People Have Mixed Reactions To Major Beauty Brands Removing “Fair” & “Whitening” From Product Names

The beauty industry has been problematic for so long. Heck, it’s one of the biggest contributors to insecurity, unrealistic and uninclusive standards of beauty as well as colourism. For generations, the beauty industry has been an enabler for the media’s obsession and preference for ‘lighter skin’. Advertisements depicting “whitening” have been around since the 1940s, where the first “whitening” advertisement was from a brand called ‘Lucky Brown’ who marketed a skin bleaching product by showing a woman’s skin colour go from brown to white after it’s application. Now, almost 100 years later and in the midst of awareness surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, we are starting to see a shift in this colourist ideal. Major players in the beauty industry, L’Oreal and Unilever, have recently announced the removal of the words “whitening”, lightening”, “fair” in their marketing and product labels.


View this post on Instagram

🚨PROGRESS🚨 Unilever, Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal and Johnson & Johnson — some of the world’s biggest advertisers — sell beauty products that advocate lighter, whiter skin in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Those products are not marketed in the United States, but the sales of the skin lighteners have drawn criticism, especially from South Asians, for perpetuating colorism — the term describing the preference for lighter skin — in other countries, under popular brand names like Pond’s, Olay, Garnier and Neutrogena, and their own labels like Fair & Lovely. In South Asia, anti-blackness and colorism have origins that predate colonialism and systemically reinforce differences in caste and class. A change in consumer products is a big change and we should all be proud however this does not change every mindset. There is more to be done – keep pushing 💗 – – – – – #colorism #colourism #racism #discrimination #brownskingirls #loveyourskin #southasian #indianskincare #strongertogether #culture #heritage #southasian #black #minority #blm #equality #browngirlproblems #desi #asian #browngirlgang #womenofcolour #sexism #melaninmagic #southasianculture #browngirls #indian #immigration #feminism #asiangirls #darkskin

A post shared by @ melaninfocus on


Unilever’s India branch “Hindustan Unilever”, came forward last week to commit to rebranding their “Fair & Lovely” cosmetics line. This popular brand is sold across Asia – including India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand – and has been receiving flack over the years for being said to be the embodiment of skin colour exclusivity. A petition was filed to ban it and it seems like the British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company is finally listening. The company released a statement on the matter and announced that the new product name will be made public “once several legal and regulatory requirements are met in each country where the brand is available”.



The President of Unilever’s beauty and personal care division, Sunny Jain Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Unilever, Sanjiv Mehta, said:


We recognize that the use of the words ‘fair,’ ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this. We are making our skincare portfolio more inclusive and want to lead the celebration of a more diverse portrayal of beauty.”


Unilever has repeatedly been called out for their colourist campaigns since the launch of their whitening creams in 1975. From global social media campaigns like “#unfairandlovely” in 2016 to terrible marketing choices like the three-second video of a Black woman removing a brown T-shirt to reveal a white woman underneath in 2017 to suggest that the Dove Body Wash had ‘cleansed her’, the company is finally taking steps to change its reputation for denouncing darker skin. Previously, Unilever – which owns Dove, Suave, St. Ives, and Vaseline, among hundreds of other household-name brands – has said that they have never been intended for ‘skin bleaching’, but instead, were offering consumers a safer alternative to the harmful chemicals they were using.



Following suit, on Friday, French cosmetic giant L’Oréal – whose beauty brands include including Garnier, Maybelline New York, La Roche Posay, SkinCeuticals, and L’Oréal Paris – announced that they would remove words such as “whitening” or “fair” from products.



In their statement, L’Oreal shared that they have “decided to remove the words white/whitening, fair/fairness, light/lightening from all its skin evening products”. These include Garnier Skin Naturals White Complete Multi Action Fairness Cream and their L’Oreal Paris White Perfect skin.




However, despite this being a step towards progress, many have called out both Unilever and L’Oreal for choosing to continue selling the products. This is especially highlighted by the fact that, in early June, Johnson & Johnson pledged to put a stop to the production of their whitening products altogether. Some of the bestselling products under the brand include the ‘Clean & Clear Fairness’ and ‘Neutrogena Fine Fairness’ product lines.


