A cartoon strip entitled Ebony Beauty, depicting a woman who warns her friends of her bad experiences with the products and an educational guide explaining the dangers, form the basis of the campaign which includes a party on Saturday 7 November organised in the 18ième arrondissement of the city.
The Mayor of Paris launched the campaign in partnership with URACA (Unité de réflexion et d'action des communautés africaines), a charity involved in the health and social issues experienced by African communities.
Consumers are warned about the dangers of using illegal products that according to the campaign can be found easily in shops, markets and on the internet.
Such products may contain ingredients such as clobetasol, a corticosteroid prescribed to help relieve symptoms of severe eczema that should not be used for extended periods of time, according to the guide.
In addition, hydroquinone at dangerously high concentrations can be found in some products as well as acids, bleach and domestic detergents.
Negative side effects of using such products include burns, acne, discoloration of the skin and stretch marks in addition to general health effects such as diabetes and hypertension.
The educational guide makes the distinction between products legally sold on the French market, which are regulated by the European Cosmetic Directive and declared safe for use, and those sourced illegally which may contain dangerous ingredients.
Skin lightening 'not very effective'
“There are safe products…but they are not very effective,” it reads, referring to formulations legally available in France.
“In any case, if the products have a very strong lightening effect, there is no doubt they are dangerous” the guide adds.
These thoughts were echoed by dermatologist for the project, Dr Antoine Petit, who explained that a simple and effective way of telling the difference between legal and illegal products was to see how well they worked.
“If it strongly de-pigments, if it strongly lightens the skin, it’s dangerous,” he said in a television interview published on the Mayor of Paris website.
The French trade association FEBEA has reacted to the campaign, attempting to make particularly clear the difference between products legally sold in France and illicit goods.
“Authentic cosmetics products are submitted to very strict regulations (the Cosmetics Directive) and are subjected to numerous tests before they are placed on the market,” the trade association said in a statement.
Therefore, authentic lightening products pose no danger, it concluded, adding that the association backed the advice of the Parisian authorities to avoid unregulated products.