Compare and Contrast: Vaseline, Skin Lightening Creams, Facebook Apps and Shahid Kapur

Vaseline have launched a Facebook application for their range of skin lightening creams targeted at Indian ‘metrosexual’ men, which lightens half the face to show how much fairer they can look. This has of course caused much fuss:


The vehicle Vaseline have used is wrong. To have something as trivial as a Facebook App to show you how much ‘better’ you look with ‘lighter skin’ reduces something that is quite serious and a big commitment (changing your skin colour!) to no more than a ‘Girls World Makeover’ type Nintendo DS game.

Don’t forget there are all sorts of connotations linked with the idea that whiter, lighter skin equals more attractiveness and wealth (ie. an old fashioned point of view is that poorer people have to do lots of outdoor manual work and are more likely to get dark in the sun).

And it isn’t just Indian men of course; all over Asia skin lightening is big business and is incorporated into mainstream products. For example, the last face wash and SPF I bought from Japan had ‘whitening’ properties in it and some of our mainstream UK brands like Boots and The Body Shop also cash in, launching whitening ranges in Asia.


The Body Shop’s Moisture White Range

More disturbingly, I saw a documentary just the other day where women in Jamaica were buying dangerous skin bleaching products. After years of continuous use, their once smooth skin was painful, blotchy, scarred, blistered but felt unable to stop using the (banned) creams.

That is the super crappy side of skin lightening. Obviously, when big brands launch whitening ranges, they will test their products for safety first.

But on the other hand, I am troubled…is it pot calling kettle black, when people are condemned for wanting to be whiter when millions is spent on fake tan ever year, to get pale skinned lasses darker? How come people who are dark and want to be whiter can be judged but not women who want to be permanently 5 shades darker?

Is a (safe) whitening product just as valid as a fake tan product?

How come if someone who is not Caucasian wants to be whiter (or indeed, dye their hair lighter, or change their appearance in a way that is deemed as ‘Western’) they are immediately considered to be insecure with their race? What if, just like the religious fake tanners, they just want to look prettier (or whatever they perceive as prettier) but are totally comfortable with their race and identity?

Or, if as a non caucasian person, if you choose to wear blue contacts over your brown eyes, dye your hair blonde and whiten your skin…are you always, basically, rejecting your race?


I’m not completely sure what I think on this subject but I don’t think it’s necessarily as simple as condemning all (safe) whitening/brightening products.

On a personal level, I think fake tan is ok, although I will never be a fan of orange or the dirty face look, but I also think brightening* products (that improve the clarity of the skin and prevent further pigmentation) are quite good although I don’t use either on a regular basis.

What are your views?

*Not whitening – I wouldn’t risk patchy skin for any brand!

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  1. jjjjjj says

    I see so many Japanese/Korean girls who adore having whiter skin but also get eyelid surgery, nose jobs and jaw reduction – not to remove lumps or bumps but to remove the features indigenous to their race in general. Don’t tell me that’s not rejection of one’s own race – they want to look like white girls.

    It’s no coincidence that almost all Korean/Japanese/Chinese look half white and nothing like regular full blooded asian people. Yes celebrities in the west are more attractive than your average person but at least they still look like they belong to the same race. I mean what kind of message is that? To be famous you need to look less Asian. The whole thing is ridiculous and I really feel sorry for these deluded girls.

  2. Eva says

    For me the worrying thing is that white people can tan naturally when exposed to sun, so false tanning for many is a way of getting a look that they would get naturally without all the dangers that come with baking yourself in the sun or on a tanning bed. I don’t know much on the topic so I’m really sorry if I’m wrong, but as far as I know people with Asian skin tones don’t lighten naturally in the same way that some (I know not all, I’m as pale as pale can be and can’t get a tan to save my life!) white people do.

    I remember reading in a sociology book that there was a place in Asia (I can’t remember where it was whether it was a country or a town etc) who didn’t have TV, after they had introduced it sales for whitening products rocketed because the locals wanted to emulate the white TV stars.

    I honestly think it’s because the western world dominate the media and control what is socially considered beautiful and that enables companies to exploit this market of people wanting to fit the mould. And not just with these products, there’s all the anti-ageing lotions and potions, fake tans, even contact lenses but the main difference is that these aren’t doing something so drastic as trying to change your race.
    I think it’s kind of sad tbh, so many beautiful people can ruin their looks with products like these that aren’t safe.

    Sorry for the essay :/ I’ll try and keep comments shorter in future!

  3. Row says

    Hey Eva

    You can talk for as long as you like!

    It’s a great point really – people don’t really naturally lighten but people do darken in the sun. So I guess you could compare one process as more natural (getting darker) than the other (getting whiter).

    I agree with you too, the Western world dictates what beauty is, I am just interested as to what peoples motivations are (ie. why choose blue contacts – do you just like blue contacts, or do you subconciously want to look more white?)

    Thanks for leaving a comment and raising a discussion! x

  4. Row says

    Yes of course getting things like eyelid surgery and slimming down the nose is getting rid of things that are specific to one race – but we are not talking about extreme surgery here.

    Unfortunately as Eva says a lot of this is supply and demand since the Western media controls a lot of what is perceived as beauty – it’s unfortunate if someone needs to change their looks to get somewhere in life.

  5. says

    It’s complicated. I suppose like anything race-related is.

    While there are definitely Japanese people who try to look Caucasian (building up the bridge of their noses, etc.), I think that in general they don’t. There’s a lot of emphasis on clear, pale skin here (ironic given all the makeup). Geisha and maiko still powder their faces white. I seem to remember Chinese fairy tales that praised fair beauties with oval faces too.
    (I suppose the literally white face is very good for drama/performance – Chinese opera and Japanese Kabuki use it.)

    And there are a lot of Japanese people who use fake tans/tanning salons to get super tanned. And a lot of young women just try to look like dolls with contact lenses, fake eyelashes, etc. – i.e. Ayumi Hamasaki.
    In general the makeup techniques in Japanese magazines are specifically suited for people with flatter features. Even if someone has surgery to add an eye crease or two, their eyehole will still be a lot flatter than that of the average Caucasian woman. Of course, some Asian women naturally have eyelid creases and some Caucasian women have monolids, so this is just a generalization.

    Hair color in Japan is all about diversity and expression, I feel. People pick different shades to suit their complexion – my roommate only dyes her hair a specific shade of red-brown because she thinks she looks depressed if she dyes it black. And it’s fun to change colors.

    In general, I feel like appearance is often an expression of personality in Japan, especially the more extreme changes (cosplay, gyaru, etc.).

    It’s hard to gauge subconscious tendencies though.

    It’s not directly related but I found an article on the topic of “Do Manga Characters Look “White”?” very interesting, as it points out that for Japanese readers, the default appearance is Japanese.

    • Row says

      Hi Kuri

      Interesting article from Matt Thorn. Manga Characters are always so OTT aren’t they, impossibly large eyes, tiny noses, perfect figures and indeed, very Western in appearance. I was watching Howl’s Moving Castle with the other half the other day and we were saying how Howl and the other characters are basically white, yet it felt quite natural that they spoke in Japanese – but maybe that’s because we know it’s a Japanese made film? I dunno.

      I agree that a lot of Asian women just want certain things (clear, pale skin) but don’t necessarily want to look “western”. I’ve always dyed my hair a bit lighter, it cheers me up and like your flatmate I get depressed when it’s too dark – but I don’t think I’ve ever thought – ‘I want to be white’ whilst dyeing it – I was brought up to have a lot of racial pride though but it does irk me if people think I am trying to imitate another race. Not the case!

      It’s an interesting topic, thanks for your comment my love! x