Miss India pageant ignites colourful controversy

Fair-skinned finalists . . .

The Miss India pageant ignited a controversy this week over the country’s obsession with fair skin. A collage published by the Times of India showed the 30 final-round contestants all sharing the same fair skin tone. ‘Colourism’ has been a long-standing social problem in India. Lighter-skinned individuals, particularly women, are perceived as having higher social status than their darker-complexioned peers. A recent survey found that 38 per cent of men and 72 per cent of women in the Indian city of Mumbai have tried skin-lightening products.

Booming market or a serious global health concern?

Asia makes up half of the US$22-billion global skin-lightening industry, a market that is expected to grow to US$31.2 billion by 2024. According to theWorld Health Organization, nearly 40 per cent of women in China, the Philippines, and South Korea have used skin lighteners. But this booming business is raising public health concerns. In 2017, Japanese cosmetic company Kanebo paid damages to 18,000 women who developed blotches after using the company’s whiteners. Common skin-lightening ingredients such as mercury and hydroquinone can cause skin infections, liver damage, depression, and even psychosis.

Canadian regulations imposed, but paradigm shift needed

Skin-lightening products and services are commonly found in Asian and African immigrant communities in Canada. In 2018, Health Canada reminded Canadians to consult a health professional before using skin-lighting products, and added high-concentration skin-lightening ingredients to the Prescription Drug List. However, travel and online shopping platforms make it easy for people to bypass such restrictions. Canada should focus on the demand side of this issue by encouraging people to appreciate the beauty in all skin tones.