A Shared Reality: Asia and Africa’s Anti-Blackness Fuels $10B Skin Whitening Industry

Photo Credit: Donna Karen, Alexandre Herchcovitch, Donna Karen, Catwalking.com

Asia and Africa’s beauty markets share a reality that is little discussed. It is the enormity of their respective skin whitening markets. 

Asia’s skin whitening market is valued at $7.6 billion. According to Future Market Insight, Asia accounts for half of the $13 billion global whitening product market. China comprises 40% of sales in Asia, Japan 21%, and South Korea 18%. 

While the size of Africa’s skin whitening market is not known, a whopping $40% of all African women bleach their skin. “In some countries the figure is higher: a staggering 77% of women in Nigeria, 59% in Togo, 35% in South Africa, 27% in Senegal and 25% in Mali use skin-lightening products,” a report last year found

In recent months, skin lightening or whitening has surfaced in public discourse in both Africa and Asia with renewed fervor. In June, U.S. company, Johnson & Johnson decided to stop selling skin-whitening creams popular in Asia and the Middle East. Unilever and L’Oreal also announced that their skin products will no longer be marketed with the words “fair,” “whitening” and “lightening”. In Africa, a Netflix documentary released in June renewed conversation and interest. So what was the reaction?

Skin Whitening in China/Asia

When U.S. companies announced that they would stop marketing skin lightening/ whitening products in Asia, they were met with mixed reactions from Asians on social media. While some praised the move by these companies, others say it is unhelpful and have condemned the efforts. 

Skin Whitening in Africa

In Africa and the global Black diaspora, Nigerian actress Beverly Naya’s documentary, Skin, resurfaced an old and often painful discussion. The documentary explores colorism in Nigeria and its massive skin lightening market by speaking to individuals who have dealt with pressure to conform to society’s standards of beauty.

While some have praised the documentary for its candid portrayal of the pressures and realities many African women face, others fear that it won’t have an actual impact, as those critiquing the industry are still the ones promoting the products.

The Future of Beauty in Africa and Asia

Global Industry Analysts say the global market for skin lighteners will reach $31.2 billion by 2024, with huge markets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. 

In Africa, researchers say skins bleaching products are the fourth most sought after household item by African women after staples like soap, milk and tea, 

Skin whitening in Asia and Africa have been tied to colonization by the West. Scientists say bleach creams can use chemicals like mercury and hydroquinone that can be poisonous and lead to kidney failure, among other dangerous side effects. They also create psychological damage to individuals and society by creating a sense of worthlessness and inferiority. 

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