products. Well, banning doesn’t seem to be working in Africa; the police are now involved!

Skin lightening products containing mercury, cortisone and hydroquinone have been banned due to their association with cancer, kidney and liver failure, high blood pressure and thinning of the skin.


Judging by how the products are flying off the shelves in countries like Ghana, Togo, South Africa, Mali and Cote d’Ivoire, I’m inclined to think that Africa is losing the battle against skin lightening.

Nevertheless, Rwanda is not taking any chances; to protect its citizens against the harmful effects of these products; the government has initiated a crackdown on 1342 brands of skin lightening products that have been prohibited since 2013.

The government has deployed the Rwanda National Police (RNP), Ministry of Health, Rwanda Food and Drug Authority, Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB), and Rwanda Standards board among other agencies to beef up the efforts.

This is what the police spokesperson, Commissioner of Police John Bosco Kabera had to say; “So far, we have seized more than five and a half thousand various pieces of banned bleaching products, including oils, lotions, sprays and toilet soaps…”

The confiscated products include Caro light, Diproson, Carotene, Maxi-white, Diamond white, Skin White, Fair Light, Clear Men, Secret White, and Epiderm Creme.

This is just the beginning; the Police, through their spokesperson promised to continue with the efforts to not only get the products off the shelves but to also ensure that the traffickers are stopped. This will go hand in hand with educating the public on the health risks that these products pose and the laws governing their use.

The crackdown was a response to President Kagame’s tweet that warned against the dangers of the skin bleaching products and gave a directive for the Ministry of Health and Rwanda National Police to act.

The heated uproar against skin lightening did not stop Blac Chyna, a popular American celebrity from launching her skin lightening cream in Lagos, Nigeria on 25th August 2018. The cream ‘Whitenicious X Blac Chyna Diamond Illuminating & Lightening Cream’ was launched in collaboration with Whitenicious, a skincare line by Dencia, a controversial Cameroonian singer.

A fancy jar of Blac Chyna’s cream, which is marketed as a solution for people of colour who suffer from various skin issues costs a whopping $250. According to Chyna’s representatives, she has used it for her own hyperpigmentation issues for several years.

Dencia, whose real name is Reprudencia Sonkey launched Whitenicious in 2014 and has been under fire ever since with many labelling her product an ‘abomination’ that leads young girls to become ashamed of their skin.

While her own photos show evidence of skin lightening, Dencia has defended the cream on various platforms and termed it as a mere dark spots remover.


The fight against skin bleaching is big in Africa and around the globe. It is hard to convince people who associate fair skin with beauty and success otherwise. There is a brighter side; the fight has inspired several crusaders to rise to the occasion. One such crusader is Amira Adawe.

The Minnesota based Somali born anti-skin bleaching crusader hosts a weekly radio show called ‘Beauty-Wellness Talk’. Among issues that she attributes to skin lightening are ‘Colourism, low self-esteem, self-hate and social media’.

The market for skin lightening products branded as ‘toning’, ‘dark spot corrector’ or ‘lightening’ creams continues to thrive in Africa.

Author: Philippe de Lacvivier

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