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Students' Attitudes Towards the Use of Skin Bleaching Products


this paper is a research on students attitudes towards the use of skin bleaching products. it centers on how the society influences skin bleaching



This study examined the student’s attitudes towards skin bleaching, skin leaching is a practise that is very popular among the Midlands State University and it involves intentional alteration of one’s natural skin tone to one relatively lighter in colour through the use of chemical skin lightening agents as it manifests among people of African descent. The study also examines the attitudes, reasons for skin bleaching, the risks and hazards of skin bleaching and the skin bleaching practises.

Table of Contents











Skin bleaching is the intentional alteration of one’s natural skin tone to one relatively lighter in colour through the use of chemical skin lightening agents as it manifests among people of African descent. The chapter centres mainly on the primary or introductory aspects of the research. These as presented in the research are background of the study, statement of the problem, purpose of the study, research questions, significance of the study, assumptions of the study, delimitations of the study, limitations of the study, definition of key terms and lastly a summary of the whole chapter.


. Skin bleaching has been practiced for a very long time by dark skinned people around the world. According to Hunter (2002)the global world has been controlled by white supremacy ,white colour communicates one’s position to and within the dominant power structure and because of this reality, many people who are subjected to white domination, colonization and enslavement have historically internalized projected ideas that the basis of their inferior condition is their skin colour. What makes the epidemic even more troubling is the fact that the beauty seen in light skinned women stems from slave days.

Our ancestors spent years sacrificing their lives for us to be equal and to free from slavery and once we obtained that freedom we suddenly began judging one another on the very same principles that our ancestors fought against colour. Hunter (2002) posits that in the days of slavery a mixed woman was considered to be better than a dark skinned woman because she contained the blood of a white person. She wasn’t just another slave girl; she was the descendant of a wealthy, intelligent, and prosperous white person. Across ethnic groups, however, the picture is complicated by the legacy of colonialism and racism in some societies, which has typically meant a denigration of darker skin tones and an association between fairness of skin with goodness and power (Hall, 1995; Russell, Wilson & Hall, 1992; Swami, 2007). Thus, a number of studies have shown that dark-toned individuals face more discrimination than individuals with light-toned skin (Frisby, 2006; Keenan, 1996; Leslie, 1995), and that European (Caucasoid) features are accorded higher status, even within some minority ethnic groups (Maddox, 2004; Thompson & Keith, 2001).

The globalization of western media is relatively new phenomenon, its full long term impacts on the non-western world are only beginning to be measured and analysed. Arnett (2002) argues that it is on personal identity that globalization has its primary psychological influence. The most widespread and one of the most troublesome body altering practices worldwide is skin bleaching. According to Ayoure (2012) Barbara Millicent Roberts, or “Barbie” as she is known to us, entered the U.S. toy market in 1959. Barbie was iconic of the material comfort and beauty imbedded in the American dream. Regarding her physique, slender, Anglo Barbie was intended to represent the 1950s American ideal of feminine beauty. It is also no secret that the media’s imposing image of Barbie idealism is likely correlated with the fact that an estimated 80% of American women are unsatisfied with their bodies; or the fact that Americans spend an average of $10 billion dollars phenomenon is just one representation of the U.S.’ growing cultural and media influence around the world.

While globalization certainly has its benefits, it also poses serious concerns. Globalisation creates new social cultural environments and the ideology that fairer skin is better than dark skin is amongst them. Globally the skin lightening industry has been predicted that will reach 10 billion by the year 2015 Ayoure (2012). The largest market of skin lightening products is in Asia, with Africa and Asia following it at high levels of consumption of skin bleach products.

In Zimbabwe especially among young women there is an increasing trend of “yellow bones” as they are being called by the youth in the country. Some quotes like “I’m looking for a yellow bone long haired girl” this convinces women that lighter skinned women are much prettier than dark skinned women. The push for light skinned women has resulted in bleaching creams becoming more popular product in the beauty market that everyone has access to despite the damaging permanent effect that they can result in. Every day girls are faced with the harsh reality that dark skin tones are no longer appreciated or seen as beautiful.


