The desire of Saudi women to have fair skin, a basic parameter often used to decide levels of beauty in these parts of the world, drives many women to purchase skin-lightening cosmetics.
It is with the aim of looking beautiful that Saudi women have recently, through SMS messages and the Internet, begun promoting placenta injections which can cost around SR30,000 per session.
While the US Food & Drugs Agency (FDA) has forbidden the sale of capsules and herbs made from placentas, Jahid Al-Hashshan, director of licenses at the Saudi Food and Drugs Authority, did not dismiss the possibility that products made from placentas might be on sale in the Kingdom. “Material containing elements of placentas might be registered for other uses,” he said. “Although cosmetics entering the Kingdom are subject to strict controls and checking to ensure they are according to Saudi specifications, smuggling them into the Kingdom is not impossible,” he said.
Having a fair complexion is a sign of beauty for many people in this parts of the world, even though many international icons of beauty–such as the supermodel Naomi Campbell and singer Beyonce–are not white. Traditional Arabic proverbs demonstrate how the idea that beauty lies in being fair is entrenched in the psyche of many people. “I wish I was white and crippled because white is something to see,” goes one famous Saudi saying.
According to psychiatrist Fawziya Ashmakh the above saying is far from accurate but also “shameful.” “It is an exaggeration,” she said, adding that she believes a change in culture has greatly contributed in changing the stereotypical view of what beauty is.
“The passing of generations and change in tastes have led to a reshaping in how beauty is measured,” she said, adding that the media–both Western and Arab–have been instrumental in constructing the idea that fair equals beauty.
If you’re smoothing on lightening creams regularly, you could be risking the health of your skin.
The New York Times profiled 45 year-old Brooklynite Allison Ross, who has used lightening creams like Fair & White and Hyprogel for years to brighten the shade of her face, neck and hands.
But in addition to being lighter, Ross’s skin now bruises at the slightest touch and is etched with persistent acne and red capillaries–all of which her doctor attributes to the side effects of undisclosed prescription-strength steroids found in the over-the-counter creams she has used.
In countries running the gamut from the Philippines to India to South America, lightening your entire face or large areas of your body is a common goal, where people often see it as a way to climb up in social standing. And in these countries, it’s not uncommon for women in the marriage market to be valued more “highly” because of a lighter complexion.
Just this past Fall, Dominican-born Chicago Cubs baseball player Sammy Sosa showed up at the Latin Grammies with skin lightened by several shades. Sosa admitted to using creams to lighten his skin as well as getting bleaching treatments.
But now doctors across the United States are seeing an increase in the number of patients suffering from unsightly skin lightening side effects.
“It’s happening more because the Internet has been a great source for these patients to get physician-strength or prescription-strength products,” says Washington D.C. Dermatologist Eliot F. Battle Jr. “The patients are Ph.D.’s to women from corporate America, teachers to engineers–the entire broad spectrum of women of color,” Dr. Battle added.
The best way to protect yourself? Don’t purchase skin lightening creams without the detailed instructions of a board-certified doctor who will be able to safely guide you on exactly what you should buy and how you should use it.