Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription or Fee Access

The Use of Skin Whitening Products Among African People: Research in Italy and the Congo

Giovanni Vassallo


The cosmetic use of skin whitening substances (mercury, hydroquinone, steroids) by African women has been supported with documentary evidence in various research works which disclose its health risks. However, research works which deal with social and economic repercussions of the issue have been reported to a lesser extent. I interpret my study as an attempt to investigate these aspects, which implicate the social building of beauty as a concept and its representation in a globalized world. The following data have been collected in Italy and the Congo RDC by means of inspections carried out in Italian ethno-cosmetics shops, and Congolese markets; and by interviewing immigrant women in Italy as well as both men and women who make use of skin whitening products in the Congo. This study, although not extended, has enabled us to focus on a number of points:

The problem is ticklish and complex, since it involves issues strongly burdened with emotions such as one's ethnic and personal identity.
The practice has an addictive dimension
Both the health risks and the social and symbolic aspects of the practice must be highlighted in order to impede the practice
The speculative and market factors carried along in the ensuing marketing and distribution of the products cannot be disregarded.


skin whitening, hydroquinone, skin disease, ethnocosmetics, Congo RDC

Full Text:


JENdA: A Journal of Culture and African Women Studies. ISSN: 1530-5686 (online).
Editors: Nkiru Nzegwu; Book Editor: Mary Dillard.

Published by Africa Resource Center, Inc. All inquiries about rights, permissions, reprints and license should be directed to AfricaResource.

Copyright © Africa Resource Center, Inc., 1999 - .