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Rwanda Finds that Banning Skin Bleaching is Difficult to Monitor

In 2018, the Rwandan government began enforcing a nationwide ban on cosmetics and hair dyes containing harmful chemicals like hydroquinone (above certain levels) or mercury, making it illegal to produce or sell most skin lightening cosmetics. The decision to ban the products came after authorities — ranging from the health and security departments to customs and local government — received countless reports of the damage done to users’ skins from applying these cosmetics, Simeon Kwizera, the public relations officer at the Rwandan Standards Board, tells CNN. Misuse or prolonged use of products containing mercury, steroids or hydroquinone can be toxic to your health and despite the ban, there remains demand for lighter skin, which keeps the market for these products very much alive, albeit smaller and driven underground. In 2020 alone, RNP spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Jean Bosco Kabera, tells CNN that the police confiscated around 13,596 units, meaning skin lightening products, and that this number increased to 39,204 units confiscated in 2021. Rwandan law enforcement agents have relied on people informing on their neighbors in order to crack down on the illegal sale of skin whitening products. However, raids have been accompanied by efforts to raise awareness of the chemical properties of banned products, both among importers and local manufacturers, as a preventative measure.