The Harmful Impact of Skin Whitening Products on Filipino Mental Health

The Harmful Impact of Skin Whitening Products on Filipino Mental Health

While visiting my aunt's medispa clinic in Davao, Philippines, I was disturbed to see clients receiving intravenous drips of glutathione, a skin whitening agent, while waiting for their treatments. This practice of using IV therapy to achieve lighter skin tone goes beyond topical applications and seems like a form of self-mutilation in the pursuit of beauty.  Not only is this unregulated but the potential risks of toxicity and allergic reactions are possible.   

Glutathione IV therapyGlutathione bag

Skin whitening products have been around for centuries, but their popularity has increased exponentially in recent years.  In many parts of the world, lighter skin is seen as a symbol of beauty, success, and status. Unfortunately, this obsession with fair skin has damaging effects on the mental health of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities, perpetuating identity and colorism issues.

One of the main reasons why skin whitening products are so harmful is because they reinforce a colonial mentality that values whiteness over other skin tones.  During the colonial era, European colonizers used their power to subjugate and exploit non-white populations.  As a result, lighter skin became associated with wealth, privilege, and power.  This colonial mentality is still present in many societies today, with light skin being associated with beauty and success.

According to "The global skin lightening products market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 5.5% from 2022 to 2030 to reach USD 16.14 billion by 2030."

papaya soap

This mentality is especially prevalent in the Filipino community, where skin whitening products are incredibly popular.  In fact, the Philippines has been called the "skin whitening capital of the world," with skin whitening products making up a significant portion of the country's beauty industry.  This is due in part to the Philippines' history of colonization by Spain and the United States, both of which emphasized the importance of light skin.

In Filipino markets, skin whitening products are marketed heavily to women, with advertisements suggesting that light skin is necessary for moving up the career ladder, attracting love, and generally living a prosperous life.  While walking through malls such as SM and Ayala, I noticed numerous kiosks selling skincare products. Unfortunately, many of these products are produced in the Philippines, but Korean skincare companies dominate the market due to their superior manufacturing and ingredient sourcing. This reinforces harmful stereotypes and causes women to feel inadequate because of their natural skin tone, creating division within communities where lighter skin is viewed as more desirable or superior.  As a matter of fact, my other aunt who has dark brown skin was unhappy with her own skin color. She began applying glutathione skin creams and IV treatments to lighten her skin, only for it to turn a sickly gray color. I told her that she was beautiful as she was.  In return, she expressed disbelief. Experiencing the direct effect of all this negative messaging about who we are as a naturally brown-toned people, is disheartening and stomach-churning.

The impact of skin whitening products on mental health cannot be overstated.  People who use these products often experience low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, and anxiety.  This is especially true for BIPOC individuals who already face discrimination and microaggressions based on their skin color.  By continuously cultivating the idea that lighter skin is more desirable, skin whitening products and the companies that make them only serve to reinforce these harmful stereotypes and further marginalize BIPOC communities.

BIPOC Mental HealthMental Health Matters

It's important to recognize that the obsession with skin whitening is not just a cosmetic issue, but a deeply ingrained social issue that perpetuates harmful power dynamics. Rather than bolstering this harmful mentality, we should work towards embracing diversity and celebrating all skin tones. We must demand from companies that produce skin whitening products to transition to healthier skincare option that do not mentally and physically damage us.  We need to challenge the idea that lighter skin is inherently better or more desirable and work towards creating a society where everyone feels valued and appreciated regardless of their skin color.  Only then can we hope to eradicate the harmful effects of colorism and identity issues in BIPOC communities and especially in our own Filipino communities.

What are your thoughts on skin whitening products?  Share your perspective with us in the comment section!  We'd love to here from you!


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