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Exploring lived experiences of men and women who practice skin bleaching in South Africa : a phenomenological study.

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Skin Bleaching practices in South African communities have been on the increase and are popularised by celebrities who publicly encourage their use. Although this practice is socially frowned upon, and the majority of people shy away from admitting the use of bleaching products, it is widely practiced in the community. The purpose of the present study was to gain insight from sample participants who practice skin bleaching in KwaZulu-Natal province into the nature of their experiences. The study was framed within an interpretive paradigm and took a phenomenological approach to exploring the lived experiences of men and women who practice skin bleaching. The overall objective was to uncover the essence of the participants’ experiences; encompassing their accounts of their gain and loss in engaging in this practice. The findings revealed that participants engaged in skin bleaching practices in order to remove acne, blemishes and spots, and also to enhance their skin tone to appear lighter. Participants also emphasized that they obtained social approval for using these products, which reinforced and further encouraged their use of the products. Most importantly, the study discovered that the participants admitted suffering from adverse physical and psychological effects due to this practice and yet were unable to stop using these products due to their positive perceptions of the accompanying gainful effects they derived in using the products. The study concluded that the reasons for skin bleaching are similar between men and women with slight differences with regard to where the products are applied on the body, which also affected medical symptoms that participants experienced and their perceptions about mainstream South African skin products. The study revealed that although the participants were somewhat aware of the adverse consequences of using the products, yet they appeared caught up in a complex relationship with these products, which made it difficult to stop their usage. Based on these revelations some recommendations were made for improved policy and intervention practices in curbing the use of bleaching products in South Africa. Suggestions for further research were also made.


Master of Social Science in Psychology. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2018.