Ivory Coast bans skin whitening creams over health fears

A large number of African women use the creams which experts think can have dangerous health side-effects

Ivory Coast has banned skin whitening creams, widely used in West Africa, after issuing a health warning over the products.

Whitening creams, prominently advertised across many cities in Ivory Coast as well as other African nations such as Nigeria, are a popular beauty treatment among many women and some men.

The health ministry said in a statement: "cosmetic lightening and hygiene creams... that de-pigment the skin... are now forbidden".

Medical experts have warned that many of the creams, sold over the counter and un-prescribed, could be damaging causing cancer, diabetes, severe skin conditions and other diseases.

"The number of people with side-effects caused by these medicines is really high," Christian Doudouko, a member of Ivory Coast's pharmaceutical authority, told AFP.

His warning was borne out by British dermatologist Justine Kluk who told the BBC that the products often contain dangerously unregulated ingredients, such as large amounts of steroids or mercury.

The ban follows that of nations such as Senegal or South Africa, but neither have seen a drop in the numbers using the creams.

A substantial proportion of African women use whitening creams, with a recent 2008 UN Environment Programme study finding that more than 75 per cent of Nigerian women continuing to purchase them.

Whitening creams remain popular outside of Africa, with large take-up in India and certain Middle Eastern nations.

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