The dark side of fairness products

People in Pakistan are convinced that dark skin is unacceptable and without fairness creams, their life is incomplete.

Abeer Pervaiz May 09, 2014
It starts with a dark-skinned girl (of course painted with black foundation or something). The girl is depressed and feels hopeless because she can’t achieve anything. Why? Because she has a dark complexion. Then, out of nowhere, this extremely beautiful fair-skinned girl shows up and offers her the magic formula that will transform her life.

She applies the magic formula and voila! She turns into a beautiful girl with snow white skin and suddenly achieves everything in life; she becomes successful, gets a dream job and boys suddenly seem interested in her too!

In a nutshell, the message that you get is ‘apply this formula, change your skin colour and your dreams will come true’.

In short, if you have a dark complexion, you won’t be accepted in this society.

You must be familiar with the term ‘gora rang’ used excessively in our society to define a person. Girls, and now even guys, have been subjected to this term which is, apparently, one way to signify the worth of a person. Most obvious is when rishta walas specifically state in their long list of demands that the girl must be fair otherwise there is no deal.

In Pakistan, the fairness epidemic is on the rise. It isn’t surprising to see fairness creams and soaps advertised here but after coming back from abroad, I was amazed to see just how much these fairness formulas, soaps and creams, were bombarded on billboards and advertisements. Where, earlier, we would see international brands we now see that even local brands have propped up and marked their place as well.

The media and cosmetic industry seems to have convinced people that dark skin is just not acceptable and without fairness creams and soaps their lives will remain incomplete. Girls buy these creams and soaps in efforts to change their skin complexion so they can ‘fit in’ and perhaps be able to find a decent proposal. In all of this, people have not only forgotten their individual identities, they have overlooked the consequences of using such products as well.

Let’s talk about the skin damage that fairness creams do. Melanin is a natural pigment that determines the skin colour and protects skin cells from harmful UV rays, hence reducing the possibility of cancer. Excessive use of fairness creams damages the melanin because the ingredients used in these products block the secretion of melanin barricading their role in protecting the skin from harmful rays.

According to Dr Debraj Shome, a top plastic surgeon in India,
“Fairness creams have harmful chemicals such as hydroquinone, mercury and other steroids which lead to patchy, rough and spotty skin, and premature ageing. Hydroquinone is a severely toxic and powerful chemical that is used in photo processing, manufacturing of rubber and is also used as an active ingredient in hair dying. Mercury, on the other hand, in the form of mercury chloride and ammoniated mercury, leads to the development of skin cancer. These are just a few of the negative effects of these fairness creams and many companies fail to disclose all the ingredients used in the creams”.

Where there is skin damage, there is also psychological damage caused by such products. The dark side of the fairness products is that they do not serve the purpose they are made for; no fairness cream or bar of soap can change your skin colour. Your skin colour is natural just like your eye and hair colour. When people use these products in an attempt to change their complexion, temporarily they may work, but in the long term they wear off leading to frustration, depression and the obsession of switching from one product to another.

This epidemic needs to stop and it can only be eradicated if our society’s shallow perception changes. India, facing the same epidemic, has started the ‘Dark is Beautiful Campaign’ by Women of Worth, an Indian NGO, in efforts to change attitudes towards skin colour. It is a small step but at least there is some hope for change – in Pakistan, however, we face an abundance of societal issues and this is just one of the few that has been given the backseat. And whether we like it or not, our media and celebrities are one of the major reasons that this epidemic is on the rise.

Before resorting to changing our natural forms we must try and change our attitudes first. We must ask ourselves whether our skin complexion really defines our worth or not? We must ask ourselves if our success and achievements are based on how we look.

Does ‘Ab Gora Hoga Pakistan’ really define our identity?
Abeer Pervaiz A graduate from the University of Amsterdam, she works as a Research Assistant at LUMS. Loves to travel and sketch fashion Illustrations. She tweets as @AbeerPervaiz (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


PERUMAL | 9 years ago | Reply Really your blog is very informative ........
Aisha Sheikh | 10 years ago | Reply media is creating a fake demand of the fair complexion which is unfair in itself
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