White Elephant Tipping The Beauty Yardstick

Do you think fairy tale standards of beauty affect our daily life? Referencing Snow White, Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of ‘em all —How many of you think that fair depicts skin color here? Most balanced minds today will comprehend fairest of ‘em all, as the one who is most pleasing to the eye. Opposed to that a big populace of impressionable minds, especially in the East still believe that the literal meaning; the whitest of white —lilly-white holds supreme when it comes to defining beauty.

The Snow White Syndrome

Since the beginning of civilization beauty standards have been set and changed, mostly driven by the lifestyle and looks of nobility and the ruling classes. Throughout the pre-1950s world, fair and un-calloused skin was considered a sign of nobility and being free from the burden to do outdoor work or manual labor. That’s most probably why in pre-modern times the word “fair” became a synonym for “beautiful.” Great lengths were taken to maintain pale and dainty skin, including using lead and arsenic based makeup to fit the mold. Similarly colonial rule identified white skin as ruling class and dark skin as slaves.

Looking at the today’s standards of beauty, the world seems to stand divided when it comes to skin color; half of the world population in its quest to look tanned, healthy, just returned from vacation and living the high life is baking their skin under the sun risking skin cancer. Yet among the other half, especially the skin of color populace the pre-modern standard of alabaster beauty are still holding strong. Majority of people in Middle East, Asia and Africa still identify beauty with peaches and cream complexion.

The fascination with white skin in some cases becomes an obsession that’s when I call it the Snow White syndrome (an extension of body dysmorphic disorder). Under its influence most girls as well as guys believe that only white skin is the ultimate standard of beauty. Innocent youth gripped in its dark claws keep searching for magical products to lighten their skin tone. This syndrome has fueled legit as well as dangerous products to flood the markets that range from lotions, potions to pill and injectables. To manage this syndrome we need to treat minds rather than skin.

Looking At Skin Color Beyond Prejudice


Dermatologically speaking skin color is determined by the amount of melanin in the skin. Melanin is the pigment produced by specialized cells called melanocytes. People with dark skin have more melanin. Apart from defining skin color and ethnicity, one of the main functions of melanin is to protect skin cells form harmful effects of sun, including skin cancers and aging.

How much melanin your skin has is mainly a matter of your genetic makeup. Sunlight exposure, hormones, skin damage, and exposure to certain chemicals can also affect melanin production.

Changes in skin color often resolve themselves. For instance, tans fade when the amount of direct exposure to sunlight is reduced. But over time, certain discolorations, such as “age” spots or “liver” spots, melasma and hormone triggered pigmentation can become more or less permanent.

Anatomy Of Skin Bleaching Creams

Skin bleaching creams can come under many names. They are known as skin whiteners, skin brighteners, or fading creams. They mainly work by stopping the body from producing melanin as well as stopping the spread of melanin in the epidermis. The result is a gradual lightening of the skin color.

There are many ingredients that cause the skin to lighten, but the most commonly ingredient used in the world has been hydroquinone. This drug should be strictly regulated by the health authorities, and dispensed only through a dermatologist’s office. Over the counter purchased bleaching cream should not have a concentration of more than 2% hydroquinone. A prescription for a bleaching cream can be written for up to a 4% concentration.


Many popular skin-bleaching creams contain mixtures of steroids or retinoic acid as one of their main ingredients. One should be aware of the side effects of long-term use of steroids.

Newer and safer creams use natural ingredients like vitamin C, phytic acid, arbutin, licorice extract, nicotinamide or kojic acid to achieve lighter skin.

In some countries, bleaching creams contain ingredients that are a derivative of mercury, a chemical that is harmful to the body. Use of a skin brightening cream with mercury can lead to mercury poisoning and other harmful side effects as well.

In the past few years, injectable and oral whitening solutions have been gaining popularity to lighten the skin color, mainly vitamin C and glutathione. These ingredients are powerful antioxidants, but they are by no means capable of changing skin color. Used in wrong hands IV injections can lead to serious side effects.

What A Skin Bleaching Cream Should Be Used For?

Bleaching creams are normally used for the treatment of age spots, acne scars, or discoloration of skin as a result of hormonal changes. Because of the constant exposure to the sun, some areas like the face and hands tend to suffer from discoloration. Usually age spots and other discolorations only occur on the upper layers of the skin so a skin bleaching cream may be a successful treatment for the removal of age spots. However, in some cases people choose to use bleaching creams to lighten the skin tone on their entire body, this is not advisable.

Possible Side Effects of a Skin Bleaching Creams

If you think using skin bleaching creams comes without side effects think again, here are some of the common side effects that can follow extended usage:

• Premature aging, increased capillaries, stretch marks due to long term usage of steroids.
• Increased risk of skin cancer due to sun exposure (without melanin, your skin loses its natural UV protection)
• Steroids used in a bleaching cream can also cause poor healing of skin, permanent skin thinning, skin infections and acne.
• Permanent skin black grey discoloration (ochronosis) with hydroquinone.
• Skin irritations and allergic reactions.

Beauty Is Not Defined By The Color Of Your Skin


The dermatological definition of beautiful skin is: clear healthy skin with uniform tone and smooth texture. You need to embrace and love the skin color God chose for you and celebrate your healthy skin. Black, brown or white it doesn’t matter, as long as your complexion is uniform and your skin is healthy, radiant and smooth you are beautiful.

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Shazia Ali
A certified dermatologist, Skincare guru to the who's who of the Middle East, Dr. Shazia knows the secrets of anti-aging, the insider tips and tricks on how to achieve healthy, beautiful radiant skin and everything in between. Currently the brand Ambasador for University of Westminster, and the head Dermatologist at Tababa Clinics.

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