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Sunday, 3 September, 2000, 14:49 GMT 15:49 UK
Senegal doctors demand skin cream ban
Marketplace women
Most African women do not try to lighten their skin tone
Skin specialists in Senegal have called for a ban on imports of skin-lightening creams because of health risks.

Doctors say women are ignoring medical warnings of side effects, which include severe acne or patchy colouring.

The creams, which contain corticoids and hydroquinone, for its antiseptic properties, are available in many African countries despite the known health risks.

We have tried all sorts of ways of informing people

Dr Mame Thierno Dieng
Many women have permanent dark marks on their faces, the result of using creams from India and Pakistan which practically make the skin peel off in strips.

Dr Souleymane Chehadi, a dermatologist in Dakar, says whitening creams are like using bleach - a high price to pay to try to look like "those top fair-skinned models" in women's magazines.

But he says men must share some of the responsibility "because they prefer fair-skinned women."

Dr Chehadi says nearly half his patients have problems linked to skin-whiteners.

Women defiant

Several women selected to play in the national basketball team in this month's Olympic Games in Sydney have been told to stop using the creams immediately because of other less visible effects. Corticoids are banned by the sporting authorities.

"We have tried all sorts of ways of informing people, but we don't feel the authorities really appreciate the seriousness of the problem," says Dr Mame Thierno Dieng, from Dakar's Dantec Hospital.

"Imports of skin-whitening products must be banned."

He says the ban of imports in the neighbouring country of Gambia has "obtained results."

Banned in South Africa

But doctors in Banjul say the creams are still used in Gambia as they are popular with the wives of some political leaders.

Skin-whitening creams were banned in South Africa in 1992 because of the health concerns, but they are still easily available. Most of the creams on sale in Johannesburg come from the UK, France and the United States.

And in central Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) shops stock a range of skin-lightening soaps, creams and lotions with names like ClearSkin, Venus and Cleartone.

In Dakar, one tube of cream costs between about five cents and three dollars. Women who use the creams go through one to two tubes a day.

Cheaper version of the cream are even more dangerous, say doctors.

Called "xeesal" in Senegal, the creams come mainly from Nigeria, South Africa and Europe.

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18 Apr 00 | Africa
The heavy cost of light skin
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