As Nigerians continue to patronise fairly used clothes, skin experts warn of its health consequences
Busola Oyelami, a 28-year-old tailor, was one of the members of Atunrase Tailors Association, Sango, Ogun State, who did not come in their customised white T-shirt for the association’s monthly meeting recently. In order to avoid paying a heavy fine, the mother of two quickly dashed into the nearby second-hand clothing market along Ijoko Road, Sango, to get a white T-shirt. “The second day, I started noticing some rashes at the back of my neck and before I knew it, the rashes appeared on my left arm. I treated it but it came back; after a while I discovered that it was from the white T-shirt I bought from the second-hand [clothing] market.”
That was the experience of Oyelami the first time she wore used clothes, popularly known as okirika or bend-down-select. Oyelami is not the only one with this kind of experience. Joyce Adejare, a 15-year-old student of Whitegate College, Abule Egba, Lagos, once complained of unpleasant sensation on her body few minutes after wearing a second-hand blouse. “When I saw the blouse, I so much loved it that I decided to get it the next day. When I got home, I tried it on to see how well it fitted me. It was on me for some minutes until I began to feel the sensation around my neck. The next day, I had rashes around my neck. It took a while before I discovered that it was from the blouse.”
Another regular patron of second-hand clothes is Habeeb Oloyede, a computer engineer with Iris Solutions Limited, Ifo, Ogun State. He revealed that though he once suffered from rashes after wearing a second-hand T-shirt, “that has not stopped me from wearing it, because the quality is far better than new ones sold at the boutique. What I do is soak them with detergents and wash them with antiseptic soaps.”
Indeed, many are unaware of the harm the use of second-hand clothes could cause on their skin. Skin infections related to the use of second-hand clothes, according to Liome Engele, director, business development, Laserderm Clinics, a skin care centre in Ikeja, can be traced to the chemical used in spraying the clothes before they are shipped down to their destination. “Because most of them are cotton and they could be attacked, they spray them so that they don’t bring insects into the country,” Engele said. Corroborating Engele is Sadiat Bakare, a dermatologist at Laserderm Clinics. “Actually people’s skins are different; some people will wear them and they don’t react to it, while others wear them and they start having infections like dermatitis, rashes and itching,” Bakare revealed. She added that this happens most time when the clothes are not washed before use, advising that “even brand new clothes should be washed before use.”
Similarly, Olufunmilayo Ajose, a consultant physician and dermatologist in the Department of Medicine, Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, LASUTH, Ikeja, noted it is appropriate to dry-clean and iron second-hand clothes properly before they are worn. She also frowned at the use of second-hand underwear, which she described as highly risky. “People should not use second-hand panties, bras or any other clothes that are in close contact with the skin because you can catch human papillomavirus, HPV, which is a precursor to genital cancer. If the original owner had genital warts or herpes, you will surely catch the disease too. You can also catch scabies and fungi infections,” she disclosed.
However, the physician-cum-dermatologist believes that there is nothing wrong in the use of clothes that have been worn by someone else. Ajose who has spent over 10 years in the United Kingdom, UK, said Nigerians have wrong perception about second-hand clothing because of the attitude of the vendors. She said a lot of public figures in the UK, especially those that are in the entertainment industry and government, wear used clothes. Ajose added that celebrities rent clothes for events, and even would-be couples rent tailcoats and wedding gowns from charity shops in the UK “because they have confidence that the clothes are infection-free.” Ajose maintains that the problem with used clothing in Nigeria has to do with the mishandling of the clothes by the sellers. “You can’t blame those clothes; our people go over there and bundle everything together, put them on the ground, get them roughened and stained. Even in Ghana, used clothes are properly cared for, dry-cleaned and are properly hung and sold in neat shops,” she said, adding that in Nigeria “people treat them as if they are selling rags.”
This is not far from the truth as Nigerian traders are in the habit of spreading such clothes by the roadside, or in an untidy environment in the market, where they get stained. She urged government to come up with a law compelling traders of second-hand clothes to properly wash and make them presentable. She also urged the government not to ban second-hand clothes, “as this could discourage countries and organisations from sending us aid, because they also use them. They will call us arrogant poor and this will not be good for our economy,” she advised.
Indeed, the health risks notwithstanding, Nigerians from all walks of life have continued to patronise fairly used clothes. In fact, Gatankowa, the largest market in the country for second-hand clothes, records over 2,000 patrons every day and it is visited by over 3,000 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays – it’s market days.