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Beauty Byte: Skin-Lightening Market Booms in India

I don't know how I missed this yesterday, but The New York Times just ran a pretty unsettling article about the Indian beauty market — specifically, the proliferation of skin-lightening products. A Unilever brand called Fair & Lovely has been selling skin lighteners for decades, but now an increasing number of cosmetics companies — including Avon, L’Oréal, Ponds, Garnier, the Body Shop, and Jolen — are marketing their own products designed to alter dark skin.

Though this sounds offensive to those of us who believe that diversity is an inherent party of beauty, the makers of these products say that reaction is just the result of cultural differences and bias, so

Writes the NYT:

Global cosmetics companies — which also sell skin-lightening products throughout Asia and in the United States, where they are marketed as spot or blemish removers — argue that they are just giving Indian women what they want.

Taking offense at the products is “a very Western way of looking at the world,” said Ashok Venkatramani, who is in charge of the skin care category at Unilever’s Indian unit, Hindustan Lever. “The definition of beauty in the Western world is linked to anti-aging,” he said. “In Asia, it’s all about being two shades lighter.”

So-called "fairness creams" are one of the most booming categories in India's fast-growing beauty market. The products are also sold in Asia and the U.S., so this may just be a case of Western journalists discovering something that's already very ingrained overseas. What do you guys think?


