If we live in a culture where market size is synonymous with societal importance, then why aren’t we talking about skin whitening?
In the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests around the world last year, colorism (which is defined as discrimination against skin color within a racial or ethnic group — favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin) had something of a media moment.
Many articles were written highlighting the fact that some of the very companies that were virtue-signaling their commitment to Black and brown lives in one part of the world, were also manufacturing and marketing products associating lighter skin with prosperity and desirability in another part of the world.
Before we could begin, we needed to understand skin whitening — the products and practices — in its current and varied local contexts, as well as to identify what gaps exist in how skin whitening is covered by international media and seek to understand why women were subjecting themselves to beauty routines that are ultimately damaging to their health.
Over the past several months, we’ve gathered together dozens of people with lived experience of using skin whitening creams, healthcare professionals, regulatory agencies, researchers and academics and others who, for one reason or another, have committed time and other resources to testing products or raising awareness about this harmful practice and its root causes.
We also invited representatives from the skin whitening industry to join us in these conversations but have so far been unsuccessful in getting cosmetic companies around the table.
What we learned from these conversations has convinced us that skin whitening is a global menace masquerading as a helpful solution to the “problem” of dark skin. Toxic Ingredients such as mercury and hydroquinone, that are regulated, routinely make their way into creams; and ultimately the false promise that lighter is better is so heavily marketed, so endemic and unquestioned that women (and in some cultures men, too) go to extreme lengths for “fairer” skin — risks be damned.
You can also join the global conversation on social media by using the hashtag #FightingWhitening.
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