Melanin Extraction - The Skin Bleaching Epidemic

by Cherise "Reese" Charleswell

Skin bleaching, a public health crisis and phenomenon, although is not only exhibited by Black populations, greatly impacts those of African descent around the world. These dangerous forms of melanin extraction or erasure, which rely on the use of pills, soaps, and creams has very dangerous and potentially fatal side effects; yet worldwide people continue to attempt to “rub-rub-rub away their melanin”.

Some of the earliest public discourse around skin bleaching arose with the undeniable and extreme transformation of Michael Jackson. The early defense and explanations offered for Michael’s drastic change in complexion, was that he had a vitiligo condition, but this explanation was never wholeheartedly believed by many. While Caribbean-born celebrities, such as Dominican baseball star Sammy Sosa, Jamaican dancehall artist Vybz Kartel, along with African American hip hop star Lil’ Kim, also have gain notoriety for their overnight transformations and obvious extraction of melanin. Also, neither has denied the use of complexion modification aids; in fact, Kartel openly boasts about his use of cake soap and plans to put out a skin bleaching line for me.

One must point out, that since the complexion modifications, Sammy Sosa, Vybz Kartel, and Lil’ Kim have taken on the typical “look of skin bleachers. That is to say, that they look extremely unhealthy, with translucent and chalky complexions, that are void of any sheen, and look matte like paper. Many also note that they simply look like “death” or resemble the hue of those who have recently transitioned, or on the verge of embarking on that journey.

While most comments and sentiments stated about skin bleaching or melanin extraction provides a backlash to the practice, it can not be denied that these practices continue. Nadinda and other more harmful products are marketed to Black people, and flood beauty supplies and markets. Thus, there is a dependable consumer base. Some of the obvious and drastic health dangers of skin bleaching include:

  • cancer, many of the compounds used to create these agents are carcinogens
  • nausea & shortness of breath
  • convulsions & delirium
  • irreversible damage tot he skin

However, despite many of these well known dangers, the melanin extraction market continues to flourish. This presents a great task for public health practitioners who are truly interested in implementing interventions to address this crisis, and it presents a daunting challenge to communities of African descent around the globe.

There are many determinants of health at play here, and unfortunately are those that are deeply rooted and quite difficult to mitigate. The roots of melanin extraction lie in deep-seated historical matters and also has other psychosocial, political, and economic implications. The entire practice is an expression of self hate and an earnest belief in the inferiority of Black skin. These beliefs are the result of external forces enforced by society and those historically in a position of power; who have colonized, enslaved, oppressed, and consistently discriminated against those with darker complexions. Thus the seeds of self hate were first planted during the commencement of chattel slavery across the Atlantic Ocean. These systems of oppressions allowed for the social acceptance, upheaval, and increased political power and economic status of those who most closely resembled those who were and are perceived to be “in power”. Thus, lighter complexions are favored. This preference has been seen in Africa, with the buffer colored classes in South Africa and North Africa, and it is also seen in Europe and throughout the Americas.

Little Black girls in the United States could not have missed the fact that the earliest African American actresses could not be darker than a certain hue. So, the earliest Black startles were the complexions of Lena Horne, Dorothy Dandridge, Diahann Carol, Pearl Bailey, Eartha Kitts, etc. The same prevalence and preference for Black women of a certain hue in the entertainment industry is seen today, where the recording artist who are popular and gain the most acclaim for their perceived beauty are also of a certain hue. Consider Beyonce, Alicia Keys Rihanna, Leona Lewis, Mariah Carey, Nikki Minaj, etc. The now melanin-deficient and mutilated recording artist, Lil’ Kim, often spoke about her insecurities with her complexion, as well as her envy of the “light skinned” girls who seemed to obtain more affection, attention, and admiration of men.

Increased awareness about this public health, and especially mental health crisis, is needed to develop an effective design of a strategy to help mitigate the crisis. The skin bleaching phenomenon evolved from years, centuries, of social conditioning and will ultimately take much time to eradicate. It simply begins with believing and understanding that Black is Beautiful.

Melanin Extraction - The Skin Bleaching Epidemic by Cherise "Reese" Charleswell

© Eclectic Life Books 2012. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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