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White skin obsession in India

WHITE skin

For centuries, there has been obsession with fairness and prejudice against the dark skin. The skin- lightening market in Asia- pacific alone is valued over $13 Billion.

It is pretty obvious that India has been obsessed with fair skin. Over and over again; televisions, magazines and even social media are bombarded with advertisements saying that if we don’t have a fair skin, we are going to have an unsuccessful, loveless and unhappy life. This obsession is actually SUBLIMINAL CONDITIONING over decades.

The first instance of fairness creams being advertised in India was when Afghan snow was introduced in India in the year 1919. While India’s fascination with fair skin is literally thousands of years old, the biggest move towards monetising that obsession came in 1975 when a renounced company introduced a fairness cream.


By early 1990’s, this fairness cream started immensely out-performing other beauty products without “skin lightening agents”. This created the picture that whatever you put on your face has to be better if it has “skin lightening properties”.

The target consumer profile for this Fairness cream is the 18 and above age group, and the bulk of the users are in the age 21–35 category, though there is evidence that girls as young as 12–14 also use the cream. The company’s research claims that “90% of Indian women want to use whiteners because it is aspirational, like losing weight. A fair skin is like education, regarded as a social and economic step up”.

Equating fairness with beauty has turned out to be a key consumer insight in the case of the fairness creams industry with this company capturing nearly 53% of the market share with Fairness cream. The company has drawn particular scrutiny for its promotions and advertisements featuring darker skinned women turning fairer on using the cream.

History behind the idea of fair-skin superiority:


There have been subtle and non-subtle hints throughout history that induce the idea that fair skin is superior. Hinduism developed before written records were kept, but it is thought that when the Aryan people migrated to India, round 1000 BC, they mixed their religion traditions with the Dravidians. The Aryans were considered the conquerors of the dark skinned Dravidians. Thus the light skinned of the invading Aryans was considered superior.

In fact, some have even theorised that India’s long history of being colonised and conquered by light skinned oppressors like the Persians, the Mughals, and the British has led to the systematic belief that light skin is better and is associated with power.

This rings true in the caste system as well. Historically people from higher caste with more privilege and power were light skinned than the lower castes. This is clearly due to the fact that the lower caste often worked as physical labourers and spent their days working in the hot sun; whereas those in the higher caste remained indoors.


It was around 18th century that Europeans began insisting that skin colour was an indicator of moral and intellectual qualities to justify their torture of Africans. And it’s theorised that this had a pretty big influence on us, leading to the adoption of these ideas, which resulted in internalised racism.

“Asuryasparsh” refers to someone who has light skin, not touched by the sun and therefore “pure” and rich – SANSKRIT.


Phase 1: Launch of the product in 1976 on the basic premise that “younger women wanted to have fairer skin in order to attract a better looking husband.” Companies marketed this brand as a beauty cream capable of providing fairness within 8 weeks. The value proposition expressly communicated to the consumer base read, “Get noticed by the man of your life.”

Phase 2: The brand talked out younger college going women who are self-confident and more modern in their outlook to believe that home remedies for facial care are old fashioned.


Phase 3: Metamorphosis into a brand offering emotional benefits for achievers who actively seek solutions and do not look at marriage as the ultimate source of personal achievement.

Thus became a brand which communicated a message that Fairness leading to Beauty leading to Good husband to Fairness leading to Self-confidence leading to Good career.

Men and Fairness:

It is not only women who have been bought into this fair-skin obsession, it was realised that 30% of users of women’s fairness creams were men, and that’s when Fairness creams for men was introduced and it actually boomed in sales.


Your colour is not what you are made of, it is who you are from within. If you find someone making you feel bad in terms of colour, you dont need them. Never be with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin.

Your colour does not determine your beauty, talent or character. It’s not even your identity. So don’t worry about your colour and spend your energy and money for the profits of a fairness cream company.

The Pencil’s Writings

Priya KN

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