Sunday, April 14, 2024

Three Shades Fairer

The month of March marks the international celebration of Women’s month. And what better way to celebrate this than dissect the social problem that lurks especially amongst Filipinas – the battle to become “three shades fairer.”

The thriving market of skin whitening products

Based on L’Oreal’s data, the Asia-Pacific region dominates the cosmetics market, comprising more than 30% that of the international market. In 2015, the global skin lightening market was valued at $10 billion and is estimated to become $31.2 billion in 2024. With the market forecasted to triple within a short span of time, more producers are enticed to jump into the bandwagon, only to produce more unregulated and unsafe products.

Idyllic Luxury Turns Deadly

Just as it is perceived that the topical applications of these so-called skin lighteners are safe and not damaging, they are not. Dr. Carlos A. Charles, founding dermatologist at Derma di Colore, recounts seeing irreversible skin thinning from using high-strength hydroquinone among his patients. Hydroquinone is a toxic chemical used in photo processing, rubber manufacturing, and hair dyes. But this chemical is also extensively used in skin whitening products. Although this is regulated and even banned in some countries, most consumers acquire this through unregulated distribution channels, especially with the advent of e-commerce platforms. In the Philippines, there is a growing danger of cheap over-the-counter products with dangerously high mercury contents. In an interview with CAN Insider Philippines, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), denounces the use of these products. When asked why these products continue to exist in the market, the agency passes the burden on another government body, the Bureau of Customs. The said agency admits that the existing corruption in the organization is responsible for the entry of these smuggled goods into the country. The situation becomes more alarming. These smuggled goods also include the trendy Glutathione drips where the products are not topically applied but injected into the patient’s bloodstream. These fad products are disguised as “innovations” by marketing strategists. Glutathione, as opposed to the claims of these distributors, do not make your skin fairer. In fact, its adverse side effects include toxicity of the nervous system, kidney, and liver. It may also lead to a serious skin condition such as Stevens Johnson syndrome.

A Morena’s Journey to a Fairer Skin

The entertainment industry, the primary source of influence for most Filipinos, does not help. In fact, they fuel the fire. With billboards, TV and radio advertisements flaunting their “white skin,” the ideal basis for beauty translates to having fair skin. Insupermarkets, malls, and drugstores, skin lightening products dominate the shelves as brands battle it out with their marketing tactics, convincing morenas to switch lifestyles to achieve the “perfect, glowing white skin”.

The Cost of Loving your Skin Color

Colorism is defined as the prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color. Truth be told, a person’s skin color should not become a label for their beauty or social standing. It is simply a proof of how much sun’s light one receives, given the location they live in. Surely, people living near the equator have darker skin tones than those farther from it. At the end of the day, it is important to note that the market is driven by the demand of its consumers. Until we continue to patronize products on skin lightening and we fall for the promising advertisements of these big brands, we remain at their mercy, who by the way, do not care if we actually become “three shades fairer” or not.

By Franciss Nikole Elli
feature writer


Mahto, J. K., Dr Anjali. (2019, August 27). Everything You Need To Know About Controversial “Beauty” Drips – Including The Risks.

Tharps, L. (2016, October 6). The Difference Between Racism and Colorism. Time; Time.

When The Desire To Be Fair-Skinned Can Be Deadly | Undercover Asia | Full Episode. (2020, April 18).

Why the market for skin whitening is growing. (2018). [YouTube Video]. In YouTube.


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