The desire for fairer skin and the fascination with fairness creams is not something new to Sri Lankans. South Asians in general have been obsessed with fairness and both men and women go to great lengths to achieve it. The demand for fairness creams and other similar products seem to be increasing with the social notion that fair skin is beautiful. Porcelain skin has been the measure of beauty in China since ancient times. Even in Japan, beauty has been linked to a lighter skin tone. The widespread preference for fair skin has been exploited by manufacturers and the simple fact that over-the-counter fairness products are easily accessible and affordable has played a major role when it comes to consumption.
The Sri Lankan market is experiencing a stronger demand for fairness products due to advertising and untapped markets targeting rural segments. Fairness products have become a vital product for men and women of all age groups and the easy availability of these products in urban as well as rural parts of the country has helped expand the demand. There are two sides to everything and the downside to fairness products is not at all beautiful.
spoke to Dr. Saman Gunasekara, a Dermatologist on how fairness products can be harmful to the skin.
“There is a belief that white or fair skin is beautiful in most South Asian countries and there is a rising demand for fairness creams and other similar products. Most of these products are easily available. There are various types of fairness products that are manufactured locally as well as internationally. These products promise to make you look more beautiful and give you a fairer complexion. Some of these don’t come with a proper label or a description of the ingredients used to make them but people still tend to use them on the recommendation of their beauticians. The quality of these could be compromised as the ingredients used to manufacture some of them have not been mentioned.
Another downside is that there is no certified lab or a place in which their quality can be tested. A lack of a proper testing place is not the only problem, as Sri Lanka doesn’t even have proper regulations when it comes to this subject.
Various side effects may occur if you use certain fairness products without them being prescribed to you, as the quality of the product could be tampered with. There are many fairness creams out there that contain corticosteroid drugs used to treat eczema, psoriasis and various skin-related illnesses. These fairness creams could cause early reactions such as skin irritation, redness or allergic contact dermatitis. Long-term side effects such as severe acne could also occur owing to the overuse of these products. Though these drugs do not directly increase the risk of skin cancer, they have been associated with an increased incidence of skin cancer later in life. Photosensitivity (which causes increased sensitivity to sunlight) is another side-effect that may occur. Hydroquinones used in some fairness products can damage melanocytes which produces a pigment that can cause white patches on the skin which could be permanent. These fairness creams sometimes contain arsenic or mercury too and over using such products could ultimately lead to skin cancer.”
What seems to attract people towards fairness products so much than the fairness product itself seem to be the mindset and people’s attitudes. Other people’s perception of you doesn’t really matter and what really matters is your perception of yourself. Fairness products cannot thrive without being supported by a society’s obsession with flaunting fair skin. When it comes to finding a solution to this specific problem, we need to work on changing the social notion on what is considered beautiful.