ABUJA, NIGERIA - According to one estimate, more than 70 million people in Nigeria use skin-lightening products regularly, making Africa's most populous country the capital for skin bleaching. Some women reject the trend, saying their natural dark skin is beautiful. But, Nigeria remains a huge market for skin-whitening products.
Twenty-five-year-old Nigerian model and actress Goodness Ben visits a cosmetic shop in Abuja.
She wants to be famous and says bleaching her skin could increase her chances at getting more movie roles.
"Yes this is Nigeria, a fair skin is business. In the movie industry most times the director wants you to like glow, in fact you should be camera friendly. You know most times dark people tend to...will I say resist? But they are more beautiful and catchy when they come in contact with camera,” Ben.
According to a 2011 estimate from the World Health Organization, 76 million Nigerians, mostly women, use skin-lightening products regularly.
Some darker-skinned Nigerians are pushing back against the idea that lighter is better. They say black is beautiful with the so-called “Melanin Movement.”
Tina Ohanu says she doesn't need to bleach her skin.
"My confidence really doesn't come from my skin, it comes from within... and I still get as much attention from the male folks as every other lady should, so I don't think it has anything to do with my confidence,” Ohanu said.
Bleaching products usually contain hydroquinone, corticosteroids or mercury as key ingredients.
These chemicals could have a range of side effects when used regularly, according to skin experts.
"You can have stretch marks, the skin becomes fragile, doesn't heal properly, sometimes you can have...some of them can give you abnormal skin odor, abnormal odor, excessive sweating, poor wound healing...so, and then it ages faster,” Haroun said.
The beauty industry in Africa is worth several billion dollars and increases by 8 to 10 percent every year.
Nigeria is one of the prime destinations for many beauty agents produced abroad.
Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Rwanda banned all whitening products while Nigeria joined South Africa in barring those with harmful chemicals.
While these moves help promote natural and healthy skin tone, however, the Melanin Movement is still dwarfed by Africans' demand for skin-lightening products.