Use of soaps containing mercury in Africa – how to fight it
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Use of soaps containing mercury in Africa – how to fight it

Numerous women in sub-Saharan Africa use soaps containing mercury to bleach their skin. The mercury goes through their skin and reduces the melanin of the pigmentation. The mercury also causes damage to the body e.g. the nervous system. Mercury is particularly dangerous for the nervous system including the brain of the foetus. One of the most severe consequences is that during pregnancy the foetus will concentrate the mercury from their mothers. Children born by mothers using skin bleaching soaps have therefore a high risk of being mentally and physically disabled. The use of mercury for skin bleaching thus not only cause severe health problems for sub-Saharan Africa, but also adds to the ever increasing amount of mercury in the drainage systems and the oceans. The present project is an information campaign aimed at female and male users of bleaching soaps. The project used forum theatre on market places and information on secondary schools in Uganda. The project has proved very successful in informing black people of Uganda against the health and environmental hazards caused by using soaps containing mercury.

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English
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Author(s):
Nordic Council of Ministers

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Millions of African people, mainly women are dissatisfied with their black skin. In order to obtain a fair complexion they use different methods. One method is to use soaps containing mercury. They wash their face, hands or whole body in the soaps and leave the foam on their skin overnight. The mercury penetrates the skin and reduces the melanin content in the pigment. Thereby they obtain a brown to light brown colour. The colour does, however, not last so the process has to be repeated at intervals. Other skin lightening methods are creams containing hydroquinone. A further very peculiar skin treatment which is widely used in Uganda comprise intense rubbing of the skin with a mixture of Jik (chlorine bleaching agent used for cleaning of toilets) and OMO washing powder in hot water. This process is sometimes followed by treatment with soaps containing mercury.