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Hoax alert! ‘Russian laboratory’ hasn’t invented way to ‘remove black skin’

“A Russian laboratory has invented a way to remove the black skin layer of black people,” a Facebook page with over 40,000 followers has posted.

The post is a screenshot of a news article published in March 2015 featuring a photo of “the procedure being conducted on a black man”.

The image has been shared over 250 times, with many reactions and comments.

According to the story, the black person must lie in a liquid solution of oxytane and benzodiazepine for six hours.

“The laboratory at the origin of the discovery has already announced 254 people have been treated by this method,” it says. “The Russian government may soon allow the reimbursement of this treatment.”

Clues the story is a hoax

But a few pointers show why the story is a hoax. A reverse image search reveals the image first made its way onto the internet as early as May 2012.

At that time it was used in a Reddit post about sunburn on the beach, unrelated to any skin-removing chemical process. It also featured in a YouTube video titled Worst Sunburns on Earth. (The article’s second image is a screenshot from a YouTube video titled bad sunburn.)

The second clue is that dark skin is a result of a pigment called melanin. It is not a separate layer of the skin that can be peeled off.

And the location in the photo is not a lab setting.

‘Russian authorities endorse use on immigrants’

When the image resurfaced online in 2015, it was repurposed as evidence of the chemical process in progress. Since then, it has been widely circulated online including in some Kenyan media.

Most of the articles have similar wording and the claim that Russian authorities have endorsed it for use on immigrants. But a Google search on the claims did not deliver any reliable source.

Similarly, a Google search for “Moscow Faculty of Sciences” only showed articles with almost identical wording, making the same claim without mentioning any reliable source.

The first article’s source was given as the Moscow Times. But Africa Check did not find any article on that website related to the claim.

‘Information is misleading’

Oxytane is a fuel additive and benzodiazepine a class of drugs mainly used for treating anxiety.

Africa Check contacted Dr Peninah Kitili, Kenyatta National Hospital’s chief specialist dermatologist. She reviewed the article and photo and termed them misleading.

“This information has no basis,” she said.

Dr Hannah Wanyika, a Nairobi-based dermatologist, also told Africa Check that the person in the image looks to have suffered skin injury and is not undergoing any skin removal process.

Fact-checking site Snopes also reviewed the story and concluded that “an old (and clearly unrelated) image was repurposed as evidence for a dubious medical claim”. - Dancan Bwire (27/03/19)


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