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Kigali, RW
November 30, 2022
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Rwanda made the sale of skin whitening products a crime. It’s working, but underground market persists

Musanze (CNN)Sierra asks to use a pseudonym for fear of being caught by the authorities. The 27-year-old shopkeeper explains that she can’t maintain her seven-year skin lightening routine because a ban has made the products unaffordable. 

In 2018, the Rwandan government began enforcing a nationwide ban on cosmetics and hair dyes containing harmful chemicals like hydroquinone (above certain levels) or mercury, making it illegal to produce or sell most skin lightening cosmetics. 

So now, Sierra has a pressing problem: finding a new supplier. Because of the stiff penalties attached to getting caught, smugglers “refuse to sell them to just anyone,” she tells CNN. Anyone caught trading them is subject to up to two years in prison and a maximum fine of five million Rwandan francs (around US $5000). Many dealers have been arrested to date.

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