Pakistan’s Ministry of Climate Change declared war on local and international cosmetics companies that have been found using “excessive amount of mercury” in their fairness creams. On July 23, Minister of State for Climate Change, Zartaj Gul, said in a press conference that out of 57 companies the ministry tested, only three were found complying to regulations. The report will lead to sealing of the companies’ manufacturing after December 31, 2019, and legal action against all such brands.
“According to our assessment, apart from the three companies who are following the conventions, the rest are using excessive doses of mercury. They are ruining our skins and trapping us in the facade of [fairness] complex,” Gul said during the press conference.
In South Asia, skin-whitening creams feed on the region’s obsession with fairness, which mostly stems from our shared histories of invasion and colonisation, and the ongoing global trend of white supremacy. Today, a fair complexion is huge social capital, mostly seen as an indicator of influence and success. This is especially true for marriages, where fair-skinned brides are preferred over other skin tones.
Over the last few years, though, the dangers of skin-whitening creams have come to the fore. Most creams have been found to contain mercury and hydroquinone, which are known to lead to poisoning, skin damage, and liver and kidney malfunctions. The cultural and the medical damages of creams have also led to campaigns such as ‘Dark is Beautiful’ or ‘Dark is Divine’. Despite that, the use continues. In fact, a study says that demand for skin lighteners is projected to reach $31.2 billion by 2024, especially in Asia.
In Pakistan, this battle has been going on for a while. In January this year, the Pakistan Standards and Quality Control Authority banned Faiza Beauty Cream, a popular local brand, for containing carcinogenic ingredients [including] mercury, hydroquinone, and steroids. Faiza Beauty Cream was previously busted in a BBC investigation in 2017 for being “poisonous and illegal.”
In February this year, Gul stated that “fairness products were against human rights of women” for inculcating an inferiority complex. This time, too, she told the cosmetics industry that they “are playing with our skins with your Rs 10 creams”. She added that it’s not just women but men too who suffer from this complex. “We are proud of our wheatish and dark complexion. Don’t make us victims of [fairness] complex. We are proud of what God has given us.”
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