A BITTER OBSERVATION
In 1940, black American psychosociologists Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted numerous studies on the impact of segregation on African-American children. In particular, they developed the doll test, which consisted of presenting four dolls that were identical in every respect except color to black children aged 3 to 7 years old in order to test the children's racial perceptions.
A majority of the children preferred the white doll and attributed positive characteristics to it. This would indicate a sense of inferiority with an impact on self-esteem. We are in the middle of a period of racial segregation and the struggle for civil rights in the United States of America.
In South Africa, in 1950, it was the pencil test used by the apartheid regime that made it possible to classify individuals into racial categories. Indeed, a pencil was placed on the hair of the person tested: if the pencil fell out by itself, the person was classified as "white", otherwise as "colored" or "black" if the pencil was retained in the hair. Frizzy hair, a hair characteristic, according to segregationists, of black or colored people was a determinant of "race.
In 2008, in Djeddah Thiaroye Kao, a suburb of Dakar, when asked "when you grow up, would you like to marry a light or black woman?", a 12 year old child who was participating in an awareness raising activity of the AIIDA* association answered: "a light woman but without Xeesal".
In January 2022, in a film by Aurélia Perreau and Alain Mabanckou "Noirs en France", broadcast on January 18 on France 2tv, a reproduction of the doll test was carried out: same conclusions. In addition, a shocking sentence from one of the girls interviewed: "When I grow up I will put on cream to become white".
It is the bitter observation to see that after more than ¾ of a century that the perception of skin color has not evolved much. The clear or voluntarily bleached skin still has a long way to go.
A FRANTIC RACE TOWARDS CLEAR OR WHITE SKIN TO THE DELIGHT OF THE COSMETICS INDUSTRY
Voluntary cosmetic depigmentation (even if it is not always voluntary), formerly called artificial depigmentation, better known in Senegal under the term "xeesal" is certainly a universal practice, but it is very frequent in sub-Saharan Africa and in Senegal in particular, where a prevalence of up to 71% is reported in Pikine.
Its impact on public health is no longer to be demonstrated because of the morbidity and mortality but also because of the high economic cost of this practice which is a very lucrative activity with a bright future.
Indeed, in 2020 the market for depigmenting cosmetics was estimated at 8 billion dollars and projections for 2026 are 11.8 billion dollars. In Senegal, 19% of household income is allocated to the purchase of depigmenting cosmetics.
And who is rubbing their hands? Of course the cosmetic industry.
THE DEATH OF GEORGE FLOYD, A TURNING POINT IN THE AWARENESS
Following the demonstrations organized by the "Black lives matter" movement after the death of George Floyd in May 2020, the giants of the cosmetics industry (Unilever, Shisheido, Procter & Gamble, L'Oréal, Johnson Johnson) took cosmetic measures by removing terms such as whitening, lightening, clear from their product packaging. The ban on the sale of lightening substances concerned products for Asia and the Middle East. What about Africa?
If the terms "lightning", "whitening", "clear" have been removed, the composition and the substances used remain identical and the cosmetic industries, most of which are based in Europe, Asia, and America, put on the market every year hundreds of products containing either hydroquinone, mercury or corticoids or other substances of unknown composition.
In Senegal, the shock wave caused by the death of Georges Floyd was not felt. This shows the difference in perception of the problem. Products of dubious quality continue to be manufactured in an artisanal manner by companies that are not very aware of the occupational risks.
Some of these products contain mercury in very high concentrations exceeding the authorized standards. In addition to mercury, which is highly toxic to human and animal health and to the environment, substances such as hydroquinone, arbutin, kojic acid, and corticoids are found in depigmenting cosmetic products.
WHAT IS THE OUTCOME FOR AIIDA TWENTY YEARS AFTER ITS CREATION?
This year, AIIDA is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It was on January 19, 2002, at the National School of Health and Social Development on Cheikh Anta Diop Avenue in Dakar. An initiative committee of 4 young women, communication specialists, artists, students, health professionals, jurists, Mr. and Mrs. Everyone... Everyone believed in it...
It is the place to make an assessment and to project ourselves towards the future. Today, without a doubt, we can say that the issue of VCD is at the heart of the debate in the public sphere.
Certainly a law prohibiting advertising related to depigmentation product in audio visual organs is voted (law N 2017-27 of July 13, 2017 on the press code which provides in its article 112 that "are prohibited advertising messages related to the promotion of cosmetic depigmentation products") is implemented.
Sure, there have been numerous awareness campaigns with positive effects such as the knowledge of the complications of VCD by the general public.
It is true that VCD is one of the health problems identified by the Ministry of Health and Social Action (MSAS) and an expert report and a memorandum from women's associations on VCD have been submitted to the Ministry of Health and Social Action of Senegal.
A partnership with women's associations was established to raise awareness, in particular the national association of women cooperators.
