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Unilever dropping ‘whitening’ products and ‘Fair & Lovely’ brand names—but is it enough?

Unilever dropping ‘whitening’ products and ‘Fair & Lovely’ brand names—but is it enough?
[Photo: Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images]

Unilever announced that it is evolving its products and marketing to represent a more evolved vision of beauty, and the first steps are removing the words fair/fairness, white/whitening, and light/lightening from its products’ packs and communication, and changing the name of its Fair & Lovely brand name.

Sunny Jain, the company’s president of beauty and personal care, said in a statement: “We are fully committed to having a global portfolio of skin care brands that is inclusive and cares for all skin tones, celebrating greater diversity of beauty. We recognize that the use of the words ‘fair’, ‘white’ and ‘light’ suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don’t think is right, and we want to address this. As we’re evolving the way that we communicate the skin benefits of our products that deliver radiant and even tone skin, it’s also important to change the language we use.”

Skin-lightening products are popular in Asia and South Asia, but have been under increased scrutiny in recent years. Still, sales for these products—sold by not just Unilever but Johnson & Johnson, P&G, and L’Oreal—have been projected to grow from $4 billion in 2017 to $8 billion in 2026. According to the World Health Organization, routine skin-whitener use ranges from 25% in Mali to 77% in Nigeria, and 40% in China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea.

Johnson & Johnson announced earlier this month that it would stop sales of its skin-whitening products.

These products have also been called out for containing mercury and hydroquinone, which are linked to poisoning, skin damage, and liver and kidney malfunction.

But it apparently takes a potential PR disaster to affect real action.

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