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Skin bleaching: What is behind unusual trend?

Is a lighter complexion better?

Isabell Rivera OW Contributor | 7/25/2019, midnight

The term “Whiteness” was and still is considered as “pure” by many, and the lighter the better. Because lighter skin has always been associated with money and status, many people—mostly women— all around the globe, are obsessed with lighter skin through “skin bleaching,” no matter what the risks are.

The skin bleaching phenomenon has been persistent for centuries—originating in Europe—and can be found in various countries. In Southeast Asia, such as the Philippines, someone of a White complexion was considered as noble, even aristocratic. Since the sun was always out, someone who was rich was able to afford to stay inside, while the poor people had to work in the fields. The same mentality existed in European aristocracy.

Queen Elizabeth I was said to be the pioneer of the 16th century skin lightening “trend,” by using a make-up base with lead in it that had to be mixed with vinegar, to whiten the skin.

Skin bleaching is loosely associated with the “colorism” that happened in the days of slavery. Light-skinned slaves, who were the product of interacial relationships, between slave masters and slaves, were favored and assigned to do lighter work in the house. It was believed that these persons were smarter and better looking due to their White traits, whereas dark-skinned slaves, who had to work in the field under the beaming sun received harsher treatment. This form of racism became so embedded in the Black community, that light-skinned Blacks got criticized by dark-skinned Blacks for not being “Black enough” or dark-skinned women were told, they were not beautiful enough.

According to the Association of Black Psychologists, “colorism” means “the preference for lighter skin” and can affect the self-esteem of an individual and the perception of beauty, as well as economic opportunities.”

However, many domestic Black women in the U.S., for instance, do not support the craze over skin bleaching, such as women in Jamaica. There is however a difference between “skin bleaching” and “skin lightening creams.” Many African-American women occasionally use “skin lightening” creams to eliminate dark spots and to even-out their skin tone.

Nevertheless, bleaching, as well as lightening creams are not without risk. The active ingredients found in skin bleaching creams, hydroquinone and corticosteroids - also known as hydrocortisone- as well as mercury can be cancerous, as well as cause other skin issues.

The possible side effects can include:

Skin irritation and inflammation (redness and swelling);

A burning or stinging sensation;

Itchy and flaky skin.

Longterm use can lead to:

Thinning of the skin;

Visible blood vessles in the skin;

Kidney, liver and nerve damage.

Former baseball slugger Sammy Sosa is perhaps the biggest name today to have undergone a form of skin bleaching. In 2013, Sosa appeared on Panama television with a drastically lighter complexion, although the former athlete’s “new face” was reportedly first spotted at the 2009 Latin Grammys in Las Vegas. Since then, baseball fans, sports commentators—and dermatologists—have spoken to what could have caused the skin condition. It turned out, it is all cosmetic. Sosa later told the Associated Press that he is not trying to look like the late Michael Jackson, nor is he suffering from a skin disorder.