The practice has been the subject of numerous scientific works through learned societies with publications in international scientific journals.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge and the evil is still there as deep: a high prevalence, an important economic impact, a high morbi-mortality. The medical complications of the use of these cosmetic products are numerous and varied.
Practically all medical and surgical specialties are concerned, not to mention the considerable psychological impact with an alteration in quality of life and self-esteem!
Of course, VCD is financial manna for customs revenues and strong lobbying is exercised at several levels to try to minimize the extent of this phenomenon.
In Senegal, the sale of "Xeesal" products a very lucrative activity and its economic impact is important: flourishing cosmetic industry, creation of many jobs, considerable income for the coffers of African states, new professions (chemists, cosmetologists, beauticians, dermo advisers, bloggers, and influencers on the web).
Today, the "Xeesal" continues its ravages under the deafening silence of public authorities. Thus, despite the prohibition of advertising related to the promotion of depigmenting products in the audio-visual media in Senegal by law ("Article 112 of Law No. 2017-27 of July 13, 2017, on the press code), advertising continues on some television channels.
The billboards and social networks have taken over. The latter (Facebook, Tik-Tok) have a multitude of groups specialized in the promotion and sale of depigmenting products.
Today, AIIDA is pleased with the success of its numerous awareness campaigns that have succeeded in placing this phenomenon at the heart of the scientific, social, and societal debate. However, the reality is bitter:
Children who are victims of the whitening madness (cortisone madness well known to doctors) of adults are in turn coated with creams very early while newborns are impregnated with toxic products while still in the womb.
Unhappiness, low self-esteem, a low level of education, a fashion phenomenon, the deep mutations of society with a change of paradigms: all these determinants boosted by the lure of gain of predators who flood the market of cosmetics with toxic products and who do not end up luring the most credulous.
The mimicry, the influence of the entourage, the seduction of men end up doing the rest. One thing leading to another, addiction sets in.
ADDICTION TO DEPIGMENTING PRODUCTS, A REALITY
Even if the main motivation declared is aesthetic, one should not ignore a part of the addiction. The latter is defined as a very strong dependence on a harmful substance leading to compulsive behavior.
Addiction is characterized by the repeated impossibility of controlling behavior and the continuation of this behavior despite the knowledge of its negative consequences. Studies have shown that addiction is real in depigmented women.
ALL THESE CHARACTERISTICS ARE FOUND DURING DCV
- Addiction, some women prefer to buy depigmenting products to the detriment of food products,
- The harmful nature of the substances: dermocorticoids, hydroquinone, mercury, and glutathione,
- Compulsive behavior.
Unaccompanied weaning is extremely perilous. The proof is the question that keeps coming up for women who decide to stop: "Couldn't I have a product that gives me a glow without side effects?
The responsibility of Satan is regularly pointed out to explain the continuation or the resumption of the practice. Moreover, this addiction is found in other similar practices such as tanning.
TANNING VERSUS DCV
Tanning, a counterpart of VCD, is also considered as an addictive behavior. Thus, many patients continue tanning despite a diagnosis of skin cancer. One of the main motivations of tanning enthusiasts was aesthetic.
However, this practice is highly regulated in the countries where it is practiced in Europe and North America with the adoption of laws and regulations in the name of the duty to protect the population.
These two practices can therefore be compared on many points and the WHO recognizes depigmenting products as factors in the occurrence of skin cancers in the same way as tanning booths.
In the meantime, in sub-Saharan Africa, the reactions of the States are often mixed; with the exception of Rwanda, RCI, Burkina Faso, few countries have put in place regulations for the sale of depigmenting cosmetic products.
In the Gambia, recently in March 2021, members of parliament rejected a bill to repeal the law prohibiting the importation of depigmenting products.
AFRICAN STATES IN THE DOCK
They are guilty of complicity in failing to assist a person in danger. The words may seem excessive but it is exactly the feeling of having to assist helplessly to the drama that is played out in our hospitals.
Brave and valiant women who for lack of simple means of prevention are hospitalized for diseases that are induced by our inappropriate behaviors.
Yet the constitution guarantees the right to health. In Senegal, regulatory texts (constitution, international conventions) constitute safeguards for this practice, but unfortunately they are not applied.
The African States and the public authorities (did you say public authorities?) have the duty to watch over the physical, moral and mental health of the family. A concerted action at the sub regional level is required because the challenges are numerous.
The challenges are still numerous and the temptations exist
Today, there are few efficient measures to fight against VCD, notably
- No regulation of the cosmetics sector
- No control over the marketing of DPs
- No control on the substances used in cosmetic products
- No law on cosmetovigilance
- No protection for children who are victims of cosmetic depigmentation.
On the other hand, more and more skin specialists are saying the following: less harmful depigmenting products! Respect the patient's choice... Beware of abuses, let's avoid giving in to the temptation of the easy way and the search for gain. Remember our commitment as health professionals: primum non nocere!
WHAT ARE THE PROSPECTS?
