Whitening techniques: Who’s the fairest of us all?

Published: April 8, 2012
Dermatologists and cosmeticians talk about the disadvantages of whitening techniques. CREATIVE COMMONS

Dermatologists and cosmeticians talk about the disadvantages of whitening techniques. CREATIVE COMMONS


Discolouration of the skin, dark spots and uneven skin tone are issues that would frighten almost anyone. However, we, in Pakistan, have this gora complex or in simpler terms a large chunk of our total population lives with the complex of having fairer skin. Many have forgotten to embrace their original skin colour and are readily taking measures to permanently change their natural look. From fairness creams to mixtures of different bleaching creams, myriad of bizarre pastes are available in the market and are passed on by one skin whitening fanatic to the other.

Apart from creams and lotions, cosmetic surgeons have now started offering laser techniques and invasive injections to bleach one’s skin. However, despite so many skin whitening techniques being available in the market, many Pakistani dermatologists and cosmeticians still advise people to stay away from harmful ingredient as much as they can.

“The side effects of these bleaching agents are far more adverse than people think they may be,” says Redah Misbah of Depilex. “Plus the marketing campaigns that marginalise darker skin tones and associate it with failure are making this skin whitening frenzy go from bad to worse.”

Dr Omer H Sheikh, who is a cosmetic surgeon in Lahore and runs his own clinic under the name of Aesthetics, talks about procedures offered at his clinic and the harmful effects of using them without doctor’s prescription. “All these skin whitening creams contain steroids and cortisone. Mixing Betnovate with Stillmans and Archies may give to instant results but in the longer-run it can aggravate skin problems.” Dr Sheikh adds that these mixtures can result in thinning of the skin, dilation of the blood vessels, premature ageing and even greying of body hair.

Dr Sheikh also offers a skin whitening procedure at his clinic but says it’s slightly different in nature. The process which is called the Photo Laser Light technique helps neutralise melatonin production and according to Dr Sheikh, it is not essentially skin whitening but is a procedure to neutralise the skin and to reverse excessive tanning.

Dr Badr Dhanani, a dermatologist from Karachi, however, disproves Dr Sheikh claims and says, “Laser can’t whiten or lighten your skin. People are living in this hype of fair skin and that has led them to spend exorbitant amounts of money to achieve this. Glutathione injections are generally an antioxidant but lightening of the skin colour is one of its side effects.”

Many cosmetic surgery practices are now offering these injections to lighten the skin but it was noted that these injections only suppress melatonin production and not inhibit it completely. “Once the injections are stopped the skin will eventually revert back to its normal tone,” adds Dr Dhanani. “Someone has to be mentally instable to take this route because the injections are extremely painful and need to be taken regularly.”

Misbah is extremely worried about her clients who take adverse measures to whiten their skin and then come running back with serious issues with their skin. “There is no cure for it. Any agent that instantly changes your skin colour has damaging ingredients. You don’t even need to get these creams tested to know how detrimental they are to the skin,” says Misbah. “We don’t have labs or Food and Drug Administration approval institutions here and even after explaining the side effects of these lightening techniques to people, only about 40 per cent of the clients actually understand, while most of them still end up using them.”

Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Adnan Majeed
    Apr 8, 2012 - 9:34PM

    It’s the insecurities of people which lead them to resort to changing their skin colour.It’s mostly done by women in our society,men use whitening creams less than women.
    If women strived to earn for themselves and bear their own expenses rather than making efforts only to change themselves only for the sake of attracting the richest husband than they wouldn’t need to resort to such things. If a girl made having a lifelong career her aim in life,she wouldn’t be needing to worry about her looks all the time in the hope of landing the richest rishta.
    When women don’t worry about getting the approval of their boyfriend/fiance/husband than they’ll stop resorting to such drastic measures.