There are existing colour biases in the Zimbabwean community. People with darker skin tones have been socially discriminated because dark skin tone is not seen as beautiful. Though there is a ban in the country for the use of skin lightening products there has been an increase of these products in the black market. Colorism amongst the black Zimbabwean community has led to the positive attitudes linked to the use of skin lightening products. The study seeks to determine the elements that influence students’ attitudes towards skin lightening.


Despite the saying “beauty is skin deep,” women continuously significant amount of money on various cosmetics products such as make up, hair extensions and heels in order to perfect their imperfect exteriors Kouevidjin (2014). The purpose of the study was to explore the factors that may impact of attitudes of students toward skin bleaching at Midlands State University. The study was also aimed at investigating the factors influencing such attitudes and how to reduce the use of skin bleaching creams as they are psychologically and physically harmful. The study is also aimed at advocating for dark skin with the motto “black is beautiful”. Some of the factors examined include influence of the media; attraction, colonization and colorism each of these have been identified as having impacts on attitudes of students on skin bleaching.


What are the personal characteristics of the current study sample?

What are the students bleaching practices?

What are the students’ reasons for skin bleaching?

What are the students’ attitudes towards skin bleaching?

What is students’ knowledge on the hazards of skin bleaching?


The individual’s body is seen as a stimulus for him and for those with whom he interacts with. his self-image is influenced by the reactions of others whom he regards as important thus it is important to study attitudes towards skin bleaching as it brings out the issue of skin discrimination or colorism or skin tone bias. Colorism refers to prejudice based on skin tone, which is typically practiced within races, as opposed to racism between races. Colorism is one of the reasons why most women in Zimbabwe opt to use skin lightening products. People unknowingly discriminate people with darker skin tones and make hurtful comments. The society today discriminates darker skinned people, in terms of appearance and their class whereas lighter skinned people are viewed as successful and more attractive thus more and more people use skin lightening creams to obtain the same status.

This study is also beneficial to the community as it brings the issues of health that are associated with the use of skin lightening or bleaching. Skin bleaching and skin lightening is revealed as psychological disorder by D Daudi Azobi registered as a disease to African American psychology society and is specific to people of colour Beck (2002). Skin Bleaching and Skin Lightening (SBSLB) is a psychological mis orientation which described as the overt and cognitive behavioural orientation to reality that derives from ideation itself based on Eurasian concepts, beliefs and definitional systems’. Women in Zimbabwe use creams and injections to lighten their skin tones but most of these creams are full of harmful chemicals and damage the skin. Many skin-lighteners have devastating health consequences for users. In some, acid removes older, darker skin to reveal lighter skin underneath. Others inhibit melanin production - the chemical that produces the colour in skin tone - and contain ingredients such as mulberry extract, kojic acid, arbutin and hydroquinone.

Studying the attitudes is beneficial to the psychological practice because the use of skin lightening products has been linked to self-hate and low self -esteem it’s also beneficial to study the attitudes associated to skin lightening to the younger generation so that they can feel better about themselves in their own skin. Most women who use skin bleaching creams have self-esteem, self-hate and self-perception problems leading to disorders like the bleaching syndrome. The perceived notion that black is not good enough to attract, to be successful is wrong and this study aims at changing this notion and people being confident about who they are and they are not defined by their skin tone. This study will also explore the influences of media and colonization have on the attitudes Midlands state university students have on skin bleaching.


The study has the assumption that students have the perception that light skin is beautiful through the vehicles of socialization and globalisation develop certain attitudes towards skin bleaching thus they are using skin bleaching to alter their skin colour. They also believe that it helps climb up the social status ladder and means they are more successful in life. The other assumption is that students are ignoring or unaware of the risks associated with the use of skin lightening products hence they keep using the products though it’s risky.


