Photo: Stocksy


A Summary of Skin Bleaching

Skin bleaching is the beauty and health practice of using creams, soaps, powders, serums, lotions, pills, injections, and other substances to lighten one’s skin. Skin bleaching is a common practice used all over the world including places such as Africa, India, and the United States. The skin lighting industry has a net worth of ten billion dollars. Making it a profitable and yet dangerous industry to its consumers. While skin bleaching is popular among women and men some of its products poses a serious health crisis. Skin lighting origins explore psychosocial effects of white skin being associated with success and status for hundreds of years. Reasons for skin bleaching vary from vanity to believed necessity.


A History of Skin Beauty Ideals

Skin color has a long history of displaying social status in a variety of different societies. Through history light skin has been seen as a status symbol for wealth. Showing that a person was privileged enough to stay in an indoors rather than having to work outdoors. During the 16thcentury Queen Elizabeth I set beauty standards by applying white powder and paint to her face to appear unnaturally pale. She also would intake poisons wafers that would make her complexion appear lighter. White or pale skin then became synonymous us with status, success, and purity. In other parts of the world such as Africa, skin lighting became popular during the time of the independence of America from Britain.


Racism throughout history has also enforced beliefs such as black or darker skin being associated with being dirty. While white skin was seen as pure and clean. Skin bleaching creams and products began being manufactured in the 19thcentury in southern United States. Today skin bleaching/ lightening products are common among different ages, ethnicities, and nationalities. Products are also more accessible now than ever before.


Reasons for Skin Bleaching

  1. Beauty Ideals: the beauty idea of white skin dates back to ancient times and has long since been repeated as an ideal complexion all the way to present times.
  2. Status and Success: White skin is still widely believed to be associated directly to success. Many women see skin bleaching less as an act of vanity but as a way to be taken seriously in their professional lives.
  3. Psychosocial Roots: The western influence of beauty ideas has played a role in the market for beauty products such as skin bleaching. Racism has played a role in deep rooted insecurities regarding darker skin.


Photo: CNN


Dangers of Skin Bleaching

Skin bleaching despite its popularity has been described as a public health threat. Many skin bleaching products contain harmful substances such as Mercury and high doses of steroids. Mercury can cause rashes, discoloration of the skin, excessive hair growth, acne, and scaring. These ingredients can lead to kidney damage and failure. Mercury can also cause mental issues as well such as anxiety and depression. It also causes harm to the reproductive system and the brain Although products with these ingredients have been banned or regulated in some countries they still pose a threat to the market. You can read the full World Health Organizationsreport which investigates in detail the effects of these dangerous substances found in skin bleaching products.


Skin Bleaching Around the World

Skin bleaching products are commonly used in African countries. Statistics for percentages of women that use skin bleaching products on a regular basis show 25% in Mali, 77% in Nigeria (highest in the world), 27% in Senegal, 35% in South Africa, and 59% in Togo. In China it was found that 40% of women use skin bleaching or lightening products. Skin lighting products are also common in India, South American countrie,s Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. In India 61% of the skin-care market is composed of skin lightening products. Skin Lightening is also extremely common in skin care in Asian countries such as Korea. K-beauty products offer a variety of skin lightening options. The picture below shows a Jamaican woman preparing skin bleaching cream

Photo: Marie Claire



There are a variety of options for skin bleaching and brightening products. Some of the most common forms include, creams, powders, soaps commonly marketed an antiseptic soap, lotions, and face washes. Skin Lightening products are extremely accessible and can be found in common retailers around the United States such as Walmart. There are also thousands of results when looking online for products. Skin Lightening products are also commonly marketed as “brightening” or “correcting”. In the K-Beauty industry (Korean Beauty) they are often marketed as lightening products


List of common Skin lightening and bleaching products available online:

  1. Clinicians Complex Skin Bleaching Hand and Body Lotion
  2. Freud’s Summit Skin Whitener Tone and Bleach Cream

3.    Porcelain Skin Lightening Day Cream and Fade Dark Spots Treatment

4.    Dr. Woods Lightening Bar Soap

5.    Instant Skin Whitening Lotion

6.    Dark Skin Lightening Cream

Suggested Readings

Marie Claire’s Article on Skin Bleaching in Black Cultures

CNN Article on Fair Skin Being Linked with Beauty and Success

Skin Bleaching Journal Article about the Dangers of Skin Bleaching


Brown, O. (2019, Janaury 15). Banning skin bleaching products won’t work as long as fair skin is linked with beauty and success. Retrieved from CNN:

Emma K. T. Benn, c. a.-H. (2016). Skin Bleaching and Dermatologic Health of African and Afro-Caribbean Populations in the US: New Directions for Methodologically Rigorous, Multidisciplinary, and Culturally Sensitive Research. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb), 453-459.

Kebede, R. (2017, June 21). Why Black Women in a Predominately Black Culture Are Still Bleaching Their Skin. Retrieved from Marie Claire:

Organization, W. H. (2011). Preventing Disease Through Healthy Enviroment .Retrieved from World Health Organization :

Haley Saks is a freshman at ODU with an intended major in Psychology and a minor in Women Studies. Her goal for her career is to receive her M.D and become a licensed Psychiatrist. Along with studying Psychology, Haley also see Women’s Studies as an extremely important piece of her education. In understanding the mind and in becoming more socially aware. She is also a member of the Theta Eta chapter of Sigma Sigma Sigma on campus and serves as the PHC delegate on the executive board. She is excited for her time at ODU and what is to come after it.