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“Whitenicious” and “Fair and White”: The Demise of Skin Whiteners in Ivory Coast

Ivory Coast is following in the footsteps of some other African countries, banning dangerous products that lighten skin. Despite these product's popularity, there is a growing movement against the skin bleaching industry.

Two men walk under a giant advertising placard of skin-lightening products in Abidjan on May 2, 2015. Ivory Coast's government has forbidden the use of skin whitening products, popular among Ivorian women, the Health Ministry announced on May 6, 2015.  AFP PHOTO / SIA KAMBOU        (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)
Two men walk under a giant advertising placard of skin-lightening products in Abidjan on May 2, 2015. Ivory Coast's government has forbidden the use of skin whitening products, popular among Ivorian women, the Health Ministry announced on May 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SIA KAMBOU (Photo credit should read SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images)

In early 2014, Nigerian-Cameroonian pop singer Dencia launched Whitenicious, a line of skin-care products and lightening creams. She called the products dark-spot removers and argued they were intended not to bleach users’ entire skin tone but to address small dark blemishes that left skin looking uneven.

Her controversial product line is now one of many, including Fair & White and Divine Derrière, that will likely be deemed illegal in Ivory Coast, where the government passed legislation to ban most bleaching creams on Thursday. In addition to their social controversy, the creams have a record of severely burning skin, and medical experts widely consider them to be carcinogenic.

Ivory Coast is not the first country to take action against the products. In South Africa, products with more than 2% hydroquinone — a whitening agent — have been illegal since the 1980s.

Polls published by the World Health Organization found that in some African countries, including Nigeria and Togo, the majority of women use some form of skin-whitening product.

But even if they are increasingly popular, the reaction from Dencia’s fans proved there is a growing movement against the popularity of these products. She faced public backlash after she openly stated that she thinks “white means pure” and went back and forth in interviews on whether she herself had used lightening creams to change her look.

Fans argue that photos prove her skin has become significantly lighter since she first rose to stardom, and many saw the launch of Whitenicious as her using her fame to encourage young women to regard her chemically induced whiteness, not her natural blackness, as beauty.

And the explanation behind the name Whitenicious? Dencia offered her take in an interview with Ebony magazine last year: “When you see Whitenicious, you see the container, you see the product, obviously you’re thinking this is gonna work, right? That’s what you’re thinking.”

In that same Ebony interview, she bragged that another passenger on an international flight complimented her skin and asked if she was Puerto Rican. But when asked if she regarded dark skin to be an obstacle, she said she thought dark was “beautiful.” Her products cost upward of $150 for a small container.

The lightening creams, which in all fairness can also effectively reduce the effects of hyperpigmentation, have become so popular that the industry is now estimated to be worth billions of dollars. In January, Oprah Winfrey’s television network released a documentary about the industry, featuring those who were victims of its harmful side effects.

But ask Dencia about her product’s risk, and she’ll tell you it’s worth it.

“Guess what?” she said.  “The air you breathe outside causes you cancer. Everything in the world causes cancer.”

SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

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