Ghana's Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) warned pregnant Ghanian women against taking pills during pregnancy to lighten their unborn babies' skin.
According to the FDA, the practice of using skin bleaching Glutathione pills has been a growing trend for pregnant women. The FDA asserts the pills are illegal and can cause birth defects and damage to limbs and internal organs.
In a statement released to the BBC, the FDA stated it wants, "the general public to know that no product has been approved by the FDA in the form of a tablet to lighten the skin of the unborn child."
Skin whitening has been a practice among people throughout the world and is particularly present in countries throughout the continents of Africa (and throughout the African diaspora) and Asia. Although skin bleaching has been reported to have grave effects on the skin – the World Health Organization reported that the inorganic mercury in bleaching creams can cause kidney damage, skin discoloration and rashes, among other effects – it is still a commonly used product.
According to a 2016 report by The New York Times, about 70 percent of women in West Africa reportedly use lightening creams. A Quartz report found that 75 percent of Nigerian women used lightening products, and between 52 percent to 67 percent women in Senegal also use them. In South Africa, a survey revealed that 35 percent of women used skin lightening products.
The skin bleaching practice is a global epidemic with roots in white supremacy. As professor Dr. Yaba Blay explained in an academic paper published in The Journal of Pan African Studies titled "Skin Bleaching and Global White Supremacy: By Way of Introduction," white supremacy is an "instigator" for skin bleaching:
"...While it is true that skin bleaching represents a multifaceted phenomenon, with a complexity of historical, cultural, sociopolitical, and psychological forces motivating the practice, the large majority of scholars who examine skin bleaching at the very least acknowledge the institutions of colonialism and enslavement historically, and global White supremacy contemporarily, as dominant and culpable instigators of the penchant for skin bleaching."
While ads throughout Africa promote lighter skin, countries like Ghana have taken steps to stop skin bleaching. Last August, Ghana's FDA placed a ban on certain lightening products that contain hydroquinone, which disrupts the synthesis and production of melanin. This is particularly concerning for people in West African climates as it limits the protection of the skin from the sun.
But Delese Mimi Darko, the CEO of Ghana's FDA, has urged the FDA to do more to end the practice. In an article published in Ghana's The Herald, Darko wrote that bleaching creams were still "never in short supply in the markets."
"In this country, words do not change anything, except action," she wrote in part. "Bleaching creams are never in short supply in the markets. Instead of issuing a statement and engaging the nation in an unnecessary debate about what time alcoholic beverages should be advertised, the FDA, should use that time and resources to educate the public on the effects and dangers of bleaching."