Back to Africa Check

Yes, shocking photos of skin damage are related to skin lightening products

A lot of unsettling images are posted on Facebook and other social media. Some are wrongly captioned or doctored photos posted for shock value, just to get shares and retweets.

Others are real, and correctly identified. While they may also be shocking, these photos can help educate users – especially about health risks.



‘Changing their colours to add beauty’


A Kenyan Facebook user posted four photos of different women with severe and painful-looking skin damage: one on her back, one on her feet, another on her neck and the fourth on her face.

He wrote: “Please I am sharing these pictures to raise awareness on people, especially women, killing themselves in the name of changing their colours to add beauty.”

By “changing their colours” he meant using skin-lightening products.

The photos are shocking, and have been shared 48,000 times. Another Facebook user flagged the post as false using the social network’s fact-checking system.

‘What happens when you bleach your skin’


But the Kenyan user was correct to say at least some of the photos showed damage caused by skin lightening.

A quick reverse search for the photos returns the phrase “happens when you bleach your skin” on Google. The photos have been used multiple times on blogs, health websites and Facebook to warn people about the dangers of skin lightening.

They appear to show women suffering from skin conditions such as acne and exogenous ochronosis, a disorder in which the skin turns a blue-black colour after long-term use of creams containing mercury, hydroquinone or corticosteroids.

Hydroquinone, mercury and corticosteroids are some of the primary ingredients in most skin bleaching products.

One of the photos, of a woman with acne, is from a 2016 study on the use of skin lightening products (or “artificial depigmentation”) by women in the Burkina Faso city of Bobo-Dioulasso.

Another was published on a French language blog post about skin-bleaching in 2015 (read a translation here). The blog credits Senegalese website HLM Grand Yoff for the photo. The rest of the images have been used with no citation on numerous blogs and websites warning about skin bleaching. - Africa Check (16/05/19)

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Further Reading

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters