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This is a balikbayan box.
It's a care package from my mom back home in Los Angeles.
It's always filled with everyday items and a bunch of Filipino goodies.
Instant noodles in here, Sinigang soup packet, fruit from my mom's backyard, toothpaste.
But then there's this, skin whitening products.
Skin whiteners are a big business.
More than four hundred million dollars worth of skin whitening products is sold each year in India alone.
Eight out of ten women in Nigeria use skin lightening products.
The world's highest percentage.
Skin lightening market in Asia-Pacific alone is valued at over 13 billion US dollars.
In 2015, the skin whitening industry was worth about $10 billion worldwide.
And by 2024 it is expected to more than triple to 31.2 billion dollars.
These products have been around for a long time.
And have proven to be damaging physically and emotionally.
So, what accounts for the growing popularity?
For starters skin whitening products rely on advertisements like these, "Wow, you have the most beautiful, glowing skin"
"Now, I have visibly fairer skin"
Skin color forms part of what gives us access and prestige in society.
All these negative associations that society has already imposed on dark skin.
"You can't be happy, you can't find a man."
Right? You don't fit into society beauty ideals.
So the advertising is only reinforcing and exacerbating a sustained message.
Thanks to globalization, it's a message that's reaching more people every year.
The worldwide cosmetics market was worth about 293.5 billion dollars last year and it is expected to grow.
That growth is fueled by a rising middle class especially in the Asia-Pacific region, which has the biggest share of the cosmetics market.
But these products and the messages of these ads are destructive because they rely on a concept called "colorism", which sociologist Margaret Hunter defines as the process of discrimination that privileges light-skinned people of color over their dark-skinned counterparts.
One study showed that lighter skinned black women in North Carolina received shorter prison sentences than their darker peers.
Another study found that white interviewers deemed light-skinned blacks and Hispanics more intelligent than dark-skinned people who had identical educational achievements.
They also reinforce centuries-old ideas about race and hygiene.
Check out these old soap ads.
This was part of a larger project of presenting white civilization, European civilization as superior and here, the association is that blackness is a form of uncleanliness that can be wiped away.
But it's also, in many ways, simply a very blatantly racist ad.
During the civil rights era, the Black Power movement sought to counter this idea with messages like "Black is beautiful".
But that message hasn't undone the damage wrought by centuries of colorism.
Why do you want that skin color?
Because it looks lighter than this kind.
Cause this looks alike like that one.
I just don't like the way brown looks.
Cause the way brown looks really nasty for some reasons, but I don't know what reason, that's all.
These products are also dangerous because they can physically damage the skin.
I've seen very intense cystic acne.
I've seen irreversible skin thinning from using high-strength hydroquinone.
I've seen ochronosis, which is a paradoxical darkening of the skin.
Aside from creams and soaps, there's a wide variety of ways people are lightening their skin.
Like, getting chemical peels, using glutathione injections or pills or even applying cleaning bleach to their face and body.
Hydroquinone is a highly toxic chemical used in photo processing, rubber manufacturing and hair dyes.
But it is also one of the most commonly used ingredients for skin whitening.
It's regulated in the U.S. and banned in certain countries abroad.
But consumers get their hands on high concentrations of it through under-the-table sources.
In the U.S. light-skinned beauty standards still exists in more subtle messages like, "who is considered the most beautiful?"
And some celebrities of color appearing to have lighter skin over time.
You are looking to be white, what do you say to that?
I would say that as an adult you decide to do things.
It's like, do you guys condemn people who tan their skin?
Do they do it because they hate themselves?
No, it's a choice as an adult.
While wanting lighter skin is not a crime nor is it necessarily bad.
It's important to be conscious of this choice and why it's different from skin tanning or putting on lipstick?
Because ultimately, from applying creams and getting regular treatments to avoiding skin tanning all together, skin whitening is a way of life.
Attitudes are starting to change with inclusive makeup lines and emojis, media campaigns celebrating dark skin beauty and more celebrities talking about the issue.
"I still feel like that's what we're fighting, healing from the past"
But many people are still unaware of their preferences for light skin because it's so deeply ingrained in society.
And despite the criticism and safety issues of these products, the projected growth in sales means the world still has a long way to go until the practice of skin whitening becomes obsolete.
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Why the market for skin whitening is growing

15147 Folder Collection
Samuel published on March 5, 2019    Evelyn Chiu translated    Evangeline reviewed
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