The research will be carried out in Gweru only; the students are required to volunteer their feeling s as well. Another noted delimitation is that most information and studies on skin bleaching have been done in other nations and less information about Zimbabwe and skin bleaching related studies.


Individuals were most likely to give biased responses and responded in a way that showed dislike due to fear of being criticized for supporting skin bleaching. There is also limited venerability.


Colorism: Colorism refers to prejudice based on skin tone, which is typically practiced within races, as opposed to racism between races. Colorism creates a hierarchical relationship that privileges lighter complexions.

Globalisation: the process by which businesses or ideologies or other organisations start operating on a global scale

Trend: a general direction in which something is developing or changing

Skin bleaching: Skin bleaching is the intentional alteration of one’s natural skin tone to one relatively lighter in colour through the use of chemical skin lightening agents

Colonization: is when another country or person takes control or establishes control over another by the use of force

Attitude: a predisposition or a tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, object, person or situation. Attitude influences an individual’s choice of action.


The chapter presented the introduction of the research bringing to light the background of the study, statement of the problem, purpose of the study, research questions, assumptions, delimitations of the study as well as the limitations of the study and key terms to be used in the study.



This chapter entails the conceptual framework of the study. It will look at past studies that were carried out on the students’ attitudes towards skin bleaching, the nature of skin bleaching itself. This chapter will also look at the theoretical framework of the study, the theories that were used.


Skin bleaching has been one of the oldest forms of achieving fair skin and has become one of the biggest industries in the world. This obsession with whiteness has not faded over time; a survey concluded that because of globalization the obsession has grown to its highest level especially with the increase in globalization, Third World nations have seen an increase in the purchasing of skin lightening creams to achieve a Western appearance. Skin bleachers, which are marketed as ‘beauty products’ go by many names: skin lighteners, skin whiteners, skin-toning creams, skin fading gels and more however, the promises are all the same: that the product will make you fairer and more beautiful. The practice of skin bleaching is found among young black Zimbabwean women despite the fact that the government of Zimbabwe banned skin lighteners and skin bleaching pills (Kanhema, 2006).

Most of the chemicals in skin bleaching products include different harmful substances which are namely hydroquinone, glutathione, mercury, vitamin c, acrbutin, alpha hydroxyl which causes a lot of harm to the skin. Most products that contain these substances have been banned in the nation but are still found in the black market. Even though they are illegal in the nation there is a great market available and more and more women purchase them.

In medical literature, hydroquinone is considered the primary topical ingredient for inhibiting melanin production. Hydroquinone is a strong inhibitor of melanin production, meaning that it prevents dark skin from making the substance responsible for skin colour. Hydroquinone does not bleach the skin but lightens it, and can only disrupt the synthesis and production of melanin hyperpigmentation. It has been banned in all European countries and Zimbabwe because of fears of a cancer risk.

Glutathione is an ingredient in some cosmetics preparations. Glutathione for skin whitening is available in cream, soap, lotion, nasal spray and injectable form. Glutathione that is applied on the skin in the form of lotion is not efficiently absorbed by the skin cells as the thiol group undergoes rapid formation of disulfide. This might expose people to potential health risks associated with long-term use of high dose of glutathione. Glutathione can be combined with many other agents like vitamin C to increase its absorption, N-acetyl cysteine to boost its level, and other antioxidants like vitamin E. Some oral intake of glutathione could have dangerous effect when combined with other skin whitening agents such as hydroquinone which is a carcinogenic element and monobenzone which causes irreversible depigmentation. Many skin whiteners contain toxic mercury such as mercury (II) chloride or ammoniated mercury as the active ingredient. However mercury has been banned in most countries for use in skin whitening (1976 in Europe, 1990 in the USA) because it accumulates on skin and it can have the opposite results in the long term.

