Metro

  • Written by Ronald Hall, Professor of Social Work, Michigan State University
Women of color spend more than $8 billion on bleaching creams worldwide every year CC BY-ND[1] The idealization of light skin as the pinnacle of beauty affects self-esteem[2] for women of color around the world. In many cultures, skin color is a social benchmark[3] that is often used by people of color and whites alike in lieu of race. Attractiveness, marriageability, career opportunities and socioeconomic status are directly correlated[4] with skin color. As a result, many women of color seek chemical remedies to lighten their complexion. They have created a booming global business in bleach creams and injectables[5] valued at US$8.6 billion[6] in 2020; $2.3 billion was spent in the U.S. alone. The market is projected to reach $12.3 billion by 2027. In my work[7] in behavioral science and colorism, I studied the phenomenon of skin bleaching during a decade of travel around the world during which I visited every major racial group – and tracked the growth of this industry[8]. The practice has both significant racial implications and health concerns. A new Netflix documentary called ‘Skin’ explores the practice of skin bleaching in African culture.A common practice As I stated during my interview on Oprah’s 2015 “Light Girls” documentary, while bleaching the skin is common, it’s both dangerous and potentially life-threatening[9] because products contain steroids, hydroquinone bleach and mercury. The World Health Organization warns[10] that skin bleaching can cause liver and kidney damage, neurological problems, cancer and, for pregnant women, stillbirth. The practice is not new. It became popular in many African countries[11] in the 1950s; today, about 77% of Nigerians, 27% of Senegalese and 35% of South African women bleach their skin. Indian caste-based discrimination was outlawed in 1950, but dark-skinned women (and men) are still persecuted[12] – and fair skin remains a distinguishing social factor, associated with purity and elite status. In the Middle East, the practice of bleaching is most common in Jordan[13], with 60.7% of women bleaching. The Brazilian government seems to sanction white skin over dark by encouraging immigration from Europe and discouraging persons of African descent[14]. Light skin is idealized in North America, but the phenomenon is contentious because bleaching is perceived as a desire to be white. So bleaching creams are marketed in the U.S.[15] not to lighten skin, but to “erase blemishes” and “age spots.” Their use in the U.S. spiked[16] after the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling[17] that legalized interracial marriage. In the aftermath of the civil rights movement, dark-complected immigrants from developing countries flocked to the U.S., carrying with them an ideal of light-skinned beauty – and they bleached their skin to attain it[18]. Ideals of light-skinned beauty stemming from European colonization contributed to a lucrative bleach cream industry.Perpetuating ‘colorism’ Bleach cream manufacturers now face growing pressure to address racism, with activists arguing that their products perpetuate a preference for lighter skin. In 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced that it will no longer sell[19] two products marketed to reduce dark spots that were widely used as skin lighteners. L’Oreal, the world’s largest producer of bleach creams, pledged to remove[20] the words “white,” “fair,” and “light” from labels – but it will still manufacture these products. [Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter[21].] Some among African countries have moved to ban[22] bleaching creams. The success of the blockbuster film “Black Panther” has likewise sparked a movement celebrating dark skin, with hashtags including #melaninpoppin and #blackgirlmagic. As I see it, public education and activism on this issue must prevail to protect the health and self-esteem of women of color. The failure of either will only prolong the problem – while sustaining an $8.6 billion bleach cream beauty industry.

References

  1. ^ CC BY-ND (creativecommons.org)
  2. ^ affects self-esteem (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ social benchmark (doi.org)
  4. ^ correlated (www.nytimes.com)
  5. ^ injectables (www.un.org)
  6. ^ US$8.6 billion (www.strategyr.com)
  7. ^ work (scholar.google.com)
  8. ^ growth of this industry (theconversation.com)
  9. ^ dangerous and potentially life-threatening (tubitv.com)
  10. ^ warns (www.washingtonpost.com)
  11. ^ popular in many African countries (www.un.org)
  12. ^ persecuted (www.pri.org)
  13. ^ Jordan (doi.org)
  14. ^ immigration from Europe and discouraging persons of African descent (openscholarship.wustl.edu)
  15. ^ marketed in the U.S. (www.latimes.com)
  16. ^ use in the U.S. spiked (theconversation.com)
  17. ^ ruling (scholar.google.com)
  18. ^ bleached their skin to attain it (www.law.uci.edu)
  19. ^ no longer sell (www.nytimes.com)
  20. ^ remove (www.forbes.com)
  21. ^ Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter (theconversation.com)
  22. ^ ban (www.voanews.com)

Authors: Ronald Hall, Professor of Social Work, Michigan State University

Read more https://theconversation.com/women-of-color-spend-more-than-8-billion-on-bleaching-creams-worldwide-every-year-153178

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

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