Colourism & Cosmetic Claims

New Insights Why Consumers Use Skin Lightening Products

Claims for skin lightening/whitening cosmetic products have achieved notoriety, finally coming to a head with the anger of the Black Lives Movement. This has forced cosmetic companies to face up to the fact that they have been deliberately or non-deliberately fuel-ling colourism. Ayton Global Research and Callaghan Consulting International executed a consumer-use market research across 6 countries into the usage of these product types, and exactly what consumers thought of them and why they used them. The preliminary findings are presented with ‘even skin tone’ and ‘beautiful skin’ being the key drivers and not ‘skin lightening or whitening’. Care must be given to the choice of wording when it comes to creating claims for these types of products and more consideration to the consumers who use them, providing for better claims compliance in terms of product ‘honesty’, ‘fairness’, and ‘informed decision.’

The Issues

As in nature, our human race exhibits a wonderful array of skin colours, from almost snow-white to blue-black that glistens spectacularly in sunlight. Our skin colour is nature’s way of protecting us from the damaging effects of sun exposure, and so where there is more sunlight on our planet, humans tend to have a darker skin. Yet, of all the cosmetic products sold, none are more controversial than those which claim to ‘lighten’ or ‘whiten’ the skin. Whitening and lightening products range from addressing skin pigmentary conditions, smoothing out the complexion in paler skins, to those products that actually whiten the skin of darker people (1). Worryingly, these products are extremely popular to the extent that discrimination abounds in favour of paler skins over darker skins, in many countries such as India. Where there is an ever growing desire for paler even whiter skin, because it is (wrongly) considered ‘superior’ and even more ‘intelligent’, colour discrimination or colourism will be embedded in those societies.

The enormity of the global cosmetic skin lightening market (pre-Covid), is estimated to be nearly 9 billion USD by 2024 (2). While some skin lightening products are necessary for genuine pigmentary conditions, much of this market centres around cultural and even societal consumer demands of many countries.

The biggest and most challenging question for the cosmetic industry is whether it is knowingly contributing to class discrimination, colourism, even racism. Moreover, what will replace this 9 billion USD deficit if this category of products moves from consumer product outlets, to the careful controlling hands of the dermatologist? What will be the societal consequences?

When not used with due care and attention, whitening products can be harmful to the skin, body and psyche (3). Moreover, there are insufficient long-term clinical studies evaluating even those products and ingredients that are deemed to be safe. Common sense dictates these products should not be used in those countries where having darker skin is an obvious necessity, providing protection against UV-induced skin damage and cancer. In white people the desire for a darker skin is high, yet more often than not, sun exposure leads to the ‘rostbiff’ or ‘surf n’ turf’ caricature commonly seen in many a holidaying Westerner. The consequences being severe sunburn, premature skin ageing, and ultimately cancer. How do we rationalise these behaviours in any skin colour?

Claims of skin whitening and lightening have been recently banned in India and South Africa, with a number of global cosmetic companies having to rethink their product strategies. Added to the enormity of the skin lightening category, and the current debates surrounding colourism and cosmetic claims, Ayton Global Research (UK) was commissioned to investigate and find out from consumers who use whitening products, what drives their decision for using them and what they really think of them. Countries investigated were India, UK, USA, Japan, Africa, and the UAE.

Read The Article & Full Report

✿ The full article will be available from TKS HPC Today (volume 15 No5, 28th October 2020).

✿ For the full report contact Ayton Global Research Ltd (UK) (


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  3. Craddock N, Dlova N, Diedrichs P. Colourism: a global adolescent health concern. Curr. Opin. Pediatr. 2018; 30(4): 472-477
  4. Market Research Society code of conduct standards/code-of-conduct
  5. Smith C. Skin Whitening Market Research Report July 2020 (STU5566). Ayton Global Research (UK), in press.
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