American multinational Johnson & Johnson has confirmed it will stop selling fairness and skin-lightening products in its Clean & Clear and Neutrogena ranges, both of which are currently marketed as helping to reduce dark spots, but have come under fire as emblematic of deep-rooted colourism and internalised racism. Tellingly, the ranges were only available in the Middle East and Asia.
“Conversations over the past few weeks highlighted that some product names or claims on our Neutrogena and Clean & Clear dark-spot reducer products represent fairness or whiteness as better than your own unique skin tone,” the company said in a statement. “This was never our intention — healthy skin is beautiful skin.”
In light of the recently reinvigorated movement against anti-Blackness and police brutality in the US, societies in the global south are also looking inwards, at our own issues with racism, colourism, and white supremacy. Skewed beauty standards have placed a premium on whiteness and fairness, and the symptoms range from the mass consumption of skin-lightening creams, to more dangerous procedures of skin bleaching.
Corporate responses to social movements and justice causes are a moving target—ranging from lukewarm inspirational, to too-little-too-late, to patronisingly cosmetic. But Johnson & Johnson remains the only beauty and skincare giant to have responded to the outcry with a direct change in product, with competitors Unilever and Procter & Gamble slower to react.
A Change.org petition against Unilever to ban its notorious Fair & Lovely skin-lightening cream currently has over 11,500 signatures, and calls out the hypocrisy in the corporation’s reaction to current events. “Recently, Unilever pledged more than $1 million (0.2% of Fair & Lovely’s revenue) to organisations and activists working for social justice and racial equality. However, continuing with the production and sale of Fair & Lovely is directly contradictory to that pledge.”