Rwanda has started enforcing its nationwide ban on skin bleaching products, according to reports.
Whitening creams and soaps are being removed from shelves across the African nation, just two months after the government announced that it was banning them from being sold.
It is believed that President Paul Kagame instigated the crackdown when he condemned the use of the products in November, urging Rwanda’s ministry of health to take action.
“Quite unhealthy among other things. Includes use of prohibited chemicals,” the president told a Twitter user who voiced their concerns over the use of such creams. “MoH and RNP need to reign this in very quickly.”
Many skin-bleaching products contain chemicals like hydroquinone and mercury and have been linked to skin cancer as well as kidney and liver damage.
However, the move has raised fears that consumers will be forced to buy unregulated products, which could put their health at risk. Some of the products sold on the black market are smuggled into Rwanda.
“A woman would always find a way to lighten her skin. The fact that Rwanda has banned skin bleaching products does not mean women would not do it,” one person tweeted.
“Banning is never an effective answer for products like this, forcing their use underground. Education gives the greatest power. Everyone wants to be a different colour,” another wrote.
Skin bleaching is a multibillion-dollar global industry. At least four out of every 10 women in Africa bleach their skin, according to the World Health Organisation.