Recently, the ad campaign for Nivea titled “White is purity” rightfully met with a public uproar. Nivea finally had to tender an apology and withdraw the campaign. I wonder when the Indian beauty industry will meet a similar uproar.

On my visit to India this time, as I flip through the TV channels and skim over newspapers, I notice something strange. While before there were just one of two fairness cream products, now every big beauty brand has a product that has a ‘white’ or its equivalent in its prefix. Fair and lovely, White vaseline, Neutrogena Fine Fairness, L’Oreal Paris White Perfect Laser Day Cream, Garnier Skin Naturals White Complete Multi Action Fairness Cream, Pond’s White Beauty, Olay White radiance vie for consumer dollars. Not wanting to leave the men behind in this craze, there is now Fair and handsome, Garnier Men Power Light, Pond’s Men Oil Control Fairness Moisturizer and so on.

There is an unhealthy obsession with white skin in India. It is like a hidden disease. It infects everyone, is largely undiagnosed and by the looks of will remain uncured for a long time. Brides are selected for so-called high-demand eligible bachelors based on the degree of fairness of their skin. The color of skin is supposed to be a filter of sorts for identifying beauty, class, and prestige. You will hear people describe someone favorably as being so ‘fair and beautiful’. One word is synonymous to another. A dark-skinned person may have “good features” but can never aspire to rise to the same standards of beauty perceived popularly. The word ‘gori’ meaning fair in Hindi has inundated Bollywood songs and merchandise. It is a complex observed in a lot of Asian countries and the roots of it are disputed. It could be the Aryan influx, the class system, the colonization. Regardless, it is a problem deep set in the culture today. Unfortunately, the over $400M skin whitening industry in India seems only too eager to play on people’s ignorance and prejudice so it can increase its line of products and profits. In 2010, AC Nielson had reported that this industry was growing annually at the rate of 18%.

Marketing can be a great tool for social change. Indian ad creatives are amazing. Some of them are witty, some emotional and some very bravely compel you to think and question status quo. Some companies are using it in the right way. See the latest vics ad, for example, relating a heartwarming story of a transgender mother and thus bringing it up as a conversation point for us to discuss and build awareness about.
At a time where we are having critical conversations about tolerance, integration, and multiculturalism, this growth of the skin whitening industry is a disturbing trend. We need strong social messaging, a conscious move by thinkers and leaders to gently move people away from this thinking. It is not impossible. But it does need all of us to come together and resist.



Comments (10)

  1. Nandita


    Love your write up. Its well researched and to the point.. Yet simple. And it covers a subject that seems to there on every Indian mind but not acknowledged. Am going to take the liberty to share this on social media.

    • sacharya78@gmail.com


      Thank You! It’s time we all resist. Thanks for spreading the word.

    • sacharya78@gmail.com


      Yup. I don’t understand how they have gotten away with this for so long.

  2. Reply

    And I find it ironic that so many western white women risk cancer to make sure they are tan. Not too dark, though. It seems even here in the U.S. there is a “just right” skin tone, which is really sad.

    • sacharya78@gmail.com


      We humans are sometimes strange creatures. Always striving for something else 🙂

  3. Reply

    The businesses are not the only ones to blame. They are merely doing what businesses do – attempt to make profits by converting a want to a need. The real problem lies in the people. It’s in the way we’ve been brought up. Even the movies show what the masses want to see…Not too many filmmakers would take the risk of hiring dusky toned actors in lead roles , not because they personally don’t want to, but because they see it as a risk with prejudiced Indian audiences.

    This is a sad reflection of our Indian mentality.

    Well written.

    Do drop by mine.


    • sacharya78@gmail.com


      True – lots of blame to go around here unfortunately and centuries of thinking to be changed.

  4. Reply

    So true and very well written..! This had always been a disturbing topic for me too… we felt inferior in some point of time in our history, and started believing that everything that is different from them is inferior too..! That includes our skin colour..! may be it is inculcated in our genes..!
    I loved your title..!!

    • sacharya78@gmail.com


      Thank you – I am so glad you enjoyed it. We should all be proud of who we are – You are unique – there is only one of you in this world 🙂

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