Last week, I engaged a certain Twitter user who posted a set of photos of a young Neymar, noting how the Brazilian seems to have grown lighter-skinned over the years. The accusation was that Neymar bleaches and is somewhat ashamed of his ‘African-ness’.

Is Neymar bleaching?

Is Neymar bleaching?

Now, this got me pondering and digging up stories around Neymar, his ethnicity, and whether or not this accusation could be true.

After I stumbled on an interesting article where I found a photo of Neymar with his VERY light-skinned mother, I challenged the Tweeter and we got into an interesting debate.

Neymar and his family

Neymar and his family

The person eventually mentioned Nigeria, and the much-reported ‘study’, which says that “77% of Nigerian women are bleaching”

Now, this again got me thinking. To put this report in context, it would mean that out of any 10 Nigerian women, 8 of them could be said to be actively bleaching.

This sounded a little too far fetched and untrue. Off the top, I couldn’t even name 5 women that I knew who bleached, so how then can a whole 8 out of 10 women in this country I have lived all my life be bleaching and I won’t even notice?

True, many Nigerians, especially women use bleaching or skin-lightening creams and soaps (Remember Dencia and her infamous Whitenicious?), and it is a big problem, but to say that “8 out of 10” do it is stretching the truth.


Dencia – Whitenicious

Studying science in school, we were taught to trust data and to always have stats to back up any reports or claims.

A few minutes on Google and I found that this popularly-quoted World Health Organisation (WHO) report of 2011 came from a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the dangers of Mercury on the skin and how it is commonly used in the formulation of popular bleaching products.

This 2008 UNEP report cites a 2002 study conducted in Nigeria by researchers at the Department of Community Health, Lagos University Teaching Hospital.

Now, here’s the sweet part – The LUTH study selected “450 traders in Lagos”, finding that 77.3% of them were actively using skin bleaching products which contained dangerous amounts of Mercury. This 77.3% includes 252 women and 96 men.

The Original LUTH Research

The Original LUTH Research

It was like I had found the smoking gun and solved a murder case.

252 female traders in Lagos and the whole world draws a conclusion from this to claim that “77% of Nigerian women bleach”?

Nobody even bothered to dig deep and investigate the source of the statement just because “WHO reported it”.

Among the many issues one has with these reports, is the fact that 450 Lagos traders is not exactly a heterogeneous sample size from which to draw conclusions about the behaviour of the generality of women in Nigeria.

Nigeria is a country of over 250 ethnic groups, various languages and religions. Very, very complicated pot of soup. Can a study conducted in (probably) Balogun market, consisting mostly of illiterate/semi-literate Yoruba women, be used to represent Aisha/Fatima in Kano/Katsina, Ada/Oluchi in Aba/Onitsha, or Cynthia in Warri?

I may not be a statistician, but this doesn’t seem very scientific to me.

Nigerian Media Widely Reported The Story

Nigerian Media Widely Reported The Story

I get that the 77% figure being thrown around works pretty well for the shock value, helps spread the message and also get folks to see the dangers in skin-bleaching and all, but the way the story flew and no one questioned or queried the numbers or put the original report in the appropriate context is a cause for concern.

Hopefully someday soon, someone out there will do a more comprehensive study on the prevalence of bleaching in Nigeria, with a more blended sample size covering different parts of the country and maybe we’ll get the true picture by then.

If anyone cares, that is.

The same way that fellow said what he said about Neymar, got a 100 ReTweets and no queries, was the same way Nigerian media took the WHO report and ran with it. No questions asked.

Our news gatherers are either too lazy or too weak, hence leaving room for falsehoods and mis-representation of facts and figures.

Maybe our people will one day wake up and start digging deep, asking questions and investigating ‘reports’ and claims and properly putting these publications in context.

One can only pray.


Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 (KJV)