Prodding little deep into our obsession with Fairness

There’s a creation story in Thailand. In the beginning god created man. At first, he cooked the people too much (dark skinned people). Then he cooked them too little (pasty westerners). Finally, he cooked them just right (light skinned Asians) .

Skin color is determined by the degree of pigmentation of the skin which depends on the melanin content of the keratinocytes. It is the body’s natural protection against solar ultraviolet (UV)  radiation. But all over Asia, the bias towards fair skin that has come from colonial hangover is still on. From Korea to Japan to Thailand to India, dark skinned people are obsessed with fairness cream . That being said, this issue is not just unique to South Asia. Whitening creams are sold by leading brands like Olay, Ponds and many other favorite brands in Africa, the Caribbean and even in the Middle East .

Fairness cream and Facts:

Fairness cream market image

This widespread preference for fair skin has been exploited by the manufacturers of fairness creams. “Fair is beautiful” is deeply rooted in Indian culture. A consumer goods giant launched the mother of all fairness creams in the subcontinent in 1976. Today, the product is marketed in over 38 countries and has become the largest selling skin lightening cream in the world. A number of other companies have also jumped on the ‘Fairness creams’ bandwagon. The craze for fairness creams has emerged in the last fifty years. Emami Naturally Fair Herbal Fairness Cream came in during early 90s, CavinKare’s Fairever in 1998 and Godrej’s FairGlow in 1999. Emami focused on pearl extracts, FairGlow on the ‘no compromise with fair skin’ positioning whereas Fairever, that went on to be the biggest challenger brand to Fair & Lovely centered its advertising around its two unique ingredients — saffron and milk. Market shares in skin whitening for men in Asia is also rising steadily, particularly in Japan, India and China and are expected to rapidly increase.

How fairness products work ?

Let’s understand the important point – No fairness cream can make the individual fairer than the skin with which the person was born. What they can do is only reverse the damage done by unprotected long exposure to the sun and protect the person against the harsh sun rays. When used regularly, it can gently but effectively lighten and improve skin tone.

Skin whitening products currently available in the market can be categorized into botanical products, biotechnological actives, or chemical agents  when applied on the human skin to achieve a lighter skin tone. Promotions targeted at affluent White middle aged women allure them even with the possibility of removing the signs of the aging process, an unhealthy lifestyle, and pollution from the skin. High end skin whitening products are often labeled under the new quasi-pharmaceutical category called cosmeceuticals—a hybrid entity with pharmaceutical and cosmetic properties.

The color of our skin is due to the polymeric, amorphous, non-proteinaceous pigment called melanin. Melanin is produced in the skin through a biochemical process called melanogenesis. Dermal melanin is produced by melanocytes, which are found in the stra-tum basale of the epidermis. The difference in skin color between fair people and dark people is due not to the number (quantity) of melanocytes in their skin, but to the melanocytes’ level of activity (quantity and relative amounts of eumelanin and pheomelanin).

Skin-lightening agents are any ingredient or combination of ingredients that interfere in any step of the melanogenesis pathway, melanin transfer, or desquamation that results in lowering pigmentation on the surface of the skin.

The most important factor other than inheritance factor affecting skin pigmentation is ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Exposure to UV radiation results in the generation of free radicals. It has been identified that ROS (reactive oxygen species) are able to oxidize tyrosinase and DOPA to melanin, and this is one of the major causes for tanning. Although antioxidants are present in tissues, they may not be able to reduce the radicals, depending on the extent of UV expo-sure. Hence the quenching of free radicals would also help in reducing the synthesis of melanin.

Adverse effects of skin lightening preparations

Certain advertisements portray the sun as an enemy and harp on the theme that the skin should be protected using sunscreens and sun blocks. A de-melanised skin would of course be more vulnerable to damage by the sun. Many fairness creams may contain skin-bleaching agents like hydroquinone, steroids, mercury salts, hydrogen peroxide and magnesium peroxide among others.

Actress Lupita Nyong’o  story

Oscar winner Actress Lupita Nyong’o image

Actress Lupita Nyong’o who won the Oscar for the best supporting actress for her performance in 12 Years A Slave (which also won the best picture) in 2014, revealed that she was often teased for being dark-skinned, and she used to pray to god for a lighter skin during her adolescence. The star says she was so ashamed she couldn’t even look at herself in the mirror, and added: ‘Every day I experienced the same disappointment of being just as dark as I had been the day before.’  

