This is an obvious cultural similarity across India (with ubiquitous Fair and Lovely ads for women and men)and Latin America – use of skin whitening creams. You think in their competitive quest for more face whitening, marketers will soon talk people of color into splashing diluted Clorox on their faces.
For years, Allison Ross rubbed in skin-lightening creams with names like Hyprogel and Fair & White. She said she wanted to even out and brighten the tone of her face, neck and hands. Mrs. Ross, 45, who lives in Brooklyn, also said that she used the lightening creams “to be more accepted in society.”
“I never read the labels,” Mrs. Ross said. Instead, she took her cues from friends, many of them, like her, from the West Indies. “Once somebody told me Fair & White was the one they were using, I’d go to the Korean store and ask for it,” she said.
Dermatologists nationwide are seeing women of Hispanic and African descent, among others, with severe side effects like Mrs. Ross’s from the misuse of skin-lightening creams, many with prescription-strength ingredients, which are sold in beauty shops and bodegas and online.
Users are not necessarily immigrants, said Dr. Eliot F. Battle Jr., who has a dermatology practice in Washington, where he treats side effects from lightening creams “not only containing corticosteroids, but mercury,” a poison that can damage the nervous system. The patients are “Ph.D.’s to women from corporate America, teachers to engineers — the entire broad spectrum of women of color,” Dr. Battle said.
But many others seek to lighten their entire face or large swatches of their body, a practice common in developing countries as disparate as Senegal, India and the Philippines, where it is promoted as a way to elevate one’s social standing. A small percentage of men in such countries also use the creams.
Evelyn Nakano Glenn, a professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of California, Berkeley, said it was wrong to assume that skin-lightening was a cultural anachronism or an effort to negate one’s racial heritage. “In fact, it’s a growing practice and one that has been stimulated by the companies that produce these products,” she said. “Their advertisements connect happiness and success and romance with being lighter skinned.”
Moreover, it is not as if dark-skinned women are imagining a bias, said Dr. Glenn, who is president of the American Sociological Association. “Sociological studies have shown among African-Americans and also Latinos, there’s a clear connection between skin color and socioeconomic status.