The Pervasive Nature of Skin Lightening Products

by Olivia Katherine Parker

Skin lightening products are a really interesting topic due to their pervasive nature. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. Not only are they used within Asian cultures but all around the world. In America, the Black and Mexican populace tries to embody the “perfection” of clear, smooth, and light skin. Women of color constantly compare themselves to white washed celebrities and models. Ultimately, it creates a very disturbing mental image that makes cosmetic companies big bucks.

After going online to check out social media websites, specifically Tumblr and Twitter, I found that there are entire categories of the beauty hashtag devoted to skin lightening products. Young women chat with each other about the effectiveness or dangers of a certain product. What upsets me is that these girls know they’re damaging their skin. More importantly, the companies that make these products know this as well. Lead, hydroquinone, and other dangerous chemicals are still used in some products that go unregulated.

Even the women who don’t purchase skin lightening products are negatively affected by the cosmetics industry because they’re looked down upon by other women. I have overheard Black mothers talk about how lucky their daughters are to have lighter skin. A recent blog post by Indian author Monisha Rajesh says that India has an “unfair obsession with light skin”. She claimed she had an experience with a respected Indian newspaper that published a white washed image of her. When she confronted the art director he said he believed he was doing her a favor by whitening her skin.

With Japan’s female populace being so overly presentable, you can imagine how popular skin whitening products are. For crying out loud, they walk around in the summer with umbrellas and long sleeves. Young women wear makeup two or three shades lighter than their actual skin color in the winter and wear coats with scarves to cover up. It’s expected to use a skin lightening lotion or cream. Light skin is desirable, light skin will make you popular, light skin will get you a husband.

Bihaku is one of the leading Japanese skin lightening producers. The work Bihaku translates to “beautifully white” their products claim to reverse damage and create perfectly clear and fair skin. Bihaku products run adds in pop culture magazines directed at girls as young as 10. Other companies include Hanae Mori, Shiseido, and Kanebo. The demand for skin lightening products increases every year. The mentality towards these products in most Asian cultures is positive. It’s implemented in the infamous Japanese women’s skin care regiment which is usually a six to twelve step process.

So the question is: will this issue ever be widely recognized as an unnecessary product being pushed on people by society? Is this something that needs to fixed internally by women of the same culture accepting their original skin tones and supporting their fellow females or are we past the ability to do that? Do we need to run campaigns in the media telling ladies that they’re beautiful as they are? Or should more people be told the truth about what these products actually do to their skin? Unfortunately, I believe that the first step is for the producers to take a stand and stop selling lightening products and that’s not going to happen while these products remain their best sellers.

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Japanese Whiteness and Bihaku Products: Media Influence on Aesthetic Values of Japanese Skin

by Rena Shoji

Japanese model Chie Kumazawa in an interview for an online fashion magazine For F

Bihaku (skin-whitening) products are “must-haves” in Japan. I think using those products is almost considered as etiquette to avoid getting sun tanned to keep your skin tone “appropriate”. The market size is huge in Japan. In 2012, study shows that bihaku products consist of over 210 billion yen in the domestic market (TPC Bibliotech 2014). However, it is not that Japanese women have color complexes or feel inferior to the skin tone of Caucasians. They seek “Japanese whiteness”, which they claim a “traditional” aesthetic value in Japan. In “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness” (2005), Mikiko Ashikari argues that Japan has its own skin identity and aesthetic values, in which whiter skin is preferred.

First, Japanese people tend to think that they have a distinct skin tone (Ashikari 2005). Despite individual differences, people with darker skin by nature (jiguro), are seen as different or unusual. For example, people from Okinawa are likely to be considered as different from “usual (futsuno)” Japanese because they share different historical backgrounds. Their darker skin is distinguished from ordinary Japanese. As a result, darker skin generates “otherness”. It reminds me of a friend of mine, who has relatively darker skin. She is often teased about her skin tone. “You don’t look like Japanese.” Her darker complexion makes her look like non-Japanese in the Japanese society. Therefore, Japanese people tend to think that they have “unique” and “traditional” skin identity and aesthetic values.

Second, with regard to Japanese skin identity, the author’s survey illustrates that Japanese women claim that they have “traditional” aesthetic values in terms of whiteness. Their Japanese whiteness, they think, is even superior to the skin of White people. Thus, skin-whitening in Japan is not mimicry of Caucasians. In addition, skin-whitening products are widely spread and its market scale is huge. However, the purpose of using those bihaku products is not to make their skin tone lighter than their “innate” complexion. Rather, skin-whitening in Japan are used to regain youth on their skin. It implies that the consumers think that they naturally have lighter skin and can regain youth and whiteness with those products. Many Japanese women try to avoid sun tanning in order to “protect their whiteness”.

Kumazawa in a SHISEIDO’s advertisement

Kumazawa in a SHISEIDO’s advertisement

However, I argue that the skin identity and aesthetic values, which Japanese think they traditionally have, can be questioned. Also, I would say that these ideas are strongly influenced by beauty companies in Japan because of its market size and the regulations on the advertisements. As mentioned above, bihaku products are very popular, or sometimes considered as “necessary”, and used by the majority of Japanese women. It can be said that those products, in part, influence the beauty standard of Japanese women. What are the media messages of the products through selling them? In fact, Japan Cosmetic Industry Association (JCIA) prohibits advertisements of cosmetic products from claiming skin-whitening effects (JCIA 2012). The recovery and prevention from san tanning are the only things that are permitted in cosmetic advertisements. The regulations would certainly affect the content of the advertisements. It also should be noted that even under the regulations, the models for the skin-whitening products actually show whiter skin than they really have.

