Sunday, May 31News For London

Is Dancehall music to blame for the surge in young men bleaching?

Would you do anything to be beautiful? Some people are killing themselves in the pursuit of lighter skin and using skin bleaching products. A trend for young men to whiten their skin is emerging. But, why?


It seems lately more Dancehall artists are singing about wanting to have lighter skin.


Famous Dancehall artist Alkaline has changed skin tone throughout the past 5 years, Photo: Natalie Graham


There appears to be a growing trend for young men in London from Afro-Caribbean, African, Asian and mixed-race backgrounds to bleach their skin. These Londoners are going to extremes to lighten their skin, risking their health using banned toxic lotions, gulping down dangerous whitening pills and washing with caustic soap. Certain East London shops are currently facing a £20,000 fine for being caught selling toxic skin lightening cosmetics.


If you wonder through each London street, near where the Thames flows, in almost every Black and Asian shop you may meet: bleaching products promising whiter skin that glows. Photo: Natalie Graham



In a London shop, rows and rows of skin bleaching products. Photo: Natalie Graham


A third of people in a survey with the British skin foundation have said they whiten their skin because they believe lighter skin to be more attractive. But, why?

Some people are pointing the finger at popular Dancehall stars such as Vbyz Kartell, who’s songs have filled clubs and spilled out of the stereos of cars exclaiming ” Bleach mi a bleach” and “when you bleach- beauty is the answer!”

vybz kartel before and after he started bleaching his skin: Instagram

Vybkz Kartel, Lisa Hype and Alkaline have been proudly declaring through song they self bleach. Kartel has launched his own controversial skin lightening cosmetic line where he promotes cake soap, a product laced with bleach and laundry detergent.

Cake soap, Photo: Gazaslim

Skin bleaching in London has become even more rampant among Black and Asian communities and recently more among young adult men. So our celebrity endorsement for skin lightening products influencing more people to bleach? An avid Dancehall fan Claudette thinks this is partially true. She stated “yes, they influence them more but bleaching is something that started long before along time ago in Jamaica. I don’t bleach my skin but I have sister’s who do it and my cousin here does”.

But her cousin Angelina disagrees, she shook her head explaining ” NO! No, because it [the trend for skin bleaching] was before Vbyz Kartell and bleaching was there before, so it’s not them bring it in”. Angelina reassures Vbzy Kartell has no influences over her in any way as she states she doesn’t use the cake soap he promotes.

A lady hold skin bleaching cream, but does it really protect? Photo: Natalie Graham

When asked why does Angelina bleach her skin, she cocks her head to the side and beams a great smile; “I don’t do it for fashion, I do it to beautify myself, to let myself look nice” she sighs. She rolls her shoulders and arms forward but lifts her head high, “so you put on your clothes and go into the dancehall- and in the video light- you look up there” she explains raising her right hand gesturing to the flickering ceiling 40 watt bulb. “And you look good!” she adds causing the surrounding people to nod their heads in agreement.

For Angelina bleaching is a way of life that stops dreams just being a fantasy; it makes her happy. She believes her bleached skins transforms her into a glamorous star where her going to a club becomes a regal red-carpet affair. Maybe, as Angelina suggests the young male bleachers in London are not bleaching their skin because of certain Dancehall celebrities. Perhaps this trend is due to the rise of the millennial metro sexual man who is not ashamed to care or experiment with his appearance.

Everyone should be allowed to feel as confident as Angelina claims to be, “so what is so wrong with wanting lighter skin if it makes you feel pretty?” and “can’t people have the freedom and the choice to do what they want to feel beautiful?” some may ask.

The question is at what cost?

Thousands of image-conscious Londoners are risking their health when buying illegal under the counter skin bleaching products.

banned skin bleaching products, photo: Natalie Graham

Dr Dazie , a Consultant Dermatologist founder and director of Ethnic skin limited and also the spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation spoke about the dangers of misusing skin lightening products.

Dr Dadzie stated “as Dermatologists we may use skin lightening agents to treat certain skin conditions e.g. melasma, post-inflammatory hyper pigmentation. The main issue we are dealing with here is misuse/abuse of skin lightening agents-so using them on normal skin” and also the “use of illegally produced agents- and all the problems associated with this” because “”without, you know, these products being produced under strict EU based regulation you really never know what’s in it.”

She explained with skin lightening products “you can have products in it that really shouldn’t be there like Mercury based agents”.

Recent news reports have claimed products containing hydroquinone can damage the liver. Dr Dazie, haven written a review on the chemical explained the common misunderstandings and reiterated it is “mercury” that certain studies have claimed to cause people “kidney problems and kidney failure” Certain affects include rashes, thinning of the skin, darkening of the skin

A relatively new trend for skin lighting injections of Glutathione is popping up in beauty salons. This procedure along side L- Glutathione skin whitening pills is being advertised online as “safe” and truly a ” powerful antioxidant that provides a wide range of benefits” as it being advertise

Next I headed to interview London Standard Trading Officer Elworthy for Barking and Dagenham to investigate what is the UK doing to regulate such dangerous skin-lightening products circulating our shores.

Officer Elworthy is also vice chair of the London trading standards products safety group. “Eight thousands products were seized” he stated. When asked how many of the banned cosmetics were deemed toxic he answered “It’s difficult to say because not everything that was detained would have been tested actually tested the products is quite expensive, so some of the skin lightening ones detained were for labeling reasons.”
Officer Elworthy led a London Trading Standards test program for skin lightening cosmetics in early 2015 across 17 London boroughs. He found out of the 130 beauty products, 37% contained Mercury and 20% hydroquinone, both chemicals are highly dangerous.


A 2011 survey by the British skin foundation showed 21% of the people interviewed mentioned they suffered side effects of rashes, skin thinning and uneven skin but continued to use the products anyway. 11% of people interviewed received pressure from both family and friends to get lighter skin, and 5% said they had used a skin-lightening product on a child.

Diagram: Natalie Graham
Diagram: Natalie Graham

So what is compelling people to lighten their skin? Some think people do not form preferences in a vacuum so what is causing more young men in London to want to bleach their skin?

Maybe it’s adverts shown globally that promote a Eurocentric view of beauty where being whiter leads to more business success, handsomeness and marriage proposals.

Dr Steve Garner, who hosted a Beauty safety products conference at the University of Birmingham on the 8th February this year believes “skin lightening cosmetics operate at the interface of race, class and gender”. Sociologist and Pharmacist Basil agrees. He believes within the colonialism of Black people and Asians, there was a racial hierarchy of privilege inside the slave system where Mixed race progeny and lighter skinned slaves were given preferential treatment. India, prior to colonization, had a case system where the darkest where called “untouchables” but The British empire exploited the system. The want for bleaching, he explains, is the historical legacy of slavery. But the challenge of dealing with self-hatred and having low self esteem is still a universal pain.

In the 1970’s and early 80’s there was a strong Black movement encouraging Black pride, where songs described the beauty of Blackness and sang joyfully they are “so proud to be the colour God made me”.

Today, the opposite seems to be happening where some artists sing for their love of lighter skin. People are risking their lives using dangerous creams, pills and injections in their pursuit of whiteness. Some dancehall stars are fighting the skin lightening surge by releasing songs that criticize those who bleach.
Perhaps, as Dr Garner argues, we should concentrate on sending out positive messages of self-acceptance and self-love whatever shade of skin you are in. Maybe this trend of young men in London bleaching their skin will fade away.

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