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Selling Skin Lightening Cosmetics – Not Welcomed in Some Countries

Several African countries have acted over the years to ban the most dangerous chemicals used for skin lightening. For example, in 2018, the Rwandan government began enforcing a nationwide ban on cosmetics and hair dyes containing harmful chemicals like hydroquinone (above certain levels) and mercury, making it illegal to produce or sell most skin-lightening cosmetics. Misuse or prolonged use of products containing mercury, steroids, or hydroquinone is toxic.

The decision to ban the products came after authorities received countless reports of the damage done to users’ skins from applying these cosmetics. As in other countries, the Rwandan authorities have found that despite the ban, there remains demand for lighter skin, which keeps the market for these products alive, albeit smaller and driven underground. In 2020 the Rwandan police confiscated around 13,596 units of skin lightening products, but in 2021 that had increased to 39,204 units confiscated.

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