Last September a horrific-sounding "intimate bleaching product" gained popularity in India and Thailand, which promised to make vulvas "fairer within four weeks." While the shock value garnered this a lot of coverage, sadly, skin bleaching has actually been immensely popular for quite some time.
According to the World Health Organization, 77% of Nigerian women use skin-lightening agents, compared with 59% in Tokyo and 27% in Senegal. Lighter skin tones are associated with better marriages and more access to jobs, and are particularly appealing to those who work outside all day. From ranges of DIY creams to hundred-dollar treatments in beauty parlors, it's expected to be a $10 billion global industry by 2015.
The products are available widely, but the video above focuses on one store's cosmetics section in Abuja, the nation's capital. Its owner, who stocks two shelves exclusively devoted to bleaching products, explains that the lightening process is gradual ("It's not something you wake up one day and decide ‘I want to be fair, I want to be like Michael Jackson,' and you go Michael Jackson all of a sudden.")
Some women only use the product on their face: the local lingo for this is "Fanta face, Coca-Cola legs." As you might expect, the bleaching products are immensely hazardous—and the particularly hazardous ones are actively sought out by some women, as they're assumed to be the most effective.
Many products contain mercury and hydroquinone, which can lead to kidney damage, skin rashes, discolouration and scarring. Excessive use may even cause psychological problems.
'Lighter shades of skin' [Economist]
'STARTLING NUMBER OF NIGERIAN WOMEN USE HARMFUL SKIN BLEACHING PRODUCTS' [The Blaze]