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Does Beauty Mean White?

Unveiling the truth behind demand for whitening products in Eastern societies

The cosmetics industry has witnessed a significant surge in the demand for whitening products in recent years, particularly in such markets as Egypt, the MENA region as well as the Far East where darker skin tones are the majority. Although the discourse around inclusivity has been circulating for the past few years, the general perception of beauty standards seem to be unwavering.

Whitening products have a long history, dating back many years. Despite ongoing advertising campaigns advocating self-acceptance and self-love, the desire for lighter skin is as strong as that for thicker brows,  the perfect nose or fuller lips. In female groups and communities, inquiries about effective whitening creams or treatments are abundant, raising questions about the underlying motivations driving this trend.

Several factors contribute to the growing demand for skin-lightening products in Egypt, with Western beauty standards, advertising campaigns, and negative self-image playing significant roles.


Eastern societies often adhere to a preference for pale skin, perpetuating the pursuit of whitening treatments among women in the quest for the other gender’s approval. Women keep applying whitening creams in the aspiration of skin tones such as Nicole Kidman’s.


The influence of social media and celebrity endorsements has significantly bolstered the popularity of whitening products, as influencer marketing dominates various platforms. Yet the profit-driven nature of these endorsements raises concerns about the authenticity of product recommendations.


Studies have revealed a correlation between heavy social media use and depression, as individuals compare themselves to idealized images. Full-glam models and filters that create glass skin might make some feel there’s something wrong with them, and will make them question why can’t you just be this perfect. This comparison often leads to significant investments in whitening creams and skin-peeling treatments, driven by a desire to attain a fairer skin tone.


To gain deeper insights into why women are not comfortable in their own skin, we talked with women from various age groups. Heba, 57, has been using whitening products since her early forties, believing in their ability to also prevent skin aging. Shereen, 38, expresses an obsession with whitening products, constantly seeking improved results through experimentation with different brands. “Since I was a teen, guys at school would fancy blondes with fair skin over others and that didn’t change in college or even at work.” Last we spoke with a young lady, Yasmin, 26, whose answer was the most intriguing. “I don’t know exactly why I’m using most of my skincare products as I don’t have major problems with my skin, but I think it’s peer pressure and social media influencing.” 


Despite the well-documented negative side effects of whitening products, women still pursue them. The industry’s persistent campaigns aimed at convincing women that these products will make their lives better. The truth remains that true contentment can only be found when one is comfortable in their own skin.


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