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Lightening Creams Are Popular Among Indians, Even For Kids

The last time we discussed skin-whitening creams, a lot of you had something to say. But after reading this article, I want to revisit this complex topic. In India, skin-lightening products flood the market; many contain harmful chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic. Despite the health issues, the belief that "white is right" keeps many people buying the creams. This isn't the same thing as Caucasians applying self-tanner to get a sun-kissed glow; instead, many people believe that light skin is simply superior to dark skin. (This ad gets that message across.)

But now it's not just adults who want their skin to be lighter. To find out how kids are getting into it,

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"I have clients who put their children on the product — some as young as nine years old, with a reference from dermatologists, so that they are not the slightly darker child in school or in the class picture," says former beauty queen Sorisha Naidoo, who markets a skin-lightening product. "In parts of the Indian community, being the slightly darker cousin or sister means that no matter how striking, intelligent or skilled you are, being fair still means more."

Many Bollywood stars such as Kareena Kapoor, shown here, have fair skin. And with light-skinned models and actresses outnumbering their dark-skinned counterparts, the beauty ideal is tilted toward the light end of the spectrum. I can't help but worry for that proverbial child, who's told that her beautiful dark skin is something that needs to be "fixed." What do you think it will take to create a broader, more inclusive standard for South Asian beauty? Or do you think that whitening creams are just a different kind of beauty product?

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Join The Conversation
Sweedalicious Sweedalicious 7 years
People need to learn to be happy with what features they're born with. Skin whitening cannot just be termed "another beauty product", as it is harmful! But I also don't like how people try to make themselves tanner, and how in America these days, if you don't look tanned, you arent considered "fashionable." I'm pale as they come, and I wouldn't be caught dead trying to change what skin tone God gave me.
AKirstin AKirstin 9 years
I suspect a lot of the emotional reaction we're seeing here has more to do with classic white guilt than anything... Don't be outraged that some people like to exercise control over how they look, be outraged at the concept of beauty standards. I see changing your skin tone, hair colour, having tattoos, getting plastic surgery piercings and any other body changes (even makeup and nail polish) as being the same: they are all ways we exercise control over ourselves. Some people want darker or tan skin, some people want light skin. If it's because it's what *they* like than who are we to say that's wrong? The problem is girls and women who have an "ideal" forced on them from birth. I think changing the way you look because *you* want to fuckin' ROCKS.
sudenmorsian sudenmorsian 9 years
Most of you would probably think "but you are pale already" if you saw me (a Finn) but I have an obsession to be more fair, too (not to the point that I would use dangerous means to get pale)! I've never wanted to tan, no matter what my friends did. Around here shops are so full of all kinds of tanning products and lightening creams are hard to find and/or really expensive.
JaimeLeah526 JaimeLeah526 9 years
IF you must be whiter wear makeup don't lighten your skin with carcinogens. With all the advancements made in self tanner it can't be long before we can do the opposite for those who would like to be lighter. It's sad that we can't be happy with the color we have. Why is it okay for white women to tan or use self tanner to get darker but not for darker women to desire lighter skin?
Bella-Donna Bella-Donna 9 years
I am an Indian, and know this unfairness of being fair all too well. Thankfully (or not?) I am not dusky (aka "too dark") but not fair either. I was told how lucky I was compared to some "unfortunate" dark skinned cousins/friends yet for most of my school/undergrad life had resorted to bleaching my skin to try and match my fairer friends. Thankfully my dermatologist put sense in my smart head & I chucked the harmful bleaching and now use sunblock ALL the time. Most of these fairness creams adverts are so offending that I'd protest while watching them as a kid. The so called "global" MNCs would resort to such narrow-minded thinking just to pimp their products is simply unacceptable and many Indian NGO's & female rights advocates have taken an offense and appealed against it. Thankfully here in the West, fairer people want to get darker to an extent that their fake bakes are more Oompa-Loompa-meets-Cheetos than a healthy "glow". Mercifully here (in the US) there aren't any products that blatantly claim to be "whitening", but some do aim at "brightening" and boosting the translucency of the skin. Go figure...
moonlite moonlite 9 years
I'm Indian and I know what a huge issue it is...my Indian friends and my cousins in India always use Fair and Lovely because they don't want to get too dark. I think growing up outside of India has spared me--I'd rather have a nice healthy tan above pasty white skin any day. I don't think whiter skin equals more beautiful; in fact I think darker skin looks much better (no offense to anyone who is white). But it's pretty sad that people think they have to conform to some ideal standard of beauty just to feel better about themselves.
Soniye Soniye 9 years
You can see it in a lot of Bollywood goddesses. Aish has had her skin lightened. I don't think Rani or Kajol do it, though. There a lot of other girls who do not only lighten but get surgeries to look more western. Very sad.
idawson idawson 9 years
i have dark skin and have used lightening creams under the care of a dermatologist who specializes in skin care for people of color. it was to remove the hyperpigmentation that my acne caused. it is a quick and dirty way to get rid of the dark marks but i know of people who use it to lighten their skin. looks right pitiful if you ask me. the problem is not only india i have seem similar products peddled in adverts from all over the world.
lovealways lovealways 9 years
Honestly, I think dark skin is beautiful, but I know that in Asia being pale is "so hot" (for lack of a better phrase). I realize the lightening treatments/creams/etc are harmful, but so are tanning beds in America... I don't advocate this, but I don't think the obsession is that much different from tans in America. I know the latter situation is getting better, so maybe in a few years the Asia situation will start to remedy itself.
j2e1n9 j2e1n9 9 years
I had heard of this :( And I think bengal is prob right. Isnt it funny how the grass is always greener?
tamio tamio 9 years
I don't think the origin of "fair skin superiority" is as simple as "Indians want to look European" or colonization. This sentiment has been shared in many cultures, Asian, African, and European and predates colonization. I would guess that the idea of fair skin superiority originated in ancient times as a sign of social status - of not having to perform outdoor labor (same with soft hands). Based on my Indian friends' stories, it seems like the Indians have a complicated relationship with westernization. In general interracial marriages are very taboo in India.
Baby-Girl Baby-Girl 9 years
Don't get me started. Colonization has completely messed the world up. I found out how bad it was in Indian culture when I was in college and had a very light skinned and light eyed roommate. Her parents did not want her to be with this great guy because he was dark. Horrible. My friend flies to India all the time for work and he tells me the stories and about all the lightening products. Terrible. All countries that have varying ski tones have this problem.
Rabbit88 Rabbit88 9 years
its odd that we have the inverse problem here in america... everyone is laying under tanning beds trying to get as dark as possible... i have always had fair skin... and have constantly been made fun of for it. here in america we associate beauty with being tan.
chhavi chhavi 9 years