Interesting law suit:

Paras Jain recovered Rs 15 lakh in damages from India’s first and biggest fairness cream brand Emami in 2015, for causing psychological hardship to his brother Nikhil Jain, through its allegedly false claims of fairness.  All of this happened because his brother Nikhil Jain failed to get his skin colour fairer after using Emami product.

Wave against fairness:

Actress Nandita Das

A non-profit organisation called ‘Women of Worth’ launched a campaign in 2009 called ‘Dark is Beautiful’. Women of Worth, is a women’s movement started by Kavitha Emmanuel “against the toxic belief that a person’s worth is measured by the colour of their skin.” Women of Worth’s “Beauty Beyond Colour” initiative is speaking up for men and boys, who are also targets of “unfair” advertising.

Dark is Beautiful campaigner, critically acclaimed actress Nandita Das asked Deepika Padukone to embrace her skin colour.

Shekhar Kapur  image

Bollywood filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, who directed films such as Bandit Queen‘ and Elizabeth‘, initiated a campaign in 2012 with the Twitter hash tag #adswedontbuy‘ to protest against irresponsible ads, including ads for skin whitening creams.

For sure these movements will be able to change the mindset of some. Looking forward to the future when a person will be judged only by their performance, inner strength and mettle and not by the way they look. Hope to see a matrimonial ad saying ‘looking for educated, talented, confident, independent girl for our son’. Till then fairness creams will continue filling their kitties with billions….

23 Responses

  1. Soniya Bhatt says:

    Fairness creams are definitely not getting any support from me. I feel people should be happy in their skin 🙂

  2. He he he…my husband always says d same…it’s marketing strategy… Whitening creams neva work….I’m glad tyat my 12th grade niece has understood this……for once she was a pray forsuch ad’s

  3. ghazala786 says:

    Interesting post and yes I do agree with all points you have mentioned , People around the world specially Indian are obsessed with fair skin .

  4. Lovely post. I am a little on the darker side and I have got a few comments at times, it was after they understood that I don’t care about what they say did they stop.

  5. snehalboricha says:

    Still people are crazy behind fairness creams and products!

  6. Nisha Malik says:

    People get overwhelmed with the fairness claims made by cosmetic companies not realizing its not for real. I hope many people read this article. Hence sharing it.

  7. Varsh says:

    Fair skin has always been desirable for Asians and is used as a great marketing gimmick by fairness cream companies. I believe healthy skin is more important than a fair one, anytime.

  8. I so loved the concept and the creativity at its point in this post keep writing ❤

  9. Jiya B says:

    I just loved the thought and most Importatly stay unfair and stay beautiful. I really loved the way you have done research on the topic. Thanks for sharing

  10. Dr Bushra says:

    Indeed Indian girls beauty is been judged more or less on the basis of their colour and hence use of fairness cream is popularise

  11. Prerna Sinha says:

    Such a genuine post and it is absolutely true that it is the inner beauty which makes a person look beautiful and not the cosmetics miracle.

  12. Fairness cream are definitely no for me.. But I actually love radiant and glowing complexion

  13. Khushboo says:

    Very Beautiful blog.. Loved reading it

  14. Mrinal Kiran says:

    I don’t believe in fairness creams.. we are beautiful just the way we are.. awesome post!

  15. My Closet Diary says:

    Loved your post, it is so sad that people are judgmental about skin colour, we should encourage kids to embrace their skin tone and celebrities should not invest in them, because they are the role models to young kids.

  16. I think we should feel proud whatever colour shade god has given to us. Natural beauty is always best and last long. None of any fairness cream can do wonder on your skin except for short time.

  17. Glow Origin says:

    Wow great post totally enjoyed reading it.. Beauty lies in the eyes of beholder it has nothing to do with fair or dark.. Both are beautiful in there own ways

  18. Wow!! This is so informative Well written

  19. Fairness cream are just for marketing ….Fake products

  20. Bushra Khan says:

    Fair is beautiful is the mantra of Indians per se- everything about a girls life will depend on being fair or not- We need to understand God made us all perfect the way we are- and Fair- its just a colour

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