Throughout centuries, women have been in pursuit of fair skin as a result of cultures placing an idealised value on skin tone. In fact, as far back as the 1400s, Elizabethan women in England were spreading white lead and vinegar on their faces to achieve the pale flawless complexions they saw depicted in Renaissance paintings. Unfortunately, these appealing female portraits representing women with snow-white faces started a type of beauty propaganda that is deeply ingrained in society today.
Influenced by the common belief passed down through generations that having fair-skin brings success and more opportunities, women around the world, including Nigeria, India and China are increasingly using cosmetic products to lighten their skin. Here in Sri Lanka, skin-lightening products such as creams, pills and even injections designed to slow the production of melanin make up one of the fastest-growing sectors of the beauty industry and are available throughout the country. Sri Lankan women of all ages have incorporated them into their daily skin care routine after being swayed by well-known models and celebrities endorsing them.
The question is, in a country of beautiful, feminine, tanned women, why should 'fairness' even be considered a blessing in present-day?
It's perhaps easy to explain. After generations of colonial rule, discrimination due to skin colour and its association with wealth and prosperity continues to this day along with the social pressure underlying skin bleaching. Although working and married women make up the majority of consumers, an increasing number of woman in their teens also use products to lighten their skin tones, admitting that they go to even greater lengths to achieve paler complexions by avoiding all excess sun exposure and wearing foundation several shades lighter.
Natural skin-lightening creams
Despite the countless skin-whitening products on the market, many Sri Lankan women have stuck with natural home remedies and ingredients for decades. To avoid harmful effects, they rub raw lemons into their skin and make face masks from ground Turmeric, an old Indian spice containing curcumin which helps reduce hyperpigmentation effectively lightening the skin over time.
Dangers and side-effects associated with some 'fairness' products
It has to be said that attempting to reduce or remove melanin from the skin can cause many harmful effects especially as it provides protection from UV rays. Skin-lightening products can result in thinning of the skin, irritation and even skin cancer if not used under the guidance of a professional. There are also various reasons why a woman's skin may be darker than she prefers such as hormonal imbalance, genetics and pigmentary diseases so in these cases, advice from a skin specialist is advisable before using any skin-whitening agents. Hydroquinone, which lightens everything from freckles and acne scars to post-inflammatory marks can lead to pigment cells being damaged if used long term and makes skin extremely sensitive to sunlight. Also, Glutathione injections, which are banned in some countries, are not registered as safe in Sri Lanka as their long-term efficacy and safety have not been proven scientifically for skin-lightening.
Embracing the beauty of all skin shades
When all is said and done, skin colour discrimination or Colourism as it is now called, in any part of the world must be seen as socially unacceptable just as the conception that dark skin is any less attractive. Fair skin is not a prerequisite for success or happiness and everyone should celebrate feeling comfortable in their own skin.
Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all? You are!
Skin-lightening products can contain hydroquinone or mercury, both of which can cause