Skin Bleaching

Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology, Springer, December 2012

4 Pages Posted: 27 Dec 2013 Last revised: 4 Apr 2015

Date Written: 2012


Skin bleaching refers to people’s use of homemade, cosmetic or dermatological products over time to remove the melanin from the skin. This process which is also known as skin whitening, skin lightening and skin toning can be done formally by a dermatologist, or informally by non-doctors. People who bleach may do so for a duration of only several days, to upwards of twenty years. Some people bleach their skin for special events, others as a more everyday practice. Some people bleach the skin on parts of their bodies, while others bleach their faces alone.People bleach their skin for one of several reasons: the skin is perceived to be too dark; preference for light skin, because light skin is seen as beautiful; the practice is seen as fashionable, modern and facilitates social mobility; a response to peer influence; and to attract potential spouses. These reasons have been theorized within the frameworks of self-hate, colorism, mis-education, identity and complex personhood.

The motivations for skin bleaching are used by cosmetic companies to market their skin bleaching products globally.These products contain mercury, hydroquinone or corticosteroids, which cause health problems. Some people who informally bleach their skin experience neurological deficits such as insomnia, irritability, neuropathies, and loss of memory, eye problems such as glaucoma and cataracts, and skin problems such as fragile skin, scabies, pitch black pigmentation, and colloid milium ochronosis.Other medical problems include adrenal insufficiency, kidney damage,Cushing’s syndrome, vulval warts, immuno-suppression, and hypertension. Lactating mothers who bleach their skin and who breast feed their babies transfer mercury to their babies. Bleaching of the skin can delay the diagnosis of leprosy. The global popularity of skin bleaching despite the myriad health problems is taken as evidence of self-hate.

Keywords: racism, colorism, miseducation, self-hate, complex personhood, skin bleaching

Suggested Citation

Charles, Christopher, Skin Bleaching (2012). Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology, Springer, December 2012. Available at SSRN:

Christopher Charles (Contact Author)

University of the West Indies ( email )

Kingston 7
Mona, Mona Kingston 7

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