The beauty industry is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and it has a new love child: fairness products.
With a market value of approximately 200 billion dollars and a growth of 40 percent yearly, it sure has a huge presence in our daily lives. As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with image or video content that presents new beauty ideals. Those beauty ideals not only control our views on what to consider desirable but also manipulate our purchase decisions.
Is it OK to change your skin tone?
Fairness has always been something that media glamorized, which naturally set the stage for whitening products in the beauty market. Companies all over the world saw profit involved, so they quickly upgraded them from being solely dedicated for skin whitening to daily use products such as foundations, moisturizers, sunscreens and shaving balms. But where does the obsession with fairness products come from? And do we realize what components are included in these products?
Some state that it is in human nature to have a preference for lighter skin. However, evidence shows otherwise. The ultimate proof of this statement is India’s example. India is a leading market in fairness products, but one look at their history proves that there was an apparent shift in ideals of beauty throughout time. In truth, Lord Krishna the god of compassion, tenderness, and love in Hinduism was considered the ideal of male beauty. His name’s meaning is in fact “The Dark One.” This idea was solidified by the infamous Marco Polo, as he stated in his book “The Travels,” that he noticed during his visits that for them the darker a man was, the more handsome he was perceived.
How beauty ideals changed through time
Now that we are aware that humans have not always preferred lighter skin, the natural question that comes to mind is: What factors played a role in the shift of beauty ideals?
Several factors played a role and resulted in the depigmentation product popularity worldwide. The most powerful were historical ones such as colonialization and slavery. Throughout history, several African and Asian countries have gone through colonialism periods. This phenomenon did not only affect the economy and politics of countries, but it also had huge impacts on how people of color perceived the “white man.” While naturally, the colonizing countries had the upper hand, it was only a matter of time until individuals from those countries were perceived as richer, more powerful, and ultimately more desirable. A direct result of this dominance was the emergence of whitening products. In fact, statistics showed that by the 1960s, more than 60% of urban African women were purchasing depigmentation products.
As stated before, this exponentially growing market soon attracted the interest of companies all over the world. Seeing a big market and endless opportunities, companies started to come out with different formulas that declared war on darker complexions. Advertisements and movies did an excellent job at painting lighter colors as beauty ideals. Soon enough, darker skin wasn’t only associated with being poor or powerless; it was also associated with a lack of beauty and thus whiter skin tones became the new beauty ideals.
We can deduct that fairness was not always something humans strived for, because of their nature. Throughout history, there were always factors that pushed them to prefer a particular color. With huge multinational companies being involved, and the force of media and advertising, skin differences deepened, which resulted in an extraordinary demand for bleaching products.
How harmful are fairness products?
Depigmentation products function by reducing a natural skin pigment called melanin. In truth, skin color depends on the amount of melanin is in one’s skin. The darker it is, the more melanin their skin contains. It was noticed that melanin production could only be altered by sun exposure, hormonal changes, and use of certain chemicals. Obviously, chemicals were the way to go for manufacturers. Due to an ever-growing competition on the market, companies produced more efficient, but aggressive products to gain customers. Caged by the blinding desire to obtain whiter complexions countless customers purchased and are still purchasing products that are harmful. They may deliver lighter skin, but are they worth the side effects?
Everything wrong with fairness products
Mercury: This toxic chemical was found in many fairness products. Absorption of mercury by the body was scientifically linked to many atrocious side effects such as psychiatric, neurological, and kidney problems.
Hydroquinone: used with abundance, this component’s goal is to block the natural process of skin discoloration. Side effects were reported to be itching, puffiness, and blistering of the skin.
Long-term use of skin lightening products was also linked to skin cancer and permanent pigmentation.
During the last decade, there have been several cases of emerging side effects from the use of these products. Angry customers have filed for endless lawsuits against multinational companies, and the media finally started talking about these products and their side effects. This has led countries like the US to ban all sorts of depigmentation products. However, the big question is: how can it be, that the demand for these products is only getting bigger?
The answer is simple. Companies started targeting societies that did not ban the use of these commodities by doubling and tripling the amount of directed advertisements in these countries. They aimed for less educated and less aware individuals and used adored celebrities to market their substances. Companies even started upgrading their products by making them cosmetic products as well such as moisturizers, foundations, and concealers, which, in a way, disguised the bad reputation skin bleaching products obtained throughout the years.
Spread the word
To sum up, humans are not naturally attracted to one particular skin tone. We were all born equal. However, various factors played a role in making lighter complexions more desirable. With the desire for brighter skin came the invention of “lightening products.” Targeted advertisement methods escalated the situation as it made people with darker skin tones despise it more. These same people that turned into customers are potentially paying with their health for a skin tone they were not born with and were made to believe it was more beautiful than theirs. Needless to say, it is necessary to act quickly by spreading awareness about these harmful substances. We also need to start showing everyone that all skin tones are beautiful, charming, and desirable.
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