What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone brings up the term, “Skin whitening”? In Asian cities like Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Shanghai, I guess the idea of having fairer skin is probably less due to racism and more to vanity. But a search online for “why do women whiten their skins” produces a number of articles more sinister than we can imagine.
In other parts of the world, skin whitening is related to the potentially deadly practice of “bleaching”. African women apply creams containing hydroquinone and harmful steroids on their skins hoping to become paler and fairer. It is believed that having a fairer complexion would lead to social mobility. Those with pale skins are often perceived as more successful, more beautiful, and more intelligent.
Do We Need To Be “Whitened”?
The knee-jerk response to the question is definitely a No. Any woman with an ounce of self-esteem inside her will tell you that she does not need to be “whitened”. She knows that she shouldn’t have to participate in “compensatory” activities such as the lightening of her skin in order to be perceived as intelligent and attractive.
Whereas in many societies, the idea of the “pale” being overlords of the “dark” remains deeply rooted, the most progressive members of a cosmopolitan city would tell you they don’t care about the colour of your skin. Of course, I do not speak for every person. I have read blog posts of teachers in Singapore blindsiding dark-skinned students, I have seen how some people move aside whenever a person with darker skin sits near them. These are abhorrent behaviour and I think such people need to be taken to task about their behaviour.
From a personal point of view, do I feel less sure about myself because my complexion is not toufu-white? No. Do I feel inferior to fairer Chinese people? No.
If you are like me, does it mean whitening skincare products are obsolete and of no use to us? Well …
The Different Definitions of “Whitening”
If “whitening” is placed on a scale 1 to 10, 10 being taking extreme measures such as applying blistering, burning creams like hydroquinone, where would, say, a whitening cream by your Shiseidos, Olays and Lancomes fall under?
Unlike the creams used by African women, the creams of the latter category do not contain hydroquinone, steroids or any skin thinning agents. What they claim to have instead are ingredients that break down the “melanin clusters” that are behind the freckles and age spots that mar your otherwise flawless skin.
The “line of argument” behind these creams usually goes like this:
1. You have great skin and you look beautiful but …
2. Factors such as sun exposure, stress and the environment have led to a stress response that leads to an overly-enthusiastic formation of melanin
3. Our complexions are dull and unhealthy looking because of stress and pollution
4. These creams not only obliterate the spots and scars, they also brighten the skin tone by protecting the skin from UV exposure and encouraging skin cell renewal
It’s not really “whitening” your skin they are talking about – these brands are talking about “brightening” your complexion.
Is It All A Marketing Gimmick?
At the end of the day, is it all a marketing mumble-jumble? Is there any difference between a cream that literally strips off your skin and one that just makes your complexion even-toned and more radiant?
Obviously, one is life-threatening and the other isn’t. But do both categories of products feed the same insecurity women have about their looks and how it relates to their station in life?
Why So Scared Of Dull Skin?
You may ask then why are we so “terrified” by the thought of having skin that is dull, listless, lacklustre and blighted by spots?
To me, skin that is plumped, youthful and glowing is a “good to have” because to me, being able to put my “best face” forward when I’m meeting people gives my confidence a boost. Having been plagued by acne and oily skin for most of my adult life, I really enjoy having a good complexion.
It is not a mindset built upon years and years of media “indoctrination”. Wanting good skin that glows is not a sign that I’ve fallen prey to an impossible ideal set by advertising; wanting “poreless” skin is! It’s like accusing people who say they want to maintain a healthy weight of wanting to be supermodels. That’s incorrect and vindictive. It’s almost as if no woman these days can say they want to look good because then they are mindless dummies who can’t tell what is good or bad for them.
Instead Of “Whitening”, It Should Be …
… “brightening”. And you should have no illusions that using any of the “whitening” skincare products by any of the beauty brands will give you instantaneous results. “Brightening” your complexion, like losing excess weight takes time, commitment and discipline because you are essentially attempting to restore health back to your skin.
When you talk about “brightening”, you cannot ignore the brand that started it all – Shiseido. The brand’s been researching “whitening” since 1917 and its White Lucent range routinely improves upon the formulation of its whitening serum. Every two years or so, Shiseido reintroduces its award-winning whitening serum with a stronger, more effective, more advanced formula. One can always expect (1) a new definition of what “whitening” means (2) a breakthrough ingredient that ups the stakes for the other players (3) a better, more divine texture.
And Shiseido’s game-changer this year (the last launch was in 2012) is Total Brightening Serum. The brand made it clear a couple of years back that its goal isn’t to bleach colour out of your skin. In its launch of Total Brightening Serum, the brand explains that it aims to restore 5 different types of “white” to your skin.
Obviously this is a case of “for want of a better word”.
To better understand how your complexion will look after the “5 types of white” is restored into your skin, simply look at the steps I do every day to ensure my complexion looks healthy and radiant, below:
1. To clear the skin of surface debris, which dulls the complexion, I use an exfoliating scrub (Crystal White)
2. To soften the skin and smooth it out, I apply a toner and a moisturiser (Silk White)
3. Next, a colour corrector with a pink tinge to give my skin some healthy flush (Cherry Blossom White)
4. Concealer goes on spots and blemishes to make it look near flawless (Pearl White)
5. Finally a foundation to even out the skin so it reflects light better (Snow White)
Regular use of Shiseido Total Brightening Serum aims to do this for your skin. It will take time and an almost fanatical devotion to your skin to get it to look this way. I have been trying out this serum for only two weeks so it’s still too early to tell if it really delivers on its promises.
What I can tell you is that the texture of the serum is a huge improvement from its predecessor. It’s less sticky, more easily absorbed by the skin, and feels extremely hydrating. With breakthrough ingredients like Resveratrol and ProBright 4MR proven under clinical conditions to inhibit melanin production and prevent the yellowing of the dermis (a process known as glycation), I have high hopes for this serum.
This post is in no way paid for or advised by Shiseido. The writer attended the launch of the serum and was given a bottle for review purposes. You may read our advertising policy here. Shiseido Total Brightening Serum is now available at all Shiseido counters islandwide.
About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, and Suits. She is going to be taking a foundation-free challenge for two weeks and is very afraid. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweet.