Study raises ethical concerns of skin whitening ads


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Study raises ethical concerns of skin whitening ads

Related tags Skin whitening

Skin whitening is quite the trend in Asia-Pacific but expert Professor Lynne Eagle has questioned the ethics of marketing such products.

The study led by the James Cook University marketing expert raised concerns over product marketing and while she said that manufacturers did not create the prejudices that underpin the demand for the product, critics claim the product's marketing helps to sustain the prejudices.

"That's the main issue, the ethics of perpetuating stereotypes of white skin as beautiful,"​ says Eagle.


While there is no blame placed at the manufacturers for trying to gain market share and boost sales in a lucrative market, Eagle and her research team said that adverts that are linking social and professional success with lighter skin tone present a moral problem.

"In one example, the daughter is told by her father that she is too dark-skinned to ever get a good job and be able to support him. So she buys some skin-lightener and gets a dream job,"​ she says to make this point, referring to an ad by Fair & Lovely.


Many major multinational brands are active in the sector and high percentages of women reportedly use the products daily, in certain markets.

Professor Eagle adds that demand for the products is growing, with more than 60% of Indian women reportedly using one of the more than 240 brands of skin whiteners available in their country.

She adds that social scientists and marketers have long-known that every culture seemed to value paler skin over darker, but the reasons why were not clear-cut.

"It's not just a hang-over from colonialism. In India and China lighter skin was always associated with a higher caste. Even in Europe, until Coco Chanel successfully promoted suntans, having a darker skin was associated with being a manual worker and low status."

In Asia, uneven skin tone and spots are often the first signs of ageing, and skin whiteners are often used to even the skin tone as an anti-ageing product, as opposed to making the skin white.


Skin lightening products used medically for the treatment of a range of skin disorders, should also not be confused with skin whitening products for cosmetics purposes.

Some ingredients in the medically prescribed products, such as mercury and hydroquinone, are banned for use and sale in cosmetics products, and should not be confused due to the health risks, according to market expert and president of SEERS Consulting, Dr Alain Khaiat.

"For example, hydroquinone is prescription only. It cannot be found in cosmetics. Only in drugs to treat medical conditions, such as pigment problems,"​ he tells

"Of course there are adulterated products that may contain ingredients like hydroquinone or high levels of dangerous metals, but these are not cosmetics or skin whitening products."

Eagle’s research paper can be seen here.

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