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Why Women Whiten Their Skin

Updated on January 27, 2019
Crystal Gordon profile image

Eloquent. Aesthetic. Starter. Magnetic. Spiritual. Strong. Determined. Ambitious. Freethinking. Leader. Confident. Adventurous. Managerial.

What is Skin Whitening?

Skin whitening, also referred to as skin bleaching and/or skin lightening, is a global phenomenon. It is the cosmetic use of chemical agents to lighten the complexion of one’s skin.

The practice of chemically lightening the skin has become more trendy, especially in the entertainment business, within recent years.

This practice of whitening skin is controversial because it stirs issues of White supremacy, self-identity, and severe health risks.

“Light skin” vs “Dark skin”

How we've already lost.
How we've already lost. | Source

Why Women Whiten

Women who whiten their skin do so because they believe it is necessary to make themselves more attractive and appealing.

Many women become addicted to the products; obsessively purchasing in an ongoing quest to achieve an unrealistic measure of beauty, as well as, the acceptance from others.

A contributing factor to skin whitening addiction is negative self-image, which leads to over compensation and/or addiction.

Addictions can stem from pain, from not getting needs met, and from a lack of resources or support made readily available, as well as, accessible to the person.

If the person does not truthfully acknowledge the underlying issues associated with the addiction (in this case, whitening), then the addiction will linger on.

Queen Elizabeth

A copy from a lost original of Elizabeth's coronation portrait, before she supposedly lost her hair
A copy from a lost original of Elizabeth's coronation portrait, before she supposedly lost her hair | Source

Whitening History

Skin whitening is an old practice.

The history of skin whitening can be traced to the Elizabethan era of powder and paint.

Queen Elizabeth is credited as being the first of her time to adopt a completely "made-up" appearance by painting her face with a white powder, which is referred to as Venetian ceruse.

Noblewomen of Britain followed Queen Elizabeth's lead but cosmetics soon became associated with disease because of poor hygiene.

Women rarely washed their faces and layered new powder over old, which led to a number of serious plagues and smallpox outbreaks.

Years of this skin maltreatment were found to turn their skin a dull shade of gray.

At the time, bathing was a rare occurrence and only the privileged were able to mask their unsightly skin with the infamous white powder and protect themselves from sun exposure.

As a result, society equated white skin with cleanliness, high social standing, and wealth; meanwhile, the darker tones were associated with the working masses who had to toil in the sun.

Beyonce's Elizabethan Era Inspired Look

Elizabethan-oid "coolness" from Beyonce
Elizabethan-oid "coolness" from Beyonce | Source

A geisha at work in Gion Kyoto

Geisha can still be found living in traditional Geisha houses called okiya in areas called hanamachi (花街 "flower towns")
Geisha can still be found living in traditional Geisha houses called okiya in areas called hanamachi (花街 "flower towns") | Source

The Hidden Geisha World, Now Unveiled (Maiko's)

There are also specific hairstyles for maiko and for geisha
There are also specific hairstyles for maiko and for geisha | Source

Skin Whitening In Asia

In Asia, the market for skin whitening products is largest.

Historically, female beauty was featured as light or white skinned via Chinese courtesan art, Japanese Kabuki Theatre, and geisha's there.

Geisha's would wear white face paint when they were allowed to speak to the emperor because they could only do so through a screen or veil, which affected his visibility.

And, their job responsibilities included meeting patrons and "performing" (prostitution).

Nevertheless, the only lighting was a candle or lantern light, so the white face paint was used to make their faces more visible in the dimly lit rooms.

In Kyoto, western Japan, the white face of the geisha is actually the trademark look of the maiko.

A maiko is an apprentice (not exactly same as geisha) and she is expected to never react to unwaranted advances from patrons.

These advances intimidate the young girls and many say that the heavy face paint helps to mask blushing (e.g., feeling of embarrassment or shame) when they're approached by patrons.

When a maiko gains more experience, she is deemed a full-fledged Geisha and the look becomes simpler.

Women in China would also ground pearls from seashells and swallowed them to lighten their skin.

Dencia, West African Pop Star

Whitenicious is an abomination': African pop star is accused of selling skin bleach with controversial pigment-altering cream
Whitenicious is an abomination': African pop star is accused of selling skin bleach with controversial pigment-altering cream | Source

Skin Whitening In Africa

The manifestations of lightening one's skin is also being practiced disproportionately within communities “of color” and exceedingly among people of African descent.

Skin bleaching is very visible in East Africa.

It's also been discovered that over a third of the women in South Africa bleach their skin to obtain "beauty" and “whiteness”.

And, a West African pop star, named Dencia, recently launched a whitening skin cream called Whitenicious.

It is evident that the historical legacies of slavery, colonization, and westernization in Africa have shaped internalized racism ideals among the women there.

The sad reality is that now, even in Africa, dark skin tones are no longer celebrated or revered as beautiful.

Some Black women in the US also practice skin bleaching in order to assimilate into dominating groups and fulfill their unrealistic image aspirations.

Luckily, there's been a new wave in Hollywood recently that celebrated dark skin for its true beauty via Lupita Nyong'o and her Academy Award winning performance in 12 Years a Slave.

Lupita's Acceptance Speech

Dencia Tries to Defend Whitenicious

Fans React to Dencia's Diss at Lupita Nyong'o Once Again

Lupita vs. Dencia: What happened?

