Skin bleaching originated from Asia all the way to ancient China and Japan where the proverb says; “one white covers up three ugliness.” Then in 1960, skin lightening products were imported from Asia and launched in USA mainly for African-American women then it spread to Africa and Latin America where societies considers far skin as beautiful and as a higher social standing.
In Britain, obsession with fair skin can be traced all the way back to the 16th century and was called Venetian Ceruse, also known as Spirits of Saturn. The ceruse would be used as a skin whitener and the best they could find in that time. The product consisted of a pigment made by a white lead that caused lead poisoning and damage the skin as well as significant hair loss. If used over a long period of time, it would cause death. A famous user was Elizabeth I of England.
Skin whitening is considered to be a multi product as the consumers in the West use it for its lightning and anti age benefits while Asian consumers prefer it for lightening the overall color and tone of the skin. An important fact is that Asian women does not use these products to look like Caucasians but simply because fair skin has a social status in the society.
Poor people,villagers and those in India who are considered as low cast works outside and their skin will become dark. Rich people and those who can afford to stay indoors will remain pale and fair so this is connected to social status. Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese etc have a yellow undertone in their skin and the whitening products do target this as well.
There are 2 dangerous and extreme methods of whitening the skin. The first one employs cortisone which destroys the epidermis (the outer layer of the skin). It passes into the bloodstream and the person develops a strong addiction towards it. Many women who have used this method have reported that they have developed depression. The other method is to use products with an ingredient called hydroquinone which was banned in the entire European Union in 2001 but still sold in the black market. Hydroquinone lightens the skin color by killing the cells that produce melanin (the melanolyte). From historical background, hydroquinone was first used in the 1930s when some African-Americans employees noticed that there were some discolorations appearing on their skin caused by Monobenzyl Ether of Hydroquinone (Monobonzone).
A fair business
The strongest and fastest growth remains in Asia-Pacific with Japan dominating the market followed by India and China. According to a report done by Global Industry Analysts (GIA), the Asian market will cross $2 billion by 2012. By 2015, it will reach $10 billion as new markets in the West emerge together with the growth in Asia-Pacific. Western markets have shown growth largely because Asian and African consumers demanded lightening products. The same report also revealed that lately there has been an increase in the market for men’s whitening products.
Fair & Lovely was first launched in India in 1975 and has become the largest selling skin whitening cream in the world. It is created by Unilever’s research laboratories and claims to give drastic results in 6 weeks. On their website, the product is called “the miracle worker* and is proven to give 3 shades of change. It held a commanding 50-70% share of the skin whitening market in India in 2006, a market that is valued at over $200 million. The target market for Fair & Lovely is mainly young women aged 18-35 but according to retail and market research reports, girls down to 12.14 years widely use fairness creams.
Despite being one of the leading products in this sector, are allegedly using photo touch-up to achieve desired results. The ad campaign was withdrawn when they got public criticism, especially from women’s groups from India, Malaysia and Egypt. Similar ads manufactured by FMCG giant Unilever showed a miraculous change in the complexion from dark to very fair using photo touch-ups was also withdrawn from the UK market in October 2008.
Many dermatologists have been debating on this subject and they claim that the fairness creams won’t be effective and show such results without the use of skin bleaching ingredients such as hydroquinone, steroids, mercury salts and other dangerous chemicals and Fair & Lovely does not contain this.
These products were once produced targeted only to women but the products are very popular among men. The sales have raised 100% in rural India and the products for male increased 20%.
Hindustan Unilever, one of the largest consumer products companies in India, producing Fair and Handsome, sent CNN an email saying: “Fair and Handsome is a market leader with almost 70% market share in India and doing extremely well in Gulf countries and the Middle East as well.”
