Senegal's Fashion Victims

However, these products sell, precisely because buyers believe that having lighter skin leads to to success and happiness.

In Dakar and so many other places, even women who are aware of the dangers fall prey to the idea that if only their skin were lighter, their lives would be better.

"Some young men prefer women with fair skin," Emilie said. "This leads them [the women] to bleach their skins."

Some men encourage their partners to use these creams, according to Ly. Some even buy these expensive products on their behalf.

Many women are also influenced by their female friends and relatives.

"Women who lighten their skins are part of a group," said Ly. "Those who don't, belong to another group."

"Women bleach their skin to come across as modern women who can modify their skin tone as they wish."

Dangers of Skin Bleaching

Even more worrying is the widespread habit of bleaching one's skin during pregnancy, according to Ly, who says it is fashionable for women to look fairer at the baby's presentation party.

During pregnancy, the woman's skin is even more vulnerable and there are worries that the corticoids contained in some creams may increase the risks of diabetes for the baby.

According to Ly, some cosmetic companies act irresponsibly. They don't always clearly indicate on the tube that it contains dangerous chemicals, she said.

Sadly, many women who realize that these creams are harmful find it difficult to kick the habit.

"As soon as they stop," said Ly, "their tone becomes darker, and people around them assume they have a problem. So they resume. It's a vicious circle, an addiction."

Additional reporting by Gallagher Fenwick and Idrissa Sane.

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