Controversial Skin Whitening Hits Facebook

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Vaseline has launched a Facebook application that allows you to “transform your face,” by, um, whitening it.  (via AOL News).

What might seem like a really bad PR move is actually quite a commonplace marketing draw across Asia, including India, where the application, and the products it’s promoting, are targeted.

Playing on the long-entrenched beauty myth which persists across Asia, where darker skin tones are seen as less appealing, many beauty companies sell products meant to lighten skin tones. Much like the U.S. obsession with achieving the perfect tan—but in reverse—many people across Asia spend piles of money on achieving a whiter complexion. This is a particularly booming industry in India, where the skin-lightening market is worth over $430 million and growing.

While Vaseline isn’t the first company to make skin-lightening products, it is unique in its Facebook application. The application prompts you to upload your photo, which you can then lighten and save as your profile pic.

Although the skin-lightening creams have a sizable market, predictably not everyone in India is onboard with the concept of lighter equals better. Opinion editors, academics and even a Bollywood actress have all taken stands against the practice.

And, of course, a Facebook group has formed, protesting the sale of these creams, denouncing them as racist. The group was started by Kunnath Santhose of Bangalore and currently has 103 members.

It’s noteworthy, however, that Vaseline’s Facebook application has roughly five times as many fans as the protest group, which suggests that the cultural appreciation of fairer skin is still strong. Or that the marketing campaigns are really working.