Kenya and Rwanda are set to join the list of African countries to place a ban on the use, manufacturing, importation, and sales of products containing hydroquinone, one of the major components of skin-bleaching products.

The East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) passed this resolution calling for a review of this chemical ingredient in beauty products and its reactions on the human skin.

“We are now putting in much effort, like educating people and going around seizing those illegal products,” Francois Uwinkindi, director of the cancer unit at Rwanda’s Ministry of Health said. The police have also seized more than 5 000 banned bleaching products including lotions, oils, soaps, and sprays – from beauty shops across the country.

Hydroquinone which is popular in the use of skin lighting can also be helpful in the cure of hyperpigmentation and other skin care issues when prescribed by a doctor. However, a constant and self-medicated use of products containing hydroquinone lead to negative effects in many people. In 2011, the World Health Organization reported that 60 million people are using lightning products on a regular basis.

Studies have shown that hydroquinone leads to an abnormal function of adrenal glands and high levels of mercury in people who use cosmetics containing this substance. The chemical damages respiratory, kidney and reproductive systems, cause cancer, affects the nervous system and causes deformities in unborn babies if used by pregnant women.

These health risks have led to calls from countries like South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana and Ivory Coast for a ban on the importation of this substance. Cosmetic products containing hydroquinone are illegal in these countries. However, a ban on this chemical has only led to a higher demand for them, hence a high rate of smuggling has been recorded. It was banned in Uganda in 2016, yet more cases have been mentioned in the country.

If Rwanda is aiming to reduce it drastically, the government is going to need thorough and adequate policies to back up this law and its implementation. A ban on these products might lead to an increase in its smuggling. Hence, measures should also be implemented towards its illegal importation from countries that have not banned hydroquinone.

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