Brown Paper Mags

Some folks smoke crack to escape the world, I on the other hand, read magazines, more specifically, I read the ads. Charge it to working in the ad biz, but in what I’ve learned, its one of the quickest ways to read any audience. Keeping that in mind, from what I gather in most international magazines, having dark skin is one of the reasons your life is flawed – but it can be fixed with the right skin lightening product!

You see, according to their ads, darker skin is really holding women back from living happier lives. So naturally, there is an entire global industry of skin whiteners, often advertised here in the US as “brighteners” or “blemish removers,” that often target women of color with the same intensity of the fashion industry. Resonating from established consumer want & need, and based in cultural traditions steeped in the segregation of class and race and stimulated by international slave trade and colonialism, the “bleaching business” has always been a big boom in the skincare market. Many times over, it is one of the top categories outside of the US.

But for me, I do appreciate one thing – they market the hell out of this stuff with the ads and packaging – the entire plan is always tight. Convincing, if not over the top copy, aspirational photography and models, catchy colors (remember, minorities love bright colors)! In addition to the smaller and regional brands, the key players in this industry include some of the top names in beauty: to name a few, L’Oréal, Ponds, Unilver, and E.T. Browne (Palmers) all have their versions of skin lighteners – marketed in very different ways in very different markets. Let’s have a look:

According to this high-market ad (shown above), targeted at South Asian women in Vogue India, revealing your inner radiance also requires using L’Oréal’s “White Perfect” skin lotion. One could argue that it is a blemish remover-but with the words “re-lightening whitening” included¬-I beg to differ.spacer.jpg

By far, India, and the Arab world’s biggest brand is Fair&Lovely. Here are two of their TV spots, in Hindu & English. Somehow, I don’t think that this stuff is made from flowers.



Judging from the packaging of these recently found products marketed to Caribbean and African women globally, the miracle is in a bottle. Reportedly, the results of the harsh side effects of the chemicals that are in many of these (most notable, hydroquinone) are what inspired the late, and now-chic Nigerian Afrobeat musician, Fela Kuti, to record his hit Yellow Fever…in 1976. Unlike the Indian ads, most of the print and packaging isn’t as slick.



It goes without saying that these products do exist in the US market as well, but they tend to take a much more clinical and isolated-need approach, often marketed in magazines as “spot removers” and “fading creams for problem areas”, etc:


Before I go any further, I have used fade creams on my skin. I took the term “tomboy” to the next level as a child and have the small knicks and scars on my legs and elbows to prove it. Naturally, as I got older “fading” and “toning” products appealed to me to make up for not being a prim and proper little girl – and in some instances, with proper application and diligence–they worked with pleasant, but not miraculous results. Needless to say, I was not applying products to my entire face and body, as some of these products are marketed.

Truth be typed, the brown paper bag test never really left the US and abroad, making this subject hardly new. But what is interesting is how differently women across the world are receiving and taking it. Now this idea opens up a huge can of worms that I’m not going to touch right now (but will later), it’s late and I have to get my beauty sleep.

With love,


Related Articles

Telling India’s Modern Women They Have Power, Even Over Their Skin Tone [NYTimes]

Skin colour: A shady issue? [My Bindi]

Fade to White [Village Voice]

Tanzania Counts Costs of White Skin [BBC News]

UK’s Skin Bleaching Trade Exposed [CNN]

The Youths With No Identity [Jamaica Gleaner]

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington