According to a study we conducted from 2013 to 2016, 70% of the 300 women and men we interviewed reported wanting a date or partner with someone who had light skin. This colourism is what pushes so many Indians to lighten their skin, creating a phenomenon termed “bleaching syndrome”.
Bleaching syndrome is not a superficial fashion, it’s a strategy of assimilating a superior identity that reflects a deep-set belief that fair skin is better, more powerful, prettier. And it’s not limited to India: skin bleaching is also common in the rest of Asia and in Africa.
A thriving bleaching market
An inventive and growing market of creams and salves has cropped up to fill this demand, which now pulls in over US$400 million annually.
Some of the most widely-sold products include Fem, Lotus, Fair and Lovely, and its gendered-equivalent Fair and Handsome. Most of these appealingly named creams are in fact a dangerous cocktail of steroids, hydroquinone, and tretinoin, the long-term use of which can lead to health concerns like permanent pigmentation, skin cancer, liver damage, and mercury poisoning, among other things.