A study by Northwestern University researchers published in the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology found that a lot of Americans wanted to lighten their skin. Researchers claim skin lightening or whitening is a multibillion-dollar industry with products that can potentially damage the skin. It also advocates a harmful message about beauty and social value.
However, people who use these products rarely understand the health risks while using these over-the-counter chemicals. These products are primarily marketed to women, so the researchers surveyed hundreds of people, the majority of whom were black women.
Colourism Fuels Women To Use Skin Lightening Products
Many respondents admitted to using skin-lightening products, and a portion of them shared that they weren’t aware of the harmful ingredients like hydroquinone in the products. This chemical can potentially cause rashes, swelling, discoloration, etc.
The lead author, Dr. Roopal Kunda, founder and director of the Northwestern Medicine Centre for Ethnic Skin and Hair, said that mostly skin lightening was used to treat medical dermatological disease or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. She also noted that sometimes it was used to lighten the skin due to the social beauty standards for light and dark skin.
She explained they researched to understand why people might use these products and found that it keeps coming back to lighter skin being considered more aesthetic or something of value in certain communities. She also pointed out that this thought was generations in the making.
Respondents to the study who used skin-lightening products revealed that they had experienced colourism in their lives. Colourism is a system of inequality in which lighter skin on non-white people are perceived as more beautiful, socially accepted, and bestows many privileges that are most often denied to those with darker skin.
The Northwestern study also highlighted the health inequality faced by non-white, dark-skinned people. The study discovered that respondents who used skin-lightening products were likely to believe- lighter skin is more beautiful. It increased people's self-esteem and their chances of finding love.
Colour Bias In India
While colourism is a persistent issue among non-white, dark-skinned people in America, colour discrimination is a worrying issue that spreads across the globe. Although the natural skin tone in India leans more to the darker side, there’s notable pressure in society, especially on women, to adhere to unrealistic beauty standards. There is an ingrained pressure for a person to have a lighter skin tone in India, and this starts in the womb. Pregnant mothers are asked to consume food items like saffron so that the baby is born with a lighter skin tone. As soon as the baby is born, a lot of people try to lighten the baby’s skin tone through various home remedies and such.
While the pressure is slightly lesser for men, light-skinned women are always considered more desirable in all aspects of life. It forces women to feel inferior and end up using skin-lightening products, without paying heed to the detrimental side effects. Right from portraying a fair-skinned figure as beautiful and a dark-skinned figure as ugly, colourism starts at the primary level in schools. It’s high time we get rid of this deeply embedded belief and start valuing people for who they are, not based on their skin tone.
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