Nearly half of Indian consumers say the most important attribute they’re looking for in skin creams is the ability to lighten their skin, according to a recent Morgan Stanley report on consumer trends in the country.
This has been the case for a while. As Quartz’s own Heather Timmons noted in the New York Times back in 2007:
The notion of “fairness,” as light skin is known in India, is heavily ingrained in the culture. Nearly all of Bollywood’s top actresses have quite pale skin, despite the range of skin tones in India’s population of more than a billion people.
Hindustan Unilever’s “Fair & Lovely” brand of skin creams continues to dominate sales of such beauty products, though others are also popular. The fact is, however, such products don’t work. Dr. Koushik Lahiri, editor of the Indian Journal Of Dermatology and a dermatologist and surgeon in Kolkata calls the creams a “real useless product.” Recently the Advertising Standards Council of India shot down a claim that Fair & Lovely is a “laser focus like fairness treatment. Its advanced pink formula targets melanin- the pigmentation agent at its root and helps prevents skin from becoming darker.”
Just as we scrutinize technology companies for their role as censors in authoritarian regimes such as China, we should look at whether consumer products multinationals are reinforcing problematic attitudes on race by giving consumers what they want. India already is, by some measures, one of world’s least racially tolerant societies.