Gambian lawmakers on Monday rejected a government proposal to lift a ban on skin-lightening products, which are widely used across Africa.
Skin lightening is also practised in other parts of the world such as South Asia and the Middle East, and is particularly popular among women.
But it is controversial, with many people arguing that the phenomenon is a toxic legacy of colonialism and that the bleaching agents used to lighten skin pose health risks.
Yahya Jammeh, who for 22 years ruled the tiny West African state with an iron fist, banned the practice in 1996.
The former president fled The Gambia in 2017 after losing presidential elections to a relative unknown, Adama Barrow.
Barrow’s government sought to lift the skin-bleaching ban last year, arguing that it discriminated against women.
Justice Minister Dawda Jallow also argued that criminalising people for using cosmetic products was an unfair punishment.
However, on Monday, several lawmakers argued in favour of maintaining the ban, citing health or religious reasons.
“The chemicals used in the production of skin-bleaching creams is hazardous to human health,” Momodou Camara, an MP, told the assembly.
Twenty-three MPs voted to uphold the ban, with 10 votings to repeal it, an AFP journalist said.
Other MPs were either not present in the chamber, or abstained from voting.