KARACHI: The commercial starts with a tan girl sitting alone and feeling miserable about her complexion. Everyone at the office and all of her family shuns her; fellow girls make fun of her while the men ignore her. The girl is depressed and feels hopeless because she can’t achieve anything. Why? Because she has a dark complexion. Then, one of her friends, who happens to be fair and pretty, comes to her, consoles her and asks her to use a certain ‘fairness’ cream which will work wonders on her skin. She uses it and poof! The magic cream does wonders to her skin. She turns into a beautiful girl with fair and spotless skin and suddenly achieves everything she wants in life.
Advertisements of the like have convinced us that if you have a dark complexion, you won’t be accepted in this society. We are obsessed with fairness and that is evident from the way these creams do brisk business in the country.
We must know how a person gets a dark skin colour. There is a pigment in the body called melanin. The more melanin there is in the skin, the darker the skin is. Melanin has its own useful effects — it blocks out the cancer causing rays of the sun, which helps explain the fact that dark-skinned people are less affected by skin cancer. Fairness creams block the secretion of the melanin in the skin to make it appear less dark. A warning issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) says that a common ingredient in skin lightening products — mercury — can have adverse effects such as kidney damage, reduction in the skin’s resistance to bacterial and fungal infections, anxiety, depression or psychosis and also peripheral neuropathy.
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, desired results may be achieved temporarily, but in the long run, they wear off, leading to frustration, depression and the need to switch from one product to another.
Many dermatologists feel that suppressing the production of melanin can have adverse long-term effects. Cosmetic products only polish the skin’s surface. What is important is to keep the skin healthy and clean. Any skin tone can be beautiful, as long as the skin is smooth, flexible and healthy. Why else would Westerners vie for dark skin and go for bronzers and a sun-tanned look?
Syed Omer Nadeem
Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2014.