By Megara Tegal
There have been a countless number of times I’ve heard the aunty-types say, “she’s dark but pretty, no?” It just goes to suggest that usually people cannot be dark and pretty at the same time. It’s been a phenomenon in India for the longest time and it seems to be creeping down to Sri Lanka; if it hasn’t already taken root.
Preying on peoples’ insecurities, fairness creams are widely available and come in a plethora different brands—each of which makes dubious promises of being au naturale. In reality, they use powerful chemicals and bleaches to reduce the concentration of melanin in your skin. Mind you, we Asians need a high concentration of melanin to work as a shield against the burning rays of the sun, keeping skin cancer at bay.
But back to the subject of ‘natural’ ingredients in these products, one goes so far as to say that ‘fairness’ vitamins have been added to the foul concoction. How obtuse do they think we – the public – really are? Of course, there’s no such vitamin that can make your skin fairer. There’s vitamin E and a type of vitamin B that can help make your skin look healthier. They certainly won’t make you look fairer though. But apparently this mythical ‘fairness vitamin’ has an effect on the production of melanin during skin cell production—which even if it did, couldn’t possibly be good for you. It appears not many fairness cream users have latched on to this fact. Googling it up, I came across many forums in which curious fairness fanatics want to know what that mysterious vitamin is and how they may obtain it.
Dark skin means misery
If that isn’t bad enough, the Indians are on a roll; creating new and bizarre issues for women to be insecure about. Since of late, fairness creams that are said to whiten very sensitive areas of the female anatomy have infiltrated the market, stirring up much furore. Every advertisement has the same theme—Can’t find a husband? Get fairer! Your husband’s losing interest in you? Get fairer! Because all men are racists and would prefer fairer wives to beautiful, darker skinned women with whom they can have an intelligent conversation with. Well, that’s the vibe you get from these advertisements at any rate.
That said, men haven’t been left out. There are fairness creams for men by some very popular brands in the dermatological market. Men have insecurities about being fair too, it seems. Why, even the huge Bollywood star, Shahrukh Khan seems to want to be fairer. So I take it back, it isn’t just South Asian men who are racists, but women too. We’ve got an entire region of genetically darker skinned people in the world who are desperately trying to make themselves fairer because of the insecurities these noxious products have planted in their minds. Doesn’t that just sound wrong?
Hazardous toxins and minerals
Aside from the psychological effects these products have on people, they are also quite harmful to your health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a warning against the use of fairness creams earlier this year as it’s been found that the creams not only damage skin but has an adverse effect on your immune system. Mercury, in fairness creams and soap, is a common ingredient. However, frequent exposure to the metal can lead to kidney damage. In addition to kidney damage, fairness creams have other side effects such as skin rashes, discolouration, scarring, reduction in skin's resistance to bacterial infections, anxiety, depression or psychosis and also peripheral neuropathy.
It doesn’t stop at mercury though. Skin lightening creams contain other toxic ingredients such hydroquinone and ammonia. These ingredients may satisfy your need to turn your skin a few shades whiter, but only temporarily. And worse, while doing so, they are actively destroying your skin by burning it. Whether the public is oblivious to this or simply turning their Edward Cullen fair faces away from the painful truth, is unknown.
One thing is for sure though, the side effects of using fairness creams will not help keep vain husbands and wives with their spouses. If the healthy but dark skin doesn’t see them out the door, then burnt, damaged skin, and a trail of health complications, certainly will.