If you walk along the streets of Gaborone these days, you are likely to meet several extremely light-skinned women ÔÇö and even men.
But your opinion on such people’s “fair” skin will soon change if you take a closer look at their knuckles, elbows and knees which do not easily respond to the skin lightening creams. Such people usually have light-skinned faces, yet the knuckles, elbows, knees and even ears are pitch black, reflecting the original skin colour of the individual.
But should we say skin-lightening creams are for people suffering from “complexion complex”?
My definition for ‘complexion complex’ is the inability to accept and appreciate the darker skin tones and a disturbingly particular preference for lighter skin.
Michael Jackson, eat your heart out!
The creams and lotions are being sold by the roadside by street vendors who have easy access to the ladies (and some men too) who want them. The proliferation of vendors shows that an increasing number of women and some men are spending a fortune on illegal skin lighteners and skin-bleaching pills to lighten their skin complexions.
However health analysts say most of the skin lighteners contain high levels of skin-damaging substances like hydroquinone and mercury.
Initially, this business was very popular with Zambians, Zimbabweans and Nigerians but now even Batswana have ventured into this business as it has proved to be viable.
A Muzezuru vendor, who has erected her make-shift stall at the bus rank, said business was brisk as many women are buying the “creams” in pursuit of lightening their skins.
“I used to sell tomatoes in Mogoditshane, but I have turned to selling these creams because I am making more money now; on a bad day I get a minimum of P150.”
Like any smuggled commodities, skin lighteners have become overnight money-spinners as some cross-border traders smuggle them into the country. And they come in different names such as Movate, Diproson, Bu-tone, Betasol, Lemon-vate, Carolite, Extra Clair, Epiderm, Bio-Claire, G‘n’G and Top Lemon.
Lately, the vendors have expanded their business, selling family planning pills and pills that presumably enhance a woman’s hips and bums.
A tube of Diproson or Movate costs P20, while a bottle of Extra Clair or Carolite goes for P30.
Police have been fighting running battles with the vendors, but somehow they always found their way back to the streets.
For the past two weeks, police have been raiding these illegal products at Gaborone Bus rank and Station. One vendor, who identified herself as Kgomotso, said in spite of police raids this has not deterred her since she always plays hide-and-seek with the authorities.
Cross-border traders, fearing detection from officials at the border posts, simply remove the packs and staff the lotion tubes between other goods, before smuggling them into the country. The skin lighteners contain hydroquinone and mercury ingredients, which cause skin irritation, nail discolouration, and hyper-pigmentation ÔÇö a situation leading to dark and discoloured facial skin.
A woman who uses skin lighteners professed ignorance on the dangers of using the creams.
“I have been using skin lighteners for the past five years, but I have not encountered any problems yet,” she said. “I prefer using them because they remove blemishes and make my skin clear and light.”
Another, who uses skin bleaching creams, said they restored her confidence.
She said one of the benefits she got from the skin lighteners was that her husband now always passes comments about the beauty of her skin unlike in the past.
A snap survey showed that men generally marvel at light-skinned women compared to what they do with the women of a darker shade.
Despite the euphoria that the skin lighteners have created, it turns out that most users are not aware of the dangers of using the products.
Besides the ban on such skin-damaging cosmetics, which have also been outlawed in South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, their use has become widespread due to the prevailing belief among women that a lighter complexion is more attractive and is associated with better hygiene.
This has invariably led to the perception that women who are lighter in complexion are more beautiful, prompting many to alter their complexion, with disastrous consequences.