PREVALENCE OF SKIN LIGHTENING AMONG UNIVERSITY STUDENTS IN SIERRA LEONE
Background: A growing number of individuals worldwide are keen to modify their skin colour; sunbathers risk skin cancer and premature ageing (and more recently, many risked catching the coronavirus just for the chance to lie on a beach). Skin lightening raises different but at least equally severe risks as tanning to the people undertaking it. In Sierra Leone, skin lightening is a common practice, but we lack any quantitative evidence of its prevalence.
Method: We assessed the prevalence of skin lightening among university students in general on a University campus in Sierra Leone. In this study, we interviewed male and female undergraduates at Njala University to better understand why they did or did not bleach and whether they fully understood the risks.
Results: Out of 100 respondents, we found 22 are actively bleaching, and 44 have bleached in the past. As we expected, bleaching is more common among women (over three-quarters are or have bleached, and knowledge of the risks is widespread but insufficient to deter the practice). However, surprisingly nearly half of the men in our survey had or were still bleaching. Bleaching is similar but not identical to the reasons reported in studies from other countries, mainly to remove blemishes (78%), to be fashionable (73%), to look European (73%), and to please one's spouse (65%).
Conclusions: Family and friends had little influence in deciding whether to bleach or not. Despite the risks being widely known, skin lightening is common among students on the Njala campus in Sierra Leone.