• 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.


  1. ^ CC BY-ND (
  2. ^ affects self-esteem (
  3. ^ social benchmark (
  4. ^ correlated (
  5. ^ injectables (
  6. ^ US$8.6 billion (
  7. ^ work (
  8. ^ growth of this industry (
  9. ^ dangerous and potentially life-threatening (
  10. ^ warns (
  11. ^ popular in many African countries (
  12. ^ persecuted (
  13. ^ Jordan (
  14. ^ immigration from Europe and discouraging persons of African descent (
  15. ^ marketed in the U.S. (
  16. ^ use in the U.S. spiked (
  17. ^ ruling (
  18. ^ bleached their skin to attain it (
  19. ^ no longer sell (
  20. ^ remove (
  21. ^ Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter (
  22. ^ ban (

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

Read more

Metropolitan republishes selected articles from The Conversation USA with permission

Visit The Conversation to see more

Entertainment News


SANDRA BOOKER "Until We Meet Again" RELEASES WORLDWIDE MARCH 30TH There is something beautiful about artists whose insight into the human condition allows them to create works that meet our collective moment at a time we most need their...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

How Can Music Itself Survive Without Rock n Roll?

Just because you don’t hear much straightforward rock and roll on the Top 40 charts these days doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere. Its time in the mainstream limelight may not be as popular as it was when I was growing up in the 70s and what we now...

Michael Mesey, American Greed - avatar Michael Mesey, American Greed

Is Rock Music a Dying Breed?

“Rock ‘n’ Roll [is here to stay, it...] can […will] never die” – David Ernest White, Neil Percival Young, etc. “Rock ‘n’ Roll is dead” – Leonard Albert Kravitz, Barrington DeVaughn Hendricks, etc. “And so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby…” – S...

Eli Soiefer/Emodulari - avatar Eli Soiefer/Emodulari


“There’s Reason” The question mark (?) logo that Brisbane, Australia husband and wife rockers skinsNbones use in all their promotional materials in lieu of band photos reflects a fascinating aesthetic designed to create mystery, provoke and en...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

RAP without the F Bomb

Some would say that’s like peanut butter without jelly.  Hey, I am no prude and I shocked my best friend from grade school when I said “great detectives caught the Mo Foes, from my new song Clean Slate.”  She said:  whoa, you dropped the F word.”...

Rebecca L Davis   aka    DawgGoneDavis - avatar Rebecca L Davis aka DawgGoneDavis

My COVID Musical Journey by Kai Alece

It has been said that maybe one in 1 million musicians will make it to stardom. If you are in the top 5%, you are probably writing songs for top artists, scoring for blockbuster films and TV, a sought after session musician or maybe even playing ...

Kai Alece - avatar Kai Alece

Metropolitan Business News

Perfecting Web Design For A Health-Based Website

These days, when it comes to understanding what we put into our bodies, we are more focused than ever. It seems that everywhere we look, there is another health benefit, product, or trend on the...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

3 Realistic Reasons Why Physical Offices Are (Almost) Dead

Nowadays, more and more businesses are trying to find alternatives to traditional offices. For many years, brick and mortar offices have been at the heart of a company’s life. But work environme...

News Co Media - avatar News Co Media

Advantages of no-code app development for businesses

A marketer may or may not have knowledge about coding. But even if you don't’ have knowledge in coding, it is easy to build an automation sequence between two apps by making use of a no code app bui...

News Co - avatar News Co

Do Directories Still Help SEO?

Directories were once one of the main staples of SEO and they were definitely in existence before search engines took over. Directories were once the main way that people navigated the world wide we...

News Co - avatar News Co

Shipping Container FAQs

If you are looking to rent or purchase a shipping container, you probably have a few questions. We have selected some of the most common questions and answered them here. We hope that you find this ...

News Co - avatar News Co

Is Duplicate Content an SEO Myth?

Any marketer you speak to about duplicate content is concerned about a “duplicate content penalty” but they are probably not very experienced with SEO. Google has specific guidelines on duplicate co...

News Co - avatar News Co

Writers Wanted

News Co Media

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion