Home / English / Bleaching creams are by-products of colonialism—a view from French history

Bleaching creams are by-products of colonialism—a view from French history

Anyone passing through Paris’ Chateau Rouge, a busy neighbourhood close to the Gare de Nord train station, will notice the numerous shops selling “African” cosmetics. Young men of the Congolese, Cameroonese or Malian communities regularly call to passers-by of all races and backgrounds, but especially black women, encouraging them to get their nails or hair done in a salon or to buy cosmetics. Products that promise fair skin are prominently promoted and displayed in the various shops.

By 2024 it is projected that profits from the sale of skin-bleaching creams will reach US$31.2 billion worldwide. In addition to Africa, Asia is one of the fastest-growing markets, with the potential to add US$5.7 billion in profit over the next four years. Europe is also a major market: Today there are between 1 and 5 million French citizens who indicate some degree of African descent. In 2007 there were 170,363 immigrants who left Africa to settle in France. Of that number, 38,530 were from Cameroon.

Why have bleaching products become so popular, not only in Asia and Africa but also in the heart of Paris? To better understand how this trend has survived and grown across the globe, we need to look at France’s colonial history.

The colours of colonialism

The 1920s were the heyday of the French colonial empire. At that time France controlled more land in Africa than any other European country. During the colonisation process they imported their language, norms and traditions to Africa, where they imposed on local populations. While these were the most visible aspects of colonial occupation, others, while less explicit, were no less present.

Among the world’s human population, the highest concentration of melanin – the pigment that gives human eyes, skin and hair its colour – is found in African dark skin. Under racist colonial regimes, light skin was a socio-economic, political and class marker, and this became an unsolicited choice of African peoples. Colonised populations sought to imitate the light skin of their colonisers in an effort to enhance their quality of life and improve their self-image. Among white Americans, the same tendency is shown in the popularity of archetypes such as “Breck girl”. Her long hair, light eyes and alabaster skin were considered the standard of beauty for many years.

Prior to colonisation, the feminine ideal in Africa could be light or dark skinned. Afterward, light skin was elevated by the esteem associated with colonial power and which African subjects then internalised. This has led to a surge of interest in skin-bleaching creams and products in many former colonies, including Cameroon.

Bleaching in Cameroon

Between 1946 and 1960, French Cameroons was a French territory. In 1960 the country gained its independence, and the next year it joined its British counterpart to form the country of Cameroon.

The lingering effects of the French and British influence contributed to what became a thriving bleach-cream industry. According to the World Health Organisation, in Cameroon skin bleaching is “rife” despite its health risks. African countries such as Ghana have made some of these products illegal, but many remain popular.

Dancia before and after

While the colonial era is long over, French companies continue to make a handsome profit from skin-bleaching products – the market is projected to reach US$19.8 billion by 2018. Clarins SA, a French company, has developed a popular product, Clarins White Plus, which it markets to both men and women. According to documentation, Clarins’ experts claim that one of its ingredients, acerola extract, “is able to control the overproduction of melanin synthesis at its source”.

Cameroon celebrities both promote and sell bleaching creams, sometimes under the label of “beauty creams”. Pop star Reprudencia Sonkey, known by her stage name Dencia, has promoted her own line of bleaching creams, Whitenicious. The marketing materials include dramatic side-by-side pictures of Dencia as dark-skinned before and light-skinned after. Within a month sales approached 20,000 units.

Like Clarins, Dencia does not promote her product as a way to lighten skin but instead as a means to remove dark spots. Nevertheless, thousands of African women purchase Whitenicious specifically to lighten their skin, which brought much criticism of Dencia from the black community in the U.S. and the U.K.. Despite her claims to be providing a product that will enhance the beauty of dark-skinned African women, critics contend that she is promoting black self-hate.

Ending skin bleaching

The origins of negative perceptions of dark skin tones are conveyed by the Bible and sustained by culture. Light-skinned people are seen as being able to “pass” for something other than members of a stigmatised group. In France, light-skinned blacks have a different experience compared to their dark-skinned counterparts – studies suggest they are better educated, earn more and have higher-status jobs. In the post-colonial era, dark-skinned Africans have not been able to assimilate with the same ease as lighter-skinned groups, even in African countries. This has served as a strong motivation for dark-skinned blacks to use bleaching products.

Rhetoric on ending “race” discrimination, as future president François Hollande proposed in 2012, is not enough. To counter how people feel about their skin colour, France and other countries first need to take stronger actions and prohibit the sale of bleaching creams. This step has already been taken by several African countries, including Ghana. Second, education campaigns that address the health threats of such products must be put in place. Finally, popular culture itself is in need of some serious self-reflection.

