As a dermatologist, I say dark can be beautiful too

Published: June 19, 2015

We need to challenge the attitude of the contemporary society which perceives fair and beautiful as one entity.

I grew up listening to songs like ‘Goray Rang Ka Zamana’ (the age of fair skin) and the likes, and in recent times, I’ve come across Bollywood beats such as ‘Chitiyan Kaliyan Way’ (my white wrists) and ‘Gori Gori’. Even though these songs are decades apart, they send out the same message: That fair complexion is a sign of beauty and romance, and dark complexion is its opposite.

However, I believe that this perception is wrong on many levels.

In my daily practice as a clinical dermatologist, I come across frequent cases regarding young people wanting a fairer skin tone. They want to attempt every possible method to change their natural skin colour and look fairer. I don’t judge them because of their desire to look fair, as I have come to acknowledge their struggle through their personal experiences.

This week, a beautiful young girl came to my clinic because she wanted a fairer complexion. She told me that her fiancé of four years had left her because he wasn’t attracted to her dark skin. Similarly, other patients have paid me visits because of their insecurities – that their spouses were no longer interested in them, that they preferred women with lighter skin tones and so on and so forth. An increasing number of young men have also visited my clinic to get treatment for skin whitening.

I have seen many examples where two or more sisters have been compared on the basis of their skin colour. The one with the lighter skin tone is commonly considered as the more appealing one. These comparisons are often made at my workplace and even at social gatherings where women comfortably pass comments on each other’s complexion and suggest totkas or solutions to the ‘problem’. I believe it leaves a permanent dent in one’s self-esteem, resulting in self-pity and jealousy towards individuals with fair skin.

This awful trend begins from the day a child is born and the relatives begin to remark on the complexion of the baby.

As a medical student from Nishtar Medical College, I knew many student doctors who used fairness products which consisted of a high dose of steroids. The cream only makes us fair temporarily because it masks dark pigment cells and also causes skin thinning which exposes the skins blood vessels, giving it a reddish hue. Additionally, this comes with a long list of side effects, including unusual hair growth on the skin, increased bruising, vulnerability towards skin infections, and acne.

When I was living in Boston, many of my friends from Pakistan expressed the desire of dating a Caucasian female. What bothered me was their description of an ideal woman – it usually revolved solely around her skin tone. At the same time, during my clinical training at the Boston University Department of Dermatology, I gained diverse clinical experiences of working with patients from different ethnic backgrounds.

Therefore, my clinical experience has made me appreciate the beauty of skin, regardless of its colour.

In Pakistan, we are obsessed with fair complexions. Commercials for skin whitening products leave an impression that dark skin is not attractive, making it almost socially unacceptable. Furthermore, a perception is formed that individuals with dark complexions are deprived of excitement in their life and altering their skin tone to a lighter shade will magically open doors to happiness, endless opportunities, and romance. In the fashion industry, fair has become a synonym for pretty and innocent, whereas dark skin has become a symbol for seduction.

I cannot emphasise enough on how important it is to take good care of our skin. We need to prevent the damages caused by excessive sun light and should moisturise our skin regularly. Adequate hydration is the mainstay for a healthy and beautiful skin. Rather than paying attention to the skin tone of our skin, we need to make it our priority to keep it healthy and glowing.

In Bollywood, actor Upen Patel joined the list of other artists such as Ranbir Kapoor, Randeep Hooda and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, who refused to advertise skin whitening products because it’s against their morals. We need similar role models in Pakistan as well. Maria Wasti, Iffat Rahim and Neha Ahmed are renowned artists in Pakistan who are comfortable with their skin tone and made us believe that dark is beautiful.

We need to challenge the attitude of contemporary society which perceives fair and beautiful as one entity. We must cultivate a culture that believes that beauty is beyond ones skin colour and an individual can be dark, attractive and confident, all at the same time.

It is time to endorse the idea that natural is beautiful.

