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Skin-Lightening Cream

Health Medicine Skin lightening cream 2009

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#1 Vapor Trails

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Posted 18 November 2009 - 09:57 PM

Sadly, hearing these reports on NPR didn't surprise me at all. :( I happen to  listen to a show at work every day called Tell Me More. Here, I learned about the site The Root, and I came across this op-ed piece. It touches upon the things I've heard about in various reports on skin-lightening across the world.

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When I saw Sammy Sosa with his jarringly lighter complexion at the Latin Grammys last week, I wasn’t all that shocked—and I certainly didn’t think it was steroids. I’m a brown girl who knows the work of skin lightening creams when she sees it.

In an era when countries like the Dominican Republic and India have put colonialism squarely behind them, you’d think that we would be throwing concepts of caste aside, embracing our brown selves and celebrating that no one is forcing their aesthetic standards (or anything else) on us anymore. But instead, it seems like people of color across the globe are still colonized by colorism.

To be fair, it’s certainly not just Sammy Sosa, the Dominican Republic and India. It’s Japan, Malaysia, Cuba, Iran, Britain, Singapore, Mexico, Sri Lanka … the list goes on and on. The skin lightening cream industry is a $432 million a year industry in India, $7 billion a year industry in China—and it’s growing globally.

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Even though I’ve never used skin lightening creams, I’ve known about them since childhood and remember being hyper-aware of cultural messages that “fair” was prettier than dark. In the world of Bollywood and Indian cosmetics, fairness creams are as old as human vanity and as common as hair dye. I’ve seen it all before. Someone you know has a dark-coffee complexion one week—and then, bam!—it’s café con leche the next.

The thing is, despite the popularity of skin lightening creams, no one wants to admit that they use them. At first, Sosa tried to deny it, too. It was the side effect of a treatment for a skin infection; it was the bright lights of the cameras; he really wasn’t trying to look like Michael Jackson (or a vampire). But it seems Sammy doth protest too much.

Now it turns out he may want to endorse the cream as a spokesman. Oh, Sammy. If he does, he’ll join the ranks of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan (think South Asian Tom Cruise, minus the Scientology), who came under fire for his advertisements endorsing a new skin lightening cream for men in India.

This would be yet another blow in the long line of attempts to spread the word that some people happen to like dark brown skin, thank you very much, from the Black Is Beautiful movement in the U.S. in the ‘60s and ‘70s to the recent Dark Is Beautiful campaign in India.

Of course, it’s easy to rage against Sosa’s skin lightening and colorism in general. It’s everywhere, and it’s not especially subtle. Just pay attention to who’s dark and who’s not in a Bollywood film, or even a black Hollywood movie, for that matter. Turns out the fairest of them all is typically the sweet, virtuous Snow White/Prince Charming types, whereas the darker-skinned characters are usually fumbling through life, if not downright villainous.

It’s also easy to take the Sosa incident personally. I know countless people who use skin lightening creams, and they’re all smart, confident and beautiful. But it doesn’t change the deep-seeded message about dark skin they’ve heard all their lives. It’s summarized perfectly in a quote from the movie Mississippi Masala: “You can be dark and have money, or you can be fair and have no money. But you can’t be dark and have no money and expect to marry Harry Patel.”

So what can we take away from Sammy Sosa? Well for starters, oddly enough, I think his willingness to come clean about using bleaching creams can only be a good thing. Part of the problem is that this is a trend that’s happened largely in silence for generations now. This could start an important dialogue about what hydroquinone actually does to your skin, about treating skin conditions that really do affect people of color and about the difficulty of finding makeup as a brown woman—even today. Maybe we’ll start talking honestly about our deeply rooted preferences and prejudices that make skin lightening a multi-billion-dollar industry worldwide.

:tired:

Edited by Ghost Rider, 18 November 2009 - 10:00 PM.