  • keen observer
    Apr 8, 2012 - 9:45PM

    I don’t think discouraging the ‘solution providers’ is the answer! If our people have a gora complex then we’re all well-aware of the ‘tan’ complex that the goras themselves have! People are rarely content with how they look so pinpointing on one specific problem wouldn’t solve the larger issue at hand.Recommend

  • stenson
    Apr 8, 2012 - 10:05PM

    If people only cared about skin colour, why wouldn’t all the people on Pakistani TV be from KPK or Northern Pakistan where most Pakistanis have fair skin and often coloured eyes? In fact a lot of people in the media are from Karachi who are darker and use creams to lighten their faces. So yes people in Karachi in particular are obsessed with skin colour because they have brought this baggage from India where skin colur is a caste issue and most migrants from India are darker than native Pakistanis. The skin issue is a lot more complex. In Punjab or Sind, I recall hearing from elders that dark skin implied that your ancestors were the original Hindus of South Asia whereas if you had fairer skin it meant that you had some mixed invader blood from Central Asia and beyond. This didn’t make sense since native Pakistanis from Northern Punjab, KPK and Gilgit Baltistan are generally fairer than other South Asians generally. People in Pakistan should celebrate all the shades and racial influences found there.


  • k4kb4r
    Apr 9, 2012 - 2:53AM

    Really informative article


  • Mirza
    Apr 9, 2012 - 6:15AM

    People should be happy with their darker skin and take it as God gifted. Half of the Australian white population gets some kind of skin cancer, but not the native inhabitants with pigmented skin.


  • Maxxx Hardcore
    Apr 9, 2012 - 6:45PM


    So yes people in Karachi in particular are obsessed with skin colour because they have brought this baggage from India where skin colur is a caste issue and most migrants from India are darker than native Pakistanis.

    That is the funniest thing I ever heard. Most migrants from India are darker than native Pakistanis, by this logic you mean that native Pakistanis are not the same people as Indians or South Asian. What are you saying my friend. With the exception of the Pashtuns the rest of the people in Pakistan are the same as the people in India.

    Here in America when we run into an Indian or Pakistani we invariably lump them into the same category because they are the same people.


  • Amjad
    Apr 12, 2012 - 7:59AM

    @Maxxx Hardcore: I don’t know about you but I have seen that Indians of different regions look different too. It’s only Indians in Punjab or the North who may look more similar to Pakistanis across the border but I know plenty of Indians who say that South Indians are shorter and darker compared to North Indians. Pakistan is north and west of India and it has influences of the neighbouring races from Central Asia and Middle East. This account for difference too. Even in Pakistan there is a big difference in the looks of people from different areas. Your logic is that all Indians look the same regardless of region. You seem to think that all Indians look the same and that all Indians and Pakistanis also look the same even from different areas? Sorry but I disagree.


  • stenson
    Apr 13, 2012 - 12:21AM

    @Maxxx Hardcore: I am not saying it is better or worse to have fair or dark skin. I am just relaying facts to you. Whether you like it or not most native Pakistanis are probably more fair skinned on average to Indians due to race influences. Why does stating the obvious bother you. What passes for fair skinned in Pakistan is not the same as what passes for fair skinned in Inida. I think you need to know that in Pakistan, Punjabis and Sindis are considered average complexion but in India, Punjabis would be considered fair compared to most Indians. I know many Indians here in America who say that they are fairer skinned because their family originated from such and such an area in Pakistan. That is why they say they are fairer than other Indians. Do you wonder why Hrithik Roshan whose family are from Gujranwali in Pakistani Punjab, Kabir Bedi whose family is from Sialkot District Pakistani Punjab or other Dilip Kumar whose family is from Peshawar look different from many Indians? You should not be so offended so easily.


  • Jawad Jutt
    Apr 13, 2012 - 1:59AM

    Yes some people of Pakistan have the inferiority complex of color but for the paindus like me Brown color is more beautiful. I belong from a village in Punjab and we still are singing songs like “Sanwali Salooni si mehmbooba” and whenever some of my friend try to emphasize White color as a matter of beauty i just give them a shut up call and then force them to listen to this song of international villager…..”Girl you Brown Rang ( Rang) have bewitched the Village guys” .



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