The skin lightening industry’s history of colorism and the impact of Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter activism has jolted the skin lightener industry. In June, manufacturers of skin lighteners joined other corporations in voicing support for the racial justice movement. Critics quickly pointed out the hypocrisy of voicing such support in the US while continuing to sell skin whitening products globally. Such products, they say, play off of and promote racism and colorism (which is prejudice based on preference for people with lighter skin tones) in Asia and Africa.

Manufacturers’ responses have varied. Johnson & Johnson agreed to stop selling Neutrogena Fine Fairness and Clean & Clear Fairness. Bigger players agreed to lesser changes. L’Oreal, the world’s largest cosmetics company, will remove references to “white”, “fair” and “light” from marketing its Garnier skin products.

This move acknowledges that such language promotes a narrow and anti-Black vision of beauty by presenting pale complexions as the ideal. Unilever, whose Ponds and Vaseline lines dominate sales in South Asia, will also alter the name of its top-selling brand: Fair & Lovely will soon become Glow & Lovely.

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