The Truth About Skin Whitening

Camille Bugayong, Student Journalist

In my everyday life, I witness the effects that skin whitening has on women. Every Asian grocery store that I walk into features an aisle with tons of skin whitening products stacked up on each other. From creams, to lotions, and to soap bars, each of these products promise the exact same thing: whiter skin, in less time. It’s crazy to see how many people find that it’s normal to desire and spend money on the ability to have fairer skin. Skin Whitening, also known as skin bleaching, is certainly not an abnormality within Asian households and the effects of it are clear to see within society. 

The media company, Refinery29 recently featured the truth behind skin whitening in a video titled “Why People Risk Their Lives To Bleach Their Skin,” from the series Shady. In the video the host Lexy Lebsack traveled to the Philippines in order to expose the dark secrets of skin whitening, commonly known as bleaching or skin lightening. The video goes over multiple shocking things about skin whitening in the Philippines, which is the heart of the biggest global market in Asia. Many Filipinas were asked whether or not they believe that skin tone matters and all of them said yes. It is estimated that one in two Filipinas have tried or tested skin whitening products. Lebsack was determined to figure out why so many Filipinas were risking their lives over skin whitening creams that contain tons of poisonous mercury.

However, from the second I read the video title I already knew why so many people are willing to risk their health and safety for fairer skin. The lighter your skin tone, the more likely you are to be successful and seen as pretty. 

Growing up in a Filipino household, I have my fair share in dealing with many of my Filipino elders commenting about the skin tones of others. The elders typically gossip in Tagalog and say absurd things such as, “Yes, she has a nice face but she’s too dark.” Or, “Nobody’s going to like her if she’s that dark.” During the summer, when I like most people get tanner due to all the sun, my relatives would make remarks such as, “You’re too dark now, you look like you’re from a different race.” All of these were said in a negative to and because of this, I started to believe that my success and beauty would also be determined by how light my skin tone was.

 I always wondered why women who were born with fair skin wanted to get tans and intentionally darken their skin in a society where fairer skin is favored. I was and still am envious of how much privilege they recieve just by having something they were naturally born with it. It’s sad to see how its wired into so many women and young girls brains that you will be granted more opportunities simply by being whiter. 

Scarily enough, many people encourage the use of skin whitening products. Advertisements and commercials appear everywhere in Asian stores and television and they often feature extremely pale Asian woman that claim their life has significantly improved after the use of the product. 

Customs Border Agents in the Philippines even accept toxic skin whitening creams into the country through the use of bribes. Many cheap skin whitening creams include lethal amounts of mercury due to being the main ingredient in the product. Their defense is that they are helping Filipinas improve their appearance, which shows just how important society thinks it is to have fair skin. 

The truth is, the stigma around darker skin is probably going to last for years to come. Future generations of young girls are going to look down on themselves because of the color of their skin. It saddens me that more people don’t realize that their worth is based off of their accomplishments, and not how white their skin is.