February 26, 2007
|UNIORB: ASIAN TREND|
Highly prized as an accent to beauty in ancient times, whiter skin appearance has enjoyed a revival among women around the world. It's more evident so in Japan where female consumers are known for their pain-taking effort to shun sunlight under parasols in summer. Even in her childhood, a Japanese woman spends a great deal of time tending to her young soft skin with a wide range and scope of basic beauty products found in any drugstore throughout the nation. And the legendary beauty of geishas depends on the whiteness and softness of the skin on the nape of their necks.
To possess 'bihaku' (beautiful white) skin, the ideal porcelain-pale complexion, has been engrained in the Japanese culture for centuries. In the past, women used to scrub their skin with "nuka" (rice hulls) for skin oxidization or grind pearls into powder for swallowing. Nowadays, consumers rely on scientists to play a major role in formulating increasingly sophisticated and safer products.
Although the myth that Asian women pursue white skin is to emulate the stereotypically Caucasian beauty, the original reason behind the obsession with the lighter skin has more to do with social class differences than 'want what you don't have' syndrome. It was believed that a lighter complexion is associated with wealth and higher education levels, whereas darker skin alludes to a life of outdoor labor toiling in the sun.
However, over the years throughout Asia, white skin viewed as a symbol of innocence and femininity has transformed to an image of youthfulness and attractiveness to the opposite sex due to aggressively marketing by major cosmetic companies. Moreover, international film industries and advertisements clearly pushed the lighter-skinned celebrities and models as emblems of Asian beauty. However, one must not overlook the consumer's propensity towards having fairer skin, perhaps arises from the danger of increasing level of ultraviolet rays in our earth's atmosphere.
Interestingly enough, teams of scientists and dermatologists have studied people of different color skins in the following Asian countries: Japan, South Korea, China, India, and the Philippines. The findings are as follows:
Realistically, cosmetics work only as a veneer for beautiful looking skin. As cliche as it sounds, beauty really does come from within. To maintain or obtain good skin requires basic regimen: a healthy diet, exercise, plenty of water and eight hours of sleep. Nowadays, a consumer is at a point in time when she has never been so well informed - knows exactly what to eat, how to care for her skin, and how to read the labels on the back of cosmetics packages.
It's not surprising that Japan has experienced an unprecedented boom in anti-aging cosmetic treatments as an aging population reaches out for products that aim to help them looking younger and healthier. The billion-dollar cosmetics industry has shown skyrocketed sales of anti-aging creams, skin tonics and skin whitening creams, as well as products, such as treatments for blotchy and wrinkled skin, hair care treatments and tonics for graying in the past year. Moreover, the consumer vigor for youthful looks and good health has also boosted business growth for gyms and health spas.
Although most whitening creams are safe, doctors, consumer groups and government officials have reported devastating consequences for some women using blemish creams in large, harmful amounts. It has been proven that a few compounds can whiten skin by retarding the production of melanin: hydroquinone, Alpha Hydoxy Acids (AHAs) and mercury. However, all three compounds if used in high doses are dangerous to one's health. The highly touted hydroquinone in cosmetic products can cause ochronosis - the appearance of very dark patches of skin, or develop leukoderma - the skin loses the ability to produce pigment, resulting in patches of pink. As for mercury, the FDA had warned that it should never be applied to the skin, for it damages the central nervous system, the kidneys, and the development of the fetus' brain; and it might lead to death.
Sadly, in the poorer parts of Southeast Asia, illegal potent bleaching agents have made their way into the black-market sold as inexpensive cosmetic products. Recently, Thailand's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given warning to 70 whitening creams and Indonesian officials have listed more than 50 banned cosmetics. In addition, FDA has complained that these cosmetic bottles labeled as "whitening" are, in fact, misleading - they are nothing more than sunscreens blocking out ultraviolet rays.
Despite numerous skin-whitening horror stories reported in recent years, the trend of skin whitening won't abate soon as it has already spread from Asia to South America, even to Africa. More recently, scientists have moved to the cellular level in tackling anti-ageing - the discovery of sirtuin, an enzyme that can dramatically extend life, has energized biotechnology companies to develop "anti-aging" drug.
Until the "anti-aging" drug becomes available for mass distribution, skin-whitening cosmetics will continue to be sold on shelves as long as consumers believe that beauty is somehow associated with white skin and youthful appearance.
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