These markets thrive on the vulnerabilities, fears, and taps into the cultural beliefs of countries that believe light-skinned is more valued. There are many reasons for the increasing global phenomenon of skin lighteners, from one’s skin being too dark, to attracting romantic prospects or to be popular and fashionable. However, these skin bleaching products usually contain three harmful ingredients: mercury, hydrophone, and/or corticosteroids. All of these chemicals can be extremely dangerous and fatal, and most of the products are made outside the U.S. and Europe and are therefore less subject to strict regulation

Commentary provided by Afrocentric psychologist, Daudi ya Azibo (2009) concludes this special issue on skin bleaching and global White supremacy. In “Skin Bleaching and Lightening as Psychological Misorientation Mental Disorder,” Azibo argues that skin bleaching is consistent with the psychological Misorientation mental disorder articulated in the Azibo Nosology. According to Azibo, living under White domination has severely traumatized people of African descent and has destabilized our ability to orient ourselves towards ourselves. Skin bleaching is thus regarded a reflective side effect of this psychological destabilization.

Dr Ronald E Hall (1995) constructed a phenomenon called ‘The Bleaching Syndrome’’ which means the process of attempting to lighten one’s skin. A psychological conflict is thus created, causing Africans to develop a disdain for dark skin as it counters dominant cultural ideals. In an attempt to simultaneously reduce this conflict and enable assimilation with the rest of the world, many Africans developed the bleaching syndrome. Since the degree of assimilation correlates with skin colour based on dominant cultural standards, light skin is crucial relative to the degree of assimilation in the world according to Sylvia (2002)

Eurocentric views on black skin are important because of the impact of such views in the victimization of black persons as manifested in skin bleaching. In addition, Hunter (2002) posits that the Eurocentric views are the objects of deconstruction from an Afrocentric theory. All these philosophers made either explicit or implicit reference to skin colour in an attempt to provide the intellectual basis for white supremacy which was used to justify colonization and exploitation of Africa and denigrate black skin. To begin with, Locke postulates that skin colour is a nominally essential property of men (Bracken, 1978). This means that skin colour is important in the identification and naming of important qualities of human beings. The consequence of Locke’s thinking is that the white skin is equivalent to the essential skin, while the black skin is considered to be less important in defining humanity. The blacks are therefore are called less important by virtue of skin colour and this thinking partly contributes to the psychological causes of skin bleaching. The prestige given to light skin during African colonization is still evident today in the behaviour of the skin bleachers who lighten their complexion in response to the lingering colonial values

2.2 attitudes towards skin bleaching

Attitude is "a relatively enduring organization of beliefs, feelings, and behavioural tendencies towards socially significant objects, groups, events or symbols" (Hogg & Vaughan 2005) Attitudes structure can be described in terms of three components. Affective component: this involves a person’s feelings about the attitude object.” Behavioural component is the way the attitude we have influences how we act or behave. Cognitive component: this involves a person’s belief about an attitude object. For example: “I believe spiders are dangerous”. People who bleach their skin have a positive attitude towards skin bleaching. In a s study by Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972), participants attributed more socially desirable personality traits, such as friendliness and being interesting, to more attractive individuals. In one review, Feingold (1992) found that attractive males and females were judged as more sociable, dominant, sexually warm, mentally healthy, and socially skilled but were not judged as more intelligent or competent. Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, and Longo (1991) found that attractiveness has a strong impact on perceptions of social competency and extraversion and a moderate impact on people have a positive attitude to skin bleaching thus people want to be more beautiful. Since the world perception of beauty is light skin people have a positive attitude to skin bleaching with this bias existing in our community most of women are forced to make the decision to bleach or lighten their skin.

Physical attractiveness can also impact decisions and behaviours. Research suggests that helping behaviour increases when the recipient of the help is attractive. Benson, Karabenick, and Lerner (1976) found that people were more willing to help mail a graduate admissions application for more attractive individuals, and West and Brown (1975) found that attractive individuals received more donations in emergency conditions. Similarly, more room is given to attractive people on sidewalks (Dabbs & Stokes, 1975). Teachers judge physically attractive students as more intelligent, as having higher academic ability, and as better adjusted than unattractive students (Ritts, Patterson, & Tubbs, 1992; Lerner & Lerner, 1977) so to measure up to the world people have developed a positive attitude towards skin bleaching because of the above advantages.

