The Search for the Perfect Skin Complexion
Skin lightening (also known as skin bleaching) is something that has been around for thousands of years and although some people do it for medical reasons, most do it for personal cosmetic reasons. People are aware of the side effects and the long-term effects, but they still choose to do it regardless of the consequences. The cosmetic use of chemicals to lighten the skin in the 21st century is primarily used by people of color however thousands of years ago was used by non-colored people. Why do people want to be lighter? What makes them think that the lighter they are, the better they look? What does society and the social norm have to do with this trend?
Skin Bleaching is when the skin complexion is lightened artificially by using lotions, creams, soaps, and even injections. The lightening products used are all different and are composed of different concoctions, but what they all have in common is that the chemicals used to create these products affect the Melanocytes cell, which produce Melanin (the pigment that gives human skin, hair and eyes their color), by decreasing the amount produced, causing the skin to become lighter.
The products used for beaching can have long term and irreversible effects on the user. They contain many different chemicals that are not recommended to be used on the skin. “The most commonly used ingredients for these skin bleaching products are hydroquinone, mercury, and a broad spectrum of the very potent corticosteroid (a group of steroid hormones produced in the adrenal cortex or made synthetically) preparations containing e.g. Betamethasone valerate and Clobetasol propionate.”(International Journal of Dermatology).
A majority of these skin bleaching and lightening compounds are banned from use in cosmetic products by the FDA. However, a majority of manufacturers continue to use them regardless, producing widely used products that can permanently damage a person’s skin. The only reason why these products are so obviously popular and available in open markets is because of the shameful belief that the lighter skin tone is somehow superior as compared to a darker complexion to some people.
Skin Lightening techniques can be traced all the way back to the Elizabethan age. During that time “Women were in search of what looked like porcelain skin” states Robin Henig in her article The Price of Perfection; Queen Elizabeth herself was no exception. The Queen amongst other women used a dangerous face paint called Ceruse (a concoction made up of vinegar and lead) and although it gave them the skin complexion desired, it also did a lot of damage to the face. The Queen used it so consistently that it made craters in her face and to cover them up she used “thicker layers of ceruse”. The added layers did their job and hid the imperfections but under it, bigger pits were created. It is said that with time the queens face “was so ravaged that she ordered all mirrors banned from the...