Following in the footsteps of Ivory Coast, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa, Rwanda is the latest to officially put a ban on skin bleaching products that contain chemicals like hydroquinone and mercury intended to lighten the skin. The Ivory Coast became the first African nation to ban skin-lightening creams in 2015, with Ghana following the suit in 2017.
According to the World Health Organization, the chemicals used in skin bleaching creams can lead to liver damage, reduced resistance to infections, anxiety, depression, psychosis, and even skin cancer. Data suggests skin bleaching has turned into a multibillion-dollar global industry in Africa as at least four out of every 10 women bleach their skin.
The ban was implemented by the Ministry of Health and the Rwanda Food and Drug Authority and the Rwanda Standards Board in November last year.
“Operations are being conducted by technical people,” said Simeon Kwizera, the public relations and communications officer for the board told CNN. “The police is there to oversee only and make sure that all operations are being conducted in a safe way.”
President Paul Kagame spoke about the need to ban the sale of skin whiteners in November last year. Kagame touted the bleaching creams as “unhealthy” on Twitter in a response tweet to woman user who requested for a crackdown on skin bleaching products. Soon after the Twitter exchange, Kagame asked the health ministry and police “to reign this in very quickly.”
To ensure a strict ban on bleaching products, the government officials and police often resort to patrolling markets in the African nation to seize skin-lightening and bleaching products from vendors. Various media reports claim Rwandan police said they have seized more than 5,000 banned bleaching products including lotions, oils, soaps and sprays from beauty shops across the country last month, reported This Is Africa.