Asia’s skin whitening market is often misunderstood


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Asia’s skin whitening market is often misunderstood

Related tags Skin Skin whitening Sun tanning Ultraviolet

The skin whitening market in Asia is a booming one but it is also one that can be misunderstood, particularly in the West or where cultural, social, and physiological behaviour is different.

One particular area where this is highlighted is in advertising where reactions from the outside of many skin whitening products are extreme, but this is only because different cultures have a different understanding of the ageing process, according to expert and president of SEERS Consulting, Dr Alain Khaiat.

“There is generally a misunderstanding, as Asian people do not look at skin whitening as a way to become white-skinned or Caucasian,”​ he tells “Rather, there are two components – social and physiological – behind the trend.”

Social and physiological components

Firstly, as has been documented before, paler skin was associated with high society traditionally, as it meant that you were out of the sun – not like the workers who would have been outside. Also in India, women from high society would live inside.

So pale skin, not affected by sun exposure etc, means that the skin presents less signs of ageing, which gives the person the image that they are from a higher class.

Perhaps more telling is the physiological component, as it highlights that the skin whitening market is the equivalent to anti-ageing outside of Asia because the signs of ageing present themselves differently.

“The first sign of ageing on Asian skin is pigmentation, not wrinkles – as is the norm in Western culture. This normally shows itself as spots on the upper eye to begin with,”​ explains Dr Khaiat.

“In the West spots/ freckles are associated with sun exposure and are often a sign of beauty. For Asians this is not the case as it is their sign of ageing, not wrinkles. So Asians want a product that decreases the signs of ageing – by evening the skin tone.”


As Asian skin ages there are typically more spots, even without sun exposure. Wrinkles only appear a lot later.

“So, when Westerners look at Asians for the signs of ageing, they are looking at/ for the wrong thing, as they associate wrinkles as the sign, not spots – and vice versa for Asians looking at Westerners,”​ Alain adds.

“Skin whiteners are not products to make people look Caucasian – they are used to even the skin tone. In Asia skin whitening is about getting rid of the signs of ageing. It is anti-ageing.”

Almost in the same way that those from Western culture typically want to get a sun tan and have bronzed skin, Asian people do not understand this view, says Khaiat.


As for the advertising side of things, once armed with this knowledge of the target market, it becomes easier to understand and put it into context.

“Advertising has always been about pushing the boundaries. Where those boundaries are depends on whose eyes you are looking with,”​ says Dr Khaiat.

Therefore, if a regulator says it is within the limits then the brand needs to try and make their message stand out while trying to stay within those limits.

This can sometimes lead to boundaries being pushed, but within certain regions and markets these boundaries will be different.

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