Muhammad Khawar Nazir

Muhammad Khawar Nazir

The author is a Boston University graduate. He is a dermatologist, cosmetic, Laser and Hair Transplant Surgeon and a gourmet cook. He appreciates and creates beauty. He tweets as @MKhawarNazir

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

  • Hasan

    Thank you Dr. Khawar for talking about this important issue. Beautiful does not mean fair skin. Your actions and behavior make you pretty, not your skin. Having said that we need to appreciate our skin and protect it from damage. Instead of making it look white we need to make it look healthy.Recommend

  • Queen

    It is unfortunate that educated personalities like Zubeda Apa endorse skin whitening products which encourages people to develop this post-colonial Asian obsession of having fair skin.Recommend

  • Humza

    For some reason, it seems to be that the author is more interested in promoting himself. The tone and language of this article appears to be focused on the author himself rather than any real concern for appreciating beauty and debunking the myth of any particular skin tone being beautiful. His medical degree is from Nishtar Medical College but he clearly seems more proud of his residency training credentials from Boston. As we know, the medical school of graduation is the determining factor when considering a medical doctor in the US. An IMG (International Medical Graduate) can attend any residency program throughout the country after passing exams but it is the original medical school with which people most strongly identify. I am still treated and considered an IMG first despite training in a US program. As a practicing dermatologist in the US, the author would know that blacks, hispanics, middle easterners and orientals also tend to favor skin lightening products because all these societies tend to frown upon darker skin tones. That’s why Arabs, Iranians and Afghans in the US are also obsessed with skin lightening and sun blocks. In Pakistan a lot of the baggage with dark skin tone can been imported from India where castism and also plays a factor in dividing Aryans and Dravidians. Indian movies and culture are full of references to this because much of Indian society is generally darker than native Pakistani races. This cultural influence should be countered. However if you look at fairer skinned groups in Pakistan such as those in Upper Punjab, KPK, Gilgit Baltistan or Kashmir, the women are generally poor and no one cares much for their fairer skin. People need to be taught to see real beauty and ignore media impositions of beauty.Recommend

  • Grace

    There are lot of pretty dark skinned actresses from Karachi in Pakistani dramas like Maria Wasti. She is a good example of dark and pretty!Recommend

  • Shahid Ahmed

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Want to see more from you said on this subject. If somehow our society could understand it.Recommend

  • Mahesh

    The title says it all “…dark can be beautiful too”. Says a lot about how you feel about darker skin colors. Feel sorry for the people who come to you for help. Please don’t go around making statements like in your title. Most of the dark skinned people don’t need your endorsement or approval to feel good about themselves.Recommend

  • Kolsat

    In this blog why the author has given photos of Bollywood actress? Could he not find a Pakistani girl from his patients to prove his point? I wonder.Recommend

  • jiyala

    If your fiance or husband leaves you because of your complexion, he’s a shallow human being who doesn’t deserve you anyways. There’s nothing to be ashamed of your skin color my female friends.Recommend

  • abhi

    I think dark is way more beutiful than fair skin.Recommend

  • Gulchand Mehta

    “…after 4 years the fiance left her…” He suddenly realized she has an olive
    complexion? He was blind all these years? His vision came back, miraculously?
    Very likely there may have been some other reasons. Happens all the time.
    Same thing, just change a few words.Recommend

  • Rajesh Mehta

    Much ado about nothing, color of the skin basically is nothing but a genetic expression of skin pigmentation,it has nothing to do with the idea of aesthetics or beauty

    Modern research actually shows ancient Europeans were dark colored people mostly,modern European gene pool was formed when three ancient populations mixed within the last 7,000 years,

    Blue-eyed, swarthy hunters mingled with brown-eyed, pale skinned farmers as the latter swept into Europe from the Near East.It really does look like the indigenous West European hunter gatherers had this striking combination of dark skin and blue eyes that doesn’t exist any more.

    DNA analysis obtained from ancient human remains has shown that as these farmers bred with the dark skinned hunter gatherers, one of these genes became prevalent in the European population and European’s skin colour began to lighten.

    Also preference for white Skin color in India/Pakistan is byproduct of Turkish and Mughal conquests whose grading of people by skin color–white,’wheaten’ dark–were used to categorize dark skinned as criminals/rebel which was later adopted by British colonialiists as well

    Though having said that, late Mughal miniature paintings and folk tales didnt prefer too much of “white skin’ say like pale skin color of Europeans, as it was associated with leprosy, hence they preferred a .’translucent skin’

    Fair skin therefore became a symbol for social hierarchy and ‘moral order’,and that notion has become firmly entrenched in the psyche of people in this region, giving rise to the absurd business of cosmetics such as fairness creamRecommend

  • Jehangir Khan Mescanzai

    NOT SO. If you are admitted to a prestigious institution for your residency
    than it goes on your credentials. Why should not the author be proud of
    his residency certification from a prestigious hospital? Say Cook’s County Health, Chicago, versus an unknown in Arizona? Or South Dakota. Or a
    hospital in Montana? [where the population of the whole State is not even
    2 million!] The Arabs Iranians and Afghans in the US, ARE NOT obsessed
    with their skin color ! In Pakland and Hinduland the skin lightening products
    are in the domain of a minute segment of society. Who can afford these
    expensive creams/lotions. The rest are worried about where their next meal
    is coming from. Native Paklanders are NOT lighter skin than Hindulanders.
    They are the SAME people. Only RELIGION differentiates them! Basically.
    Media does not imposes standards of beauty. Society/Culture set the norms
    of beauty ! This is just a convoluted, racist, bigoted comment.
    There are no skin lightening TV commercials in US directed at Hispanics
    or Blacks. None. Nada. Zip. There minorities are not obsessed with colors.
    The Dravidians and Aryans genes are so intermingled that that it’s hard
    to find true Aryans or true Dravidians, except in isolated populations. Say
    the Kalash or deep down in the South Bharati Peninsula.
    Just remember, Mother of all humans, LUCY, was from Africa ! Every
    human on Earth carries part of her genes. Repeat every HUMAN on Earth.Recommend

  • Towhida Sultana

    becoz in ur country majority is black smjh ai bat??Recommend

  • Custard_Pie_In_Your_Face

    In the West you’re told you aren’t dark enough and are encouraged to tan yourself like a kebab on a skewer. In the East you’re told you aren’t light enough and are encouraged to bleach yourself till you’re ‘fair and lovely’.

    The only true beautiful skin colour is that which comes about after spending loads of money on various products.

    Ask any cosmetics firm.Recommend

  • Aysha

    perhaps you missed the pointRecommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    That is the also wrong. You judge people on the basis of color. For you dark is more beautiful, for others fair is more attractive. The only difference is the choice of color, otherwise you are as bad as any other person who color discriminates.Recommend

  • Humza

    When you have a tired topic that repeats itself ad nauseaum in blogs with the same content, then you need to ask yourself as to the real the purpose of this blog; especially when it starts, As a dermatologist I say dark is beautiful too and goes into detail about residency training in Boston with a very tenuous association with his topic. Why does the author have to say dark can be beautiful too? Do you really need another repetitive blog to tell us what we all already know? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and people need to grow up. As for residency training programs, is that also relevant to this discussion? Anyone who is board certified can claim to be a dermatologist. You are wrong to deny the obsession of Arabs, Iranians and Afghans about skin color as much as you are wrong about the obsession of African Americans and Hispanics with skin color. That’s why any trip to your neighborhood ethnic store catering to these groups will show you the products neatly arranged for your perusal. Why not catch an episode of the TV show, Shahs of Sunset to show you how LA Iranians debate ethnic skin tones and brown areolas in Asians over pink areaolas in European origin people? ( As ethnics they feel in the show that all Iranians have brown areolas).Then read about the multitude of names that African Americans use to describe different hues of brown. Ads are aplenty in African- American and Hispanic magazines and I’ll give you links if you wish.If you want to argue that native people from KPK, Upper Punjab, Baluchis and Kashmiris have the same tone and features as Tamils, Biharis and other ethnic groups in India, you are ignoring the obvious. You deny that different races look different and I am not talking about religion. You alone are putting a value judgement on whether a taller fairer Pashtun is less or greater than a darker shorter Tamil. I say we’re the equal. We should be considered equal humans regardless of height, weight, sex, race or religion. Not saying we all look alike! I do agree with you that we are all humans and we all derive from Lucy whether black, white, yellow or red but your rant about Paklanders and Hindulanders ignores obvious differences.Recommend

  • Ba-boom-tish

    To take your ‘analysis’ one step further, the DNA of ancient Europeans reveal close linkages with that of Africa. However, your statement on the preference for white skin colour in South Asia due to the Turkish and Mughal conquests is not entirely correct. That preference was already there in the pre-Islamic times of India. The Hindu caste system, while not overtly suggesting a stratification of society based on skin color alone, did result in the categorization of skin color and its supposed association with people at different levels of the heirarchy. And this not only took place in Northern India but is also apparent in the south.Recommend

  • Ba-boom-tish

    Why ? Because that particular actress vowed never to use any skin lightening creams many years back. That’s a fact. However, we note from the adjacent photo of her that she has finally succumbed to the various societal pressures of ‘going white’ Recommend

