Ivory Coast's health ministry has "forbidden" skin-whitening creams popular across West Africa over concerns that they may cause diabetes, skin cancer, and hypertension. The ban applies to all "cosmetic lightening and hygiene creams ... that de-pigment the skin," most of which contain mercury, cortisone, vitamin A, or more than 2% hydroquinone, reports AFP. "The number of people with side effects caused by these medicines is really high," a member of Ivory Coast's pharmaceutical authority says. Though it isn't clear how many people use the creams, they're typically favored by young women who believe lighter skin makes them more beautiful. Billboard advertisements for skin-whitening products can be spotted across Africa, though the creams are also used in Asia and the Middle East.
"What we see in the media is the lighter one's skin is, the better one's life," a dermatologist in Abidjan says, citing advertisements that feature models with pale skin. "This beauty standard ... pushes many girls to de-pigment their skin." A dermatologist in the UK tells the BBC it's the unregulated products that pose the most danger as they often contain ingredients, like steroids, "in much higher quantities than we would prescribe." She adds other side effects of the creams include high blood pressure, osteoporosis, weight gain, mood swings, acne, glaucoma or cataracts if used near the eyes, and a thinning of the skin. The ban on such products in Ivory Coast won't necessarily stop people from using them, however. Skin-whitening creams are still used in Gambia, despite a ban in that country. (Read more Ivory Coast stories.)