This bias also shows some kind prejudice to people who are less attractive and since light is the measure of being beautiful in the world today many women lighten their skin. Preference and perceptions of competence of political candidates have been correlated with candidate physical attractiveness (Adams, 1977)Light skinned people are associated with wealth and a better social class and most people want that so from this ideology they bleach their skin to attain same qualities. So if there is a lot of bias towards people who are considered attractive there is a negative attitude towards people who are ugly and students try bleach their skin to make themselves more beautiful to fit into the world. Less attractive female job applicants are less likely to be hired regardless of qualifications, and employees’ attractiveness increases wage levels and wage growth (Marlowe, Schneider, & Nelson, 1996; Loh, 1993).

The knowledge aspect of attitude strength covers how much a person knows about the attitude object. People are generally more knowledgeable about topics that interest them and are likely to hold strong attitudes (positive or negative) as a consequence. Attitudes based on direct experience are more strongly held and influence behaviour more than attitudes formed indirectly.

According to Aberekese (2014) most people see skin bleaching as a problem and mock people who bleach but no one is doing anything about. Aberekese (2014) has started are program in Ghana promoting dark skin and mock people who bleach. It is becoming a norm for people to see people bleach their skin and to also bleach there that it is diluting their views about and they do not upon it. In the media many celebrities who bleached their skin are mocked and criticised but their status as role models does not change. Francis (2005) posits that on social media there are a lot of pictures that make fun of people who bleach and it is a way of them to stop people to bleach their skin.

2.2.1 Personal characteristics of the current study sample

The preference for fair skin in the majority of the Global South is manifested in a variety of ways, the most tangible of which is the widespread use of skin bleach products. Skin bleaching employs dermatological, cosmetic, or homemade depigmentation products that inhibit the production of melanin and/or remove the top layer of the epidermis. According to Verma (2010) Skin lightening has long been practiced in societies around the world. Dating back at least a century, it has not been uncommon for women to produce homemade bleaching products or to buy lightening creams and soaps from small vendors. These products were typically either ineffective or contained hazardous agents such as mercury or lead that effectively bleached the skin while presenting serious health consequences. Today, skin lightening has mushroomed into a multi-billion-dollar industry, which is currently dominated by three large multinational corporations: France’s L’Oreal, Japan’s Shiseido, and the U.K.’s Unilever. These corporations and others have perfected the art of marketing and distributing bleaching products that appeal to bleaching products that appeal to women aged 18-35 around the world bleaching products or to buy lightening creams and soaps from small vendors. These products were typically either ineffective or contained hazardous agents such as mercury or lead that effectively bleached the skin while presenting serious health consequences.

There have been many very interesting research-based findings about skin bleaching. An important study on child psychology is worthy of pointing out first. This study consisted of exposing white and black skinned children to white and black dolls. The children were asked which doll they preferred; many black children picked the white doll as their favourite (Charles, 2003). This shows how from childhood, we are conditioned to have preferences for lighter or white skin.

Interestingly, in much of the developing world, skin-lightening practices span class levels, though the use of such products is concentrated in urban areas. According to Gwaravanda (2011) corporations have created product lines in a wide range of price categories, such that whiteners are financially accessible for both rural villagers and white-collar urban professionals. In some cases, such as the Shona women of Zimbabwe, the consumption of skin lightening products is actually most concentrated in working class communities. In Ghana, and in much of West Africa, middle and upper class women use more expensive imported bleaching products, such as Vantex Skin Bleaching Crème from the African-American company Fashion Fair Cosmetic. Poor and working-class women more often use homemade concoctions that are more likely to include mercury and other ingredients that make creams more physically dangerous than high-end products. The health risks associated with both high and low end skin b

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