Sale of whitening creams in Africa is worth millions of dollars each year. In Tanzania, where use and import of skin lighteners are banned, the sale is still high as dangerous creams are smuggled into the country and caused many women skin damages such as scratch marks and black dots after burning their skin. Others developed skin cancer. There is no doubt that bleaching harms the skin. The procedure destroys the black pigment in the top layer of the skin called epidermis, but exposure of the dermis layer under the epidermis to harsh weather will increase the chances of skin cancer. In Tanzania, women have been warned against using these chemicals after a woman had taken some tablets to bleach her skin and died after her flesh turned into liquid form and started dropping off. Despite the dangers, the women still use the products and the men continue desiring women with lighter skin.
Pakistan and India
Fair & Lovely is the most popular whitening product in Pakistan and recently this company has come up with a whitening product for men called Fair & Handsome. The commercial starts with a young darker skinned man sad because he can’t get a date. The Indian actor Shahrukh Khan advises him to use Fair & Handsome his skin tone gets lighter and he is suddenly surrounded by sexy supermodels. The same is shown in a television drama named Bidaai, featuring 2 sisters, one adopted and has dark skin while the other is pale. The pale gets prince charming. In another TV commercial that is very discriminating, two men, one with dark skin, and the other with light skin stands on a balcony overlooking a neighborhood. The darker skinned guy says “I am unlucky because of my face” to his friend. His light skinned friend replies, “Not because of your face, because of the color of your face” before handing over a whitening cream. The commercials are sending the message; get whiter skin, and you’ll get the girl, the job of your dreams etc.
Pakistanis and Indians are obsessed with the idea of becoming fair. The women who can afford it, stays away from the sun, get facial treatments with whitening products and use foundation and powders that are several numbers lighter than their own skin color making them look gray rather than white. So when parents look for a bride for their sons, they prefer a fair skinned girl and the men are more attracted to lighter skinned girls. A survey done for the biggest matrimonial site named Shaadi.com showed that almost 12,000 people said that skin tone was the most important criteria for choosing a life partner in 3 northern Indian states.
Even after the partition from India, Pakistanis held on the cast system and most families prefers to marry their children within the family and cast. Most of the upper class does have lighter skin and many of the lowest casts have the darkest skin. Darker skinned people do have a hard time in both countries since having lighter skinned people gets more respect. A choice of a partner with darker skin color will raise many questions from people (also in front of your partner) of why you married a dark skinned person. They don’t mean to offend but ask because it is strange to them.
The desire for fair skin has also isolated the women so that they are not able to function outside the home such as participating in sports. “Because of Indian men’s concept of beauty, so many talented players do not take up cricket because it is a grueling sport and you are out in the sun for at least seven to eight hours,” said a Cricket Captain to the news once. If the men also do the same then there will be no sports played in the country. On the other side, Fair & Lovely has an ad where a female cricket broadcaster gets a job after lightening her skin…
Snow white syndrome; Maybe not fair but still lovely
Unfortunately people can’t accept their skin color in countries where they are dark or brown skinned and go drastic steps to change the color of their skin. One of the major reasons for this is that the media and the society that forces on these ideas. A fair skinned female is more likely to get the job instead of a darker skinned girl, the handsome boy is more likely to choose the fair skinned girl to be his wife and the fair skinned girl will get the lead role in a movie or music video while the darker skinned once are pushed behind her. The same goes for men. Let’s be honest, if you have fair skin, you will be successful. We all know that the ads aren’t truthful and that there is Photoshop work behind.
Just look at Aishwarya Rai. Her picture on the cover of Elle magazine India made headlines when she appeared miraculously fair. Instead of doing this, Elle India could go in front as an example by putting a dark, dusky, golden, brown girl on the cover to respect those who have a darker color, to show them that they are beautiful and to tell them that they too matter.
This obsession with fair skin and priority of the girls and men with lighter skin color is discriminating. Still in the 21th century, there is this ignorance that those with lighter skin is more superior and those would darker does not matter. Girls have the pressure of trying to find a suitable husband who will marry her because he loves her, not because of her skin color. I dont think that the older generations will change this way of thinking but the younger generations can stand against the stereotypes and make a statement.