The Indian Fairness Market and the Unfair Colour Discrimination

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India is a country famous for its culture, natural scenic beauty, history, Bollywood, festivals and….beautiful women. Indian women, according to many beauty experts, are the best-looking women on earth. From popular painter Raja Ravi Varma of the British-Raj period to the judging panel of Miss Universe beauty pageant, everyone celebrates the beauty of Indian women.

However, there’s been a crazy obsession for fair-toned skin in India. Dusky ladies are often subject to racism in their own country. It is believed that the concept “white is right” is the product of British Raj and India’s own caste system. But now, when we are developing and modernising and have no more invaders ruling us, why does this obsession continue to engulf the Indian mindset?

The country is flooded with skin-lightening products by several beauty brands. Many fairness cream advertisements used to (some still do) portray dark-skinned people (especially girls) as low-confident, unattractive and ineligible for job promotions and marriage! The latest trend in the beauty and whitening products markets in India is the rapid emergence of gender-specific products. Now men’s grooming is not limited to just shaving sets, toiletries, and fragrances; men’s whitening cream is an add-on making Indian men appear “fair and handsome”.

“Hindustan Unilever’s “Fair & Lovely” cream dominates the Indian fairness products market valued at USD 450mn”

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People’s struggle to become fair doesn’t stop at whitening products available at general stores; they also turn to dermatologists and cosmetologists to “instantly” or permanently get fairer skin. Topical treatments, laser treatment, chemical peeling, and micro-dermabrasions are some of the skin-whitening measures Indians are largely opting for.

Protesting discrimination based on colour, many Indian celebrities, organisations and youths came forward with movements like “Dark is Beautiful”. New regulations and guidelines have been introduced by the Advertising Standards Council of India to stop beauty companies from promoting skin colour discrimination. Recently, in the Zero Hour in Rajya Sabha, Congress MP Viplava Thakur demanded the government to ban fairness creams advertisements as they tend to generate inferiority complex amongst women.

For the “wise” lot of Indians, the definition of beauty is probably different from the one cited by Fair&Lovely users. Rational Indians know that beauty has got nothing to do with the colour of the skin. A glowing, healthy dark skin is also beautiful. This mindset makes “skincare” a more logical concept than “skin whitening”. Skincare is any measure, product, or treatment used for keeping the facial and body skin healthy and clean. Skincare regimen not only gives a beautiful skin but prevents skin irritation and diseases. Because of increasing pollution, stress, UV radiations, and working hours, the demand for skincare products has increased. Many herbal and ayurvedic skincare treatments are trying to beat skin-whitening products in the market. It is estimated that sales of skincare product will yield INR 156bn by 2020, growing at a CAGR of 9%.

Nevertheless, India has to go a long way to ditch its obsession for fair skin and accept beauty in whatever colour and form it comes.