Regulatory body counters discrimination in India’s skin lightening advertising

By Lucy Whitehouse

- Last updated on GMT

Regulatory body counters discrimination in India’s skin lightening advertising

Related tags Human skin color Cosmetics Advertising

The advertising standards regulator of India, ASCI, has released draft guidelines which aim to challenge those advertising campaigns which plug skin lightening, or ‘fairness’, products by means of the promotion of social discrimination.

There is a strong concern in certain sections of society that advertising of fairness products tends to communicate and perpetuate the notion that dark skin is inferior and undesirable​,” the ASCI states.

The guidelines come as a strong statement against the marketing trend, with the ASCI laying down four key areas where it believes the industry needs guidance on adhering to its code, which states that advertisements should not ‘deride race, caste, colour, creed or nationality’.

The ASCI states that the guidelines are provisional, and are now open for comment from those affected.

"The guidelines are only at a draft stage as posted in our web-site and we have asked for feedback from industry and from consumers, and we will come out with final guidelines in a couple of months,​" a spokesperson told

Four key points

As such, while ASCI acknowledges compliance is voluntary, the cosmetics industry’s self-regulatory body now states that advertising ought to comply with the following requirements:

  1. Advertisements should not communicate any discrimination as a result of skin colour, which includes directly or implicitly showing people with darker skin as unattractive, unhappy, depressed or concerned.
  2. Advertising should not use post production visual effects on the model/s to show exaggerated product efficacy, and the expression of the model/s before and after using the product should be the same.
  3. Advertising should not associate darker or lighter colour skin with any particular socio-economics strata, caste, community, religion, profession or ethnicity.
  4. Advertising should not perpetuate gender-based discrimination because of skin colour.

These ads should not portray people with darker skin as at a disadvantage of any kind, or inferior, or unsuccessful in any aspect of life particularly in relation to being attractive to the opposite sex, matrimony, job placement, promotions and other prospects,​” the guidelines state.

Problematic marketing

The global skin lightening market is predicted to reach up to $10 billion by 2015, and nowhere are the creams more popular than in Asia: in India, consumers reportedly got through 233 tonnes of skin-whitening products last year.

Yet until now, the branding of such products has often relied on the perception of lightened skin as superior to dark skin, an instance of discrimination which contradicts Chapter III 1 b of ASCI’s code of practice for brands in India.

The guidelines seek to correct this.

Skin care 

Speaking of skin care, Cosmetics Design is gearing up for its fourth Skin Care Ingredients virtual trade show to be held on June 18, a must attend event for all skin care professionals. 

To learn more about the latest consumer and market insights, scientific developments and technical innovations set to be discussed at the event, click here.

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