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34 comments

  1. There is Freedom of choice. So if beaching makes you happy, hap at it…… and face the consequences of it later.

  2. The French did not only help bleach the skins of their toadies in La Republique, it also bleached their brains. The La Republique gang leader Biya boasted of his enslavement and called himself their best pupil. To show his credentials, he usually decks out in a three piece suit under scorching temperatures, is married to the daughter of a Frenchman and has secretly provided his ministers with French passports. A French slave par excellence Colby was beating his chest here that Anglophones are easily influenced when they come across someone with a suit. Instead of promoting his ancestors’ Dschang shoes, he worships his masters clothing choices. If France cannot stop mental bleaching of its toadies, how can it stop the commercialization of skin creams? Even our circumstantial PanAfricanist

    • Bah Acho is now the French Pro consul in Niger another French colonial outpost after having been subjected to mental recolonization for the better part of the past decade. You need to see Zam Zam show off his chops in the language of thievery every time, confirming his mental bleaching from his handlers in Paris!

      • Kikikiki Firefighter,

        I know you’re always very envious of that talent to be able to slalom with dexterity between various languages at will—c’est CHINEKE qui a donné.

        I don’t even know why I argue with you here—you are a Briton. You ought to argue with your kinds—they abound at Westminster. Some cloned ones superabound here too though—you better identify them and flock along with them.

        In the meantime, some authentic CMRs would continue to wax and peel off some incongruous grey hair from your much cherished Briton Ma’s butt with our Pidgin, nayor-nayor…

  3. Since the world is a global village, foreign cultures and practices keep coming. To fight them a combination of methods is required – legally accepted cultures, collective efforts, individual efforts.

    Let us start with the gay/LBGT . Cameroon has the courts, the government ministers, the churches and above all the citizens. Superficially each of these entities have opposed the new experiment but individually they have not. If LBGT has not yet swallowed the fatherland, it is perhaps only a matter of time.

    Now let us turn to skin bleaching. Basic to skin color is a pigment called melanin. Some persons’ cells produce more, others less. Using creams to reduce melanin visibility is like using deodorants to reduce perspiration. It is a temporary expedient since the cells keep making them. If

    • the head of state can use creams to rejuvenate his graying hair and look younger, how can the institutions under him do otherwise? What local alternative is there for skin bleaching? Can the nation rise up and put more value on the color of their citizens instead of giving undue advantage to alien skin color? Herein lies the trick.

      By the way, white-skinned persons are also enamored of dark skins, even if very modestly. It is no secret that man-hours are spent at the beach during the summer to get just a little tan.

  4. firefighter papi no kill with laugh this morning. However ,you forgot that moron with zero IQ calling himself mbappe a French slave of the first caliber. I will not be surprise if that son of a bitch Mbappe might have even bleach his dick. What a fool

    • Did I touch one of your nerves.
      Sorry for not making your life a nightmare…

      • I refuse to pay attention to the Pillsbury doughboy mbappe? you have already proved that you lack moral bona fides.

  5. I think she looks best black

  6. It is easy to write articles pointing fingers at African women.but inside this problem reside enormous economic opportunities that can only be seen by those with the right mindset.since our super degree holders themselves have been bleached mentally after assimilating the religion,language,and esthetics of the enemy.it is normal to see them complaining instead of being proactive.if our women are following beauty standards set by our enemies.it is because we African men have not build industries processing beauty products that will maintain and valorize our women without destroying them.it is only with our own beauty products that we can impose and maintain beauty standards that are truly African without bowing to outside standards.but this will demand a lot of work.

  7. In order to put such an industry in place we must go from the farm.because without producing the raw materials we have no chance in terms of competitively.we must setup big farms growing sesame,amarula,musiru,lin seeds,tournosol used in processing glycerin.with this raw materials we can produce natural essential oils for skin and hair maintainance.then set up laboratories to experiment which oil works better to make hair’s grow,which one work better to make hair’s stronger,which is best for fry skin.publicity will be made base on accurate findings.the famous manyanga oil could be perfumed and presented in a recent form while maintaining the roots inherited from our mothers.

    • You have a point Bah. Instead our men spend all their time preaching and castigating women, telling them how they conversed with a snake and brought evil upon this world. In reality the most women I know cannot even watch a sleeping python in a wildlife program on TV. Deception

    • Yes Bah.
      The most revolutionary thing an African can do is to be an African. Now, it is up to every African child to know what it mean to be African.

  8. Yup , Zam Zam,
    I’m really really envious that you can sheepishly recite the names and thinking of your French ancestors with aplomb. De Gualle, the one who bent over your Bamileke kin and kith and pushed them to run away to Abakwa. I marvel at your nativity when u call us cowards and terrorists though! Giscard d’Estaigne, the one who has been freely hunting and wiping out your elephants at Waza. Mitterrand, the one who trained the student ruling from the intercontinental hotel. Chirac , the one who said democracy is a luxury to his toadies like you, Sarkozy, the one who calls you scum . Hollande, the small ashawo who ordered the hotel bug to release Thierry Atangana and Lydienne Eyoum. Macron, the one with an ancient wife! These are the ancestors you mimick

    • dexterously in their language of thievery. In a Briton, strangely enough you are the one being applauded by the walking weed chimney Tuge for showing off your Bamileke English! Look at Mbappe, the nuisible ghost of Colonel Pembleton left behind in Cameroon. He has be n begging the Admin. Of this side to keep the flags away, because for a very long time he was shown to be Pinguiss, moonlighting in the US. Surprisingly Pinguiss met his true self in Canada. Today, he tells us that he is Ashu, but I think it is rather Ashumbu! Folks, understand Bah Acho’s silence and tiptoeing . His masters in Paris and Yaoundé are running roughshod over Mbengwi , so he diesn’t know whether to cry or laugh!