I know this fairness cream obsession with people in India, it was in the paper the other day also. Being an Indian myself, I never used any fairness product, my friends don't use them either. I understand the preference to fairness and lighter skin colored people is just wrong. It's just the general mentality here, going on from generations... The fairness cream company's misleading ads are criticised in the newspapers and journals all the time. I feel it's just ridiculous... the way they potray the product. Like, a guy dumps a girl because she's not fair. No one wouldn't go out with her. Only when she starts applying xyz cream, she's on cloud 9. I mean, WTF!
jaymunjal jaymunjal 9 years
This hits so close to home for me. I'm deep brown Indian & mocked for it. My mom at one point tried putting me on a bleaching system because, "Nobody likes burnt looking skin." Every time I go in the sun I get screamed at about how I'm ruining myself because I got a quarter of a shade darker. Even friends poke fun about it, light-heartedly of course, but honestly over time the jokes add up. Now & then I find myself researching skin lightening just because of how much easier I know it would make my life. But hopefully later in life I'll find the confidence to ignore these eurocentric beauty ideals & proudly say that I love my dark skin. And my bulbous, Indian nose & my two-tone, Indian lips.
bailaoragaditana bailaoragaditana 9 years
I find this really scary - I'm really really white (NC15, for better or for worse) and I'm always being told that I need to get a tan or be darker, and it's taken me a long time to like my natural skin color. For a long time, I wanted to be like my Middle Eastern and Hispanic friends who had gorgeous golden-olive skin, but all attempts to get that color ended up with me being red-pink rather than bronze. But when I went to my best friend's Norouz (Persian New Year) celebration a few years ago, and similar events later on, my skin is one of the first things that was commented on - in a positive way! I've even had marriage proposals (hopefully joking, but still... all because I'm "white as a flower" or some such?) It was astonishing, and it really reinforced the silliness/inanity of the whole skin color obsession, in ALL circles. I would agree with Bengalspice re: it being about perceived wealth, but it's possible that those perceptions could change in the future: I mean, less than a century ago, it was the fieldworkers and such who were tanned, and the middle-class and upper-class women who stayed inside and protected their delicate skin with parasols and hats and things like that...
coryphella coryphella 9 years
i'm chinese. for us, the preference for white skin is ancient, before we even knew other races exist. it has to do with class. historically, girls from affluent family stayed home, stayed out of the sun. peasant girls had to work under the sun all day and their skin gets dark. i don't know if there's any truth to it, but i tend to think 200 yrs ago or just 50 yrs ago, caucasians also prefered porcelain skin over tan.
bingkaycoy bingkaycoy 9 years
It's really an obsession in Asia----all over Asia (West, East, South and North). "White is more beautiful and superior" not only equates these adjectives but also if you have white skin, it means "affluence, level of education and social acceptance". I come from the Philippines and it's all over there-- the media reinforces it and advertisers benefits from it. I used to indulge in a lot of whitening products to make me whiter because I have dark skin (typical of my Southeast Asian/Polynesian blood). I used to hate my skincolor until I moved to America. People here appreciate my color and my appearance better that I get used to. Americans here think I'm pretty but my co-Filipinos think I'm ugly. LOLZ. My husband says I am like Superman who loses his powers in my own country because when I go back to my country I lose my "beauty". Hehehehe!
goatimpact goatimpact 9 years
Based on my experiences as a medium dark desi, I agree with bengalspice. Although it's a shame, I don't see how it is different from using tanning lotions in the US. Different cultures have different aesthetics so typically, in the Indian culture, fairness is considered more attractive. Consequently, many people try to attain that look. As per the effects on marriage or jobs, that could be true anywhere based on what that country finds attractive (i.e. weight in the US). Unilever (makers of ponds, dove, etc.) has said that Fair and Lovely does not contain hydroquinone and they are the market leaders in fairness creams so hopefully the younger kids are using that and not something more dangerous.
tkmn tkmn 9 years
This is unfortunate but every culture sets a beauty standard for its women. The degree to which this standard impacts the quality of life of women varies according the amount of education and independence women are given. That is, the particular form of the beauty standard really doesn't matter (fair, tan, small feet, tall, short, skinny, curvy), sufficient education and economic opportunity so that women feel free to reject the standard does. For example, extreme forms of bikini waxing happens to be in vogue in (upper middle class?) America. Some women even think not doing it is "unclean" or "untidy." Logically, this is a pretty barbaric and ridiculous beauty standard too and thankfully, we are free to reject it if we choose.
Dolce-n-Gorgeous Dolce-n-Gorgeous 9 years
It's disgusting. I remember someone telling me " oh, you look so pretty today. You got lighter". Ummmm...thanks?
whatthew00t whatthew00t 9 years
I'm Filipino, and it is the same thing in the Philippines due to the heavy Spanish influence. In Filipino entertainment, it is nearly filled with fair-skinned mestizo (mixed) entertainers, some of whom don't even look distinctly Filipino but look more Caucasian. It is so rare to find a dark-skinned Filipino in Filipino entertainment. So young Filipino girls and guys get the notion that "pale" equals beauty. They buy whitening products from Ponds creams to pills. I see them advertised all the time in Filipino magazines, and I worry about how young Filipino kids feel about themselves. However, I am fair-skinned and look mixed so I get compliments from some of my Filipino relatives and friends about my skin color (ex. "Wow, you're so pale!" from my cousin, or "Your nose is so high!" from an aunt the last time I visited the Philippines). I appreciate their compliments, but they just show me how pervasive the belief of whiteness is. Last year, I went out with a couple of friends to play tennis. I did not put on any sunscreen beforehand so I got a little tanned after playing outside for two hours. When I came back home, my mom was surprised and said, "You got so dark." I said to her that I didn't really get that dark, but she is in denial that she said that LOL. Plus, I was disturbed when I went to a Filipino-American exposition last year with my parents, and I saw one corner of the expo dedicated to whitening creams.
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