The whitening obsession is still a bizarre concept

Posted by watchmen
May 17, 2018
Posted in OPINION

Was out shopping for a new moisturizer a couple weeks ago and stopped by one of the major drug stores to pick up another jar. Scanning the shelves, noticed they had the same brand as the previously used item, but the specific product was no longer available. Tried looking for an alternative and could only find “whitening” products on the shelf – literally, they only had whitening products.

Have written about the unfortunate obsession with whitening products in the Philippines before, but when it comes to a point where it is now the only option, then it’s a problem. Is the market for non-whitening beauty products not a money-maker in the country? Is the fascination with white skin that overwhelming among local consumers?

Sure, many say it is equivalent to people in the west longing for tan skin; but, having experienced both environments, there is absolutely a greater emphasis on skin color as a determinant for “beauty” in the Philippines than there is in the west. Everybody has something about themselves they want to change physically, but in most cases, beauty is seen in a variety of ways. Locally, when hearing people offer compliments of others’ looks, yet they also feel compelled to add the phrase, “kahit itim (despite being dark),” then, it’s not really a compliment.

Went to a couple other stores often frequented (foreign brands) and found products that focused more on health and beauty and not pigmentation – they may be a bit more expensive, but at least they offer products that do more than just perpetuate the myth that beauty only comes with a fair complexion.


Can cosmetics change one natural skin color?

Watching a recent episode of “Get It Beauty,” a Korean program that looks at beauty products and makeup trends, their product of the day was tone-up cream. Often used as a base or as a precursor for foundation, the product is said to act as a cover-up, sunblock, and has a whitening element. Cohost Kim Doyeon, a member of girl group Weki Meki and the now-disbanded I.O.I, posed a viewer question, does the frequent use of whitening cosmetics result in whiter skin?

Chung-Ang University pharmacology professor, Dr. Lee Eunju, who sits on a panel with dermatologists Ahn Insook and Han Soomin, along with beauty editor Park Jungin, said it is impossible to permanently change one’s natural skin tone with cosmetics – the others concurred.

For those who desire a whiter skin color, the professor added, “You must be reborn” (doubt she was referring to it in the religious sense).

If whitening cosmetics, including things like lotions and other topical solutions, have no long-term effect, why is the public so gullible? Knowing there are no real effects, it makes it all the more difficult to sit through commercials and hear one product after another promising “fair skin, “ white skin,” or “natural white skin” (as if to suggest a dark complexion is unnatural).


What do studies say about whitening products?

Even worse are the “medicines” people ingest as a means to attain white skin.

The scariest part of all, when searching for health risks associated with such treatments, most of the search results are pages put up by companies that produce whitening products, presenting “evidence” of effectiveness; or online stores selling the said products.

A New York Times report published last year looked at a procedure called intravenous glutathione, where glutathione, a chemical naturally produced by the liver and often found in whitening products, is injected into patients who desire white skin.

When looking into evidence to support the use of glutathione, the report found, “Most of the evidence glutathione proponents point to comes from individual case reports or anecdotal experiences.”

Dermatologist, Dr. Fran E. Cook-Bolden, discussed the issue in the article, noting, “There’s a lot we don’t know about it,” adding, “It’s probably not a good idea to use something when you don’t know all the potential side effects.”

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stopped the sale of injectable skin whitening and other beauty products by a company in New Jersey last September, saying, they posed “serious public health risks.” According to a release by the FDA, “Risks include nerve or blood vessel damage, infection, or toxic systemic reactions.”

They added, “The company also sold several products that are labeled to contain human placenta, which can result in serious illness.”

“In general, consumers should be cautious of any product marketed online with exaggerated claims on safety and effectiveness,” said FDA pharmacist In Kim.

Despite professors, pharmacists, and government agencies all offering warnings about whitening products, calling out the lack of long-term effectiveness, noting both dangerous and yet-to-be discovered side effects, and explaining the risks posed to those who use them, somehow, the obsessive focus on appearance and the archaic belief that beauty is only defined by white skin still appears to be too much of a draw.

Personally, as one who invests heavily in beauty products – toners, moisturizers, face mist, masks, lotions, etc. – one could claim there are parallels between those habits and purchasing whitening products; they all focus on one’s outward appearance. The difference is, with whitening, one is buying into a flawed societal standard that could potentially put their health at risk; whereas running through a daily beauty routine of run-of-the-mill products is more about bringing out the best in one’s natural attributes./WDJ


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *