The dark side of fairness products

Published: May 9, 2014

The dark side of the fairness products is that they do not serve the purpose they are made for; no fairness cream or bar of soap can change your skin colour.

It starts with a dark-skinned girl (of course painted with black foundation or something). The girl is depressed and feels hopeless because she can’t achieve anything. Why? Because she has a dark complexion. Then, out of nowhere, this extremely beautiful fair-skinned girl shows up and offers her the magic formula that will transform her life.

She applies the magic formula and voila! She turns into a beautiful girl with snow white skin and suddenly achieves everything in life; she becomes successful, gets a dream job and boys suddenly seem interested in her too!

In a nutshell, the message that you get is ‘apply this formula, change your skin colour and your dreams will come true’.

In short, if you have a dark complexion, you won’t be accepted in this society.

You must be familiar with the term ‘gora rang’ used excessively in our society to define a person. Girls, and now even guys, have been subjected to this term which is, apparently, one way to signify the worth of a person. Most obvious is when rishta walas specifically state in their long list of demands that the girl must be fair otherwise there is no deal.

In Pakistan, the fairness epidemic is on the rise. It isn’t surprising to see fairness creams and soaps advertised here but after coming back from abroad, I was amazed to see just how much these fairness formulas, soaps and creams, were bombarded on billboards and advertisements. Where, earlier, we would see international brands we now see that even local brands have propped up and marked their place as well.

The media and cosmetic industry seems to have convinced people that dark skin is just not acceptable and without fairness creams and soaps their lives will remain incomplete. Girls buy these creams and soaps in efforts to change their skin complexion so they can ‘fit in’ and perhaps be able to find a decent proposal. In all of this, people have not only forgotten their individual identities, they have overlooked the consequences of using such products as well.

Let’s talk about the skin damage that fairness creams do. Melanin is a natural pigment that determines the skin colour and protects skin cells from harmful UV rays, hence reducing the possibility of cancer. Excessive use of fairness creams damages the melanin because the ingredients used in these products block the secretion of melanin barricading their role in protecting the skin from harmful rays.

According to Dr Debraj Shome, a top plastic surgeon in India,

“Fairness creams have harmful chemicals such as hydroquinone, mercury and other steroids which lead to patchy, rough and spotty skin, and premature ageing. Hydroquinone is a severely toxic and powerful chemical that is used in photo processing, manufacturing of rubber and is also used as an active ingredient in hair dying. Mercury, on the other hand, in the form of mercury chloride and ammoniated mercury, leads to the development of skin cancer. These are just a few of the negative effects of these fairness creams and many companies fail to disclose all the ingredients used in the creams”.

Where there is skin damage, there is also psychological damage caused by such products. The dark side of the fairness products is that they do not serve the purpose they are made for; no fairness cream or bar of soap can change your skin colour. Your skin colour is natural just like your eye and hair colour. When people use these products in an attempt to change their complexion, temporarily they may work, but in the long term they wear off leading to frustration, depression and the obsession of switching from one product to another.

This epidemic needs to stop and it can only be eradicated if our society’s shallow perception changes. India, facing the same epidemic, has started the ‘Dark is Beautiful Campaign’ by Women of Worth, an Indian NGO, in efforts to change attitudes towards skin colour. It is a small step but at least there is some hope for change – in Pakistan, however, we face an abundance of societal issues and this is just one of the few that has been given the backseat. And whether we like it or not, our media and celebrities are one of the major reasons that this epidemic is on the rise.

Before resorting to changing our natural forms we must try and change our attitudes first. We must ask ourselves whether our skin complexion really defines our worth or not? We must ask ourselves if our success and achievements are based on how we look.

Does ‘Ab Gora Hoga Pakistan’ really define our identity?

Abeer Pervaiz

Abeer Pervaiz

A graduate from the University of Amsterdam, she works as a Research Assistant at LUMS. Loves to travel and sketch fashion Illustrations. She tweets as @AbeerPervaiz (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Adpran

    “In Pakistan, the fairness epidemic is on the rise”

    Hei!, this epidemic happen not only in Pakistan, but in all nations with colored skin people!.

    But it’s because we use White people as reference of beauty.Recommend

  • Humza

    I don’t think the fairness cream issue is that much a problem in Pakistan among Pakistan’s indigenous peoples. It is largely an imported issue from India and has its origin in the Indian caste system. As an issue it may exist in Karachi where there is a sizable population who originally migrated from India. People need to be taught that dark is beautiful too. Do you think all the village women in Upper Pakistan worry about their complexions even they would be termed fair by South Asian standards? Of course not, the common Pakistani women are more busy with looking after families. I don’t think it makes sense for Pakistani papers to keep discussing Indian social issues. Pakistani society has other social problems that need discussion.Recommend

  • sonia

    I hate how media keeps publishing such articles! Im tanned but I never feel rejected by the society. Such kind of articles do make me feel inferior because I don’t know whats going on in the heads of people but such articles make me think that people hate me and our society is that much bad :/ And I have seen succesfull dark skinned people getting all the respect the deserve. Probably you have only met and observed paindus, cause nobody else takes these ads seriously. Temperature is mostly above 40 degrees over here, ab is garmi mein koi tan nahi hoga toh usko doctor k pas jana chahiye.Recommend

  • sonia

    And by the way, fairness creams don’t work and everybody knows that. But still people buy these because they just need a decent thing to put on their face after washing it.Recommend

  • Anonymouse

    All skin tones are attractive and beautiful if you take care of your skin condition, body and looks then you will look beautiful and attractive regardless of your skin color and this epidemic is everywhere not just in Pakistan but we are a blessed nation in South Asia with naturally beautiful people we have thousands of thousands beautiful and naturally light skin toned people unlike Srilanka Bangladesh India etc.That’s the beauty they don’t commonly have and its very very rare in those countries. And also its actually everyone’s personal choice about skin tone. If people are happy in their skin then good but if they want to change the way they look then they should be free to do so…. But the fact is white skin or even a little bit light skin is considered much attractive so no one can look away and deny this fact.Recommend

  • Maria

    Why do we keep seeing this tired debate which is a non issue for Pakistanis?
    I know that Indian media has a campaign to promote dark is beautiful in that country but are women in Pak Punjab, Kashmir, KPK, Northern Areas or Baluchistan obsessed about skin colour like in India? I don’t think so. Get a grip on reality.Recommend

  • Saima

    The #NotFairAndLovely campaign started on twitter a few days ago should interest you. Recommend

  • AK

    I am Kala and KoolRecommend

  • AK

    Next time you think dark isn’t pretty, look at deepika…yayiee more reasons to check out deepika :DRecommend

  • Dr.hashim

    to some extend ur true, but i would recommended Female who are very much interested to get fair skin tone, they must use Kojic acid, vit C cream and sunblock can help to prevent them from pigmentation… dont use product which contain hydro quinineRecommend

  • Syeda KAzmi

    but deepika also need lots of foundation to chnge her skin color and look pretty.. harsh reality…Recommend

  • Lord Gaga

    Ab gora ho ga Pakistan.Recommend

  • AtiyaAtta

    No one can deny this fact,that we Pakistani people are also following Indians in their psychic trend of fairness,this is really a rising epidemic in our society and country too.So we must do something to stop this stupidity of being fair and we should quit buying these fairness creams;because by buying these products we are buying diseases, wasting our money,being such a doolally.Potential pitfalls of these products comes very late but at that time we would not be able to cure those harmful effects.Recommend

  • Malik Abdul Rehman

    you see the writer herself has tried her level best to appear white,look at her photo it is edited utilizing poor skills and for the record the so called “epidemic” was at rise and is not at rise currently,these days women resort for lasers targeted mostly at hair removal mimicking a whiter and glowy appearanceRecommend

  • Grace

    Funny thing is that the “Paindoos” in Pakistan from the villages are probably fairer than urban Muhajir people but they don’t care!Recommend

  • Oatc

    You are right. The author has given an over exposed picture of herself since she is not comfortable with her own looks and insecure. This might be why she is writing about this issue. There are Arabs who are generally darker than Pakistanis but they don’t seem to care about skin color as much.Recommend

  • Humza

    Thanks for posting this ad that shows Zubaida Apa which confirms my earlier comment on how people are influenced by outside influences. Zubaida Apa and her family migrated from Hyderabad Deccan in South India to Karachi and it is clear that this ad is targeting a segment of society. Rather than support this ad campaign, she should impress people that all skin types and tones are beautiful – even her own natural skin color.Recommend

  • Aisha Sheikh

    media is creating a fake demand of the fair complexion which is unfair in itselfRecommend


    Really your blog is very informative ……..