Why People Risk Their Lives To Bleach Their Skin | Shady | Refinery29
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Why People Risk Their Lives To Bleach Their Skin | Shady | Refinery29


One of the fastest growing sectors of the
beauty industry, is also one of its most controversial: Skin Bleaching. She will do the buying. When the color of your skin can determine
your future, how far would you go to be lighter? Having light skin, I think it is important
here. Skin tone matters, nowadays. And they prefer the white ones. When I was younger, they would always call
me, “pretty, but… Pretty but dark.” Whatever that fair girl embodies in my head is just someone that is just a little better than me. Skin bleaching, also known as skin lightening
or whitening, is a global market expected to grow to over 24 billion dollars in the
next decade. Advertisements pedaling products can be seen
across the globe. Asia holds the lion’s share of the market,
and at the heart of it lies the Philippines, with one of the highest rates of use in the
world. The Philippines is a country on the economic
rise, and its new money fuels the possibility of rapid social mobility. One of the most popular strategies to get
a leg up is skin bleaching. But at what cost? It’s estimated that 1-in-2 Filipinos have
tried skin whitening products. I wanted to understand why, so I went to meet
someone who’s shaping the face of beauty, not only in the Philippines, but across the
world. Dr Vicki Belo. It’s almost a status symbol, like having
a Hermes bag. It just sounds so politically incorrect that
I’m having a hard time. She’s a celebrity dermatologist who’s
built a skin lightening empire. What kind of treatments do you do here for whitening? We do scrubs, lasers, wet and dry dermabrasion,
capsules, intravenous. So we treat it from the inside, we treat it
from the outside. My motto is to make the Philippines the most
beautiful country in the world. And for many, that means skin whitening. Today what do you want to do? Your usual drip? Your Cinderella drip? One of the most popular procedures here is
an IV drip. Lean back. Are you okay? Are you comfortable? So we are about to see the Cinderella drip,
which is a mix of glutathione and Vitamin C. The star ingredient, glutathione, is a
controversial antioxidant to lighten the skin from the inside out. It hasn’t been approved for cosmetic use
by the FDA. Still, Dr. Belo’s clients are willing to
drop hundreds of dollars per session, taking on the risk, in hopes of getting whiter. I’ve done some Hollywood celebrities. People coming in from London! While off label glutathione requires more
research, Dr. Belo argues that it’s at least being done under medical supervision. I think you really get what you pay for. Cause some people, they just go for price. People actually risk their lives, just to
get whiter. Things that are coming contain mercury in the creams. That’s really destructive. That’s really poisonous, actually. Videos online and in the news have emerged showing harmful side effects for some of these products. Across the Philippines, women have reported
signs of mercury poisoning. The culprit: cheap whitening creams that often
sell for a little over a dollar. I wanted to know what these products were, and why people would risk using them for paler skin. It’s a serious concern. These kind of cheap skin whitening creams,
you can buy it everywhere. There’s one man fighting this issue on the
front lines: Thony Dizon, an activist at Ecowaste Coalition. We discover that skin lightening is a product
that has a mercury concentration and that there is a risk. A variety of ingredients can be used for skin
whitening. The basic idea is to slow melanin production. The less melanin, the lighter your skin. Vitamin C, hydroquinone and kojic acid are
some of the most common ones. But one of the cheapest and deadliest is mercury,
a heavy metal that can be toxic for humans, even in tiny doses. Repeated exposure, like smearing it on your
face every day, can lead to tremors, kidney failure and even birth defects. So mercury isn’t just an incidental contaminant,
it’s actually what’s bleaching your skin? It’s a serious concern. A public health concern. I couldn’t believe these products were on
the market. It turns out, they aren’t. Because they’re so toxic, these mercury
laced creams are banned by the government. But they’re still flooding into the country
at an alarming rate. And the reason behind it is shocking. Some customs people would hate me for this. Customs employees are in collusion with the
smuggling. What do you mean in collusion with the smugglers? They know that these containers contain beauty
products and they just let them slip through and they receive some bribes. It’s a culture in the bureau that it is immoral to let drugs and fire arms slip through customs. But beauty products don’t seem to fall under
that? No. In fact some have this perception that they
are helping Filipinos improve their appearance. It’s almost like the culture around skin
bleaching allows for this proliferation of illegal bleaching creams. Yes, definitely. It’s baffling. But customs agents actually think that they’re
doing people a favor by allowing cheap creams with mass appeal to hit the market, since
few can afford high end treatments. It makes for an uphill battle for Thony, but
he’s determined to crack down on this illegal activity. I’m riding along on an undercover buy, on
the condition that I stay in the car, and protect his colleague’s identity. What we’re gonna do is we’re gonna put a hidden camera on her. She will do the buying. So the hidden camera has been positioned in
her bag and it’s pointing directly outwards and she’s going to wear her bag on the front. She’s mic’d up and they have a couple
different people standing throughout the market who are both safety and to capture different
angles. Alright, so they just did the undercover buy
and let’s look at some of the products that you got. Armed with these creams, the next step is
to take them back to test just how dangerous they are. But why do people take these risks at all? Do you think that people who were buying the
products, like in that store for example, know how dangerous they are? What do you think about all the whitening
products? Skin whitening products that I used were glutathione
pills, papaya soaps, whitening soaps and lotions. They’re not looking to be white like a white
person, they’re just looking to be lighter skinned because historically that’s what
they perceive as not only beautiful, but also powerful. For more than 400 years, the Philippines was
ruled by one foreign power or another. Spain, the United States, and even Japan for
a brief period of time. The Japanese occupation was celebrated by
the invaders with a parade through the center of the city. The island nation finally declared its independence
in 1946. But centuries of outside rule have shaped
beauty standards to prize pale skin. It’s a legacy that’s very much alive today. Charlene is one Filipina who attributes much
of her success to her skin tone. She’s an influencer with over 200,000 followers. Hold that, looking great. My instagram, there are a lot of countries
following me. They are like, “Oh you look so great, your
skin is so fair.” In the Philippines if you have fair or lighter
skin, you’re more prettier, you’re more beautiful and you have a lot of advantages. Like many Filipinas, Charlene’s beauty routine
includes a daily whitening regimen. I have morning and I have evening routine. So this is cortisone soap. I’m using this for six years now. And you use it all over your body and your
face. Yes, I use it on my body, I use it on my face. So I drink this once a day before I sleep. It looks like this. And in the morning I feel my skin gets glowy. So the day I don’t whiten my skin, I gave
birth to a dark beautiful baby girl. And I don’t want my daughter to feel the
same insecurity that I went through. People lighten their skin just to increase
their attractiveness to the opposite sex. I was starting to understand. Skin whitening is pervasive in the Philippines
because for so many people, it represents the opportunity for something more. Skin tone isn’t just about skin. It is about class. Everybody that uses these products are very
clear about the economic benefit. That far outweighs any risk. Back at the Ecowaste headquarters, I’m about
to find out just how much risk there is. Why are you putting gloves on? Ah, yes. Because this product has chemical so you don’t
want to expose. Especially because I will be touching the
product. And at the same time we open up the windows
since we suspected that this product has mercury. This is a point and shoot device. The screen will show the concentration of
mercury. So I have sort of an idea of what these numbers
mean, what are the legal limits of mercury in these products. For our country, it has a limit of one part
per million. One part per million. Okay. Yes. This cream here is this bright yellow, almost
custard-y consistency. Trying to hold my breath. Now you will see. Wow, so this is over four times the legal
limit. More than, more than. It’s 42,000. This isn’t in percent, so if you were
going to convert it times one hundred or times one thousand, this is 42,000. This is way, way beyond. I thought that it was shocking that it was
four times the amount that was allowed, it’s 42,000 times the amount. Thony and I tested every cream they bought. Way beyond the limit. Jar after jar contained mercury at illegal
and alarming levels. This is a little bit lower, but it still has
mercury. So these products here are banned, they’re
illegal. But we just bought them today. Is that safe to say then that they are still
being imported, they are still being smuggled in. Exactly. With results from our testing in hand, Thony’s
come to Quezon city hall to demand they remove these products from the streets. We don’t want this situation to worsen up. We don’t want to hear any more victims of
this mercury exposure. What is at stake with the work that you’re
doing? It is very important in the country because
nobody does it. Ecowaste is the only one doing this. The reality is, people in the Philippines
and across the globe will continue to use skin whitening products and until the culture
that privileges lighter skin changes, it’s people like Thony, who look out for consumers
to make sure products are safe. We’ve been out here for a few hours waiting
for Thony, waiting on the news of whether or not the government’s actually going to
take action to try to seize all of these really toxic illegal products. Ahh! We got it! The meeting was a success. Wow! So what happened? We got the support of all the agencies who
will do the law enforcement action. So because of your investigation, they’re
now looking into it and you’re going to get these products off the street? Yes and we will still continue! Victory. Yes, victory moment! It may seem like a small step, but Thony’s
tireless work makes the world of beauty a little bit safer. And that progress is something to root for. Thanks for watching Refinery29. For more videos like this, click here. And to subscribe, click here.

100 Comments

  • Refinery29

    Have you ever heard of skin bleaching products before? Share your opinions on what the use of these products really means.

  • TyraTheTyrant World

    She’s a doctor who is aiding this terrible cause… I understand you need to make money but are you deadass? I don’t know if it’s because I still believe in morals and ethics but I couldn’t bring myself to do this… knowing I’m doing something to help hurt someone? Nahh no matter how bad they want it I’m not doing it.

  • Izy Cananua

    Its weird because white isn't special really
    I'm a white in Philippines, brown is beautiful
    But its like strange to see people hate on their people because of genetics.
    These creams and good and the injection is insane
    Bath in lemon juice or something

  • joshua svt

    It’s something you grow up with especially with Filipino parents. Brown / dark skin is considered dirty, like you’re from the slums. Being a girl with dark skin made me insecure growing up and I hated it when many people would think I was adopted since my mom is as white as a Caucasian person. My mother would always curse at me for being in the sun and not wearing sunscreen everyday. It sucked when she would compare me to my sister who has lighter skin.

    even though now I’m totally comfortable with my skin, it’s scary to see other people go through the pressure of being lighter and doing crazy things to become lighter like in the video. hopefully things will change in the future

  • wave de atlantic

    I was rejected many times from my work application because of my skin color. And everytime I go to supermarkets I am looking for anti-bacterial soap but the sales lady offered me a WHITENING PRODUCT. Like what the pffft.

  • sara neziri

    I'm an extremely white skinned person that wants to get a tan because I'm lacking the vitamins while these guys wanna destroy their face to look whiter? The heck?

  • Analyn Dela Cruz

    I am HAppy with my brown skin… Hindi ibig sabihing maitim kna ehh dka na katanggap tanggap sa lipunan .. And what the used of being white if your attitude is ugly … NASA self confidence yan… Pero d Rin naman masamang magpaputi basta d peke yung products.

  • Andrea van der Colff

    “Until the culture that privileges light skin changes” …. I mean… yeah, now that would be a good day.

  • Mohammed Arafath

    Thank you for letting the society and public become aware about the dark/shady side of skin lightening industry . Not only this happens in Philippines but almost in every part of south asia and mostly INDIA. There are so many creams which cost about ₹70 ($1)claiming to lighten and brighten your skin in just 2 weeks. Millions of people have fallen into this trap and are still unaware about it . OUR DNA IS SOMETHING THAT WE CANNOT TRANSFORM INTO!. Our skin tone is determined by our genetic sequence , and cannot be changed by applying creams/bleaching.

  • Mackenzie Masek

    I spent this whole video worried that they would blame western civilizations for the asian desire to be pale. That goodness they gave the actual history and how lighter skin meant wealth for hundreds of years even before these places knew about europeans and western civilization

  • Hilal Tunçer

    That is simple bullshit. Putting ppl in this kind of situation that thay want to lighten their skin.. I have no idea what else are we gonna see in this fuckin world…

  • Chalton Aloe

    I find a white person attempting to go black super super weird. It feels a bit off as compared to vice-versa.
    I think Lupita Nyong'o (the Hollywood actress) so attractive/beautiful with her melanin.

  • i love anime

    so some darker skinned people bleach their skin and it’s very risky and lighter skinned people risk their lives tanning with tanning beds

  • Calla Mett

    And here women are going to great lengths to get darker skin. I want to be tan so bad, these girls are lucky. But real sun ages the hell out of you and tan creams also age you so I'm stuck DX

    Whoa whoa whoa hold up, did someones mother rub skin lightening creams on a child????

  • Kai-Lee Yeong

    I'm from the Philippines and about a month ago Someone in Philippines said to me "You are so beautiful but why your skin so dark" I was like 🤬

  • Boba Tae

    It makes me so nervous when I hear about people doing this! People are beautiful with their skin! I would rather be more tan honestly 😂💜

  • MessyNinja

    I live in the philippines too and here they really prefer white pale skin rathee than tan or black skin, and I suffered discrimination and racism because I have brown skin here, but I refuse to change my complexion because it makes me myself and I prefer to be natural, it is just sad people not contented with their own skin.

  • Mr Chaos

    All my life I was told I would be more beautiful if I had lighter skin and if I lost more weight I would also look taller. I had an Aunt who said I was pretty but if I had fix my teeth with braces I would be more prettier. What a pity! But a lot of people prefer having white skin for Asians is something that will never go away.

  • Ryan Lo

    Tbh if I want light skin I’m using Arbutin or however you spell it it is healthy and permanently lightens skin and are in many serums it is approved by dermatologists.

  • Arnold May II

    Its really weird and sad that all these already pretty women think they have to have lighter skin to feel pretty or to be successful.

  • Sharon Popolow

    So sad. Do you know just how pervasive light/white beauty is propagated? It is so deeply embedded that while walking with my two dogs who are both equally beautiful, my white one gets far more compliments than my dark brown one (I even had one man say the white one looked like a nice dog- placing behavior values on the dogs based on appearance). I know some of you out there will question my use of animals as an indicator of how people feel about race, but think about it- people might be more open about their covert racism when talking about animals since they don't feel like they're offending somebody.

  • Albert Blue

    Of course the woman with snow white skin and bright yellow hair would wonder why these people would want to bleach their skin. 😂

  • Taera mitsiwati

    Asia generally has a problem on its own…anyway too much white makes look like you suffering from leprosy😂😂😂😂

  • x Lawripops x

    Meanwhile in the UK, people are exposing themselves to injecting melinotan, dangerous levels of UV radiation to darken skin…

  • Geena Moore

    Wow. I’m naturally white like paper but I use self tanners because I love being tan. Meanwhile this is going on. I guess we all want what we can’t have!!

  • Mamia Tia

    The more melanin they have in their skin, the more protection they have from the sun, therefore they will need lower SPF number. That is why certain part of the world that is always hotter, have people of darker complexion. Any educated person or dermatologist will tell you that skin lightening will damage the skin -overtime. Skin is the largest organ to protect us. It is sad that many people are brainwashed. It is a lack of self-esteem and love. They don't know that God loves them the way they are. I am black but naturally fair complexion but I have a brown skin daughter, and my second daughter a little lighter than her. I teach them to love the skin they are in because if anyone has a problem with their complexion then they have a problem with the Creator or themself.

  • Nala The Lioness

    While these beautiful skinned tanned ladies want to get lighter, I'm over here pale as shit wanting to get browner. Being brown is something I DREAM to have!!

  • Aeta Tribe

    Too many Filipino commenters on this thread sharing their insecurities of not looking Caucasian (in skin tone and facial features). I don't condemn Filipinos of being conditioned by more than two centuries of Spanish colonialism, that looking Caucasian is more superior than looking like a Filipino. However, I do condemn Filipinos for their continued patronage of Filipino movies and television shows, and their ongoing adulation for the "mestizo/mestiza" (half Caucasian/half Filipino) celebrities that star in these programs, because of the way they look. The starstruck mentality for these "mestizo/mestiza" celebrities is the reason why Filipinos cannot get over their hangups over their "Kayumanggi" (dark-skin and broad facial features) appearances.

  • Jessica Williams

    I tried that orange looking soap on my pits and elbows, and it broke me out so bad, I never used it again. I just use the white bar Dove soap and it lightens your pits and elbows safely.

  • Natalie Ong

    when i just started watching it I was like OMG it's the Philippines, I live here and even i myself am sort of obsessed with wanting lighter skin because it is an important symbol of beauty here. although im not actually a filipino(I'm chinese)

  • Recycling is Good For The Environment

    And this is why some people don't have respect for Asians, because you guys don't stand up for yourselves and want go emulate other cultures.

  • Jeff Michael Caet

    Oi… black is beauty, if no one appreciates that, I DONT APPRECIATE YOU MONSTERS
    People go tanning or whitening… its like no one is ever contented of what they lool like

  • Tricia Leftwich

    Imperialism drills into peoples heads that darker skin is horrible, and then they ask people why they want to bleach? Just stop…

  • mistakes and humiliation

    honestly, its so sad. i have a korean friend whose skin is golden, she is glowing, she is gorgeous, and yet she always talks about how she wants to be lighter. theres also a chinese girl i know who honestly doesnt know any other topic. no matter what it is, shell talk about skin tone, how she doesnt want to get a tan, how she wants to be white. i understand that it comes from the concept of "if you have white skin, you dont have to work outside, so its a status symbol", but arent we over that kind of thinking nowadays? theres no more princesses and peasants. whether you work outside or inside, youre doing important work…

  • Mellowtron

    The real controversial question is… what if humans simply find lighter skin more attractive? I’ve seen a preference for lighter skin all across the globe, in places never conquered by “white” nations, and even some conquered by more dark peoples.
    I mean, it could just subconsciously signal that a person with lighter skin is in the sun less, which historically (even in “white” majority societies where people once powdered their faces white as a cloud) was a sign of wealth and nobility.
    Being darker meant you were some kind of laboring agrarian type, while lighter skin was for the indoor aristocracy type.
    The clear implication of WHY these Asian folk favor lighter skin is because of Spanish and American rule, but this isn’t a very solid argument. One because the Filipinos have had significantly longer time NOT under Spanish rule than under it. As well this is found around the world, unrelated to conquests and imperialism.
    The koreas, Japan, China, much of India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and likely many more all seem to have this affinity for “fairness”. But the single trend that I think supports, in part, the possibility that humans across the globe simply prefer lighter over darker, is that many darker nations have over taken lighter skinned societies, and I’ve never heard of the lighter skin folk trying to become more dark. Arabs fighting with Africans comes to mind.
    Then add on the irony of western “white” beauty standards almost always involving tan women. Giving off a kind of vacation cultured look of someone who’s now gone around the bend of wealth/skin pigmentation, where now the rich play outside for sheer luxurious fun, and they become tan not from work but from carefree vacationing.
    I mean, if light skin preference was simply a colonial encultured bias, why would white people, the theoretical bias enforcers, also lighten their already light skin? To emulate…. themselves?
    Why do Japanese geishas paint their faces white? Shit like this just begs the question.

    Obviously, it’s a very moronic beauty standard. It’s as valid as valuing dark hair pr brown eyes or small feet. But maybe I’m simply not understanding a much deeper sort of evolved subconscious way that lighter skin triggers in the mind of a human. The way wide hips triggers for men. Or a mans smell triggers for women. Maybe lighter skin is like that.
    Or yeah, maybe white people are so amazingly powerful that people who’ve never lived under the yoke of a white ruler, are still held captive by antiquated standards set long before they were born.

    I personally don’t give white supremacy that kind of god like power. Or at least anticipate there being many other possible and more likely explanations.

  • Layla Johnson

    I grew up in the Philippines, where it was normal to see whitening ads on billboards. (I didn't ever try it – I'm a quarter Filipina but look entirely Caucasian). I didn't know it was dangerous at all – there aren't many visible disclaimers or warnings on ads. Thank you for this video.

  • Illegirl dimple

    I have a dark skin color, in my country white skin color matters. If you have dark skin you are shamed and called "Dark"as an insult. A girl who had white skin litterly smiled after comparing our hands and said "Im whiter than you" like bruh

  • Kyuluvchang

    Tbh, my skin tone is really fine coz I'm yellow, but my height is really kill me, and the fact that I really want to work overseas gosh. I mean 21 and not even 4'10 ㅠㅠㅠ

  • Briana Browder

    Me a dark chocolate person
    Girl: Has light golden skin
    People: THaTs ToO DArK !!!!

    Well forbid god to let them see me.. They'd probably die

  • insertnamehere

    as someone who lives in the philippines, yes, a lot of people here want to have whiter skin. in between shows on TV, there are always whitening product ads, and many of my friends use them. i wish people would be happy with their skin tone, and if they ever used whitening products, that it will be non-toxic

  • Dinosuar Lover

    some people make comments on my skin and how its "so dark" and stuff like that and i dont think you should change the color of your skin.. you should like your self the way you are and you can find a good job that will accept you with your skin color for and example, my mom is a lawyer and she makes pretty good money and she is pretty dark if i say so my self and you can also make friends with your skin color i have many friends and they never say anything about skin colors. you just need to find the right people 🙂

  • Amelia Motyka

    I actually had never heard about this until this video. Dark skin is so so beautiful. I’m am very pale, and I’m told I am too pale. I think darker skin is gorgeous. If you are reading this please love and accept your skin:( ❤️

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