By Angelica Bottaro 

The beauty industry is worth over $500 billion USD, and most of that money goes towards making women, myself included, purchase products with the promise of eternal gorgeousness no matter what. Between cover-ups, serums, creams, and oils, us women have a whole lot of options to choose from if we want to take our looks up a notch.

Fairness creams are a whole different type of product, though, and actually offer skin lightening for those who want to be a paler shade. Considering how different beauty standards and trends across the world are, fairness creams tend to be more popular in Southeast Asia and Africa

For women with a naturally pale complexion, tanning or bronzing products are more popular. We all want what someone else has! This desire for perceived perfection can be a dangerous game to play, both mentally and physically. It’s not really surprising though considering that the idea of tying our looks into our worthiness is shoved down all of our throats on a constant and invasive basis. So, why are fairness creams even a thing?

Dangerous Ingredients? 

Aside from the ethical problems present with the creation and advertisement of fairness creams (hello, all skin is beautiful!), there are some serious issues with what goes into making them too. Although different products have a variety of blended chemicals, helping them actually do what’s promised, they mostly have some common ingredients that are not good for you or your face in the long run.


Topical steroids first popped up in the ‘50s for use in skin creams to help treat certain skin ailments. It was quickly discovered that the use of the product was almost worse than the illness they were treating. While they may help certain conditions, they can leave the person with long-lasting and ill-fated results. One study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology found that topical steroid use could actually thin out the skin. Being a woman of a certain age, I know that’s precisely the opposite of what we want when it comes to skincare.


Essentially a bleaching agent, Hydroquinone is used to help women cover up dark spots and uneven skin tone. But, when used over a long period of time, such as in a daily cream to lighten your skin, it can have serious adverse effects. The most notable of which is ochronosis which leaves your skin with a blue-black or grey-blue colour. Definitely not the look you’d be going for if you wanted to lighten your skin!

Mercury And Lead 

The build-up of heavy metals in the system can cause poisoning resulting in some horrible side effects. When there’s that much lead or mercury in your system, you can get extremely sick. It might not be fatal, but your quality of life will suffer to the point where you might not even be able to keep up with a skincare routine. A study published in Taylor and Francis online found that the four most popular brands of fairness creams contained toxic additives.

The Loose Ethics Of Manufacturers 

I don’t know what it’s like to want lighter skin simply, but I do know that when I was younger, I wanted to tan for hours every week just to look a little more like the girls in the magazines. I imagine the same pressure is put on the general public in communities where fairness cream adverts are rampant. It’s as if these companies pushing these types of poisonous creams are unaware of the fact that beauty and health are synonymous with one another.

Pushing an agenda to sell products to women or young girls and telling them they need to change the way they look to be more worthy or beautiful, is not only harmful to their physical health, but for their mental health too. There is a direct link between body satisfaction and mental health. Most of us have had a bad self-image day and know that it can be a huge downer to look in the mirror and not like what you see. 

These young women who don’t like their skin tone—something that’s entirely unique to them and is arguably impossible to truly and permanently change—is what makes the whole fairness cream thing a lot more sinister.

The fairness cream industry is thriving on the backs of young women who are perfect just as they are. This advertising push towards even more impossible standards has convinced millions of women that they need to put toxic sludge on their face just to be beautiful. This sentiment couldn’t be more wrong, and the popularity of fairness creams should suffer to the point of extinction before even more damage is done.