Rwanda National Police and the Ministry of Health are set to mount a joint operation against sale and distribution of banned skin-lightening cream.
The move follows widespread public concerns on the growing use of skin-bleaching chemicals.
President Paul Kagame weighed in on the debate yesterday, urging both institutions to crackdown on the products in question.
Responding to comments on Twitter Sunday afternoon, the President warned against the potential health effects of use of prohibited chemicals for skin bleaching.
“Quite unhealthy among other things. Includes use of prohibited chemicals. MoH and RNP need to rein this in very quickly...!” he wrote on his Twitter handle.
Use of skin bleaching products has increasingly become popular in recent years, especially among women who do so with hope that it would enhance their beauty.
But some men too use these dangerous products.
Many around the world have suffered ill-health effects from using such prohibited chemicals.
Considering that the administration of the chemicals is rarely professional, users are exposed to high risks, experts warn.
Police spokesperson CP John Bosco Kabera told The New Times last evening that they are moving in to crackdown on the use of the prohibited substances in partnership with the Ministry of Health.
He said they already have a list of prohibited substances and their operation will primarily target these.
“We have the necessary capacity to conduct the operation,” he said.
He urged businesses that deal in the illegal chemicals to stop or face the wrath of the law.
The Minister for Health, Dr Diane Gashumba, pointed out that the law governing use of such chemicals is already in place.
She noted that the planned operation will also involve other enforcement agencies such as the Food and Drug Authority and the Rwanda Standards Board.
Gashumba added that they will also carry out countrywide awareness campaigns as some people use these skin-lightening products out of ignorance.
“The operation will go hand in hand with education,” she told The New Times on Sunday evening.
Among the negative impacts of the chemicals, she said, include skin related cancers.
Dermatologists have long warned ogainst the use of such cosmetics as most contain harmful substances such as hydroquinone.
Hydroquinone was banned on the Rwandan market but it is still available according to those with knowledge in this area.
Other chemicals and substances used for skin lightening include Corticosteroids, which is mostly available in some cosmetics like Mediven and Mercury, among others.
These substances have negative side effects on the skin, including causing dark or red points on the skin, skin infections like rashes and light skin, experts say.
For example, Mercury can harm the kidneys and other body organs, Corticoids can cause blood pressure and diabetes and cracked skin.
A social media user, Phiona Kamikazi Rutagengwa, is one of the outspoken bleaching critics. “I think @rwandastandards and @RwandaHealth should start a campaign against skin bleaching, a BIG one because this is getting out of hand!” she tweeted yesterday.
Skin-bleaching is common in Africa and other parts of the world with high concentrations of black people.
In Africa, at least four in ten women bleach, according to the World Health Organisation.
Studies also show that the skin bleaching products industry is a multi-million sector, highly unregulated, and has negative effects on more than 30 per cent of long-term users, ranging from burns to skin cancer.