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METRO ESSAY

Fair and lovely?

KAVYA KUMARESAN

Westerners want tanned skin while those from the East prefer a fair complexion. And, cosmetics companies exploit the situation to the hilt

PHOTO: AP

Products galore They promise to alter skin colour

After living in England for my whole life, I sometimes forget the emphasis placed on fair skin in India. Entering a cosmetics store in Spencer Plaza, I was immediately approached by an assistant who, seeing my curiosity about fairness creams, presented numerous products to help ‘correct’ my flawed skin. Highly insulted yet curious, I listened to the salesperson explain that there are numerous products that ‘help’ dark skin but for something producing quick results in under two weeks I should go for a radiance boosting skin cream costing Rs. 1,220. Ouch, so no food for a week! Of course aside from the endless product list of creams, face-masks, lotions, scrubs and intensive balms is the most extreme procedure of bleaching, something that is by no means revolutionary but by every means harmful. Those who endure this procedure seem to have an appetite for chemicals; well I definitely agree that their stomachs are much stronger than mine.

Very few people are free of this harmful mentality. Lakshimi, 21, from Chennai comments, “I try lots of products to help make my skin fairer, especially ones movie stars use.” But do these products ever provide a solution to the ‘issue’ of skin colour?

Temporary solution

Bleaching offers a temporary solution but none of these other chemical-creams work. No cream can remove melanin from your skin, which is a pigment that causes different skin colours. Some lotions containing sun cream help, but only by stopping your skin from getting darker not lightening the existing colour. I can assure you any biologist would just laugh had they heard the words of that sales assistant. Yet companies that continue to profit are supported by a large proportion of people in India who believe this dogma.

However Indians aren’t alone in seeking to alter their skin colour. People in the West go to similar lengths but for ‘tanned’ or darker skin as it is perceived as attractive, and will spray, paint and moisturise themselves with products promising a “streak-free, natural-looking tan.” One even comes with an “easy-to-use spray, which sprays at any angle — great for those hard to reach areas.” The idea of someone dancing around as they attempt to evenly paint themselves is humorous enough without stories I could tell you of embarrassing moments resulting from the use of fake-tan products.

And at the other extreme is the sun bed, a man-sized oven lined with UV lights that evenly tans the skin of the individual inside, used by those looking for a quick fix. This common procedure is incredibly dangerous as it dramatically increases the chance of skin cancer.

However, as Bonnie, 25, from England says, “Having a tan is nice, especially in the winter; because you can wear clothes without feeling you look too pasty and white.” This young lady is not alone in her view, as the industry catering for Westerners seeking tanned skin is just as strong and prominent as the ones supplying fairness products in India.

Despite differences in perspective, companies in both nations have expanded their audience size by bringing out a range of products to secure the male market. This makes me question how long it is going to be before such products are produced for children.

And here is the crunch! Major international cosmetics companies offer products to customers in India that promise to lighten skin, yet at the same time offer spray on colour for customers in the West.

So ultimately what are we to do? We are always going to want the unattainable, and those in the West will continue seeking a tan, whilst those in the East try to get rid of theirs. Perhaps a mass migration is in order to satisfy each group. However, I am content with the admiration I receive in England for my “flawless tan” and will avoid shop assistants in India who attack me with fairness creams.

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