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#2 Lyric of Delphi

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 12:19 AM

Yep. All true about India. I'm half Indian, so when I visit, my cousins always fawn over my skin. I've never understood it. They are *gorgeous.*

But when you turn on the TV and the main characters are whiter than the supporting characters, well, it makes twisted sense.

Shame about Sosa. I think he looks ill in the "whitened up" picture.

#3 Nikcara

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 12:24 AM

While I understand that this happens, I also fail to understand it.  Dark skin can be really pretty, white skin can be really icky, and frankly I'm in the camp that says if skin color doesn't look natural it's a turn-off.  Looking good is more a matter of knowing how to show off what you have then trying to be something you're not.  IMO at least.

On the other hand...if that's what these people want to do with their skin, that's their choice.  I'm not a fan of bottled tans either.
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#4 Nick

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 12:36 AM

I find this extremely bizarre.  I generally find (natural) darker skin tones very attractive (alright alright, I have a thing for the latins ;)) . . . I'm saddened people still feel the desire to lighten their skin these days, but I'm also confused as to how this works . . . is it like a makeup?  When it washes off are they back to their same complexion?  Or does it lighten their skin for a prolonged period?  How long?  How does it work?

I've heard of people wearing whiteface/blackface which is just makeup, but this is the first I've ever heard of skin lightening creams.

#5 Vapor Trails

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 12:39 AM

View PostNick, on Nov 19 2009, 12:36 AM, said:

I find this extremely bizarre.  I generally find (natural) darker skin tones very attractive (alright alright, I have a thing for the latins ;)) . . . I'm saddened people still feel the desire to lighten their skin these days, but I'm also confused as to how this works . . . is it like a makeup?  When it washes off are they back to their same complexion?  Or does it lighten their skin for a prolonged period?  How long?  How does it work?

I've heard of people wearing whiteface/blackface which is just makeup, but this is the first I've ever heard of skin lightening creams.


Nick,

I'm not sure, but if I recall correctly, there may be some Indian commercials advertising this cream on YouTube.
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#6 Chakoteya

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 03:14 AM

There were adverts for a lightening cream on the backs of buses in the East End for a while.... plying their routes through the most Asian and Bangladeshi areas of London.

I think some cultures associate paler skin with being wealthy enough not to have to work outside in the sunshine, just like Europeans did until it became fashionable to be able to afford to lie around getting a suntan instead. And the association has been there for so many generations that it is ingrained.

Personally, I'd be very sad if a darker skinned friend decided to use these products unless they were simply trying to 'even out' some obvious skin tone differences without the aid of thick makeup. It could even be dangerous as it increases sensitivity to sunlight while 'bleaching out' the melanin in the skin which is there to protect the individual.
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#7 Vapor Trails

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 10:38 AM

I seem to recall in one of the NPR reports that some of this had to do with the fact that the conquerers of certain places were light-skinned, and those who had been conquered began to associate light skin with power. This became ingrained in those particular societies.
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#8 NeuralClone

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 12:39 PM

I really don't understand this either. Then again, I've never really understood tanning cream.

Put me on record for thinking that darker (or just less white), natural skin tones can be incredibly attractive and whiter tones can be downright yucky. That isn't always the case but I don't understand the desire to destroy that. And I say this as a pasty white individual. I'm like Conan O'Brien though. I go in the sun and burst into flames. I have a better chance of barbecuing myself than tanning. :hehe:
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#9 Shalamar

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 01:03 PM

The only thing I've ever seen skin lightening cream advertised for is for evening out age related skin blotchiness, but I'm not normally on the lookout for any ads like that any way.

You have also the fact that - Northern European wise  - for a very long time from the Middle ages on-ward that being pale meant wealthy and powerful - you had the money and position so that others could be hired to work out in the sun for you -

Fair/ pale complection could also mean a lack of Moorish or Semetic blood in the family lines ( northern Spain had many bloodlines that were as fair as any Scandanavian, with blue eyes as well.) - and given the persecution that both suffered at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church and other groups...
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#10 SparkyCola

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 01:43 PM

Ok - I'm gonna throw this out there as it seems to me to be the obvious argument no one is saying...

