Beyond the pale?

fair south indian womanIn South Asia, lighter skin has been linked to social class and status.

Lubna Khan, 32, from Longsight, uses Lightenex skin whitening and even concocts her own treatment. She hides well away from the sun and would never consider going on a beach holiday. “The only time I’ve sat on a beach was in Blackpool and I had a massive sun-shade to cover me,” said Lubna. “It’s been drilled into me by my mum and grandmother that being pale is to be pretty.

Student Sameena Ali, 24, first heard about skin whitening during a holiday to Pakistan when she was 16. Her aunts told her they were surprised she had a dark complexion despite living in a “raining and cold” country.

The holiday started Sameena’s obsession with wanting lighter skin. “My aunts started making a paste with honey, yoghurt, lemon and turmeric. It really brightened up my complexion and before I left they gave me tubs of skin whitening creams. I used it mainly on my face, but then started using it on other parts of my body and people kept commenting on how good I looked so I kept using it.”

Neither Lubna nor Sameena is worried about the effects the cream may have on their skin long-term.

Skin whitening products work by killing melanin, the substance that lends skin its pigmentation and protects it from the cancer-causing ultraviolet rays of the sun. The more melanin present, the darker the skin. However some products contain hydroquinone, which is mutagenic. This means it can cause changes in the body that can lead to cancer and products containing this ingredient are banned in the UK.

“I now advise people not to do it. It’s only after such an experience I can now truly appreciate the colour of my own skin.”

My former housemate, a Jamaican-born woman suffered from acne after using a product containing hydroquinone which she bought online. She said: “I used it daily for four months. My skin did lighten but then I started getting spots and stopped using it. My skin broke out and became infected and it went much darker than before. For weeks I couldn’t go out because my face was so sore. That was two years ago and I’m still suffering from the effects as it’s left me with scars.”

“I now advise people not to do it. It’s only after such an experience I can now truly appreciate the colour of my own skin.”

Extracts from a Manchester Evening News article by Shelina Begum, published 18 November 2009 (original)

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