While living in China, I noticed that it became increasingly difficult to find my Nivea skin lotion. I know….what’s a burly, manly-man doing using Nivea lotion? Well, I have dry skin just like everyone else, and I like the silky feeling it gives me when I put it on my hands and feet. That being revealed, it was difficult to find my Nivea skin lotion in China. It’s not because Nivea wasn’t sold in China (it was sold everywhere, even in 7-11 and the Chinese corner store), it’s because almost every lotion I was able to find in any store (even larger supermarkets and pharmacies) had something in it called “whitening formula.”
What is “whitening formula,” you ask? Well, it’s just that….a lotion that promotes whitening of the skin when you put it on. I was amazed at how many of the lotions in the stores contained some form or another of this whitening formula. Coming from the United States and Spain, where everyone wants to look like they have the perfect tan, I was confused and intrigued by this need to whiten their skin. Here in Singapore, the regular Nivea is more available, but whitening lotions abound as well. Why would anyone want to look paler than they are? People of Asian descent already have pale enough skin, why would they want to amplify that “glow-in-the-dark” quality that so many have already? Also, what was in this whitening formula, and why have I never seen it before (is it just high SPF lotion that stops tanning, or does it actually whiten the skin)?
According to LiveStrong.com, whitening lotions mainly contain alpha-hydroxy acids (like the ones found in many food products). Here’s what they have to say: “Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, occur naturally in some food products, but they can also be man-made. The most common types found in skin creams are glycolic acid, from sugar cane, and lactic acid, found in milk. Both have lightening properties. These AHAs follow a two-pronged approach to battling skin discoloration. They suppress the skin’s natural production of the pigment melanin and at the same time, their exfoliating properties speed up the skin’s renewal process to help fresh, non-pigmented skin grow” (http://www.livestrong.com/article/155358-whitening-cream-ingredients/). So, people are actually putting acid on their skin daily to remove the pigmentation and make their skin “fairer.” I guess a daily chemical peel will do that to you!
So, do Asian people really want to look pale? Yes, they do. I was talking about this one day a few years ago, while living in China, and one of my friends (who is Chinese) told me that paler skin gives the illusion that women are fair and supple. It also means that they are well-off because they never have to go outside, they can remain inside all day and have others do their work for them. I suppose this is why they pop their umbrellas up whenever the sun peeks through the pollution. This is not only a phenomenon in China, whitening creams fill the markets of Japan and Korea as well.
This same woman was called beautiful by a Chinese man later on in the year because she had “beautiful white skin and a pale complexion.” I guess it works, but it’s so bad for the skin. Whitening lotion is illegal to sell over the counter in the United States and many European countries because of the damage it can do to the skin. It’s the act of putting concentrated acid on one’s skin to chemically remove the pigmentation and promote the shedding of the top, darker, layer.
For me, it’s just the annoyance of having to go from store to store before I actually found a lotion without the whitening in it! I’m sure there are some people in Asia who just want to have soft skin that isn’t dry or flaky, and not have a pale, ghostly complexion. I realize that stores have to stock products based on what their clients want, but stock a few pieces for those of us that are normal….and want a healthy glow!!