A woman, who uses skin whitening cosmetics, poses on May 8, 2015 in Abidjan. Ivory Coast has banned skin whitening creams, which are widely used in west Africa, because of fears they cause lasting damage to health, the health ministry said on May 6, 2015.AFP PHOTO / SIA KAMBOU (Photo by SIA KAMBOU / AFP)

A reader recently asked us to verify a claim about the use of skin bleaching creams in South Africa, one they said they had come across several times.

The request linked to a video by Unreported World, a UK-based documentary maker. For an episode titled “Skin bleaching scandal”, they had visited South Africa to establish the extent.

The use of skin bleaching creams was on the rise in the country, the documentary found, despite it being illegal to sell them.

“Skin bleaching creams are big business. A recent study suggested one in three South African women buy them,” the video says. It was published on YouTube in November 2018 and has been viewed at least 2 million times, attracting more than 12,000 comments.

The reader asked us to verify if a third of South African women buy skin lightening creams, how the study that came to that number was done and if there was any sales data to back up the claim.

We went in search of answers.

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