Whitening Label

Do we need to stop labeling products “Whitening”?

Okay, this is a bit of a deviation from the usual beauty review but instead of reviewing the contents of this essence today, I would like to “review” the language because it was the language used on the bottle in Asia which made me ship the essence from the USA.

As we all know, Paula’s Choice is an excellent brand with many cult products. Yet there was one reason that was the deal-breaker for me purchasing it in the USA. The wording on the packaging was altered from “BRIGHTENING” to “WHITENING” to capitalize on the lucrative whitening market in South East Asia. It seems like a trivial word change and silly to have spent extra on shipping yet for those of you that have grown up in a household be it South East Asia, India, Nigeria or America, you will only be too familiar with the issues surrounding this word “Whitening”.

Last year, I decided to write to Paula’s Choice (USA) and Singapore suggesting to them to remove the word “Whitening” from their packaging here in South East Asia, a word that perpetuates a single beauty ideal, a word that perpetuates the issues of “colourism” faced by so many and a word that perpetuates the unhealthy skin practices across the globe. . Now don’t get me wrong, I have constant hyperpigmentation concerns that I want to resolve. I pigment very easily from acne scars left behind that take 7-8 months to finally disappear. Sun exposure triggers hyperpigmentation on my forehead and around my mouth (creating army stripes) and between pollution, PCOS and my hormones I have developed some melasma and dark patches. These are real skin concerns and hyperpigmentation products would help to bring my skin back to balance. However, I do not wish to buy into a product which purposefully perpetuates beauty ideals of “Fair is Beautiful” and that I need to be fairer in skin tone.
Having grown up in an Asian household, I am all too familiar with these ideas and the negative impact it has had on my generation and the ones before. However, we now have a chance to break some of these perceptions. I propose we start with the removal of one word from all beauty labeling and packaging.

I appreciate that these perceptions will not change overnight but I think it is time we dropped language that does not serve us in the 21st Century. A simple word change can have a ripple effect on many more generations to come. By changing one word, we can spur a change in a whole beauty narrative so that we can slowly begin to erode century-old beauty ideals commercialized by beauty brands that plague many countries today. We are seeing such great inclusivity in the world of beauty and fashion from more diverse images and products. Now, I think it is time we supported this change with the use of the right language so that those growing up today and future generations to come, will appreciate that there is no one true definition of beauty.


I also believe it is our job to challenge the brands that serve us, to have more holistic definitions of beauty in not only their visual campaigns but also in their choice of words.

I haven’t received a response from Paula’s Choice but I have written to many more brands earlier this March highlighting products which use the word “whitening”, suggesting some alternative wording. So far, 5 brands have responded. Not exactly the best response, but which brand has what it takes to go against the huge and lucrative “whitening” market in Asia? It is about time we see a brand that dares to reject this toxic message of “whiteness” and embraces diversity in the marketing of its products.

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