L'Oreal cosmetics to drop words like 'fair', 'light' from skin products

LONDON • L'Oreal, the world's biggest cosmetics company, will remove words referencing "white", "fair" and "light" from its skin-evening products, a spokesman said on Friday, a day after Unilever made a similar announcement in the face of growing criticism on social media.

L'Oreal and Unilever are two big players in the global market for skin-whitening creams used in many Asian, African and Caribbean countries where fair skin is often considered desirable.

L'Oreal's products include Garnier Skin Naturals White Complete Multi Action Fairness Cream.

Unilever, in particular, came under fire for its Fair & Lovely brand at a time of worldwide focus on racial injustice following weeks of protests sparked by last month's death of unarmed black man George Floyd in police custody in the United States.

The Anglo-Dutch conglomerate said it planned to rename its Fair & Lovely melanin-suppressing face cream - one of its bestsellers in India - and would remove the terms "fair", "whitening" and "lightening" from its packaging and marketing material.

It would also feature women of all skin tones in future advertising campaigns, it added. It will continue to produce and market the cream.

"We recognise that the use of the words 'fair', 'white' and 'light' suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don't think is right, and we want to address this," said Mr Sunny Jain, president of Unilever's beauty and personal care division.

The company is awaiting regulatory approvals for the new product name and expects the change to go into effect in a few months, Unilever's India unit said in a statement on Thursday.

Unilever derives over US$500 million (S$697 million) in annual revenue from the brand in India alone. The brand is also sold in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, Pakistan and elsewhere in Asia.

Johnson & Johnson went a step further, saying it would stop selling skin-whitening creams sold in Asia and the Middle East under its Neutrogena and Clean & Clear brand.

Triggered by incidents of police brutality against black people, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained traction around the world and spurred companies to reassess their businesses and marketing for signs of discrimination.

In Asia, where lighter skin can be associated with wealth and status, cosmetics companies - including L'Oreal, Shiseido and Procter & Gamble - have long devoted a big part of their businesses to marketing creams and lotions that promise to lighten skin tones.

Some companies refer to their products as skin brighteners instead, and promote the idea that they can help hide freckles and cover dark blemishes.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 28, 2020, with the headline L'Oreal cosmetics to drop words like 'fair', 'light' from skin products. Subscribe