The company is admitting that some of its products are marketed to "represent fairness or white as better than your own unique skin tone."

By Faith Brar
June 23, 2020
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Getty Images/Praneat

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues to inspire change around the globe, medical device company Johnson & Johnson has announced that it will stop producing two lines of skin-lightening products sold overseas.

The products include those in Neutrogena's Fine Fairness collection (available in Asia and the Middle East) and in the Clear Fairness line by Clean & Clear (sold in India), according to Reuters.

Products in both collections have been described not just as dark-spot reducers, but also as a way to achieve "beautiful skin that is fairer and brighter", or "double your skin's whitening power for even-toned lasting translucent fairness."

In a statement to The New York Times, Johnson & Johnson admitted that these product descriptions imply that fair skin tones are "better" than dark skin tones. "Conversations over the past few weeks highlighted that some product names or claims on our Neutrogena and Clean & Clear dark-spot reducer products represent fairness or white as better than your own unique skin tone," the company told The Times. "This was never our intention—healthy skin is beautiful skin." (Related: How Racism Affects Your Mental Health)

The company also noted in its statement to The Times that while it's halted production and shipping of these collections, both lines will remain on shelves until they’re out of stock.

The cultural desire for fair skin in the Middle East and Asia isn’t exactly new. For centuries, having light skin has been associated with both wealth and beauty—something celebrities, such as Priyanka Chopra, have been vocal about.

In a 2017 interview with Vogue India, Chopra shared that while growing up in India, she was deeply insecure about her dark skin. “I was very conscious of the color of my skin,” she told the publication. “[In India,] you’re prettier if you’re fairer.”

The actress even admitted to using skin-lightening creams in an effort to change her skin tone. “A lot of girls with darker skin hear things like, ‘Oh, poor thing, she’s dark,'” Chopra said. “In India, they advertise skin-lightening creams: ‘Your skin’s gonna get lighter in a week.’ I used it [when I was very young].”

Chopra also opened up to Vogue India about a skin-lightening cream commercial she starred in at the beginning of her Bollywood career in her 20s. “I did a commercial for a skin-lightening cream. I was playing that girl with insecurities,” Chopra told the publication. “And when I saw it, I was like, ‘Oh shit. What did I do?’" After seeing herself in the ad, Chopra said she made a conscious effort from then on to talk more about "being proud" of the way she looks. "I actually like my skin tone," she said.

Even Queer Eye’s Tan France, an avid promoter of self-love, has shared how he struggled with the color of his skin when he was a child. (Related: This Beauty Guru Is the Queen of Real Talk When It Comes to Acne-Shaming)

"When I was five, I remember thinking, 'God, I'd give anything to be white,'" he wrote in his book, Naturally Tan, according to BBC.

"The importance of being pale is very bizarre,” France—who grew up in the English town of Doncaster and is of Pakistani heritage—continued in his book, according to BBC. “The people around me certainly didn't intend to pass on this belief, but I was aware of it and affected by it just the same. I had been so conditioned to think that if you were white, you were automatically more attractive."

At 10 years old, France actually stole his cousin's skin-bleaching cream, he shared in his book, according to BBC. "I kept the dirty little secret to myself,” France wrote. “I'd only use it at night, before bed, when no one else was going to catch me.”

Today, France not only embraces the color of his skin but he also actively encourages others to do the same. In 2019, he launched Shaded, an Instagram community that celebrates diversity and spotlights the beauty, desirability, and achievements of BIPOC individuals. His goal? To remind the world that BIPOC people have “the same needs, wants, and desires as every fair-skinned person out there.”

Johnson & Johnson's decision to halt its production of skin-lightening products represents an important step in the right direction. However, the skin-lightening industry is still considered "one of the fastest-growing beauty industries worldwide" and is estimated to be worth over $31 billion by 2024, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Time will tell whether Johnson & Johnson's decision will change that predicted trajectory. But for now, companies such as L'Oreal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever continue to produce and sell skin-lightening products.

The good news: There are multiple petitions circulating to ban the production of these products. Here's to hoping these companies start listening to these messages.

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