‘Unrealistic ideals’: Thai beauty brand celebrates diversity to tackle Asia’s ‘unhealthy obsession’ with skin whitening products
Seasun Society is a Bangkok-based brand co-founded by former model Madi Ross and Lak Kulnthomyotin, who heads AREA MGMT, one of the leading model management agencies in Thailand.
The brand, founded in January this year, offers ‘simple and uncomplicated’ plant-based beauty products and prides itself on not promoting skin whitening products.
Ross told CosmeticsDesign-Asia that some of the duo’s more unsavoury experiences in the commercial modelling industry led them to centre Seasun Society around inclusivity and diversity.
“Whitening advertisements are very common in Thailand, like the rest of Asia. Often, these advertisements use Eurasian models, which naturally have fairer skin. This creates an unrealistic expectation for the native Thais, who are naturally more tanned,” said Ross.
Ross, who is of Eurasian descent, recounted that she has booked whitening advertisements in the last 10 years as a commercial model.
“Even though I’m already quite fair, I do have a lot of freckles on my face which would be covered up with make-up or Photoshop. I’ve even been asked to get laser treatment to remove them – it’s really endlessly creating this unrealistic ideal of beauty.”
Asia has long been the largest market for whitening products, as fair skin is seen as the ideal of beauty across the continent.
This year, that lucrative segment has come under scrutiny following the global debate about racial inequality and the prejudice against darker skin.
This forced companies such as Johnson & Johnson, Hindustan Unilever and L’Oréal Group to respond by removing products and make changes to their marketing vocabulary.
Ross highlighted that correcting this belief was of utmost urgency as the pursuit of fairness in Asia also often placed the consumers health at risk
“Here in Thailand you can get injections to make your skin whiter, or purchase creams that bleach your skin and thins it out. The results can be quite scary.”
The whitening craze in Asia has also created a black-market demand for adulterated whitening creams that are often laced with mercury.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that mercury can cause adverse effects such as damage to the nervous, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and may be fatal.
From the ground up
Ross believes cosmetic companies in Asia still have a long way to go in becoming more inclusive and embracing diversity.
“I think Asia has a bigger problem with diversity than they do in the West. Asian have not recognised unique beauty in all forms. It’s still quite narrow-minded – just look at the ideal Asian beauty, they all have very fair, unblemished white skin.”
While she welcomed the changes some of the beauty companies have made this year, she stressed that the change must come from the very foundation that has constructed this standard of beauty.
“We need to recognise that this stems from a cultural belief that is so deeply ingrained in us. We grow up with the media around us and it programs us to think that this is the standard of beauty. It’s very important for us to recognise that our media and culture are promoting something is unhealthy.”
As a brand owner, Ross said she felt it was her responsibility to change this belief. As such, the brand has made it its mission to ‘celebrate differences’.
“We’ve all experienced looking at advertisements that make us feel bad about ourselves. With our brand, we use it to celebrate our differences. Aside from delivering products that are good and affordable, I just want to be putting out positive messages and not making any one feel bad about themselves.”
Additionally, Seasun Society promotes beauty by focusing on nourishing products that keep the skin healthy while promoting the skin’s own radiance.
Ross said: “We’re seeing that people are definitely interested in talking about diversity. People are becoming okay with having tanned skin. It’s not going to change overnight, but as long as we are aware that promoting one ideal is damaging, we’ll get there.”