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Attitude: Obsession with fairness

June 16, 2012

“Wanted, 22-year-old, tall, fair female, for a banker” — reads an ad on a matrimonial website.

Of course, the boy in question happens to be of a dark complexion, average in qualification and let me not comment on personality or astuteness.

The British might have spared us from their rule but in some respects we are still under their influence. One of them is the love for white skin.

I personally think the media is also playing a role in making young girls conscious of their complexion and aspiring to be fair complexioned.

A number of advertisements portray that a dark complexioned girl is undesirable and utterly unhappy and after discovering and using a magical skin whitening cream all her dreams come true — not only does she get married, but also gains self-confidence.

These advertisements project the notion that girls who are of a darker skin tone are worth nothing — they don’t deserve success in any aspect of their lives, let alone marriage. I have come to think that in our society while prioritising people, after nepotism skin colour takes the lead.

A research study in India shows that, more than half of the revenues of the $180m skin care products in the market are generated by fairness products. In Pakistan, no such study has been conducted but the sales are increasing.

“When lipstick is used to make your lips redder, fairness cream is used to make you fairer. So what’s the problem?”

The problem here is standardisation. For some unknown reason we tend to associate beauty with a lighter skin tone. This has led to women taking extreme measures and applying unknown chemicals to their skin, as long as they promise glowing, mesmerising fairness. Thus, there has been a massive uprising of skin whitening products and whitening facials.

The question arises, do these creams really work? Most of the whitening creams do work; but only as long as one keeps using them. Once stopped, there is a reversal of the effect, resulting in the skin tone becoming darker than before.

Various methodologies have been employed to achieve fairness; one such is the much celebrated ‘formula cream’, sold at parlours across the country or made at home. The main ingredient is generally a bleaching agent of some kind. Following the lead are skin-peeling procedures, whitening facials and glutathione injections. All these undeniably whiten the skin and provide a glow, but we have to ask ourselves: is the glow really worth the repercussions?

Dermatologists say that most of the fairness creams contain steroids that hasten the process of skin lightening but lead to early aging, scarring, acne, telangectasias, pigmentation and massive hair growth on the face. Since hair can be waxed off, women still continue to use these products. But waxing facial hair leads to loss of skin elasticity, making it look saggy and old.

As far as injecting glutathione with Vitamin C is concerned, it is being widely used by celebrities to attain a fairer and healthier skin. It works on the principle of neutralising peroxides and free radicals that induce melanin synthesis. Again, this procedure is a temporary road to fairness and doesn’t last long.

Certain aesthetic dermatologists support the use of injectable GSH with Vitamin C, while certain others strongly oppose it. Those who object reason that the side effects are not apparent so far; hence there is no method to gauge its usefulness and this makes its usage quite risky.

Additionally anything injectable carries a certain risk.

What people don’t understand here is that if it is making your skin tone lighter, it is depleting layers of melanin from your skin.

Melanin, a pigment, is a component that determines the colour of the skin; the higher the content of melanin, the darker the skin. It absorbs the UV radiation coming from the sun, transforms it into harmless heat and protects us from indirect DNA damage. Hence melanin is our body’s natural defence against these rays.

When we fight with nature, it is bound to have detrimental effects. Similarly when one depletes the melanin layer for fairness, they also deplete years of healthy living. All these whitening facials and creams work on the principle of thinning the skin by depriving us of melanin. Also, most dermatologists say that the maximum fairness they can guarantee without steroid use is only 20-30 per cent. No harmless procedure has been invented that can provide permanent fairness since skin colour is purely genetic and is influenced to some extent by environmental factors.

Did you know that last year’s crowned Miss World was “black”! and that Americans yearn for a tanned shade of skin.

Black wants white, white wants black. Human psychology reveals that we are never happy with what we have, even if we have it all.

Something we all should obsess about is being fair in our dealings, rather than focusing on our skin colour. We should work our way towards a healthier skin rather than a fairer one.