Karla-Sugar Karla-Sugar 10 years
ditto to all above: what's up with the tinted moisturizers? Clearly we're all working toward some perfect-color ideal around the world.
Yoyo Yoyo 10 years
I know that everybody is all crazy about bronzers and tans here in North America, but honestly, I prefer the lighter skin. I just think it looks prettier. And if you think about it, aren't tan-loving people trying to change their own skin tones too? So really, whitening products of Asia are the equivalent to tanning products in North America.
first_lady first_lady 10 years
not a surprise, in my country, indonesia, all beauty products have whitening thingy on them. The demand for this kinda thing is very high, i guess in most Asian country. Me myself don't like the pale look, I dunno I just don't like it. That's why it's very hard for me to look for beauty products here. Because they all have whitening effects in it. And I don't want them. But yea I guess it's kinda the same situation with those of u living in US, for intance, the whole tanning frenzy. In here, it's whitening frenzy! It's very crazy and annoying. I'm not feelin' it at all.
lovealways lovealways 10 years
I don't see the problem if a woman wants to lighten her skin. It's not too different from tanning. I visit China about once a year and everyone notices that I'm way darker than most of them, but they don't treat me like scum for it, or anything. Most of the time they do ask if I'm a foreigner, though.
kiwitwist kiwitwist 10 years
the irony huh! Darker skinned people want to be lighter and the pale skinned people want to be darker, or lighter for that matter. We always want what we don't have, it is natural. I am VERY Pale and which I had a nice beautiful tan but I don't want to have to put goop on myself everyday or get skin cancer from tanning too much.
LuckyGrl-83 LuckyGrl-83 10 years
Bella... why is it unsettling?? We do it in the US all the time! Only it's not a skin lightening trend... its a tanning trend... same issue, just reversed...
steen steen 10 years
There's a huge market for skin-lightening creams in Asian too, especially Japan. I've heard that you'll often see "ninja" workers outdoors, simply because they're trying to keep their skin fair so they can pass themselves off as higher class.
PrissyLilBadAss PrissyLilBadAss 10 years
I'm not suprised or offended. Look at how obsessed America is with being tan!?!? The new reality show on E! called Sunset Tan showed a little girl (I think she was 11) going in and getting an $1,100 tan for her school pictures! So this side of the world is trying to be darker, while the other side of the world is trying to be lighter. I guess the grass IS always greener on the other side.
ViCkY2 ViCkY2 10 years
its just as it says in the article, 'cultural differences' being an asian who lives in the west myself, i have come across a lot of differences amongst my friends and just come to understand it as one of the many cultural differences. it is true that a lot of asians, latin americans, african americans and many other gals with darker skin tend to want fairer and paler skin. but its not like how you would rub self-tanners on and suddenly we would turn pale-white like geishas! lol its more about having fairer and even skin tones. its to do with the stereotypes of the society we come from, where it is viewed that people have darker skin tones if they don't take care of their appearances, if they work outside (eg farmers) stuff like that, things that dont really apply anymore. it really depends on the person, i dont really care about my skin tone as long as it doesnt break out and its not oily! ooops i think this is by far the longest comment! i just wanted to write n explain, coz most gals out there think that tanned=healthier skin, for no reason?!
bluejeanie bluejeanie 10 years
i guess i don't see this as much different than self tanners.
flirtyfloridian flirtyfloridian 10 years
im from india. and growing up in the states my mother never let me goto the beach with my girlfriends (im from florida! come on!) and its all because over there being fair is beautiful. but thats nothing new as everyone is pointing out. obviously the more time you spend outdoors working etc you become dark. the richer more afluent people enjoy the indoors. hence lighter skin tones. so i think that must have something to do with it as well. besides, its no different than self tanners over here. lets not judge lightening creams when america is all about darkening creams.
nyaradzom2001 nyaradzom2001 10 years
Even in Africa light skin is valued. It's nothing new and has been going on over centuries amongst all races. If we are going to talk about lightening being awful and kind of an insult to diversity etc why shouldn't tanning be attacked.
auddie auddie 10 years
These creams always scare me. My college roommate was from Nigeria (and never had to wear any makeup with her gorgeous skin, always jealous of that!), and she told me about her aunts back in Nigeria that would lighten not only their skin, but their little girls as young as five. It would damage their skin so badly, and they would pretty much have to keep using the creams, because their pigment was damaged.
demonkitty18 demonkitty18 10 years
It is kinda funny how da west wants darker skin while its the exact opp in the east. Being an indian and livin in the middle east, i see it in both cultures- people- even men - prefer girls with lighter skin- deyre automatically associated with beauty. My bestfriend always complains abt how lucky i am to be fair skinned even though she's beautiful and tan (not dark), and even i feel like i look less cute when I'm tan. I think it has alot to do w/ our parents talking about " that girl having good colour" or " that girl is nice and fair" but hopefully, things are changing now coz the Indian beauty industry has a majority of darker skinned supermodels and many beautiful, darker skinned actresses are becoming popular too- fingers crossed!
onesong onesong 10 years
agreed with kaleigh and mademoiselle and anyone else who's sitting here and criticizing skin lighteners while rubbing self-tanner on. it's two sides of the dissatisfied with our bodies spectrum. if you want to be critical, we should ask why there are so many different products to change our natural skin to a different shade, and what cultural imperatives create the need for them. why aren't we okay the way we are? all of us?
crispet1 crispet1 10 years
How terrible.
LaPerla2 LaPerla2 10 years
I'm not surprised, in general. But I was shocked to hear about the Body Shop engaging in skin lightening products. The Body Shop seems socially-concious and a lot about empowering the lives of women and facilitating activism. I understand that most cosmetic companies have people dedicated to understanding the insecurities and physcologies of different women for marketing purposes but I always assumed the Body Shop took an empowering approach. I need to check it out.
gaulearnedimp gaulearnedimp 10 years
Most of the advertisements for skin whiteners that I've seen were promoting evening out the skin tone by elliminating spots and anti-aging effects. From what I've read, skin gets a grey tint as we age, and lightening it up again can do more to make us look young than botox can. This may be a naive way to look at it, but it is another point of view. Then again, pale skin has been a cultural do for centuries in many regions. As others have said, it indicated that a member of society didn't need to work, and was therefore wealthy.
queencessjosie queencessjosie 10 years
edit: those with darker skin were*
queencessjosie queencessjosie 10 years
It is different from the tanning phenomenon taking place in the United States because this is based on deep-seeded racial/cultural issues. Sure, people here want to be tan to look good, but skin color also has to do with your place in society in Asia. Generally, those with darker skin were those who work outside (AKA toil on farmland, fisherman etc.), so that definitely is an influence on why skin color is taken into consideration in the Asian's perception of beauty. Also, the way it was with any other place, those with darker skin are looked at as "uncivilized."
Mademoiselle Mademoiselle 10 years
Hmmm for some reason this article offends me...but I guess I gotta have an open mind :)
Mademoiselle Mademoiselle 10 years
Ok gals, Why are you against whitening but not against tanning? How is this any different from the tan phenomenon that is such a big obsession and industry in the our western societies. All the girls I work with - are crazy about tanners even darker ones because it supposedly gives a "healthy skin look" and makes you look "rich & relaxed" i.e. just got back from a relaxing beach vacation...vs. whiteners give the impression of "pampered" It's cultural differences and we need to embrace it instead of propagating the fact that it's unsettling - the beauty industry will use any twist to sell products - that's what they do!!!
juiceejuice juiceejuice 10 years
Oh I just wanted to add, even though I'm against the whitening aspect of the product, I'm kinda all for the even out of skin tones. cause even though I hardly ever breakout, I'm always left with some discoloration due to acne - which sucks. But I've never tried a whitening product, so I wouldn't know if it does help even skin tone out or not.
juiceejuice juiceejuice 10 years
Yeah, whenever I go to Asia, I see tons of stuff that has a whitening ingredient in it. It does kinda bother me. But it's also kinda funny, cause the girls over in Asia are using whitening products to lighten their skin, whilst girls here in the states, use all these bronzing products. Niether really work, some whitening products makes it noticable that you've used something to enhance your skin, whilst the tan booster leaves you looking orange like an oompa loompa. However, not every lightening product is aimed at whitening skin tones, some just aim to even it out. And i think that is also why so many Asians use it, because they want that procelain look that is ideal. But then there are always those Asians who are proud of their tans. My friend is Asian, and whenever she goes to Asia, people also comment on her tan skin, but she loves it. The funny thing is, she isn't even dark, just a healthy tan - her skin tone is the same as Jessica Alba.
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