  • Ba-boom-tish

    You have no idea what you are babbling about, do you ? While there may not be any skin lightening commercials on US TV, there are numerous websites on the Internet aiming at selling whitening products to Hispanics and Blacks in the US. And a lot of those treatments are more involved than simply smearing on some cream or popping a pill; more like an intensive program of getting whitening injections. Over and above that, many Hispanics and Blacks perceive being ‘white, as more than just skin color and, if resources permit, will opt for cosmetic surgery to ‘whiten up’ their persona. Lastly, the AVERAGE “paklander” is lighter skinned than the AVERAGE “hindulander”; though the rest of what you mentioned in the tail end of your post is correct.Recommend

  • Ba-boom-tish

    Incidentally, I might add that she looked much prettier and seductive with her original skin tone. Now she looks almost like some overmakeuped fat-faced aunty.Recommend

  • Jehangir Khan Mescanzai

    Well, from the tone of your laments and dirges, it appears you are very obsessed with skin color. Recommend

  • Jehangir Khan Mescanzai.

    Keep repeating the same mantra. over and again. People like
    YOU have a Neanderthal outlook. It’s an obsolete, genetically
    programmed to go extinct, outlook. And since lack of education
    and a non existent awareness of the current times are your bigoted crutches, you might ponder and try to fathom, your
    small racist world. You will always be in the box. Never out.Recommend

  • Rajesh Mehta

    Thats nonsense, a simple example would do, Hindus worship Krsna which literally means ‘black’ suggesting he was of dark appearance ,if the ancient society was prefixed on color it wouldnt have held person of such color in high esteem.
    Also ,you probably conflate the distinction between Arya and Anarya, term Arya has cultural idea not some ethnicity, hence therefore even some dasyu was termed Arya because of acceptance of Rgvedic culture, at best in ancient time the cultural difference was more at stark between different communnities rather than racial overtones based on skin color,example being divodasa a non aryan dasa who embraced the aryan culture and faithRecommend

  • Humza

    I suppose when you are presented with facts that you can’t debate, your defense mechanism is to start insulting another. The problem is that it only reveals more of yourself and mindset. Incidentally we all have 2-3 % of Neandethal in our genetic make up and you should celebrate it! Cheer up, the world isn’t so bad and you learned a thing or two even if you are threatened by debating..Recommend

  • Ba-boom-tish

    Your example is meaningless. A pagan deity can manifest itself in any number of ways and notwithstanding its appearance ( as depicted by its adherents), this would not necessarily impact the pre-existing prejudices prevalent in society. This is clearly evident in various Hindu art forms. Therefore your last paragraph is basically gibberish specifically intended to confuscate. A case in point being the standard comment made to non-Hindus that an outsider is in no position to understand their religion ( or rather, group of beliefs ) and culture.Recommend

  • Ba-boom-tish

    Touche; it looks like you have ” Nada” and “Zip” to respond with, and thus your nonsensical gibberish. Keep up the good works !Recommend

  • abhi

    beauty lies in the eyes of beholder. That doesn’t make you good or bad. In my statement I am not judging any person, it is you who is doing that.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    Making skin color (whether it is black or white) standard of beauty does make you a bad person.Recommend

  • abhi

    I am not saying skin color is the only standard of beuty, white can be beautify too sometimes. Not my idea of beauty but descriminating because of skin color makes me bad. Infact being beutiful does not necesarily means being good.Recommend

  • Rajesh Mehta

    You sir of course arent an expert to understand Hindu culture since you barely can read Sanskrit texts unless you claim you are some well trained philologist, your post is nothing but vacuous rendering your own fancy ideas terming a populace would be so absurd as to ‘depict’ and cherish something they hold prejudice against
    Would that suggest a Muslim would worship an idol somehow despite the fact they hold prejudice against it culturally and religiously…by your argument they would ..
    You have not shown one iota of evidence of Hindu art forms ,while all I have to do is ask you have a look at Ajanta-Ellora paintings which depicts dark skinned as a subject form ,how many Mughal paintings you have witnessed which shows that..
    Unless you can really make some intelligent point rather than narrating your own thesis which is self contradictory and uneducated since you dont even know how to comprehend Rgveda and yet you want to make a quantum leap of faith to arrive at your conclusionRecommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    Err… Besides the point . Krishna actually means dark blue. The lord was in blueish colour due to His unique pigmentation ( caused due to his uncommon birth story ) . U can see this phenomenon in weak delicate babies or our nails when some one is sick or having a different type of constitution.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    Even if skin color is not the ONLY standard, you are still wrong. Skin color should not be a standard, alone or not alone. Period.Recommend

  • abhi

    So what are the criteria that are fine? Do you think having sharp nose is more beautiful than having flat nose what about size and shape of eye?Recommend

  • Michelle Hannons

    Informative suggestions . I was fascinated by the information!Recommend