This is exactly the same as tanning creams. Are you all suggesting that it's ok for white people to want to be darker, but not vice versa? If you think it's different- is that not assuming more than you can know about a person's motivations?

Either way it's just plain old vanity as far as I see it. I don't think those gorgeous fair Scandinavian lot are "icky" btw. Nor do I find warmer skin tones "icky" - I don't really factor in skin colour as a measure of "beautiful" vs. "icky" at all - no more than hair or eye colour (though it's fine if you do have a preference, either for Latin skin or blonde hair or blue eyes etc. I just personally don't. ). I'm also rather bored by the fashion and beauty industry altogether - so perhaps this is just beyond my scope of knowledge or something.

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#11 NeuralClone

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 01:46 PM

View PostSparkyCola, on Nov 19 2009, 01:43 PM, said:

This is exactly the same as tanning creams. Are you all suggesting that it's ok for white people to want to be darker, but not vice versa? If you think it's different- is that not assuming more than you can know about a person's motivations?
I find both to be rather odd to be completely honest. Tanning cream generally looks incredibly fake to me. And I'd expect the same to be true with this stuff. Basically, I just think trying to make one's skin tone different than whatever their natural skin tone is to be a bit bizarre. I don't personally understand it but I'm not about to try to stop people from doing it if it's what they want. It doesn't mean I still won't think it to be strange or won't think it looks bad. ;)

Edited by NeuralClone, 19 November 2009 - 01:47 PM.

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#12 Pixiedust

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 05:22 PM

View PostSparkyCola, on Nov 19 2009, 06:43 PM, said:

those gorgeous fair Scandinavian lot

:D
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#13 Vapor Trails

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 05:28 PM

View PostSparkyCola, on Nov 19 2009, 01:43 PM, said:

Ok - I'm gonna throw this out there as it seems to me to be the obvious argument no one is saying...

This is exactly the same as tanning creams. Are you all suggesting that it's ok for white people to want to be darker, but not vice versa? If you think it's different- is that not assuming more than you can know about a person's motivations?

Either way it's just plain old vanity as far as I see it. I don't think those gorgeous fair Scandinavian lot are "icky" btw. Nor do I find warmer skin tones "icky" - I don't really factor in skin colour as a measure of "beautiful" vs. "icky" at all - no more than hair or eye colour (though it's fine if you do have a preference, either for Latin skin or blonde hair or blue eyes etc. I just personally don't. ). I'm also rather bored by the fashion and beauty industry altogether - so perhaps this is just beyond my scope of knowledge or something.

Sparky

You're COMPLETELY missing the point. According to a number of societies, black= INFERIOR. According to the reports I've heard on NPR, this is what's driving a number of people to go from dark skin to white skin.

Edited by Ghost Rider, 19 November 2009 - 05:30 PM.

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#14 QueenTiye

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 05:38 PM

It's not just the conquest, but the practice of intermarriage.  Mulatto children (as they were called) were darker than whites and lighter than blacks in the US, Carribbean, and in African countries.  By virtue of their parentage, they might have gotten treated better by those in power, creating either a formal or informal caste system that then became internalized.

In the black community - there was a long shameful practice of "passing" - those blacks born light enough to use skin lightening and make up to pass for white (and especially if they didn't have "black" features - i.e., thicker noses, lips and nappy hair, even though that could be processed as well) sometimes DID pass for white in order to advance themselves.  Indeed, there have often been questions asked about why blacks as a (forced) immigrant group have not assimiliated as much as other cultures... and the answer is very complex - but at least part of it is just that in America there is such a construct as "White" (as opposed to Nordic, Greek, etc), and "Black" - and most European immigrant cultures can (and do) eventually stop being Russian, Greek, Irish, Italian, and start being "White", regardles of national and ethnic origins.  

