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Fair & Lovely to be Renamed Glow & Lovely: What Does it Mean for the Skin Lightening Cream Industry in India?

Jun 27, 2020 11:16 AM 5 min read
Editorial

Consumer giant Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) recently announced that it will drop the word "fair" from its vastly popular skincare brand Fair and Lovely as it seeks to rebrand its flagship brand.

"We recognise that the use of the words 'fair', 'white' and 'light' suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don't think is right, and we want to address this," the company said in a statement.

The move comes on the heels of US multinational Johnson and Johnson announcing its exit from the fairness cream category in India and Middle East in the wake of the recent protests and debate about racism following the death of George Floyd in the US.

The rebranding is supposedly a part of HUL’s wider attempt to make its skincare portfolio more inclusive and diverse. HUL said that it has also moved away from advertising the benefits of fairness, whitening and skin lightening that it claimed could happen by usage of its cream, such as bagging your dream job, getting your dream body, or even your dream man/woman. The cameo with two faces showing shade transformation, as well as the shade guides were also removed from the packs.

 

Fair and Lovely to Rebrand Itself

 

Old Wine in New Bottle?

But why rebrand and not pull the plug like Johnson & Johnson did?

Fair and Lovely is India's largest selling skin lightening cream, with $317m in annual revenue and nearly 70%-80% share in the market segment. For Johnson & Johnson, the market share in India is “negligible”, as per its spokesperson. 

Fun Fact: Go to Amazon.in and start typing “fairness cream”. Amazon’s algorithms would most likely show a multitude of suggested searches, including our favourite but not so subtle “fairness cream for skin whitening”. Boom...over 5,000 results full of euphemisms for “fairness” - from “brightening” to “lightening”. Don’t believe this? Here’s the link. See for yourself. 

And therefore it made more sense for Hindustan Unilever to rebrand it than discontinue the product completely. 

While many have rejoiced over the announcement, describing it as a historic step and victory for the anti-racist movement worldwide, some have pointed out that this may be a typical case of old wine in new bottle, since the company was still going to sell the same cream with the same ingredients, only with a new name. It remains unclear if the actual product and its active ingredients will change.

 

skin lightening cream

 

“Fairness” is Ubiquitous

According to a report by Zion Market Research, the global skin whitening/skin lightening products market was valued at around $4.8bn in 2017 and is expected to reach approximately $8.9bn by 2024, at a CAGR of slightly above 6.5% between 2018 and 2024.

About 6,277 tonnes of skin whitening/skin lightening products, including products marketed as anti-aging creams targeting dark spots or freckles were sold worldwide last year, as per Euromonitor International.

The fairness creams market in India is estimated to be worth nearly ₹5,000cr- ₹10,000cr. And since most industry reports only take into account “fairness creams & bleach" as a category, it is not immediately apparent what the total size of the market would be if one were to add the myriad of other products, including peels, injections, pills and even cleaning bleach. 

It is also interesting to note here that most of the consumers of the fairness creams are in located in rural or semi-rural areas of the country.

A World Health Organisation study found that 61% of Indian women regularly seek skin-lightening creams. That number is 40% for Chinese women and 77% for women in Nigeria.

While HUL may be responsible for the lion’s share, many of these products are created and marketed by companies such as Proctor and Gamble and L’Oreal.

Corporations like L'Oréal have also launched several products rich in Vitamin E and tea tree oils that claim to lighten one's skin. But a large consumer base that cannot afford these expensive products turn to alternatives.

And as per a report by Bloomberg, many African countries and the Philippines have a large counterfeit market of cheap skin whitening products that are loaded with mercury and toxic bleaching agents.

These products are being sold on e-commerce websites owing to lax regulation, and were also available through other illegal means.

Selling "whiteness" and pitching it as beauty is not only colorist and racist, reinforcing age-old stereotypes, but can also be harmful, physically.

Cystic acne, irreversible skin thinning, paradoxical darkening of skin, increasing risk of skin cancer, fatal liver and kidney damage are just some examples of the extent of the damage these “whitening” products can cause.

 

beginning of an inclusive future

 

Beginning of an End?

Well, one the brighter side of things, it’s the beginning of a change in narrative - one which has been perpetuated over centuries and generations.

And the change is telling. Earlier this year, The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare proposed to amend the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Act, 1954, under which the Ministry will be taking punitive measures against ads for fairness creams, and hair loss, weight loss or height improvement products, etc. And as per sources, under this Act, brands showcasing any such ads will attract a penalty of ₹50L and warrant prison time up to five years.

One can only hope that over time, brands as well as consumers realise how there is no set definition of beauty, health or fitness, and rather than joining the race to be the fairest, tallest or slim-est, seek holistic health - physical as well as mental.

FIN.

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