The Matter of Lightening Up

No, it’s not a skin condition or his attempt to woo Twi-hard fans.

Sammy Sosa is stepping up to fill the Michael Jackson void as the latest celeb-of-color to become um, less colorful thanks to skin lightening creams. The Root has a great essay on the cultural ramifications of his progression to pale. And Sammy’s not the only one: NPR is reporting that the skin whitening industry is working hard to expand their male customer base. In fact, trade publication GCI Magazine estimates that sales of male skin-whitening products in India could match the sales of female skin whiteners within five to ten years.

Seems like a good time to mention that many skin whitening treatments contain hydroquinone, a chemical that has been restricted for use in cosmetics by Canada and the EU, and is classified as a hazardous air pollutant by the EPA.

Oh, and in October, the FDA busted a shipment of Manning Beauty Cream whiteners because they contained 8 percent mercury.

Meanwhile, at the other end of skin spectrum, Tom Delay and other Dancing With the Stars contestants broke the silence and spoke out about their spray tan addiction in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Does the former GOP leader really need a faux six-pack?

At Beauty U, Blanche and Stephanie (two black women with only the most minimal interest in lightening up) have started bringing their own foundations and concealers because the makeup we’re supplied with ranges only from lily white to beach vacation toasty.

“I never realized that I was so hard to make up because of my skin color,” says Blanche after we’ve all experimented unsuccessfully with mixing shades that leave her chalky and streaked.

“They should have better products!” We all rush to say. “It’s not you, don’t feel bad!”

“Oh don’t worry,” says Blanche. “I know it’s not me that’s the problem.”

What’s your take on the business of skin?

[Photos: The Root and NPR]



Filed under Beauty Labor, beauty standards, Facials, Makeup, week 4

11 responses to “The Matter of Lightening Up

  1. My conviction is that women would pretty much put battery acid on their faces if they were assured it would take 10 years off. Perhaps now that this malady is affecting men, we’ll get more press in the movement to remove harmful chemicals from our beauty and skin care products.

    I’m really enjoying your posts, Virginia (and I, too, never brush my hair…rock on, my sister…).

    • Dan

      ” Perhaps now that this malady is affecting men, we’ll get more press in the movement to remove harmful chemicals from our beauty and skin care products.” hit the nail on the head there… observe how

      • Dan

        (incomplete post above, accidentally hit ‘enter’ too soon) Meant to say, observe how there are dozens of drugs for erectile dysfunction, and we can’t do better with cancer and other, you know, bigger problems?

  2. Caroline

    There’s a really interesting student documentary about african-american girls who use lightening products from a young age, and what it does to their self image. I don’t know the exact link, but it’s at

  3. Don’t even get me started on skin lightening creams! One of the most toxic products on the market, these ‘work’ (temporarily) by damaging and peeling the skin, making a person more susceptible to damaging sun rays and skin cancer. In the name of sales growth at any cost (yes this is our corporate-capitalist economic system), these products are marketed heavily in Asian countries where people are constantly bombarded with ads suggesting they should look more white. Is anything more despicable?

    Check out my book “Not Just a Pretty Face” for more about this topic, including the story of the riots that broke out in Shanghai after the Chinese government found toxic heavy metals in $100 jars of SKII skin cream made by Proctor & Gamble.

    – Stacy Malkan, Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

  4. KNB

    This, to me, is one of the more baffling beauty goals. To “achieve” white skin, when all of your facial contours and structure say you are of another race? And then in the same breath, to hear that the richest white people are spending their money to be browner…I am just at a loss for words.

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