Anyway - I had seen the Sammy Sosa thing and was kinda hoping it wasn't skin lightening, but when I looked at his hair, I figured it probably was that, exactly.  The straight hair (in place of his naturally nappy hair) is a giveaway (to me) of his efforts to "look white." And its too bad, because he looks just awful, in my opinion. He looks positively gray.

On the positive side - if he's got the acting chops - he can be a very convincing Vlad the Impaler...

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#15 QueenTiye

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 05:42 PM

View PostSparkyCola, on Nov 19 2009, 01:43 PM, said:

Ok - I'm gonna throw this out there as it seems to me to be the obvious argument no one is saying...

This is exactly the same as tanning creams. Are you all suggesting that it's ok for white people to want to be darker, but not vice versa? If you think it's different- is that not assuming more than you can know about a person's motivations?

To some extent, yes.  Tanning is a natural process - but there is no natural process that will turn brown skin lighter than it natively is (that isn't some sort of disease, that is).  People began to value tanning when it became recognized as a sign of health from some of the "California" lifestyle crazes, etc (at least that was the trajectory in the US).  

So - yes, it is much more ok to want to be tanned, than it is to want to turn one's skin white.  Without any tanning lotions or salons, a person at the beach will tan unless they are very very pale, in which case they will burn.  No amount of being out of the sunlight will turn a brown person white (or gray, as in the case of Sammy Sosa).

QT

Edited by QueenTiye, 19 November 2009 - 05:52 PM.

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#16 Vapor Trails

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 05:44 PM

View PostQueenTiye, on Nov 19 2009, 05:38 PM, said:

Anyway - I had seen the Sammy Sosa thing and was kinda hoping it wasn't skin lightening, but when I looked at his hair, I figured it probably was that, exactly.  The straight hair (in place of his naturally nappy hair) is a giveaway (to me) of his efforts to "look white." And its too bad, because he looks just awful, in my opinion. He looks positively gray.

How odd that Michael Jackson sang a song where he said, "it doesn't matter if you're black or white"-and he then turned himself from a handsome black man into an odd looking white woman. :Oo:
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#17 Lin731

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 09:19 PM

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How odd that Michael Jackson sang a song where he said, "it doesn't matter if you're black or white"-and he then turned himself from a handsome black man into an odd looking white woman.

:D  True Dat!
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#18 Vapor Trails

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Posted 19 November 2009 - 10:19 PM

View PostLin731, on Nov 19 2009, 09:19 PM, said:

Quote

How odd that Michael Jackson sang a song where he said, "it doesn't matter if you're black or white"-and he then turned himself from a handsome black man into an odd looking white woman.

:D  True Dat!

The guy looked like he put his nose into a pencil sharpener. :Oo: :Oo:
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#19 Balthamos

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Posted 20 November 2009 - 03:56 AM

It could be a simple matter of in England darker skin is exotic (or was) and thus attractive - tanning cream. Other countries - paler light skin is exotic and thus attractive - lightening cream.

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In the black community - there was a long shameful practice of "passing" - those blacks born light enough to use skin lightening and make up to pass for white

I think you could easily replace shameful with "cunning" here and it makes plenty of sense to me. Changing your attributes to get the better of a society that is unfair. Until you start renouncing and snubbing your family I wouldn't see any shame.

#20 Nonny

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Posted 20 November 2009 - 08:45 AM

View PostBalthamos, on Nov 20 2009, 12:56 AM, said:

It could be a simple matter of in England darker skin is exotic (or was) and thus attractive - tanning cream. Other countries - paler light skin is exotic and thus attractive - lightening cream.

Quote

In the black community - there was a long shameful practice of "passing" - those blacks born light enough to use skin lightening and make up to pass for white

I think you could easily replace shameful with "cunning" here and it makes plenty of sense to me. Changing your attributes to get the better of a society that is unfair. Until you start renouncing and snubbing your family I wouldn't see any shame.
As I understand it, and, granted, I have limited understanding of "passing," cutting ties with your family was part of it.  If the person who was passing didn't, his or her origins would be apparent.
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