I’ve been using skin whitening products since I was 16. I was in a boarding school in China when I started using them, and the schoolgirls were all crazy about these products.
While growing up in China, many advertisements used to feature white-skinned models promoting whitening creams, masks, capsules and other related products. We were copying these models at school, no matter what our original skin tones were. We were crazy about white skin; it was a status symbol. I also remember there was a slogan: “the best way to conceal a blemish is being ‘white’ ”.
As time has gone on, you would have thought things have changed – but they have not.
All over Asia, skin whitening products remain a mainstay in beauty stores. And across the region, skin lightening products are as popular as ever.
The reasons for why remain complicated.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne, senior researcher from the University of Melbourne, gives one explanation: “In certain cultures, the richer you are, the less likely you are to work outside. So the less colour your skin has, the more you’re not associated with being poor.”
“In certain cultures, the richer you are, the less likely you are to work outside. So the less colour your skin has, the more you’re not associated with being poor.”
In my case I went a little overboard and decided to experiment with these whitening products.
As I found out to my detriment, these products can be very damaging to your skin. In fact, I almost destroyed my face a few years ago because I was crazy about ‘being white’. I had very sensitive skin, and I was using too many chemicals. I was combining every whitening product, which made my skin red. My face was burning and itchy the entire time, and the only thing I could put on my face was cold water.
To my shock, I found out some skin whitening products might contain mercury, which can be dangerous according to the World Health Organisation. They can also cause skin irritation and inflammation.
I wasn’t sure if mine had mercury or not, but I ended up having to see a dermatologist who suggested using a gentle skin lightening cream, which is helping me recover from the damage.
Looking back at my experiences I can't deny that much of the damage I inflicted on my skin was influenced by my own background. Many Asians have a preference for light-coloured skin and I was one of them.
Looking back at my experiences I can't deny that much of the damage I inflicted on my skin was influenced by my own background.
But not anymore. While we have very high beauty standards these days, the old adage of white skin meaning you’re rich, and dark skin being poor, doesn’t hold true.
This isn’t lessening the popularity of these skin whitening goodies however, so perhaps, getting white skin is about more than just being ‘white’. Perhaps products that are labelled as “skin lightening” creams are now more about giving you a 'healthy glow'. And I, like millions of others want that, which is why I don’t see their popularity lessening any time soon.
Angie Cui is a freelance writer.