Lemon. Turmeric powder. Cucumber. Potatoes. Baking soda.
Whilst sounding like the ingredient list to a disastrous casserole, this is just some of the natural alternatives to skin lightening agents or “brightening” as it’s more commonly referred to in beauty products (I won’t mention any names). These are also suggestions for “sufferers” of hyperpigmentation or those who have darker skin in certain areas of their body or face. I put sufferers in quotations only because hyperpigmentation is defined as a “harmless skin condition in which the body over produces the pigment melanin”* causing the appearance of darker skin with no real dangerous effects but potential “cosmetic anxiety”. And although it is a harmless condition many still seek solutions to a problem conjured up by society’s obsession with being flawless.
I remember the first time I was made aware of my discolouration. I was seven, at a birthday party crawling around on my hands and knees popping balloons -life couldn’t get any better than that. In the midst of my balloon popping conquest, I was approached by an aunt who told me to get up to avoid making my knees darker than they already were. At the time I didn’t care, I was prepared to make my entire body pitch black if it meant I could continue the fun without further interruption. But as I entered my teenage years, it became more apparent to me and by it I mean the obvious disparity in skin tone not only on my body but on my face.
I was always particularly self conscious of my knees which made dressing for school in summer a hellish experience (you know, fashionably short uniform skirt paired with knee high socks worn below the knee to emphasise fashionably short uniform skirt). So I sought out natural skin lighteners and tried everything from lemon and honey mixtures to strawberries but surprise, surprise, nothing worked or I didn’t use anything long enough to see results. And so naturally my mind began to wonder to more chemical procedures. The only thing that stopped me in my tracks is my golden rule for skincare products – if I can’t put it in my body then I don’t use it externally.
Unfortunately some men and women feel so pressured to be freed from the shackles of hyperpigmentation that they expose their body to potentially harmful substances. The World Health Organisation (WHO) state that 77% of Nigerian women bleach and whilst I am well aware that they may all have different reasons to bleach, it is concerning that such a large percentage of women in Nigeria feel the need to risk their health for lighter skin/a more even skin tone. That’s terrifying! Think about it, people risking their health and potentially their life for a harmless condition that affects a large proportion of people of colour globally.
Now before I continue, I am well aware that hyperpigmentation can be caused by excessive exposure to the sun which isn’t healthy or safe. This article was written for the intention of uplifting gals and boys like me who are naturally prone to discolouration, so you can relax now internet warriors. Hyperpigmentation is naturally occurring condition that is often labelled as ugly because it supposedly hinders a person’s ability to fit into the narrow, often Eurocentric ideal of beauty in today’s society. I often find it very hard to talk about beauty because of its subjectivity but I hold this topic very close to my heart, and I can honestly say as someone’s who’s spent a lot of time obsessing over dark spots: I wish someone had told me that I shouldn’t lose sleep over it.
*Dermatology Associates of Atlanta, PC
Images & Words: Sharon Wanjohi