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Skin Color Politics, African Diaspora and Latinos in America and Latin America: Skin Lightening Creams [SERIES]--PART II

First Posted: Mar 04, 2014 11:48 AM EST

Continuation of Skin Color Politics, African Diaspora and Latinos in America and Latin America: Denouncement of Ethnic Identity [SERIES] --PART I

In 2012, sales of skin lightening creams in India alone totaled 258 tons, and the global market for skin lighteners is projected to reach US $19.8 billion by 2018 based on sales growth primarily in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, according to Andrew McDougall of Many of these skin-whitening products use active ingredients (such as mercurous chloride) and hydroquinone, which can be harmful. In fact, hydroquinone is banned in Europe, and skin lightening creams available in Nigeria has caused mutations in bacteria, proved to be possibly carcinogenic.

In Caribbean countries, such as Haiti, lighter-skinned people are wealthier and more successful, and those who have darker shades are called "ghetto." That alone has encouraged skin whitening within the community. The fascination with becoming "white" has increased over time in the small country, just as it has increased in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and it has become increasingly popular in Jamaica. Even with its growing popularity, skin lightening is also considered a taboo, so many who submit themselves to the treatment also reject the fact that it's taken place.

"Even if most people won't admit to skin bleaching it's easy to tell if they do it. In many cases the lightening is uneven -- some just lighten their faces, some the whole body, but certain creases like those around the knuckles and the ears remain darker. Some of the people I met told horror stories about bleaching," said Christina Berthaud, of Feet in 2 Worlds, in an article entitled Among Dark-Skinned Immigrants Some See Skin Bleaching as a Path to Success. "People who can't afford the creams, gels, or other products made for this purpose use household item such as Clorox bleach. Some create homemade concoctions using creams, gels, and even hair relaxers, which they apply and then wrap themselves in plastic wrap to make sure the bleach really "takes."'

The process undergone to lighten skin is often very dangerous, and the results are not necessarily what users of these treatments have bargained for. In 2012, a 39-year-old Mexican-American woman was diagnosed with mercury poisoning due to her use of skin lightening creams. She suffered from headaches, depression, numbness and forgetfulness; the mercury poisoning affected her nervous system, the kidneys, and even her personality. The cream used by the woman was smuggled in from Mexico, and an investigation was launched by police to root out the channels by which the unlabeled jars of mercury-laced cream made it into California's ethnic communities. Latinas, Asians and Filipinas were the predominant users of those creams in California.

The continual use of skin lightening creams that promote the idea that dark skin is less valuable. That mindset led to a woman using the cream on not only herself but her 4-year-old child, whose mercury levels were 100 and 25 times the safe level. The need to appear "white" can be destructive, both mentally and physically.

Read the first part of the series,Skin Color Politics, African Diaspora and Latinos in America and Latin America: Denouncement of Ethnic Identity [SERIES] --PART I

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