From The Hidden Voices Of 5 POCs: The Skin-Lightening Industry Profits Off Darkening Our Days

From The Hidden Voices Of 5 POCs: The Skin-Lightening Industry Profits Off Darkening Our Days

Society stigmatizes dark-skinned people for being themselves.

YouTube / Fair and Lovely India
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Co-written by Angelica Santiago, Alma Maldonado, Marium Zafar, Diyva Joshi, and Shreya Ravichandran

Skin lightening is the act of using products or methods to lighten up your skin color. It sounds silly at first, but it’s growing and will become a 31.2 billion dollar industry in 2024. This is because of harmful beauty standards and stigma against darker skin. It’s not hard to see why, since in many different cultures, the same issues pop up over and over again with a different face painted over the same issue.


1. Latinos rely on skin-lightening.

Latinos in the media are typically portrayed as light-skinned. Latinos who are darker-skinned are usually working behind the scenes or are cast in smaller roles.

This harms the general global beauty standards in which the fair skin phenomenon is spreading across the globe. This creates the idea that fair skin is favored and even viewed as superior to darker skin and that those who have lighter skin will be treated better and have better opportunities in both the workforce and society in general. — Alma

2. But Latino culture can be contradictory here...

Hispanic and Latinos come from a variety of different backgrounds, and their experiences vary from person to person. I am a lighter skinned Latina, so while I have no experience with skin lightening products myself, I have seen its effect on others in my community.

As previously stated, many in the Latin entertainment industry are white, so many will use skin lightening products to fit in more with the standards of beauty. Sometimes, people will actually do the opposite because they feel the darker skinned people are normal, and they aren’t. Some will use tanning beds, bronzer and even the sun to help darken their skin.

Truth is, almost every Hispanic person is different appearance wise, but we share a similar culture across nations. — Angelica

3. My relative offered me a bottle of Fair and Lovely as a welcoming gift to "lighten up."

It’s a pretty well-known fact that many Indians love Fair and Lovely more than they love their natural skin color. It’s something that’s grown with the culture as it’s progressed, but people just don’t seem to understand how terrible (both conceptually and literally) bleaching one’s skin to look lighter is.

Every other summer, I visit my family in India, and I’ll never forget my first encounter with my relative during one trip. He offered me a bottle of Fair and Lovely as a “welcome gift,” and though I knew he had the best of intentions, that wasn’t going to cut it for what he’d just done.

I’ve done my part in avoiding the skin-bleaching craze, but Fair and Lovely and other similar brands in the industry have ruined the perspectives of numerous Indians and other POCs. It’s as if self-love can only be acquired by loving who you want to be, not who you are.

The skin-bleaching market is booming in Asia, and India is a fast competitor against others like Korea and China. Skin-bleaching is a common part of Indian culture because of the mentality from when India was under British rule. Anything the British did was considered superior behavior compared to local practices, and consequently, having lighter skin was deemed more attractive. — Shreya

4. I don't judge anyone for lightening their skin, as long as it's for a valid reason.

I knew about skin-bleaching since I was young. It’s not uncommon in the desi culture, and some skin care in South Asian countries have skin-lightening elements already mixed in, like Fair and Lovely. I am naturally a lighter because I have lived a majority of my life in humid Georgia rather than under the sweltering Pakistani sun. But when I visited my motherland a few summers ago, my skin naturally burned to a reddening crisp and then darkened into what my American peers gushed was a glowy bronze that every magazine cover model had in the States.

To my Pakistani aunts, this just prompted light teasing that I was so fair when I first arrive, but now, I was dark just like them, which to me just indicated a successful chameleon-esque assimilation. So when my cousins suggested we have a girls' day salon trip to bleach our faces, I didn't know how to feel. Was lightening their skin the equivalent of comestic surgery — in other words, their rightful choice, or was it just self-harm?

Personally, I don't mind or judge those who engage in skin-lightening practices or comestic surgery, as long as they are doing it out of necessity. Islam prohibits comestic surgery and other beauty practices that are done with the intention of self-harm, stem from self-hate or a frivolous desire to change something. Lacking a valid reason (like fixing a broken nose or lightening your skin to even the tone) for these practices is why it's an issue in the first place. Permanently altering something as serious as your physical body is never as simple as a "just because." — Marium

5. Traditions are hard to break when you think being whiter equates to being beautiful.

My family always assured me that I was beautiful with my thick eyelashes, straight nose and most of all: my fair skin. When we would come back from family vacations, my mother and grandmother always remarked how tanned I get. They would give me a mixture of besan (a type of chickpea flour) and water and would tell me to rub it into my skin when I took a shower, to lighten my skin and make me look more fresh.

For a long time, I believed that to be beautiful. I had to maintain my fair skin because it was my best physical attribute.

As I got older, my skin darkened more and more until it reached the caramel shade it is today. I wistfully remembered the tales my mother would tell me of how she would get stopped at the grocery store by people wondering why she had a white baby and the story of how the hospital staff almost mixed me up because I looked like a white baby. She said this with pride, as if looking like a white baby was such an achievement, as if ivory skin was the ultimate reward.

Indian culture and most cultures around the world hold pale skin up to this glowing standard, hoping their child will have the fair skin, light hair and light eyes that are so treasured. It’s looked down upon to have ethnic features such as dark skin, a bent or hooked nose and deep-set eyes.

When I realized what unrealistic standard I was striving to achieve, I immediately stopped trying to condition my skin to be paler. The next time my family told me that I was looking oh-so-dark, I told them that I didn’t care and that it didn’t matter whether I was dark or light. My personality and self-worth would remain the same. They understood what I was trying to convey, but most people around the world still stick with this ignorant ideal. Sometimes I still hear that I’m looking a little dark. Traditions are hard to break. — Divya


The skin-lightening industry is profiting off of making darker people hate their natural looks. We should be better than this. We shouldn’t let some business make money off of our efforts to appeal to everyone but ourselves. We should simply love ourselves just the way we are.

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