Kajol is often used as an example of an actress who has gone through drastic skin lightening, but she denies any such treatments.
Why are we ‘Indian brown’?
Due to subcontinent weather conditions that are sunny and humid, Indian skin has developed more melanin over the centuries to protect us from UV rays. Like hair texture and the colour of the eyes, one's skin colour is encoded in one's genes -- it is not easy to change one's complexion permanently with surface treatments unless changes take place within the body over a period of time.
One benefit of darker skin is that we are less prone to skin cancer since melanin protects us. (But instead of thanking our luck, Indians usually look down on dark skin and aspire to become fairer!) In addition, dust, pollution and exposure to the sun make us appear darker.
Why do we love fair skin?
Fair skin has always been an aspiration in Asia – not just in India but in the Middle East and Far East as well. It has been stereotyped with class, affluence and beauty for various reasons ranging from the caste system to foreign invasion. Interestingly, though he was God himself, little Krishna asks his mother, 'Radha kyon gori, mein kyon kala (why is Radha fair and why am I dark)?" The origins of this folk song are unclear but it just shows how pervasive the fairness obsession is.
From time immemorial, women and men in this part of the world have obsessively used natural techniques to reduce tanning and to make their skin fairer. Indian queens used combinations of sandalwood, saffron and 'malai'. In China and Japan, women even went to dangerous extremes such as using lead and paint to appear white – you may have seen images of geishas with painted faces.
Colonialism made the obsession with skin whitening even stronger, as the fair skin of the Caucasian rulers strengthened its association with privilege and often even survival. Modern-day advertisements that equate fairness with personal or professional success further fuel the fire.
Saif Ali Khan in an advertisement for a fairness cream. It is not only women who want to look fairer in India.
Do fairness creams work?
Over-the-counter skin lightening creams are not a guarantee of fair skin. In fact, some dermatologists are against their use since many of these contain mercury and are not safe in the long term.
Are salon facials effective?
Today, there are various salon-based facials and skin treatments such as photo-rejuvenation, chemical peels and microdermabrasion that promise fairer skin, ranging from Rs 2000 to 20000 per sitting. However, the results are superficial and most customers are disappointed with the outcome. These need to be done over a fairly long period of time and at regular intervals for any sustained improvement.
Are there any medicines to enhance fairness?
According to Dr Deepti Shrivastava, director, Skin Hair & You, Delhi, there are certain oral tablets that prevent melanin synthesis in the body if taken over a period of 3-6 months. “Glutathione is an antioxidant and was given to reduce free radicals in cancer patients but it was noticed that in low doses, it also led to fairer skin over a period of time without any side effects. Many actresses are known to use these. In extreme cases of pigmentation, we also prescribe tranexamic acid but it does have side effects and has to be taken under the guidance of a doctor,” she says. Glutathione tablets cost about Rs 40 per tablet, while tranexamic acid costs Rs 25 per tablet. They have to be taken twice daily, which is why such long-term oral treatments are not affordable for many people.
Deepika Padukone's complexion looks different depending on the light, weather condition and, yes, Photoshop!
How come some Bollywood actresses seem to have become fairer over time?
One should not go by images of film stars becoming fairer over time – in most cases, the skin looks fairer due to advances in photography and better lighting, and also Photoshop. In most cases, as the actresses grow older and wealthier, changes in their lifestyle leads to their skin looking lighter (see reasons below). But there are many who do use oral tablets and skin treatments on a regular basis too.
What is the difference in hyperpigmentation and regular dark complexion?
When there is a very high amount of melanin in the skin due to overactive melanocytes, it is called hyperpigmentation. It usually begins around the knuckles, elbows, knees, neck, underarms and spreads to other parts of the body from there. It can happen due to various hereditary factors, hormonal imbalances, insulin rejection, malnutrition, too much sun exposure, pregnancy, menopause, certain medications, and many other causes. If the skin suddenly develops hyperpigmentation, it can also be the symptom of a serious disease and needs medical attention. But unlike your natural complexion, hyperpigmentation is often temporary and can be cured if the underlying medical issue is dealt with.
Take care and love your skin no matter what your skin tone. Photo credit: Shutterstock
Is there any way to enhance fairness in the long term?
Experts in the field agree that changes in lifestyle can bring about changes in complexion, which is why people become fairer as they become more affluent in life. These are the reasons:
(1) They use better-quality skincare products.
(2) They go for regular facials and skin cleansing.
(3) They use sunscreen when they step out of home to avoid tanning.
(4) They eat healthy food including whole grains, seeds, vegetables and fruits, and avoid oily and spicy foods.
(5) They travel to cleaner and colder destinations away from the dust, humidity and heat of cities whenever possible.
(6) They stay indoors as much as possible.
(7) They live in air-conditioned environments that reduce dust and grime in skin pores.
(8) They use high-quality makeup that is suited to their skin-tone.
(9) They have a healthy intake of water and liquids so that the skin is well moisturised.
(10) And if nothing else works, they use good Instagram filters in their photos!
Having said all this, Fashion101.in urges you to take care of your skin and love yourself no matter what your skin colour, and stop comparing yourself to others. You are unique and beautiful. Own it!