Are Skin Lightening Creams Still Used?

Skin lightening creams have become easier to purchase than ever before. We look at their popularity and explore whether they are still being used.

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Many individuals are simply not aware of the risks.

Skin lightening creams and Desi households seem to be a perfect match as one is rarely seen without the other.

Skin lightening creams have been at the forefront of conversations and debates about beauty for years.

However, are these products still being used?

With a tremendous 4,930,000 search engine results associated with ‘skin lightening creams’, it is safe to assume that many individuals are still intrigued by them.

Despite advice from medical professionals, health reports and skin lightening horror stories, many still trust these products and turn to them daily.

The popularity of skin lightening creams is usually highly attributed to countries such as India and China, however, skin lightening is still a popular beauty trend around the world.

Skin lightening can be linked back to the 1500s.

Colonialism could be one of the many reasons as to why the South Asian community has an unhealthy relationship with fair skin.

Skin lightening creams may seem like an ancient beauty standard and tradition but the hype around these products still exists.

According to a World Health Organisation (WHO) report, 60% of the population in India use some kind of skin lightening product.

Skin lightening creams can range from anywhere between £7 to £50.

The skin whitening cosmetics industry is worth over a billion dollars (£797,800,000.00). This figure is only expected to rise.

According to the Economic Times, 71% of the Chinese beauty market is dominated by whitening skincare products.

We explore the side effects and beauty standards associated with skin lightening creams.

Side Effects

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Cosmetic procedures including skin lightening all carry risks and sometimes irreversible side effects.

According to NHS England, skin lightening creams can lead to “redness and swelling, a burning or stinging sensation, and itchy and flaky skin”.

In certain countries, ingredients that are common in skin lightening creams (such as mercury and hydroquinone) are banned.

The use of hydroquinone in skin lightening products is illegal in the UK, USA, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, UAE, Cambodia, Thailand and Japan.

Many individuals are simply not aware of these risks or they choose to ignore them in order to conform to a certain beauty standard.

The desire to be fair can undoubtedly lead to a variety of psychological disorders including depression and anxiety.

Beauty Standards

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Skin lightening creams can be extremely harmful when applied to the skin, but they continue to thrive in the Asian beauty market.

Asian beauty ideals tend to differ from country to country but India specifically favours fair skin.

In India, the ideal of fair skin is still considerably favoured. Older family members have been known to compliment others as a result of their fair skin.

The impact of Bollywood is strong. Almost all Bollywood actors are fair, which can inevitably influence audiences into wanting to look a certain way.

Bollywood actors and actresses themselves do not always look like their on-screen personas.

Thick layers of foundation and studio lights can exaggerate an actor’s real skin colour.

The endorsement of skin lightening creams by those in Bollywood like Priyanka Chopra, Disha Patani and more further promotes the ‘fair skin is superior’ view. This marketing and advertising further fuel the fire.

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In many Asian countries, fair skin goes beyond vanity. It can also imply one’s social status and hierarchy.

Thousands of skin lightening creams proudly sit on the top shelf of bathroom cupboards across Asia.

For many individuals, skin lightening creams are staple products in their daily routines.

Adhering to such beauty standards may come at a price. Despite the reports of links to cancer and blood poisoning, many people still choose to use these products to lighten their skin.

DESIblitz exclusively chats to two South Asian women about their experience with skin lightening creams.

Amrita Bassi says:

“My cousins all have fairer skin and I am a shade or two darker than them so I felt insecure growing up.

“I used a skin whitening cream when I was 14 thinking it would change my life.”

“I remember the cream had this strong, metallic scent but I ignored it and carried on applying it religiously.

“You would think they wouldn’t be used as much now but they are still so popular. They are a part of people’s lives at this point.”

Systematic racism has led to colourism within ethnic communities.

Parmjeet Dhadda says:

“I have personally never used a skin whitening cream but I vividly remember a trip to India where essentially all of my family members were using them.

“Colourism is real. I think people like to ignore or pretend it doesn’t exist because it’s happening within our own community.”

Skin lightening is not only a beauty norm for women. The beauty ideal of having fairer skin also applies to men.

Skin lightening creams have been a key beauty cabinet item for generations. The favouritism of fairer skin is not a new matter.

For many Desi grandparents and parents, the conversation around skin colour can be an uncomfortable one.

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Stereotypical views in Desi households regarding the colour of one’s skin may cause certain family members to feel ostracised or even shunned.

Aside from skin lightening creams manufactured by beauty brands, many people choose to take skin lightening into their own hands.

Skin lightening ‘hack’ videos bombard YouTube and gain thousands of views. The homemade remedies mentioned in these tutorials can be dangerous, harmful and also ineffective.

Skin lightening creams are unfortunately still used. Whilst several countries and regions have restricted them, a large part of the world continues to endorse them.

Skin lightening creams have become ingrained for many people as part of their daily beauty routines.

The constant production and sales of skin lightening creams reinforce the unattainability of beauty standards.

Skin lightening products are still in high demand across Asia and Africa but that does not mean they should continue to remain a beauty norm.

Until the Desi obsession with skin lightening creams fades, we can expect nothing to change.

Such products raise the question; what does the South Asian community deem as beautiful? And why do we continue to tolerate it?

Ravinder is a Journalism BA graduate. She has a strong passion for all things fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. She also likes to watch films, read books and travel.

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