As someone whose parents are ethnically Thai/Chinese, I come from a background where people are either extremely dark or extremely light in complexion. Just like other ethnicities, we all come in different shapes and shades.
More recently, because it’s summer time, I can get extremely tan; whereas during the winter months, while my complexion isn’t milky white like my mother’s, I am much lighter. The other night I was looking at some Thai beauty products online in search of an herbal night cream that my mom loves for her upcoming birthday and came across multiple creams with the purpose of “skin lightening” and “skin bleaching.”
It was quite shocking to see the obsession with skin bleaching especially in the Asian community. Skin bleaching, if you’ve never heard of it before, is a process of lightening your complexion. Darker skinned people bleach their skin in attempt to be lighter. People do this for various reasons but the main reason is vanity. It’s a cosmetic procedure with no health benefits, and it’s primarily due to color-ism and in some cases classism.
After doing some researching to become more informed about what is really in skin bleaching products, I found the two main active ingredients are hydroquinone and mercury. In 1982 the FDA approved hydroquinone for over-the-counter products. This was typically used for hyper-pigmentation, freckles, and dark spots. However, in 2006 the FDA revoked that approval because further testing on animals were found to cause harmful side effects included infertility and cancer. The other ingredient that is found in most skin bleaching products is mercury, which is more commonly found in African American targeted products. Mercury is commonly known to be very harmful, and these products are being made and sold illegally online, often untested. These products can come in the form of pills, soaps, and topical creams. Mercury poisoning is not a joke, you can get kidney failure, loss of brain function, fatigue and numbness. Physically the side effects can be blisters, skin ulcers, rash, and burning.
How these two ingredients work is basically they attack the melanin in your skin. They stop the production of melanocyte cells. Typically the amount of melanocyte cells depends on genetics. Unfortunately I have known friends of the Asian and Black community who bleach their skin and they look rather gray. Having melanin in your skin has a lot of health benefits, one of them being your skin ages more slowly. Additionally, melanin provides the ability to dissipate UV Rays, meaning you are less susceptible to radiation poisoning from the sun. Of course everyone should still wear sunscreen!
I believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am proud that I have a lot of melanin in my body, however the downside of it is I scar extremely easily and scars appear more visible on people with more melanin. I think all skin shades are beautiful, and it does not define what makes someone appear more attractive whether they are darker or lighter. I know this topic may seem a bit controversial, but this is just my opinion.
I hope we all can learn to love ourselves a bit more and the skin that we’re in. And I hope that with time there becomes more representation of beauty in all forms and not just what is considered to be the standard.