"we have to be light in order to feel beautiful, in order to feel worthy."
Unilever is renaming Fair & Lovely, a skin-lightening cream which has received backlash for promoting negative stereotypes around dark skin tones.
It will also remove references to “whitening” or “lightening” on the products, which are sold across Asia.
Unilever acknowledged the branding suggests “a singular ideal of beauty”.
Two separate petitions urging production of the Fair & Lovely range to be stopped have been signed by more than 18,000 people in recent weeks.
One says: “This product has built upon, perpetuated and benefited from internalised racism and promotes anti-blackness sentiments.”
A second petition claimed the cream “tells us that there is something wrong with our colour, that we have to be light in order to feel beautiful, in order to feel worthy.”
Sunny Jain, President of Beauty & Personal Care at Unilever, said:
“We are fully committed to having a global portfolio of skincare brands that is inclusive and cares for all skin tones, celebrating greater diversity of beauty.
“We recognise that the use of the words ‘fair’, ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this.”
Unilever added: “The brand has never been and is not a bleaching product.”
The consumer goods giant also said that it had removed before-and-after impressions and “shade guides” on Fair & Lovely packaging in 2019.
The skincare range is sold across countries such as India, Indonesia, Thailand and Pakistan.
Writer and activist Poorna Bell said that Unilever’s announcement was “hugely disappointing”.
She said: “It doesn’t do enough to make reparations for the untold mental and emotional damage done by colourism.
“Renaming the products doesn’t mean anything – that’s still just colourism by another word.”
She also called for Unilever to match Johnson & Johnson’s recent commitment to stop selling certain products that are advertised as dark-spot reducers in Asia and the Middle East but have been used by consumers to lighten skin tone.
Dr Steve Garner, a sociologist, said that skin-lightening products are typically aimed at women in black and Asian communities.
Nivea’s parent company Beiersdorf said that it “stands against racism and discrimination of any kind and supports the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Nivea’s Natural Fairness line is sold in the Middle East, India as well as Nigeria and Ghana.
On its Middle East website, the product is described as being able to “prevent the darkening of skin tone”.
On whether it would amend the description, Nivea said that the product contains SPF-15 “which helps prevent sun-induced skin damage, such as irregular dark pigmentation, for any skin type”.
It added: “We are currently doing a review in all our products descriptions and are in the process of re-evaluating and updating the description that may cause any misinterpretation.”
In a YouTube video advertising L’Oreal’s range, cartoon images of women are put side-by-side, claiming that the products can “brighten” the skin.
Nomshado Michelle Baca, the founder of A Complexion Company, said:
“The language around these products upholds the beauty standards that lighter or whiter skin is more desirable.
“The individual who formulated and marketed the products is not likely to be a person of colour, resulting in a warped perception that all black women desire lighter skin.”
However, she argues that the conversation has become “hyper-focused on the change of someone’s entire complexion”.
She added: “The woman who wants to treat small areas of scarring is left invisible and without options but to use the damaging products available in unregulated retailers or black hair shops.”