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OPINION: Let Common Sense Prevail When Considering Bleaching

Are arbitrary beauty standards worth the risk?

WORDS: Shannay Porter

PHOTO: Jefferson Gomes

Skin bleaching is a common practice by women of color around the world to achieve the standard of beauty within their society while potentially risking their lives.           

The history of skin bleaching dates to the Victorian era when white women would use lead paint to paint their faces or take arsenic wafers to appear whiter and convey purity.

Today women still chase the goal of a lighter skin tone, however, women of color are the largest participants of skin bleaching. Women of color often desire to have a lighter skin tone either after facing colorism or after growing up in a society where skin bleaching is encouraged.

The Asian-Pacific region, the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa are infamous for normalizing and even upholding skin bleaching.

These regions have contributed to its global market which was estimated at $8 billion in 2020. The ingredients used to make skin bleaching products are lethal when misused or overused as well as illegal or heavily regulated in many countries.

The two most common ingredients are hydroquinone and mercury. Hydroquinone is banned in the U.S., the U.K. and other countries.

Mercury is advised to be used with a limit of one parts per million (ppm), however, studies found that many contain an average of up to 40,000 ppm. Individuals who use products containing these ingredients are at high risk of health issues as hydroquinone is recognized by the U.S. FDA as a potential carcinogen. Mercury is also extremely toxic and long-term exposure to it is known to cause kidney and liver damage and neurological issues such as anxiety and depression.

Whereas the disadvantages are plentiful, the advantages of skin bleaching are few.

The greatest advantage of skin bleaching is societal acceptance; however, this comes at a cost of the individual’s physical and mental health, and his or her perceived self-worth.

Lighter skin has historically been associated with beauty, wealth, and status, therefore, women who desire to be welcomed by their society bleach their skin to achieve this goal. Not only is skin bleaching dangerous but also is often times unsuccessful in evenly lightening the skin.

Many women and men who bleach their skin have a patchy appearance where parts of the skin such as the skin covering the elbows and knees remain dark. Some of the damage caused to the skin by skin bleaching may also be irreversible and the skin may not be able to return to its prior condition if an individual decides to stop bleaching his/her skin.

While colorism and skin bleaching are still prevalent around the world, it is important that women - and the small percentage of men who practice skin bleaching – become educated on the effects of skin bleaching. This practice slowly kills, and action must be taken before the future generation is indoctrinated into this deadly trend.


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