Dencia has repeatedly criticized Lupita Nyong'o after, the actress dropped the name of her company, Whitenicious, during her acceptance speech for the Essence Magazine Black Women In Hollywood Breakthrough Performance Award in February.

Nyong’o described a letter she received from a young girl of African descent, who had been contemplating the use of Dencia's product.

The young girl was inspired by the recent images of Nyong'o in the media.

She ultimately decided against lightening her skin because she identified with the new Hollywood "It" girl who resembled her and exhibited true pride in her natural skin tone.

Unfortunately, Dencia was offended by Nyong’o’s statements.

She tweeted her thoughts, which mocked Nyong'o's speech, in addition to the acclaim the actress has earned recently.

Nevertheless, Nyong’o has signed a new deal with Lancôme, which establishes her as the beauty brand’s first black ambassador.

Meawhile, Dencia and her product have been slammed for promoting ads that depict the pop star with extremely lighter skin, which does not accurately reflect her true life appearance.

In a recent interview, Dencia publicly defended herself, her brand, and the general use of skin-lightening products; however, fans were less than impressed with Whitenicious and Dencia's rants about Nyong'o.

Skin Whitening Obsession

Another Reason to Avoid Lightening Creams


Whitening Has Major Health Risks

Skin Whitening is detrimental to one's psychological well being, but it also has major consequences that can extend much farther than emotions and self esteem.

It can cause serious health problems.

Many casualties were reported since the 1950s in relation to people using "skin whitening" soaps that were made with mercury, carboxylic acid, and hydroquinone.

Hydroquinone also has been linked to ochronosis (thickening and darkening of skin), for people of "color" in particular.

It can also lead toward abnormal functioning of the adrenal glands, as well as, blood diseases.

Nevertheless, hydroquinone can be found in over 200 skin lightening products sold in the US today.

Mercury, also known as mercurous chloride, poisons the bloodstream and can harm the brain development of fetuses and babies.

It is toxic when used in cosmetics because it is readily absorbed and the end results point toward kidney, brain, nervous and gastrointestinal disorders.

It also causes skin rashes, mood swings, memory loss, and muscle weakness.

Not to mention, it can affect the central nervous system and it increases the risk of skin cancer, leukemia, as well as, liver or kidney failure.

Everyone wants clearer, more beautiful, radiant skin; however, there are healthier ways to go about achieving such results without losing your identity.

Natural Remedies for Correcting Skin Problems

This will get rid of the old tanned cells and make way for new, cells!
Pay attention to exfoliating your skin from time to time so that you get rid of the dead skin.
Helps maintain or improve general health of skin
Take away all refined food products and replace them with healthy and nutritious ones.
Citric acid is natural bleacher
Cut a lemon/lime into 2 halves. Rub it gently on your face and neck. Wash it after 10-20 minutes. Doing it regularly will cleanse your skin and slowly start lightening it.
This helps keep skin free of dehydration and so the look is healthy and unblemished.
Increase your daily intake of water.
Papaya Soap
Using it regularly will lighten your skin
Lather it to your skin for 3 minutes
Oatmeal & Tomato juice
Brightens and tightens skin
Mix equal parts of oatmeal and tomato juice. Apply this mixture to your skin and allow it to settle for at least half an hour before rinsing it off from your skin thoroughly.
Another natural skin bleacher
Pour some Milk into a bowl, grab a towel dip it in the bowl and rub it generously around your face

Quick Question...

Would You Consider Whitening Your Skin?

See results


White skin is viewed as the "right skin" all over the globe.

However, chemically whitening your skin, especially for prolonged periods of time, is a bad idea.

It suggests that the user is potentially internalizing racism and/or oppression rather than merely trying to correct the "dark spots", as Dencia claims her product does.

These ideals have been manufactured by a color-conscious society and contribute to the anxiety women have about facing the world on a daily basis.

Skin whitening can also cause severe harm to your skin in the long run.

Therefore, don't be swayed by the bombarding images of lighter looking celebrities and cheap creams on the shelves.

Find the beauty inside yourself and hold on to it, which is obviously easier said than done.

So, if you find yourself truly struggling with this issue, know that it is OK and you are certainly not alone.

Talk to someone about it, preferably a professional who specializes in body image issues.

But, whatever you do, you mustn't lose your identity trying to achieve a standard of beauty that was not designed to celebrate your uniqueness in the first place.

Now, the individual tasks are to figure out who you are and learn to love that person more and more each day.

And, we must collectively stop sending out wrong, unhealthy, and superficial messages, like Dencia, about the "definition" of beauty.

Every individual is peculiar and perfect in their own way. And, the reality is that beauty has no shade.

Check out the links below for more information regarding the widespread epidemic of skin whitening.

Yellow Fever (Short Film on Skin, Race and Women’s Self-Image)

TED Talk on Beauty Standards

Lost DanceHall Rapper, Savage, Braggin About Skin Bleaching

© 2014 Crystal Gordon


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    Post Comment
    • profile image

      Robert Walker 

      21 months ago

      Wow - What an amazing article! Very scary the dangers and length one will go to at the sake of their health.

    • anwar hamdani profile image

      anwar hamdani 

      4 years ago

      “How to Whiten Your Skin

      Naturally - 100% Guarantee!”

    • BillyZhang profile image

      Billy Zhang 

      6 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      This is really interesting, before reading this I had no idea about skin whitening.


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