What we expect :
- A strong political commitment at the highest level of the State as well as that of the institutions (National Assembly and High Council of Territorial Communities).
- Funding for training and support for the local cosmetics industry to manufacture cosmetic products based on local cosmetology. Abolish the tax on imported quality cosmetic products.
- To take into account the policy of the fight against the disease and the policies of prevention with a national plan of the fight against VCD in the same way as the other pathologies related to the behaviors.
- Support for associations fighting against VCD through regular funding to avoid conflicts of interest.
- The organization of national or even sub-regional conferences with the involvement of all stakeholders in a transdisciplinary approach (human and social sciences, lawyers, economists, health professionals, local authorities, religious leaders, cultural actors and opinion leaders).
WHAT SHOULD BE THE WOMEN'S SCORE ON THIS 8 MARCH 2022?
As every year since 1977, this 8th of March will be celebrated the International Women's Day and the theme chosen for 2022 is: "Gender equality today for a sustainable future".
How to appropriate this day to be part of sustainable development? Would it be necessary to redefine the term gender equality by adapting it to the to the socio-cultural context and to religious beliefs and not to align with the definition that would like to be consensual.
Can we talk about gender equality in terms of cosmetology, no there is no equality, women pay a very heavy price for the maintenance of their skin, nails and hair not only in terms of financial cost but also in terms of consequences if these products are not of good quality.
On average, women spend one hour of time per day or 360 hours per year on their beauty. This time is not counted anywhere in the time devoted to work. In September 2015, 193 member states of the UN, set goals to be achieved by 2030 and which are part of sustainable development: 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Among the goals: Quality education, Gender equality, Clean water and sanitation, Decent work and economic growth, Reduced inequality, Sustainable cities and communities, Responsible consumption and production, Measures to combat climate change, Aquatic life, Terrestrial life, Peace, Justice, and efficient institutions.
Cosmetology and sustainable development To achieve its sustainable development goals, women must fight climate change by adopting a healthy lifestyle, including responsible cosmetology: yes to natural beauty and products of proven safety without toxicity on wildlife (mercury), which do not alter human health (corticoids).
No to toxic cosmetic products on the environment (mercury and hydroquinone). We therefore call for climate action by women for everyone! Yes to quality cosmetics at an affordable cost, because well-being is also an objective of sustainable development.
Yes to the claim of identity: blacks cannot import everything, including aesthetic models. It is time to reconcile with our black skin, our frizzy hair, it is time to restore our self-esteem!
INFINITE GRATITUDE TO ALL MEMBERS AND SUPPORTERS OF AIIDA
Today AIIDA is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and has the imperative to continue the fight whatever form it takes. These twenty years have shown the limits of volunteering but also the wonders of volunteering.
It is the place to have a pious thought of the members torn from our affection: Binta Ndoye, El Hadj Lamine Samb, Adama Toure.
To thank all the members of the initiative committee, Khadidiatou Ndoye, Awa Boye, Ndeye Nguenar Diop Niang; all the members of the current and previous boards. Our gratitude goes to the honorary members who have followed and encouraged AIIDA for so many years.
- Prof. Bassirou Ndiaye (Dermatologist)
- Mr. Amadou Mahtar Mbow (Former Director-General of UNESCO)
- Mr. El Béchir Sow (journalist)
- Mrs. Annette Mbaye d'Erneville (writer/Dakar)
- Mrs. Sokhna Dieng Mbacké (Journalist/Dakar)
- Mrs. Penda Mbow (Historian, Ucad/Dakar)
- Mrs. Awa Séne Sarr (artist/Dakar)
- Mrs. Marie Angélique Savané (Sociologist/Dakar)
- Mr. Eric Caumes (Dermatologist-infectiologist/Paris)
- Mr. Moustapha Dieng (Pneumologist/Dakar)
- Mr. Antoine Mahé (Dermatologist /colmar France)
- Mrs. Amsatou Sow Sidibé (Teacher-Lawyer UCAD/Dakar)
International Association for Information on Artificial Depigmentation.
References : :
1. Leye Mame Ngone.Prevalence et facteurs epidemiologiques associés à la depigmentation cosmetique volontaire dans le departement de pikine (Sénégal). These medecine UCAD 2019.
2. Clark, Kenneth B. and Clark, Mamie P. (1947). « Racial identification and preference among negro children. » In E. L. Hartley (Ed.) Readings in Social Psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
3. C.S. Scalbert , ⁎, M. Grenier , C. Maire , O. Cottencin , A. Bonnevalle , H. Béhal , A. Duhamel ,R. Glantenet , L. Mortier Cabines de bronzage : étude des motivations et croyances des utilisateurs et non-utilisateurs dans la population lilloise. Annales de dermatologie Venereologie, 2014 ; 141(- N° 12S) : S360.
4. https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:BV6EDKJNu_sJ:https://www.france.tv/france-2/noirs-en france 5. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/01/25/world/as-equals-skin-whitening-global-market-explainer-intl-cmd/index.html