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Fair skin fascination takes dangerous turn

How far will an Indian woman go for that cherished and coveted fair skin? As far as using steroid creams intended for skin ailments that can be dangerous if used for long periods.

Image Credit:Gulf News Archive
The preference for fair skin is easily seen in matrimonial advertisements, where a potential bride's porcelain skin is enumerated among her foremost desirable attributes.
Gulf News

New Delhi: How far will an Indian woman go for that cherished and coveted fair skin? As far as using steroid creams intended for skin ailments that can be dangerous if used for long periods.

It's well-known that millions of women and men use fairness creams every day.

In the evenings, on prietime television, commercials advertising these creams - showing people going a dark to a peaches-and-cream complexion in fast motion - appear frequently.

The habit arises from a cultural belief that equates fair skin with status and beauty. This belief stretches across the entire social spectrum - from maids to the memsahibs (ladies of the household). Even Bollywood stars have no qualms about endorsing these creams.

But doctors say in the zeal to blanche their looks, uneducated women in the villages as well as educated women in urban India are going to the extent of using steroid creams such as Betnovate, a medicated cream, which are actually used for skin inflammations and rashes, to whiten their skin. An unintended side-effect of using the cream for ailments is that the skin turns a shade lighter.

Illiterate village women have no idea that prolonged use of such prescription creams can thin the skin to such an extent that the nerves underneath become visible.

The skin loses its elasticity and becomes prone to bacterial infections. In serious cases, it can even lead to cancer.

"I only got alarmed when I found a lump on my right jaw and my cheeks started looking rough and scaly," said Devi Kumar, a rural schoolteacher in Haryana who began using Betnovate eight years ago after her mother-in-law taunted her about her dark skin.

"It turned out to be skin cancer but luckily my doctor caught it early. I wish I had never been so careless but it was my sister who recommended Betnovate."

Her dermatologist, Dr Anil Malhotra, who treats many patients from the villages around Rewari in Haryana, said no one knew how many women in India were using steroid creams to lighten their skin but he felt that it was approaching 'epidemic' proportions.

Dr Rajeev Sharma, a dermatologist in Aligarh in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, says that every day, at last two or three women arrive at his clinics suffering the effects of such creams.

"My receptionist can recognise them immediately as Betnovate cases. Betnovate is the most misused drug in India," said Sharma, who is also honorary secretary general of the Indian Association of Dermatologists.

Sharma says illiterate women are recommended Betnovate by friends, quacks, and local chemists. One woman who had been using it for 15 years turned up at his clinic with facial hair, multiple acne and telangiectasias - small dilated blood vessels near the surface of the skin.

All around them, on posters, in films, on television, on billboards, Indians see fair skin. It is rare to see a dark film star or model. Indian film stars are fair. If not naturally so, they are touched up to look fairer on screen. Few dusky models make it big.

The preference for fair skin is easily seen in matrimonial advertisements, where a potential bride's porcelain skin is enumerated among her foremost desirable attributes.

Fairness creams account for over half of the $318 million market for skin care products. Even impoverished domestic servants can afford a tube when it costs just over half a dollar.What is Betnovate?

Betnovate is used for skin ailments, such as inflammation or irritation of the skin. Betnovate contains Betamethasone Valerate, a steroid to treat skin inflammation and swelling.

It is strictly for external application. If used over long periods, Betnovate can cause thinning of the skin and a decrease of natural hormones

Are women desperate to become whiter? What do you think is the reason for this?

Your comments

It is interesting how darker skinned cultures despise their dark skin while the whiter cultures revere a tanned healthy look and prefer it,k even pushing the boundaries toward their own self destruction through possibly getting skin cancer from laying on the beach or going to the tanning salon.We need to love ourselves as we are.
From A Reader
New York,USA
Posted: July 08, 2009, 17:46

The various perceptions that the entire society has about having a fair skin is to be changed. The false expectations of society which preferrs only fair women to be a model, actress, and worst of all "wife" is forcing the female crowd to rely on stuff like betnovate as in this article or any other product. Men and women are to understand the positives of a dark skin and after all beauty, brains nor status lies in an individual's skin colour. I feel its more than literacy which is required here. People shouldn't be ignorant.
Sathyapriya Ramkumar
Posted: July 08, 2009, 16:42

yes its true that not only women but men also use these whitning creams not knowing the truth if u watch the advertising, any one can get tempted to use it and the reason is only to be admired by others in the group of dark skin it is cosidered as beauty why? deffinetly if you are fair your looks will be prominent ,which is why women and men spend half of their budget in fairness creams,fairness oils and fairness facials.
Posted: July 08, 2009, 15:52

India can probably be defined as the most racist country in the whole world so much so that people are forced into believing that by changing their color they would join be given the recognition and respect in society. One cannot even define this as ignorance, as even educated people are bought into this belief.The goverment should ban such commercials on the grounds of spreading racist messages, which probably could initiate a change.
Posted: July 08, 2009, 15:40

My doctor had just sujjested me to use Betnovate since I was having eitching.But when I read gulfnews article about betnovateBut now I've stopped using it.Thanks to Gulfnews!!
Shaima Asif
Al Ain,UAE
Posted: July 08, 2009, 14:23

Devi Kumar's mother in law should be taught to love her daughter in law just the way she is. Mean old hag!
Ms Right
Posted: July 08, 2009, 14:00

Well, well, it's not only Indian women. Arabs, Africans, Chinese, Japanese all seem to think it's special to be 'fair'. I am VERY PROUDLY BLACK and it amazes me how many times during my travels around the world I meet people that want to sell me something to make me answer will always be I AM VERY PROUD of my skin. it's all about self confidence and what one has inside the 'area between the two ears' not how fair one is. It's about time we swallowed that
Nancy Karimi
Posted: July 08, 2009, 13:18

Skin colour is given tremendous importance in India. People are fascinated by fair skin and try all means available to change their skin colour. Cosmetic companies are making money on this sentiment by making false claims. People wanting to turn fair are easily duped into buying and using such creams and lotions. With the country progressing so much, it is a shame that skin colour is still considered so important. Each person is born with a particular skin colour and no amount of lotions can change that. We could protect our skin shade by using sun tan lotions but trying to turn fair is absolutely impossible. Putting a ban on such creams is an option as educating the whole population about the ill effects of fairness creams seems like an insurmountable task.
Naina Nair
Posted: July 08, 2009, 12:50

It is a very sad thing that the women are doing that and as i read this article i just remembered a funny amalgamation of creams that my aunt used to make which consisted of a couple of creams which were actually to cure burns and cuts with the the super cream betnovate, it was further accessorized with other moisturising creams. I would like to conclude here that this syndrome of getting a fair complexion is spreading and has spread humongously in Pakistan too.
Jannat Durrani
Posted: July 08, 2009, 12:40

Thank you very much for this valuable information.I like gulf News Paper...
Shaista Hassan
Posted: July 08, 2009, 11:18

India is the best market for multinational cosmetic company. All the fairness cream might have the same dangerous result for a prolong usage.
Abu Hanna
Ras Al Khaimah,UAE
Posted: July 08, 2009, 08:34

Social norms on whiter skin and the respect attached to it make women to develop an adddiction to it. Instead of gaining a poweful personality to face life independently women turn more meek spreading the message external looks pays all even to next generation.
Posted: July 08, 2009, 07:45

It's a shame! Women need to be taught to love themselves for who they are. If God wanted us to be all one color he would have made it so, but then the world would be boring. What needs to happen is a cultural revolution so young women can see that their natural dark skin is beautiful. There appears to be color issues all around the world, with what's considered beautiful, etc. Indian women need to be reminded that there are a lot of people spending a lot of money and hours in the sunlight trying to get what you got naturally. Also, I would like to kick Devi Kumar's mother in law!
Tracey Farmer
Simi Valley,USA
Posted: July 08, 2009, 03:23