In search of beauty: Sudanese women throwing caution to the windsBy REEM ABBAS in Khartoum | Friday, June 15 2012 at 16:32
In Sudan, lighter skin is considered prettier and a sign of being enlightened.
To keep men interested, most women will do anything, even when the dangers are obvious. Skin lightening creams, some of which have had corrosive effects on many skins, often become their option.
The costs are not very friendly to all, but due to their demand, skin lighteners are well stocked in different sizes for the different market segments.
"We have been told from an early age, in our folktales, that as women we have to be beautiful," says Hadia Hasaballah , a Gender and Women's Studies professor at Ahfad University for Women.
"The standards of beauty now are light-skin and long hair.”
Sudan is a country divided between a number of dominant ethnic groups, a few of whom have a lighter-complexion. For a long time, the dominant groups have looked to the lighter north, that is Egypt and the rest of North Africa for beauty inspiration. With that comes the colour complex.
On the streets of Khartoum, women are busy. There is a crowded shop on street 40 in the capital that understands women and their skin complexes. Here, they can buy a spoon or a jar full of skin-lightening creams depending on their financial ability.
And this in not a new trend because skin-lightening is an age-old tradition for Sudanese women, but the methods used have now shifted from natural to chemical.
For years, Sudanese women resorted to scrubs made out of orange, yoghurt and natural products to change their skin. Now, with the media setting the standards for beauty by portraying light-skin presenters as hot, Sudanese women are opting for instant options.
The marginalised groups of Western Sudan and the new south, on the other hand, look up to the image of the lighter-skin Sudanese.
It is not so simple, says Hasaballah who has carried out research on skin-lightening creams. "War caused displacement that sent waves of people to urban areas where they were introduced to new colours and new standards of beauty that Sudanese had to live up," she says, but adds that even the educated middle-class girls bleach their skins excessively.
"They want to get married because they are born to think that this is their traditional role; to be wives and mothers," she says.
Sudanese began grasping the dangers of this trend when a popular male musician died of kidney failure a few years ago, reportedly after applying a bleaching cream.
Gadoora's death sparked a lot of debates, but not enough to ban creams containing harmful chemicals like mercury and hydroquinone.
"Mercury causes kidney problems and hydroquinone causes diabetes, hyper-tension and high blood pressure if used in large doses," explains Maha El-Taher, a dermatologist.
A spot-check around Khartoum confirmed fears that many shops sell skin-bleaching creams without knowledge of the chemicals they contain.
"In some case, they know that they are selling chemicals that are illegal," added Dr El-Taher who has been advising her patients to avoid applying the creams.
One of the most commonly used creams in Sudan are Rose and Diana, which have been blacklisted elsewhere because they contain mercury. Products containing the chemical have been banned in many countries after Europe did it in 1976.
A pharmacist who worked in East Sudan, Doha Atta says that most girls look for low-quality creams. "Most girls ask for the pills. They act faster," says Atta.
"Some of my friends have suffered many skin damages because of using such creams, I strongly advised them to stop," says Esam, a beauty conscious lady based in Khartoum.
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