Skin whitening in beauty is “a rapidly growing market that’s estimated to reach a valuation of $24 billion in the next decade”. News horror stories displaying the dangers of skin bleaching have been brought to awareness in the past, but there has been no emphasis on the extent of the problem and the many lives impacted by it, until now. The controversy of this trend centers around the backlash that brands have been receiving from consumers accusing them of promoting internalized racism. The good news is that there are a number of brands that have begun responding which is a start to hopefully eliminate trends that suggest we should strive to change the colour of our skin. Keep reading for a better understanding of skin whitening and its current state in the market.
An addiction that runs deep
With American Brands like Neutrogena creating skin whitening lines like Fine Fairness and Clear Fairness, which is only sold in Asian and Middle Eastern countries, this is a deeply rooted cultural issue. Marvie Dela Torre, a local student in the Philippines states “we’ve already accepted being white is equivalent to being beautiful”. Unfortunately, when enough of the population feels the same way, it’s easy to see how nearly every product being sold in Asia has some kind of “whitening” effect. An article on This Week in Asia reports a Canadian woman’s reaction to visiting Hong Kong. Although we are already familiar with older traditions on skin whitening, it was only until her visit that she realized “how important having pale skin was in Chinese culture” in this day and age with “entire aisles dedicated to whitening products at supermarkets.” Skin bleaching epidemics are still happening all over the world, with the usage rates as high as 77% in Nigeria. An article on Dermatology Specialists states the trend has most demand in India, China, Japan, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America
Beauty and the bleach
Some brands are taking consumer backlash in the best way possible by choosing to eliminate these lines from their companies altogether. On the 19th of June, Johnson & Johnson announced that they would no longer sell any products that have been used to lighten skin tone, such as their dark-spot reducers. In addition to supporting the inclusivity movement, they have also spoken about their plans on selling bandages designed to match a variety of skin tones. Neutrogena has also jumped on the bandwagon; they believe that removing their skin whitening lines is the best way to respond to criticism and emphasize that representing white is better was never their intention stating that “healthy skin is beautiful skin.”
View this post on Instagram
L-Glutathione Plus capsules with Vitamin C, Grape seed extract, biotin, ALA and Zinc for the skin whitening and Anti-aging. Buy now with huge Discount on @snapdeal #snapdeal #nutriarcwellness #glutathione #glutathionecapsules #skinwhitening #antiaging #skincare #pigmentation #vitaminc #multivitamin
Fairest of them all
Whilst banning skin whitening can solely seem like part of the solution, the fact is that it is not going to change the wider problem that’s been woven into many societies. A consumer who felt that they needed that product yesterday, is not going feel that they need it any less on account of the products being prohibited, and could potentially lead them to use alternative skin whitening methods with higher health risks than anything currently available on the market. We may not need to eradicate skin lightening products altogether, but get rid of racist advertising and products that contain harmful ingredients like bleach. Unilever, who has received a petition with over 14,399 signatures asking them to stop selling Fair & Lovely, have responded by stating that they will be changing their name and removing racist imagery from the brand. Consumers were disappointed because it doesn’t change what the brand represents and the fact that they use toxic ingredients. Even if there is a chance of keeping certain skin lightening products available to consumers it’s, unfortunately, a lost cause for brands like Fair & Lovely. We already know that they would exploit the insecurities bred from an unhealthy society through their usage of racist imagery and toxic ingredients. It’s also why a lot of consumers are demanding that skin whitening products are banned for good.
View this post on Instagram
So, what’s in a name? After mounting pressure, Unilever announced that it is renaming and rebranding #FairandLovely, removing any usage of the terms “fair, white and light” and moving away from a “singular ideal of beauty”. . While this is an important first step and a small victory for us all, where future generations will not grow up with the narrative “fair” is equal to “lovely”, will it translate into a reality where fair skin is not the ultimate ideal? Where multi-million dollar advertisements don’t portray the same toxic messaging in more subtle ways? . We want @unilever to lead this change with transparency. As they claim that the product contains no “skin bleaching” elements we want them to disclose the % composition of niacinamide and other substances in their “new product”, and to assure us that their product will no longer promote any idea of fairness either overtly or covertly. . With this #BanFairandLovely campaign we hope that awareness and conversation around the deep rooted issues of colorism have been reignited and along with the producers of this product, the consumers also think twice about buying it and furthering this discriminatory narrative. . There is power in numbers and power in every voice. Your voices helped us get this far, let’s keep working toward a future where the skin whitening industry ceases to exist in any shape or form!
The more we collectively spread awareness on inclusivity which involves calling out on those who aren’t, the more society will adjust to these changing attitudes. This is also an important topic for influencers, such as a winner of Miss America, Nina Davuluri, speaking out on the problem. Raised in India, she opened up about her own experiences with colourism including the backlash that she received for her skin colour after winning the competition, in the hopes of making a change. “I had the opportunity to change what that conversation looks like,” she told Refinery 29. Over time, enough conversations like these create awareness which is the first step to changing any societal norm and evolving in the right direction.