In light of the Black Lives Matters movement, sparked by George Floyd’s death, firms around the world are reassessing their product lines and marketing strategies.
Unilever is dropping terms like “whitening,” “lightening” and “fair” from its marketing language to better promote racial inclusivity in the beauty industry.
The company which has been criticized for promoting negative stereotypes around dark skin tones amid the black lives matter movement will rename Fair & Lovely, a skin-lightening cream. It will also remove references to “whitening” or “lightening” on the products, which are sold across Asia.
Unilever acknowledged that branding suggests “a singular ideal of beauty”.
Two separate petitions urging Unilever to stop the production of its Fair & Lovely range have been signed by more than 18,000 people in recent weeks.
“This product has built upon, perpetuated, and benefited from internalized racism and promotes anti-blackness sentiments,” one says.
A second petition claimed the cream “tells us that there is something wrong with our color, that we have to be light in order to feel beautiful. In order to feel worthy.”
In a YouTube video advertising the range, cartoon images of women are put side-by-side, claiming that the products can “brighten” the skin.
“The language around these products upholds the beauty standards that lighter or whiter skin is more desirable,” Nomshado Michelle Baca, the founder of beauty brand A Complexion Company.
“The individual who formulated and marketed the products is not likely to be a person of color, resulting in a warped perception that all black women desire lighter skin.”
But she argues that the conversation has become “hyper-focused on the change of someone’s entire complexion.
“The woman who wants to treat small areas of scarring is left invisible and without options but to use the damaging products available in unregulated retailers or black hair shops.”
In the UK, creams containing hydroquinone, steroids, or mercury are banned because of their potentially serious side-effects.
Consumers have previously been warned by the Local Government Association to steer clear of those toxic products that can “act like paint stripper”.
Sunny Jain, President of Beauty & Personal Care at Unilever, said: “We are fully committed to having a global portfolio of skincare brands that is inclusive and cares for all skin tones, celebrating greater diversity of beauty.
“We recognize 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 brand has never been and is not a bleaching product,” Unilever added.
The consumer goods giant also said that it had removed before-and-after impressions and “shade guides” on Fair & Lovely packaging in 2019. The skincare range is sold across countries such as India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Pakistan.
Writer and activist Poorna Bell said that Unilever’s announcement was “hugely disappointing”.
“It doesn’t do enough to make reparations for the untold mental and emotional damage done by colorism,” a prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, often among people of the same ethnic group.
“Renaming the products doesn’t mean anything – that’s still just colorism by another word,” she said.
She also called for Unilever to match Johnson & Johnson’s recent commitment to stop selling certain products that are advertised as dark-spot reducers in Asia and the Middle East but have been used by consumers to lighten skin tone.
Skin-lightening products are typically aimed at women in the Black and Asian communities, says Dr. Steve Garner, a sociologist, who carried out one of the first British studies into skin-lightening.
Nivea’s parent company Beiersdorf told the BBC that it “stands against racism and discrimination of any kind and supports the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Nivea’s Natural Fairness line is sold in the Middle East, India as well as Nigeria and Ghana.
On its Middle East website, the product is described as being able to “prevent the darkening of skin tone”.
When asked by the BBC if it would amend the description, Nivea said that the product contains SPF-15 “which helps prevent sun-induced skin damage, such as irregular dark pigmentation, for any skin type.”
It added: “We are currently doing a review in all our product descriptions and are in the process of re-evaluating and updating the description that may cause any misinterpretation.”
L’Oreal did not respond to the BBC’s request for comment on its Garnier White Complete range.
By doing this, will this in any way affect the lives of those that have been bullied and killed over the years due to racism? Or will this change the way the white people perceive people of colour?