Shady business: The illegal sale of skin-whitening creams
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Shady business: The illegal sale of skin-whitening creams


♪ [dramatic] We’re going undercover. There we go, booted up. Press record. We’re rolling. [Asha] Shining a light on a
multi billion dollar global industry that suggests a better
you is just a few shades away. [announcer] Lighten up range
of skincare products. Evens the skin tone. [announcer] It deep cleanses
your skin reveal one tone fairer skin in one wash. [Asha] Skin lightening products
that promise to lighten or whiten your skin are
marketed around the world. Even some big
brands are doing it. [announcer] Three
tones lighter skin. Fast fairness with new
Garnier serum cream. [announcer] Nivea extra white
body serum the innovative serum that whitens,
repairs and protects. [announcer] Skin whiter and
smoother feeling in one week. [♪♪♪] [Asha] Ads like this
are all over Youtube. [announcer] For long-lasting,
fair, and even skin… And while these companies
may not market their products directly to Canadians. Skin lightening is
popular here at home too. We’re hitting
stores across Canada. [Asha] Become white in seconds? We want to know why
skin lightening products are so popular. [Asha] So we’re setting up shop
at a Toronto mall to find out. I have a older sister too right? She’s extremely, extremely fair. Like she’s white-white. And they would always compare me
with her and say, “Oh she’s more “beautiful because she’s white.” It gives them attitude. Lighter skin gives
them who bleach attitude. Do any of these skin
lightening products look familiar to you? This one does. In India it’s a hit. One of my mom’s favourite. Um, a lot of Africans use it.
Like the women. They use it for
their face, their body. -You used all these ones?
-Oh yeah. When I was younger. This was my best one. Topiclear gel. -Why?
-This would actually bleach you. [Asha] It can bleach your skin? How safe are these products? Whiter skin in 14 days. [Asha] We buy more
than 100 products. We choose about a dozen
popular ones for testing. Sending them off
to a lab in the UK. To find out
what’s in them. Are they harmful? And should retailers
have them on store shelves? Living in a brown household,
south Asian community specifically when we’re growing
up we see this all the time on TV, social media. [Asha] Sabrina Manku was just
10 years old when she started lightening her skin daily. I would look at myself because I
used to have fairly dark skin, and I was like, okay, maybe if I
start using this– which I did– I’d become lighter. It just happens like
when you see other people doing it, you know? I saw my mom doing it and I used
to question my skin because I’m like oh, hey I’m
darker than you. [Asha] Sabrina used a variety
of skin lightening products, with visible results– she says
she turned three to four shades lighter within a few years. People would be like
“Hey, you got lighter,” you know, your skin’s much
more brighter now, your light skin… You noticed the change? Oh yes. This was one of my first… [Asha] As a model and
pageant contestant, She fit right in… Everyone seems to
be the same shade. Almost all of us are
the same shade, wow. You don’t even notice that. [Asha] Sabrina believed her
lighter skin helped her succeed. A message she says
she picked up partly from international marketing. I still remember there used to
be a girl and she’d see like a darker complexion it’s like
hey I wish I was lighter, and then she gets introduced to
Fair and Lovely she starts using it and then you know she
starts seeing instant results. [Asha] Fair and Lovely is not
marketed in Canada but we find it for sale here easily. [Asha] The company that
makes Fair and Lovely? Unilever. Which also owns Dove. [announcer] What if we could
show you a vision of beauty where no woman or
girl were excluded? [Asha] Yup. The health and beauty brand
built on shattering beauty stereotypes everywhere. Dove’s world is one where
all skin is beautiful. [Woman speaking
alternate language] [Asha] But Unilever markets
a different kind of message overseas. [woman] It’s a very
big contradiction. [Asha] Back at the mall… We show people Dove’s
recent campaign. Double standards. “Where all skin is beautiful.” But if this is what they
say then why do they have this product? Good question. They’re just contradicting
their own statement right? They think we’re foolish. They think we’re not smart
enough to figure this out for us. And I don’t agree with that. It’s not okay. [Asha] Unilever is not alone. There are other big
brands marketing these types of products. Check out this
Nivea Canada ad. [announcer] It’s a new way to
feel good in your skin. [Asha] But in parts of Africa… [announcer] I need a product
that I can really trust to restore my skin’s
natural fairness. Nivea Natural Fairness Body
Lotion with an innovative formula containing unique berry
extracts to visibly lighten and care for your skin. [woman] A black
woman uses Nivea. She arrives light
skinned which is natural, and she finds love and family. What’s important is
the word “natural”. So dark skin
can’t be natural? Cannot be natural. [Asha] For decades professor
Amina Mire has been sounding the alarm on shadeism. That’s discrimination
based on darker skin tone. It plays especially into the
ways in which colour grades and different shades were awarded
with different privileges or lack of it. [Asha] She says whiteness
is marketed like a product. And it all started in the
19th century with soap. Cleanliness, order, discipline. They were all part of whiteness. [Asha] Our results are back
from a lab in the UK. They’ve tested for levels of
potentially harmful ingredients, like mercury, hydroquinone,
an ingredient that may be linked to cancer and two steroids. Armed with our test results, we meet someone who has seen
the damage these ingredients can cause. -Doctor!
-How are you? [Asha] Dermatologist
Dr Lisa Kellett. So, the worst things I’ve
seen would be infection, infection causing scarring. I’ve seen
reactions to the product, which looks like a
bad form of eczema. I’ve seen blisters, I’ve
seen a sunburn like reaction, and some people react so
severely that they get inflamed lymph nodes as well, and they
require admission to hospital. [Asha] Time to reveal some of
our test results to Dr Kellett, starting with Maxi Light, a
lightening and purifying body lotion. [Asha] Now our test results
found that there was as much as 2.5% hydroquinone
and clobetasol propionate, which isn’t listed. So that is a big problem,
for two reasons. One is the hydroquinone. If you’re using this over a
large surface area you have a risk of ochronosis. [Asha] Ochronosis is a blue or
grey discolouration that looks like this. It can happen after
long-term use of hydroquinone. So these poor patients come in
wanting to lighten their skin and they end up blue or grey. And often they’re putting it
over a large surface area so it’s very difficult to treat. But the second thing
is the steroid in it. It’s much too strong to put in
an over the counter product. This one we actually
bought in a beauty store. Okay, that is not okay. Because that will be a
problem for many patients. So that has to be pulled. There’s a steroid in that
and it’s not even listed. Oh wow! So I feel like more
women, African women, need to know about this
because they use this every day. That’s definitely cheating on
your consumers right because you have to mention
what’s in the product. To be honest that’s
not ethical, yeah. [Asha] We share our test
results with Maxi Light. They don’t respond. How about this one? Miss White. A product we easily
find in many stores. Want to read what
is says here? “Whiter skin in…” 14 days. Even before I look
at what’s in it, it’s not okay. Our test results found as
much as 4% hydroquinone in this bottle. And it’s not even listed. If it’s hydroquinone,
it should say hydroquinone, so people can
understand what it is. Especially if it’s 4% because
that should not be available over the counter. [Asha] Hydroquinone is
regulated in Canada. And any skin lightening products
over 2% require a prescription. The company behind Miss White
says any products they sell in Canada are
“totally hydroquinone free”. They say this
product is counterfeit, plus they add all of their
products are meant to even out skin tone, not to whiten. And say that they promote a
“black is beautiful” message. [Asha] This is your Marketplace. We’re visiting stores
across Canada, buying skin lightening products. [Asha] Even customers weigh in. [Asha] And we’re testing for
ingredients that could put your health at risk. Mercury, hydroquinone,
and two potent prescription-only steroids. In some of the
shops we visit, even the sales clerks warn us
about some of the products. [Asha] Back to our test results. And a product we bought online. Goree Beauty Cream. One sample had 16,000 times
the amount of mercury allowed by Health Canada. And a steroid too. This is very dangerous. Okay, so mercury has
carcinogenic effects and, as well– the steroid? It’s too strong for use. That’s dangerous. Be careful,
that’s just too much. [Asha] Goree says their
product isn’t approved for sale in Canada. And insist they
don’t use any mercury. They suspect this
product may be a knockoff. Now for a product that’s used
in many countries around the world, Caro White. Our test finds 4% hydroquinone. Only 2% is on the label This product needs to be pulled. It’s not okay to have
this available for patients. [Asha] We share our test
results with Caro White. They tell us they
don’t ship to Canada and this is a counterfeit. And we find hydroquinone
and a steroid in samples of L’abidjanaise, but no
mention of either on the labels. The company tells us
they are counterfeit. These products also
contain hydroquinone. The manufacturers say they are
for the US market and shouldn’t be sold in Canada. And they add they are
intended to even skin tone, not to lighten or whiten. Turns out, many of the
products we buy are unapproved. We bought dozens
of products. They were very easy to find,
very easy to buy. Do you think that
that should be? These products can cause
serious harm to patients, injury, you can end up with
patients in hospital and these products should not be sold. [Asha] It’s a stark contrast to
the UK where you can’t buy any skin lightening products with
hydroquinone over the counter. It’s illegal. [man] The team have found a
semi-hidden storage area, there’s no ceiling to it, you
have to get in there on your hands and knees and within it
there’s lots of steroid based products and
hydroquinone based products. [Asha] Authorities
there are cracking down, conducting raids,
making arrests. Even jail time, all to keep
skin lightening products off the shelves. The potent ingredient is
banned in other countries too, Japan, Australia, South Africa. What do you say to these
companies selling these products? Should be banned. Banned! I’m shocked. That Heath Canada will
allow this to come in and allow innocent people
to be using this. [Asha] This is your Marketplace. Skin lightening products. Banned in the UK
and parts of Africa. On store shelves in Canada. For two months, we’ve
been asking Health Canada for an on-camera interview. They say no one is available. Instead, just two days
