Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Skin Deep

Your skin is actually the largest organ that the human body has, and is our most important immune defense against viruses and bacteria. It also helps with temperature control relieving us of excess heat by sweating and maintaining a steady temperature for our organs when cold. The most visible thing that people notice about skin is color, which are produced my cells in the deepest layer of skin.  The roll of melanin in humans is to create a shield from harsh sun rays. Large amounts of melanin are what give people darker skin tones, and low amounts of melanin lead to people with lighter skin tones. As small as these cells are they make a great impact on many peoples love or hate for their body image. 

With the very prevalent European standard of beauty still in existence, many people still consider lighter skin prettier. Although it’s not as common anymore in the USA skin bleaching has been the cure for many black people trying to get a lighter shade. Now this has spread to other countries in the world, and doesn't stop with just people of African decent. Skin bleaching is also entwined in other cultures and races.

In the United States most skin bleaching is taboo, and frowned upon, but in countries like Jamaica, India and many other Asian countries it’s widely accepted and not shunned at all.   There was a case in New Delhi India where a women dump kerosene one her body and set herself on fire to kill herself. She later states that since her complexion was dark her husband didn't like her, and they fought constantly. She died a day after giving the statement. As told to the Times of India  the court believes that the husband constants taunts calling her black drove her to kill herself. He was sentenced to two years in prison. 

Extremes as severe as death just because society says dark skin is ugly. Mostly women resort to skin lightning crèmes and pills but these "cures" have dire consequences. Most of them cause cancer, if used excessively. A chemical present in most skin lightening creams is hydroquinone, may cause skin cancer and even brain damage if used immoderately. Hydroquinone whitens skin by killing skin pigment cells, and it strongly prohibits the production of melanin. Hydroquinone is broken down in the liver and is known to cause DNA damage and mutations. For this reason hydroquinone is linked to a number of cancers in humans, including leukemia.* The risk involved just to lighten skin isn't enough for most women to stop.

Many companies target non white women for their skin lightening creams. They give messages that would lead a person to believe their life would better if they lighten their skin. Oddly, while doing research for this article I found advertisement in the top selling black women magazine in the U.S for skin lightening cream. Essence magazine, a magazine geared to black women, and set on the uplifting of black women and their body image, selling advertisement space for skin bleaching company. It's something many would be shocked once found but this is actually minimal in comparison to other things found. 

The company, Unilever, parent company of Fair and Lovely, one of the top skin lightening brands in India, is also the parent company of Dove.** Which messages and campaigns are a complete contradiction. In the USA they have a "Real Beauty “campaign, which encourages women in the US and Europe to "Love the skin they're in." Yet in India the campaign is "Guaranteed Fairness. Guaranteed Fame."It’s very unsettling to know that there is one company with contradictory promotion. This anti dark skin paradox needs to somehow come to an end, and hopefully with the spread of awareness can help stop these abhorrent and demeaning ways of thinking. 

Ad from Essence magazine


*Information received from The Green Beauty Guide
**Information received from
By Naima Muhammad 

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