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Are Skin-Lightening Ads Ethical?

Update Date: Jan 23, 2015 12:22 AM EST

Many cultures prefer paler skin to darker skin when judging attractiveness. Historically, lighter skin was associated with higher societal status while darker skin was associated with lower societal status. While this notion of skin color can be described as archaic, many cultures still harbor preferences for lighter skin when it comes to judging people. 

New research from Australia reveals that the demand for skin-whitening products is growing, and more than 60 percent of Indian women admit to using cosmetic products to lighten their skin. 

Experts have raised concerns over the ethics of skin-lightening products, which are becoming more popular by the day. 

"I brought {skin-whitening products} from two different shops in Townsville within ten minutes' drive of my office," Professor Lynne Eagle of James Cook University, said in a news release.

While social scientists have long known that paler skin is preferred over darker skin in every culture, they have never been able to figure out why.

"It's not just a hang-over from colonialism. In India and China lighter skin was always associated with a higher caste. Even in Europe, until Coco Chanel successfully promoted suntans, having a darker skin was associated with being a manual worker and low status," Eagle noted. 

Eagle believes that advertisements that link social and professional success with lighter skin tone are unethical. 

"In one example, the daughter is told by her father that she is too dark-skinned to ever get a good job and be able to support him. So she buys some skin-lightener and gets a dream job," she explained.

While cosmetic companies did not create the prejudices that support the demand for skin-lightening products, their marketing helps sustain the unfair stereotypes.  

"That's the main issue, the ethics of perpetuating stereotypes of white skin as beautiful," Eagle concluded.

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