before this broadcast, they issue a new advisory,
warning Canadians that it’s illegal to sell unauthorized
skin whitening creams. Illegal? Why were they so
easy for us to buy? Time to contact the
stores ourselves. There’s an investigation
that we’ve done… You must know some of the skin
lightening products you sell are unauthorized and
could be dangerous? [man] Okay, uh… [Asha] Some stores are
surprised, all promise to act. [man] I’m gonna talk to my head
office and then I’m gonna see if we can pull the products off
the shelves right away. [Asha] We’ve made our calls and
now we’re going to talk with one of the biggest
chains face to face. Clara Kim is the vice president
of Clore beauty supply. So this is where we used to have
our skin lightening products and we’ve removed it,
until further notice. [Asha] Kim says they cleared
their shelves at all 8 of their Clore stores because
of our investigation. After you guys called us, yes
we did some research and so we decided to pretty much recall
anything that we sold if the customer wants to bring it back
we will give them a full refund. Why did you decide to
sell skin lightening products? Our product selection is
based on our consumer demands. When you think about all the
issues when it comes to skin lightening products in
the market out there, does it make you
reconsider entering into it, buying these products at all? Now that we are aware
of its potential harm, it would be something
that we would consider to remove completely. Now that I do know, I do feel
totally responsible for it. And you want
to take action. Yes. [Asha] after our interview,
Clore tells us. They will no longer sell
any skin lightening or whitening products. And it’s not just Clore. We spot check some
of the other stores. They empty their shelves too. Back with our lab test,
how did Fair and Lovely, one of the most recognized
skin lighteners in the world, fare in our test? Turns out, the samples we sent
to the lab don’t contain any of the potentially harmful
ingredients on our list. But for professor Mire the
danger of skin lightening products isn’t just
about the ingredients. What if they can come up with
skin lightening that’s like completely safe, in quotations. Yeah? What then? Is that what we want? Just like a homogenized world
where everybody looks white? [Asha] Remember, Fair and
Lovely is made by Unilever. The same company that makes
Dove which promotes a message of self esteem in north America. We ask Unilever
to come on camera, they decline. And send us this statement. “Even toned and lighter
skin is a common desire of many people especially
across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. The origin of Fair and Lovely
is designed to meet this need in a safe way.” What do you think? They are sending bad messages. I call [bleep]. Yeah, that’s [bleep]. [Asha] Unilever also tells us
they ensure their marketing doesn’t make “any association
between skin tone and a person’s worth.” I think what we’ve been
told is because of all these products right? “There is a way you
can get lighter.” “There is a way you can
feel better about yourself.” If this didn’t exist, I don’t
think I would have felt that way when I was growing up. [announcer] Reveal one tone
fairer skin in one wash. [Asha] And remember these
commercials from the other big brands? Even though we didn’t test
any of their products, Garnier tells us these products
are not available on the Canadian market. Nivea says their products
address the diverse skin care needs of their
consumers worldwide. And Colgate/Palmolive tells us
this ad aired in the Philippines where they say there’s a
demand for products like this. [announcer] Just one week… [Asha] Back in the shops… We hear some sales clerks
pushing back against shadeism. [Asha] VT Nayani believes
acceptance is the first step. She’s made two documentaries
raising awareness on a taboo topic. I wanted to find a way to
explore this conversation that was happening
between me and my friends. But privately, that
wasn’t also happening at home, in a public sphere in a way that
made people feel safe enough to talk about it. [Asha] And that includes this
moment with her young niece. I want to come white
and I need to do this. You need to come white? Really? You don’t like this? This is pretty.
That’s pretty! So what’s wrong with that?
Why do you say brown like that? [Asha] I watched that
and I get goose bumps. Was it heartbreaking though
to see your niece talk to you like that? Yeah, the first time I was
really just in shock more than anything. It was something we grew up with
that there was always commentary around your skin tone. It just made me realize it
wasn’t going away and so we had to do something about it. [Asha] And Sabrina? She now embraces
the skin she’s in. I’m guilty of doing it and I
really don’t want it to become a habit someone else picks up
because to me I feel like I should have been accepting of
who I was from the very start and that’s something
that’s very important. I think we should start
embracing the fact that every shade is beautiful and
continue on with that. Amen, sister. Seriously! [Asha] We want to hear from you. What do you think about
the message behind these skin-lightening products? Share your comments. Send us an email,
[email protected]

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