      • Ah who am I not Inna this forum ? Ah ah you are very entertaining. You keep accusing people of what you are probably guilty of, like why would I need to change moniker ? From I’m USA to Charles Atangana now I’m Mbappe and Ashu ..rolling on the floor I have been consistent with my one and only one handle . My friend stop projecting your insecurities on me . I’m pinguiss from the USA who happened to conduct business in both Canada and the USA I didn’t know it was a crime to move freely on this world . Ambashitnia seems like a dictature . Funny dog eater when do you create your own ambashitnia forum and stop pestering Cameroonian ?

    • Firefighter,

      The sun never sets on the empire, CHINEKE punish your Briton Ma in B palace. Even your Briton Ma has refused to recognise you—that your Ma is surely still angry with nature that she conceived you in an incest*uous copulation—I hope not with Lu*cifer. Cos, how can an imaginary president be threatening to kill a woman for being a Bami on social media if he’s no bastard—Lu*ciferian? The story running around that he is tief man who stole money from a French company and ran away to USA must be true—some Britons are fond of claiming to be saints—mais on le connait…

    • Firefighter,

      The sun never sets on the empire, CHINEKE punish your Briton Ma in B palace. Even your Briton Ma has refused to recognise you—that your Ma is surely still angry with nature that she conceived you in an incestuous copulation—I hope not with Lucifer.

    • Firefighter,

      The sun never sets on the empire, CHINEKE punish your Briton Ma in B palace.

    • The sun never sets on the empire, CHINEKE punish your Briton Ma in B palace. Even your Briton Ma has refused to rec*ognise you—that your Ma is surely still angry with nature that she conceived you in an incestuous copulation—I hope not with Lucifer. Cos, how can an imaginary president be threatening to kill a woman for being a Bami on social media if he’s no bastard—Luciferian? The story running around that he is tief man who stole money from a French company and ran away to USA must be true—some Britons are fond of claiming to be saints—mais on le connait…

      • Hahaha, Zam Zam no kill me! Only for dis small kosh for comot your mop, you don’t stutter soteeey! I be di wonder why all wanna for La Republique get long hands dem! So na because of incest?

  9. What about the Anglo Saxon and India ? Or their apartheid in South Africa with coloured people as a new race or class marker ? No matter how you anglofools try you will never succeed in painting the brits as saints and thefrench devils it is either you condemn both devils . There is no my sh1t smells better than yours in this case , we won’t replace one colonialism with another… why we were fighting and defeating the French you parasite beasts of no lineage were bending over and shaking your azz in the air in the name of being shagged by the brits . As a result no independence and a benevolent like attitude towards you (being ruled by a colony :Nigeria ) such humiliation. Not being granted independence on your own . Typical slaves.At least we made a point and the French know not to mess

    • So you think you are independent from the French? Think again big man! The French still controls everything in its former colonies!

    • Yep, you made a point by following their instructions to empty the public treasury and go over to rest at Kondengui. The French know you are the easiest to shag, so they provide you with brasseries , seize your sovereign funds, command you to go rape other Africans. What a race of running dogs!

  10. The second picture looks like Chantal Poulcherie Biya with her huge ginger mane. She must be Dencia’s biggest customer I presume.

  11. can an african country be independent while speaking English,french and Portuguese?and even worste practicing Christianity worshiping the image of the conqueror?i mean the famous (wereh ngang).

  12. this report is another colonial stigma mentality which is discriminating to people of colour, adult men and women are free to do what ever they want with their body, wealth and health,adults everywhere in the world whether black or white have hard times, having a fair complexion, white skin, dark skin does not give any human race/class easy life pass, even when people are born with a golden spoon, they go through tough times,many people with white complexions spend their entire life using sun beds, toning tablets/ creams fake tan to get a darker complexion, nothing mentioned in this reports, beautiful or ugliness is from within, personally the inner soul,mental states is more important than this misleading bleaching crap, tanning is no different from bleaching, who cares? grow up!!

    • Nodolloz @ true ,but you do also get alot of wrinkles later on if youve been in the sun,or on sun beds ,to tan and your white .

  13. Relaxez vous un peu. Ecoutez la bonne ancienne music du Cmr.
    Maele: Ma ding ma wok.

  14. Korup Forest

    Here we go again. Blacks bleach their skin but its the fault of France again. Nobody force you to bleach your skin, its your own choice so stop always blaming others. And if you want to know my opinion this Dancia looks horrible with her white skin, she looked 100 times better with her black skin.