Skin Bleaching in Western and Central Africa: A Critical Analysis Utilizing the Social Learning and Colonial Mentality Theories

Nina-Belle S. Mbayu


Skin bleaching, which involves using creams, soaps, and exfoliants to lighten skin tone by reducing melanin count, has been wildly popular in Western and Central Africa since its introduction to both regions. Although studies have shown that skin bleaching products have hazardous ingredients such as mercury and hydroquinone, which can cause kidney problems and infections in children, many Western and Central Africans continue the practice in hopes of obtaining a fairer, more “metisse” (mixed) appearance. In these regions, a lighter skin tone is tied to a higher level of beauty, increased chances of obtaining work and overall power, and higher status. The Social Learning Theory states that people engage in specific behaviors because of what they witness in their environment, the ability to reproduce the behavior, and a high probability for a positive outcome. Therefore, it is hypothesized that an increasing number of Africans in both regions continue to engage in skin bleaching because it is what they see their peers practice, the products are readily available, and the possibility of becoming more attractive and powerful is highly favorable and luring. The Colonial Mentality Theory suggests that peoples of nations which were formerly colonized still feel inferior to the peoples of the nation(s) that colonized them and still strive to be accepted by these former foreign powers. In turn, it is further hypothesized that Western and Central Africans bleach their skins in order to conform to a more European standard of beauty, since nations such as France, Germany, and Britain were former colonizers. This study is quantitatively and qualitatively examined and utilizes collected data from primary and secondary sources through the application of document analysis and expert interview techniques. The findings from the data analysis seem to support both hypotheses.


Skin bleaching; Africa; Social Learning; Colonial Mentality

Full Text:



  • There are currently no refbacks.

The Proceedings is produced as a service of UNC Asheville.