Far from wanting to achieve the color of Caucasian skin, dark-skinned women (black and Indian, mainly) who use these lighteners intend, with their application, to obtain a type of appearance more suited to European tastes and, in this way, to achieve jobs that, they believe, would be closed to them, according to a study carried out by two anthropologists.
In this way, these consumers try to follow the example of successful black women, namely stars in music, cinema and fashion, who have lightened their skin, such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Nicki Minaj.
In Lisbon, two anthropologists, Chiara Pussetti and Isabel Pires, from the Institute of Social Sciences (ICS) in Lisbon, carried out a survey of the places where these products were sold, their cataloging and interviews with consumers and health professionals, as part of the project. Excel, which analyzes the search for corporal excellence, in several aspects.
The anthropologists revealed to Lusa that they found in the center of the capital — Martim Moniz, Av. Almirante Reis, Intendente, Rua dos Anjos -, where many citizens of African and Asian countries live and work, skin whitening products sold illegally, starting with the lack of information in Portuguese.
Some of these creams, mostly indicated for women, but also in a male version, are prohibited by European legislation regulating cosmetics, precisely because of the high concentrations of toxic substances.
Questioned by Lusa about these cases, the authority that regulates the drug sector said it was aware that “these products exist on the European market”.
“In collaboration with the Tax and Customs Authority, for imported cosmetics, these products are occasionally detected in postal orders and in personal luggage”, continues Infarmed.
Among the various products, which Lusa easily found on the shelves of commercial establishments in that area of the capital, there are some that have in their composition – or at least that is advertised – hydroquinone, prohibited in cosmetic and body hygiene products for application on the skin. due to its potential carcinogenic effect.
Hydroquinone blocks the action of the enzyme tyrosinase, which participates in the formation of melanin, leading to a depigmenting effect on the skin.
“The inclusion of hydroquinone in cosmetic products is prohibited and the only exception allowed is its inclusion in hair coloring products and for artificial nails. Its presence in creams has not been allowed since the year 2000”, said Infarmed.
It is likely that women who use these creams are unaware of the risks they run, but they easily realize that they have to apply it continuously so that the skin maintains its lighter tone.
In the testimonies gathered by the anthropologists, the users assumed that this aesthetic change opened the doors for them to jobs where black women are welcome, but provided that they followed the standards of beauty promoted in (former colonial power) Europe and that, moreover, are visible on the packaging of these creams.
“It is necessary to decolonize aesthetics, to be able to value beauty, in its most inclusive form, regardless of the Western perspective, without having to reproduce whitened models, linked to the Euro-American film, fashion and music industry”, he said. Chiara Pussetti.
The academic defends, as soon as possible, an information campaign about the health risks that these women, and even children, run, saying that one of the interviewees applied this cream to her 4-year-old daughter, because that way she would become “lighter and, therefore more beautiful”.
Isabel Pires advances in the same direction, noting that the research does not presuppose, at all, a criticism of those who use the creams, but rather the fact that nowadays having a pleasant appearance when white eyes means an advantage when it comes to accessing rights basics such as employment.
“Lighter-skinned black women have better jobs and higher wages that translate into better educational possibilities for themselves and their families compared to darker-skinned women,” reads the anthropologists’ article.
One of the witnesses, a 26-year-old Mozambican, said: “If I hadn’t changed my appearance a little, I wouldn’t have worked in companies like (names of two perfumeries). Europeans like thin women, with not so dark skin and straight and shiny hair. The black women who don’t adapt to European tastes are making hamburgers at the (fast-food restaurant), but not serving them, right in the back, in the kitchen, where people can’t see you”.
One of the reasons for this easy access to products with health risks is their low price and also because they are almost available in dozens of stores, just in this region of the capital.
Lusa acquired several whitening creams, confirming that their cost does not go beyond five euros per pack. But bleaches are also sold in tonics, soaps and other presentations.
According to Infarmed, whenever it detects cosmetic products with substances banned on the market, such as hydroquinone, “their packages are removed from sale, the economic operator is notified to rectify and correct this infraction, and may incur a social offence, with associated fines”.
Several African countries, where the use of these products is relatively common, have been trying for years to ban their use, such as Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire.
On the Indian continent, this practice is even more common and skin whitening is the fastest growing beauty segment every year, generating millions in profit.