The evils of skin envy

Vikki Hutton Skin Envy

The Asian quest for a fairer face and the Western want of a Hollywood glow might just be the beauty world’s biggest hypocrisy. But that’s not the ugliest truth behind a woman’s war paint.

Anushka Naidoo

Cryosurgery, which is where the skin is frozen using liquid nitrogen to allow the melanin, or skin colour pigment, to rise and then be peeled off, is an extreme choice.

Although some aspects of Indian culture have become more westernised, there is one age old tradition that will not fade – fair is beautiful.  For centuries, Indian mothers and aunties have crooned over newborn baby girls and declared that they are, “so fair and lovely”. Yes, fair is considered the epitome of beauty by the majority of Indians. From a personal perspective I have not been subjected to this by the women in my family, but then I have been brought up in the west, so we would not be considered your typical Indians.

This ideology that fair is beautiful arguably has its roots from the less educated classes in India, and was established over the period when the British settled there for 200 odd years. If your daughter was fair she was more likely to marry an Englishman and with that came the promise of wealth. However, the British have long since left, yet the ideology remains. With the growth of the economy in India, this ideology has a chance to spread even further.

Skin whitening treatments have been around for a long time. In Asian culture these treatments were initially used to remove scars and blemishes, which have always been more visible on darker skin. However, like with plastic surgery, these treatments have become used for far more commonly and for superficial reasons, with the industry worth at least $466 million, growing at a rate of 25% a year in India alone. What people appear to be ignoring is the potentially dangerous consequences of skin whitening treatments.

Laser treatment is one option which has unpredictable outcomes for the user. Chemicals in skin whitening creams such as mercury – which is banned in nearly all countries around the world – and hydroquinone, which stops the production of melanin by the body, have been proven to cause cancer if used in high quantities. Cryosurgery, which is where the skin is frozen using liquid nitrogen to allow the melanin, or skin pigment, to rise and then be peeled off, is an extreme choice. More commonly used to treat tumours, it is a costly option for skin whitening and the darker your skin is, the less likely it is to work.

So why is there such a demand for these treatments in the modern age? How is such a narrow minded attitude still allowed to flourish? Speaking to Priyanka Patel, a fellow Asian friend of mine, I asked why she thought the notion of fair is beautiful is still present in our culture.

“The media has to share some blame,” she says. “In India the stereotype that if you are fair you are beautiful is portrayed through Bollywood films and Indian soaps. This in turn influences young girls to think that fair is beautiful.  However, I disagree. Look at Bipasha Basu. Compared to Aishwarya Rai she is not considered fair, but so many still find her beautiful.”

One could argue that myself and Priyanka have more western view of things. Maybe we too would believe that fair is more beautiful if constantly subjected to Bollywood films and home grown Indian culture. One thing is for sure though, we are happy in our own skin – surely that’s how it should be whatever your colour.

Vikki Hutton

I thought I was being safe buying my tan in a bottle. The irony is the risks are written in plain English under ‘ingredients.’ Most were proved harmless, but one has worried me enough to think twice about tanning.

The truth about fake tan is that I don’t know any girl my own age that doesn’t do it. I used to know one because once, that was me but now, I have converted and at what cost? Fifteen pounds a bottle, indeterminable side-effects to my health and a sizeable dose of hypocrisy. All that and we haven’t even mentioned sun beds.

There are two evils at work where self-tanning is concerned; the first is ignorance, the second, lust. A fair share of the ignorance is genuine, that’s the sort I am about to own up to, but the rest is self-inflicted as we turn a blind eye to the cautions of medical officials in search of a dazzling tan. The lust, however, has strong foundations in modern western culture.

This lust almost certainly has to be attributed to the media and its constant messages about what makes us beautiful. How could we overlook its influence when we have already established the correlation between the media’s glorifying of stick-thin celebrities and the rise of body confidence issues? In an age that idealises the famous, the golden glow is a simple, shallow symbolism of sun-kissed life on the Hollywood hills. Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

Well, Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud for one, along with other proud and pale faces in the spotlight. But while it’s evident that alternative role-models are out there, it seems they are overshadowed by the glow of more prominent famous figures.

How else can we explain the fact that the self-tan market in Britain alone is worth a reported £100million?

In a survey conducted by Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart, 30% of first-time sun bed users aged 18-24 said that they had used the treatment hoping to improve their appearance.

More than a quarter of users in this age bracket admitted they were not concerned by sun bed health warnings, which include worrying odds such as your risk of developing skin cancer doubling from just one use per month.

In actual fact, sun beds have now been re-categorised by experts, joining tobacco, alcohol and asbestos as part of the highest risk cancer causing factors.

That’s why I thought I was being safe buying my tan in a bottle. The irony is the risks are written in plain English under ‘ingredients’, but until now I had completely overlooked them. It is worth saying that most were proved harmless, but one has worried me enough to think twice about tanning: Tetrasodium EDTA, quoted by organic beauty blogger Stephanie Greenwood as one of her top five ingredients to avoid. “It’s a penetration enhancer,” she writes, “meaning it breaks down the skin’s protective barrier, going right into your blood stream.”

I don’t like the sound of that. Nor did I like the look of the results when I typed the name of my chosen tanning brand into EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database, which placed every one of its products in either the moderate or high risk categories, next to warnings I’d never heard of before but which will no doubt keep me awake worrying at night now, like “neurotoxicity” and “endocrine disruption”.

Needless to say, I’ve re-converted to my pale ways since I started this. I can no longer justify the pursuit of a skin-tone that is not my own. When everything is said and done, a tan will inevitably fade and after this, I don’t think I could look myself in the mirror knowing that the self-inflicted after-effects may not have.

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