Given both of Ashikari’s arguments and these two factors above, it can be said that the Japanese “traditional” aesthetic values are, in actuality, constructed by media messages. That is, in order to pass through the regulations and still create a demand for skin-whitening products, cosmetic companies claim Japanese women’s “innate” whiteness on their skin. Reciprocally, the media message from those prevalent market products influence on the aesthetic values of Japanese women. Furthermore, its influence is so huge that the consumers strongly believe in their “natural” light skin tone. Therefore, I argue that Ashikari’s arguments about Japanese skin identity and female aesthetic values are strongly influenced by bihaku products in Japan.

Many women enjoy using cosmetic and skincare products, but applying and consuming products can be an obsession if the society creates the specific beauty standard. In the case of Japanese skin-whitening, the products themselves and the media message create the social norm and aesthetic standard. We, consumers of these products, have to be aware of the impacts of media influence from cosmetic advertisements.

References

Ashikari, Mikiko. 2005. “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The ‘Whitening’ Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity”. Journal of Material Culture 10:73-91.

Japan Cosmetic Industry Association. (2012). Guidelines for fair advertising practices of Cosmetics, 2012 Edition. Retrieved from http://www.jcia.org/n/all_pdf/gul/JCIA2012_ADguide.pdf

TPC Bibliotech. (2014). The market analysis and research of skin-whitening products. Osaka: Total Planning Center Osaka Corp.

Skin Lightening in South Africa

by Yutaro Nishioka

The trend of skin lightening, especially among women, is getting increasingly common all over the world, including South Africa, where the major part of its population is black. According to a study from the University of Cape Town, as many as one in three African women use bleaching products to lighten their skin.

Skin lightening products often create serious medical complications; many patients suffer from diseases caused by a combination of use of lightening products and sunlight (africa.com).
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also mentioned the negative effects of some skin lightening products. Mercury, one of the common ingredients in lightening creams, is said to have harmful effects and could also lead to kidney damage, as well as other side effects such as “skin rashes, skin discoloration and scarring, as well as a reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections” (africa.com).

Why is skin lightening becoming so common in South Africa despite its negative health effects? Professor Lynn Thomas, co-author of the book Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, mentions the history of South Africa being colonized by Europeans. The Europeans and South Africans were not treated equally, and there was the notion that light skin was somehow better, not much unlike Hitler’s idea that Jews were inferior. More recently, apartheid, the government policy of racial segregation against black Africans in South Africa, was renounced officially only in 1992.

The effects of the history of discrimination can still be seen in the current South African society. For example, Nomoto “Mahoza” Mnisi, a famous South African musician, is known for her extensive use of skin lightening products. She says, “I just want to be light skinned… I was tired of being ugly.” She is assuming that dark skin is “ugly” and light skin is not.

People that have heard of this news have reacted differently, but the majority of the comments on the internet do not seem to approve of her changed appearance: “she was so much prettier before; her husband must be blind”, “God created her black and she looked so pretty. She looks pretty now but she looked better before”, “She is insecure and that’s bad.”

As there is a difference between Mahoza’s view and that of her fans, it is questionable to say that the history of the colonization and discrimination is the sole cause of the contemporary trend of South Africans’ skin lightening, but it is probably one of the factors that have contributed to the trend.

Reference

“Not Happy Being Black?” – Posted by Africa.com Editorial Staff. http://www.africa.com/blog/not-happy-being-black/

Thomas, Lynn M. 2009. “Skin Lighteners in South Africa: Transnational Entanglements and Technologies of the Self.” Pp. 188-210 in Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by E. N. Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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Color complexes in the Philippines

by Lulu Maginde

In ‘Filipinos and the Color complex,’ Joanne Rondilla questions the reader, especially readers here in Asia, what the ‘ideal’ concept of beauty is, and how different people within Asia perceive beauty. As Rondilla focuses specifically on the Philippines and how skin whitening is utilized, or rather highly emphasized, it was interesting to find how skin-lightening products are marketed and sold as well as what these products are saying about beauty.

Rondilla claims that this concept of having a fairer complexion/lighter skin, stemmed from the Philippines’ deep history of colonization, after having been occupied by Spanish for over 300 years. This history most indefinitely influenced the way of life, culture and traditions, not to mention language and the concept of what is deemed beautiful.

After the departure of the Spaniards, then came the Americans, and many Filipinos will claim that until present, the Philippines is still a colony of the US, as most of the way of life in the Philippines has been greatly structured around a more Western way of life. Of course the country still has its rich culture and heritage, as well as its strict religious value system, however it is not hard to deny that US presence has greatly affected life in the Philippines.

This ties in perfectly to my next point of how Rondilla compares standards of skin color between Asian immigrants to the US to Asian Americans born and raised in the US. The main difference between these two groups is that while Asian Americans chose to tan, as it symbolizes wealth and a more luxurious life, Asian immigrants, for instance the Filipinos who immigrate to the US, are more likely to use skin lightening products in order to assimilate  into society. In the Philippines, having darker or more of a tanned complexion immediately reflected what social class one belonged to. If one had a fairer or lighter complexion, they belonged to an a higher social class, simply because they were not as exposed to the sun as working-class laborers.

This notion of a ‘relatable ideal’, or the claim that a certain type of beauty is the shared/common ideal amongst women in the Philippines is what is striking. Consciously or unconsciously, these women buy into an industry, in conjunction with certain media institutions, that greatly influences what may be deemed as beautiful. Thus, they buy into the idea that, due to capitalism, ‘everything can be bought and exchanged’.

Reference

Rondilla, Joanne L. (2009). “Filipinos and the color complex.” Pp. 63-80 in Glenn, E. Shades of Difference: Why skin color matters. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

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