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Skin lightening in beauty magazines is an all too common practice. At this point it’s just a question of how severely a person will be lightened. ELLE did it to the most beautiful woman in the world most recently, they’ve transformed Gabourey Sidibe into a much lighter cover girl. L’Oreal whitewashed Beyonce, too.
There’s a thriving skin lightening beauty industry too and that one can be dangerous. In 2003, Dr. S. Allen Counter, a professor of neurophysiology and neurology at Harvard Medical School questioned why it was mostly women who were dealing with increased rates of mercury poisoning in places like Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and even in the Southwestern United States
In every case, clinical questioning revealed that the women had used skin-whitening creams — many for years. In other words, these women had tried so desperately to whiten their skin color that they had poisoned their bodies by applying mercury-based “beauty creams.”
Ninety percent of the women entering border clinics in Arizona with mercury poisoning were Mexican-American, and they like their Mexican counterparts had been using skin-whitening creams such as “Crema de Belleza-Manning,” which is manufactured in Mexico. These skin-whitening creams contain mercurous chloride, which is readily absorbed through the skin. Saudi, African, and Asian women were also using these skin-bleaching chemicals in a tragic attempt to change their appearance to that of white women.
Skin whitening has a long history in Asia, stemming back to ancient China and Japan, where the saying “one white covers up three ugliness” was passed through the generations.
A white complexion was seen as noble and aristocratic, especially in Southeast Asia, where the sun was always out. Only those rich enough could afford to stay indoors, while peasants baked in the rice fields.
In their early bid to lighten up, Chinese ground pearl from seashells into powder and swallowed it to whiten their skin, says Chinese University chemical pathology professor Christopher Lam Wai-kei, while across the Yellow Sea, Geisha girls powdered their faces chalk white.
This obsession with whiteness has not faded over time. A survey by Asia Market Intelligence this year revealed that three quarters of Malaysian men thought their partners would be more attractive with lighter complexions.In Hong Kong two thirds of men prefer fairer skin, while half the local women wanted their men paler. Almost half of Asians aged 25 to 34 years used skin whiteners in a business that some analysts have said could be worth billions of dollars.