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  • Ria Verma

Op-Ed: Skin Bleaching - the next epidemic

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

(originally written in April 2020)    

In a world where lighter skin means success, the multi million dollar industry of skin bleaching is expected to grow in the coming years. Products marketed with “instant lighter skin” and “fairness guaranteed” labels seem to be physically harmless, but do people really know the effects? Thousands of dark skinned girls across the globe are exposed to these toxic beauty standards and products at a young age. They lose their self worth and resort to these easily accessible products without knowing just how dangerous the ingredients can be. Clearly, these illegal products should be banned from being sold. But will it truly be effective if society and the media repeatedly continue to label dark skin as “ugly?”

 Skin bleaching products and procedures are extremely dangerous and contain many harmful chemicals. They have not been approved by the FDA but people continue to use them. While it is easy to assume these products are strictly banned, they are still imported and smuggled in, with the help of custom officers. This allows people to have easy access to them in local markets around the world. Some of the toxic ingredients found in these products include mercury, glutathione, and hydroquinone. Although mercury is highly poisonous, it is one of the cheapest substances used for skin lightening. Research reveals that the amount of mercury found in many Filipino skin whitening creams is 42,000 times more than the legal limit.


The amount of mercury found in many Filipino skin whitening creams is 42,000 times more than the legal limit.


Meanwhile, glutathione and hydroquinone are dangerous antioxidants that kill melanin found in your cells. Professional skin whitening treatments such as prescribed pills, laser therapy, and chemical peels are offered, however the average person would instead resort to cheap skin lightening creams. Prolonged use of these products and procedures are truly terrifying - from red patches and skin ulcers, to dermatitis and kidney disorders. Chemical Safety Campaigner, Thony Dizon, says, “It’s a serious concern. These kinds of cheap skin whitening creams - you can buy them everywhere.” It is safe to say that the ban of these detrimental products should be strictly enforced by the government to ensure a safer world of beauty.

Not only are these products unsafe, but the bigger issue is that this standard of light skin is ruining the self worth and pride of girls who look “different”. Instead of embracing their looks, they are doing everything possible to change them. According to Helene Cooper, a journalist for the New York Times, “Women are now being told that it is wrong, and even illegal, to bleach their skin. At the same time, they are flooded with messages - and not even subliminal ones- that tell them white is beautiful.”  Research from the New York Times  shows that more than 70% of women in West Africa use skin bleaching creams, including young girls. If society doesn’t put an end to this light skin bias, so many girls of the coming generations will be pressured into bleaching their skin. 

   However, society is not the only culprit of this light skin culture. Media plays a huge part in it as well- especially in the world of Bollywood and Indian cinema.  Gianna Toboni, a producer for VICE News, went to India to look behind the scenes in an audition for a TV serial.  After observing, she said , “Sometimes when actors are denied parts because of their skin tone, they’ll turn to a booming sector of the Indian beauty industry - skin lightening.” Neha is an aspiring actress who has been rejected from every job only because of her skin color.  After she finally whitens her skin she says, “When I have fair skin, I will get better job opportunities…...”  The fact that someone would have to put themselves and their body in danger just to be “qualified” for a job is terrible.  And growing up watching these movies, I can attest to the fact that Indian actresses I have seen on TV are always portrayed as either light skinned or use makeup to appear fairer on camera. Despite this, I can understand why the media uses beautiful actresses - but beautiful should not have to mean fair skin. It is quite clear that the media is directly giving yet another reason for women to be bleaching their skin and using these products. Now think about this: Would you bleach your skin for a job?

As skin bleaching starts becoming the next trend across the world, it is extremely important to be aware of not only the physical harms of these products, but the mental harms society is presenting with this bias standard. Laws must be enforced in all countries around the world about these harsh bleaching products with fatal side effects. Society and the media should be the ones to change and evolve; diversity should be loved. But loving yourself and embracing your natural skin color should come first. After learning to embrace your skin color, encourage others to do so as well while spreading positive self love messages everywhere you go. Currently, with more dark skinned models being represented in magazines such as Vogue and TV shows starring dark skinned actresses, society is making progress. And who knows: Maybe the skin bleaching epidemic will vanish because of it. And so I ask, What will YOU do to promote self love for all skin colors in your society?


The Sources I used/Works cited

Cooper, Helene. "Where Beauty Means Bleached Skin." NY Times Magazine [New York], New York Edition ed., 26 Nov. 2016, . Accessed 14 Apr. 2020. Helene Cooper, a journalist for the New York Times created this message. She has won the George Polk Award for Health reporting and used to work at the white house. The NY Times is a newspaper founded in 1851, and has won more than 100 Pulitzer Prizes.

"Why India's Fair Skin Business Is Booming." VICE News, uploaded by Gianna Toboni, 20 Jan. 2020, . Accessed 14 Apr. 2020. Gianna Toboni is an award winning producer known for VICE News. She won an award for outstanding TV journalism in GLADD award show 2013. VICE news is also an award winning YouTube Channel for documentaries and videos based on real world issues. IN addition, this source is very recent; it was posted in 2020.

"Why People Risk Their Lives to Bleach Their Skin." Refinery29, uploaded by Lexy Lebsack and Refinery29, 25 May 2019, . Accessed 14 Apr. 2020. Refinery29's Lexy Lebsack is the Senior Beauty Editor who made this video. Lexy Lebsack went to the Philippines and worked with many scientists and dermatologists to investigate the contents of these products and the hype behind them. Refinery29 is an entertainment organization for women that has been going on since 2005. It has won many Clio and Webby awards for entertainment since then and now has over 500 employees worldwide. This source is also quite recent, which is good for my topic as it shows the latest products and brands of skin whitening.

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