LONDON — L’Oreal, the world’s biggest cosmetics company, will remove words referencing “white,” “fair,” and “light” from its skin-evening products, a spokeswoman said on Friday, a day after Unilever made a similar announcement in the face of growing social media criticism.
Unilever and L’Oreal are two big players in the global market for skin whitening creams used in many Asian, African, and Caribbean countries where fair skin is often considered desirable.
Unilever, in particular, came under fire for its “Fair & Lovely” brand at a time of worldwide focus on racial injustice following weeks of protests sparked by the May death of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody in the United States.
L’Oreal’s products include Garnier Skin Naturals White Complete Multi Action Fairness Cream.
Johnson & Johnson went a step further, saying it would stop selling skin whitening creams sold in Asia and the Middle East under its Neutrogena and Clean & Clear brand.
UNILEVER CHANGING PRODUCT NAME
Unilever Plc said that it plans to rename Fair & Lovely, a melanin-suppressing face cream that’s one of its best-sellers in India, as the backlash against branding that trades off racial stereotypes spreads beyond the US.
The Anglo-Dutch conglomerate, which derives more than $500 million in annual revenue from the brand in India alone, will also remove the terms “fair,” “whitening,” and “lightening” from Fair & Lovely’s packaging and marketing material and feature women of all skin tones in future advertising campaigns. The brand is also sold in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan and elsewhere in Asia. Unilever will continue to produce and market the cream.
Triggered by incidents of police brutality against Blacks, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained traction around the world and spurred companies to reassess their businesses and marketing for signs of discrimination. Johnson & Johnson said last week that it would retreat from its skin-whitening business, which includes the Clean & Clear Fairness brand in India and its Neutrogena Fine Fairness line in Asia and the Middle East.
“We recognize that the use of the words ‘fair,’ ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this,” said Sunny Jain, President of Unilever’s beauty and personal care division.
The company is awaiting regulatory approvals for the new product name and expects the change to go into effect in a few months, Unilever’s India unit said in a statement Thursday.
Unilever’s Fair & Lovely range appeases to deeply entrenched concepts of beauty in India — the company’s second largest market — where darker skin is viewed as undesirable. Matrimonial advertisements in India’s largest newspapers routinely specify the need for a “fair” bride.
Unilever’s move comes after it was repeatedly called out on social media in recent months for its whitening cream, first launched in 1975. Global campaigns on social media like #unfairandlovely have also been critical of beauty stereotypes since 2016.
In defense of continuing the cream, Unilever said it had never been a skin bleaching product and offered consumers an alternative from harmful chemicals that they were using.
RENAMING IS NOT ENOUGH
“For years I‘ve been saying that ‘Fair & Lovely’ needs to pack their fake cosmetics and GO!!” Padma Lakshmi, cookbook author and Top Chef host, said in a tweet earlier this month adding that it hurt her self-esteem as a young girl. “Anyone else out there sick and tired of being told that fair=lovely? Because I sure as hell am.”
Fairness creams also play off the country’s caste system — an ancient code of social stratification which prescribes how people should earn a living and who they marry in many parts of India. It views those with fair skin as superior while discriminates against those with darker skin. Popular Indian film stars with vast fan followings have also endorsed such products over the years, perpetuating these beliefs.
For some, simply renaming the brand isn’t enough especially if the product itself continues to service the same bias. “The products need to go away, they should be taken off the market,” said Mahima Kukreja, a Mumbai-based writer and activist. “Every company that’s selling products making the claim that it will make you whiter and fairer needs to go, because it’s telling every brown-skinned person in India that you’re not good enough.”
In Asia, where lighter skin can be associated with wealth and status, cosmetics companies — including L’Oréal, Shiseido, and Procter & Gamble — have long devoted a big part of their business to marketing creams and lotions that promise to lighten skin tones. Some refer to their products as skin brighteners instead, and promote the idea they can help hide freckles and cover dark blemishes.
J&J DROPS PRODUCTS
Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson decided to stop selling its skin whitening creams which are popular in Asia and the Middle East after such products have come under renewed social pressure in recent weeks amid a global debate about racial inequality.
Johnson & Johnson will stop selling its Clean & Clear Fairness line of products, sold in India, a spokeswoman told Reuters on June 19. News that it would pull its Neutrogena Fine Fairness line, available in Asia and the Middle East, was reported earlier.
“Conversations over the past few weeks highlighted that some product names or claims on our dark spot reducer products represent fairness or white as better than your own unique skin tone,” Johnson & Johnson said. “This was never our intention — healthy skin is beautiful skin.”
The health care company said it would no longer produce or ship the products, but that they might still appear on shelves for a while as stocks run through. — Reuters/Bloomberg