View this post on Instagram

Neutrogena Fine Fairness Cream Neutrogena Fine Fairness Serun • • *Neutrogena Fine Fairness Cream with SPF 20 is a daily moisturizing whitening cream with exclusive Healthy-White complex that helps boost the whitening process and reduces the appearance of melanin and uneven pigmentation to give a fair, even skin tone. *Neutrogena® Fine Fairness Brightening Serum doubles your skin's whitening power for even-toned, lasting translucent fairness. *This breakthrough high penetrating formula penetrates beneath the skin surface and deactivates melanin production at the source for a renewed, visibly brightened skin tone. #neutrogena #neutrogenafinefairness #neutrogenaskincare #neutrogenaserum #fairnesscream #fairnessserum #faceserum #facecream #spf20 #whiteningcare #dermatology #dermatologist

A post shared by Cosmoline (@cosmolinelk) on


In a statement emailed to NPR, the brand was one of the earliest of the major companies taking part in the change resulting from the global debate on racism and racial inequality. The statement reads,


Conversations over the past few weeks highlighted that some product names or claims on our dark spot reducer products represent fairness or white as better than your own unique skin tone. This was never our intention — healthy skin is beautiful skin.”


The company also clarified that while they will no longer produce or ship the products, it will take a while for the products to be completely off shelves as they run through the stock that they currently have.



Most people seem to think that the decision to change the language but keep the products is simply not enough while some think that the move is completely unnecessary.



‘Lighter’ and ‘fairer’ skin has been almost fetishised in Asia, where most countries were taught that ‘white skin is supreme’ after having been colonised by the West for years. This belief is especially prevalent in India, where the caste system and idea that ‘dark is dirty’ is deeply rooted in its society and in countries like China, where people with ‘fairer’ skin are viewed as ‘beautiful’, ‘elegant’ and ‘rich’. However, globally, almost 60% of women in India and 40% across Africa use products marketed for lightening skin, including bleach (as reported by AJ+).


View this post on Instagram

"ANYSHADE & LOVELY- being KALI is not ugly anymore🌻." . . India's obsession with fair skin is well known and deep-rooted. Colour prejudice is widespread and practised openly across the country. . Indian society believes skin colour determines a person's worth. In our culture, all virtues are associated with "fair" while anything dark has negative connotations. TV programmes, movies, billboards, advertisements, they all reinforce the idea that "fair is beautiful". . The Advertising Standards Council of India attempted to address skin-based discrimination in 2014 by banning ads that depict people with darker skin as inferior. . This was a step in the right direction, but it failed to change much. . Many years later, India's media and advertisement industries are still promoting the idea that women with dark complexions should aspire to be fairer. . And most dark-skinned women are still desperately trying to look fair. Some use makeup that is meant for lighter skinned women, choosing to look "whitewashed" rather than embracing their natural skin tone. Others use bleaching products. . I know people who are at least a good 10 shades lighter than me who feel their skin colour is not good enough. . In India, everyone wants to be fairer . Fair & lovely has dropped the word ‘fair’ from its brand name and I’m not sure if I should be celebrating this news or not. The bigger concern is when will we drop the belief that only fair is beautiful? . WHAT'S YOUR BELIEF??? comment below 👇🏽 . . . Art: @doodleodrama . #feminiyaaa #feminism #beautystandards #allshades #brownisbeautiful #fairandlovely #fairskinobsession #brownskingirls

A post shared by S A J A T i B H A D O U R i A (@feminiyaaa__) on


Cosmetics companies like L’Oréal, Unilever, Shiseido, and Procter & Gamble have been profiting off this insecurity and bias for decades. Nearly 6,300 tonnes of skin lightener were sold worldwide last year, according to Euromonitor International, including products marketed as anti-ageing creams targeting dark spots or freckles while in China alone, marketing research shows that whitening products reached a whopping 267 billion Malaysian ringgit in sales. Renaming is a step forward and completely removing these products is a big step towards eradicating colourism. But, with the number of brands and companies who still market and produce these products, how long will it be until we see the results? Do you think this change is enough or is it unnecessary?






*Cover image credits:
Background: Photo by Jeff Siepman on Unsplash
Art: Science & Samosa on Instagram