Skin whitening creams are considered beauty miracles in some parts of the world. Women in countries such as India and Japan use these creams as part of their daily skin care routines, usually with the hope of achieving fairer complexions. In other countries, though, the creams are used for medicinal purposes - to even out blotchy skin or remove pigment from dark spots, such as moles.
Though the Western world seems infatuated with the idea of achieving the perfect tan, pale skin is highly coveted in other parts of the world. Women in the Far East and South Asia are careful not to expose their skin to sunlight, fearing any hint of color will destroy their milky beauty.
The pale skin ideal is thought to have derived from the notion that only the wealthy could afford to stay indoors. A lighter complexion suggested femininity and sophistication. Those with darker skin, however, were laborers who tolled for hours in the sunlight. Thus, a pale complexion was instantly associated with aristocrats of high society, and was considered superior to skin of color.
The quest for fairness was taken seriously, and women resorted to highly unusual means to achieve as light a complexion as possible. In China, pearls from seashells were ground into a fine powder and swallowed in an effort to whiten the skin. In many other countries of the region, women wrapped themselves up mummy-style in order to avoid excess exposure to sunlight. This practice is still common today, and it is not unusual to spot a woman clad in arm-length gloves, a mouth-covering handkerchief, sunglasses and a hat, even on an intensely hot day.
The Whitening Industry
The almost obsessive desire to achieve a white complexion has lead to a booming industry of skin whitening creams and other similar products. A highly lucrative collection of whiteners, brighteners, lighteners and illuminators fill the shelves of Asian drug and beauty supply stores. Even specialty Asian stores in America feature the products prominently in their store fronts and advertising. Overseas, well-known beauty brands like Neutrogena, Nivea and L'Oreal offer their own ranges of skin whiteners and related products.
Skin whitening creams are among the most popular types of lighteners, chiefly because they are readily available and offer an easy solution to a widespread phenomenon. The following is a list of skin whitening creams:
- Fair and Lovely: Launched in 1976 by Hindustan Lever Limited, Fair and Lovely is considered the leader of the skin whitening cream pack. The brand's Multivitamin Total Fairness Cream promises users will see a marked difference in skin tone within four weeks. The company's web site even features a "Wall of Fame," featuring Fair and Lovely users who have achieved the desired fairness effect.
- Barielle Porcelain Skin Whitening Cream: The brand, renowned in America for its nail care products, offers a skin whitening cream enriched with natural oils and fruit extracts.
- Lancome Blanc Expert Mela-No Complex Night Renovator: This nighttime treatment promises to lighten skin during its renewal cycle, resulting in a translucent-like radiance.
- Kose Sekkisei Whitening Cream: Containing an abundance of ingredients, including Melothria and Cordyseps, this product claims to improve the skin's constitution, thereby allowing the skin to "accept" the whitening process more readily.
Skin Whitening Cream Ingredients
Skin whiteners generally achieve results because they inhibit the production of melanin (which is responsible for darkening of the skin) and absorb the sun's ultraviolet rays. It's quite a task for a simple cream - and one that doesn't come at a small price. Not only can skin whitening creams be a costly investment, they're also packed with ingredients that may seem quite unfamiliar to the average drugstore shopper. The following are two of the most commonly used skin whitening ingredients:
Though hydroquinone is considered the gold standard of melanin inhibitors, it does not bleach the skin. However, it is present in many, if not most, skin whitening products. Those with sensitive skin may want to consider a more natural alternative, as hydroquinone is an irritant.
An additive used to reduce the production of melanin, arbutin serves a number of purposes. It aids in the prevention of freckles and liver spots and the treatment of sunburns. As a whitener, it works by inhibiting the activity of skin pigment cells and their enzymes, known as tyrosinase. Because it contains only a limited concentration of hydroquinone, there is not sufficient evidence that arbutin-based products are successful whiteners.