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Whitening Creams: Living with Indian Fixation for Fair Skin

  By posted Feb 9th 2013
sobiya moghul

Sobiya N. Moghul

As a teen, every morning apart from having a bath and tying two plait ritual the one thing I religiously followed was smothering my face with cream that promised to make me fair and lovely in seven days. I always imagined myself reaching the fairest girl shade out the seven ascending shades of brightness on the pack. And I am sure many desperate like me still do. It’s not that I was unhappy with my skin tone, but my surroundings always preferred the fairer one. Be it the class monitor, best role in the school drama, choosing a prefect or giving the welcome speech.

In fact the journalist in me also pushed me to the idea of suing companies who promise fairness to ‘color-gaya- to-paise- wapasskin types.


Whitening Creams: Living with Indian Fixation for Fair Skin


To battle all these inequalities girls get in to the drill of let’s-get-fair competition. From scrubs, to creams, to bleaches, to rubbing themselves with pumice stones secretly hidden in the bathroom or buying every whitening cream in the mall.

The being- fair- equals-being -beautiful concept is so ingrained in Indian minds that they would rather shell out their entire salary on a whitening treatment or a skin polishing treatment to please their husbands, boyfriends or their future husband materials.

So in a chat with Dr. Chytra V Anand, Cosmetic Dermatologist, Kosmoderma skin & Laser Clinic from Bangalore I try hard to get a few things right in my mind about whitening creams and their “fair effect” , I hope the answers benefit you too!


What is the 'special ingredient' in these whitening creams really have in it that gives us that instant safedi?

These are  whitening creams contain a pigment lightening agent to decrease the pigment production in the melanocytes / pigment cells.Common ingredients are hydroquinone (on prescription only), kojic acid, arbutin, licorice, azleaic acid are the common ones. Glutathione has recently become popular in the oral and injectable form for lightening.


And will this give us a lifetime of fairness, change our genes and make us Cinderella's for our Princes in shining armour?

No forevers here. The fairness lasts as long the creams are being used, once the  whitening creams are discontinued, the actual skin color returns within 6 - 8 weeks.

And are these whitening portions allergy free?

There is a high sensitivity ratio with these products in fact hydroquinone is banned in many countries as it causes permanent skin damage and may cause skin cancer with long term use.

Kojic acid is made from mushrooms and now this is also being banned in Asian countries due to its toxicity. Most of the lighting agents are toxic once used over long periods.

How many patients do you see who are unhappy with their dark texture?

Indian patients and Asians in general are obsessed with skin color. On average I would say 35% of the time I get asked by my patients for a skin lightening cream or procedure.


What is the reason, are men and women dissatisfied with themselves?

I think it is a perception and media driven in many ways also the interpretation of white with pure and rich and darker colors with dirty and poor due to this people wish to change their skin colors and look fairer.


And to add to our bucket of surprises there is also a recent warning issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) that says that the common ingredient in skin lightening products — mercury — can have adverse effects such as kidney damage, reduction in the skin's resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression or psychosis and also peripheral neuropathy. The warning is especially serious for India as 61% of the dermatological market here consists of skin lightening products. 


P.S : This is not an anti-white post, nor does it tries to demean that ‘goras’ are bad . It’s for the dark or wheatish people like me who prioritize the wrong things. If you really think being fair is beautiful than I think dark is sexy.Your choice.

*Image Courtesy: Thinkstock/Getty Images



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