AFP

ABIDJAN

At just 26, Fatou’s skin is marbled from layer on layer of whitening cream. Some even call her a “salamander” woman after the little reptile with light spots and translucent skin.

But nothing can stop the hairdresser in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital Abidjan from using the skin-lightening cream in her quest for a paler complexion. “I love light skin,” Fatou said. “I can’t stop.” Many Ivorian women - as well as more and more men - are using creams with dangerous chemicals for depigmentation, despite government attempts to stop the practice.

In late April, Ivory Coast banned whitening creams because of the negative health effects associated with them, ranging from white spots and acne to cancer. If applied liberally, the cosmetics can also cause high blood pressure and diabetes, according to Professor Elidje Ekra, a dermatologist at Abidjan’s Treichville university hospital. The banned products include creams containing mercury, certain steroids, vitamin A, or with hydroquinone levels above two percent.

Hydroquinone is often used in black and white photography and is banned as a skin-lightening ingredient in Europe as it is considered a potential carcinogen. The dangers don’t seem to deter consumers, though. While no official statistics are available, “tchatchos” - or those with lightened skin, often recognisable by their darker knuckles and elbows - are omnipresent in Abidjan.

Businesses continue to sell the whitening products, because they know people will continue to buy them despite the risks.