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Johnson & Johnson will finally stop selling skin-lightening products

TextAlex Peters

Amid the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement, two ranges marketed in Asia will cease production

Johnson & Johnson has announced it will no longer sell products that have been used by some consumers to lighten skin tones, as brands begin to reckon with racially-insensitive products and business strategies.

Neutrogena’s Fine Fairness range and Clear Fairness by Clean & Clear were sold in Asia and the Middle East as “dark-spot reducers”. Commercials advertising the Fine Fairness line in Asia described how it allowed consumers to “whiten more thoroughly”. 

“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 white as better than your own unique skin tone,” the company said in a statement. “This was never our intention – healthy skin is beautiful skin.”

Johnson & Johnson said its website was being updated to remove links to both product lines, although stock may still appear on shelves for a brief period. “For a short while products may still appear on a limited number of in-store shelves as stock runs through,” the statement reads. “We will no longer produce or ship the product line.”

Other companies have been criticised for selling products that advertise their skin-lightening effects while expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Over 12,000 people have signed a petition calling on Unilever to stop selling its Fair & Lovely product. A skin-lightening cream distributed in India and the Middle East, Fair & Lovely markets itself with images of men and women with darker complexions becoming more confident and successful as a result of lightening their skin.

“This product has built upon, perpetuated and benefited from internalised racism and promotes anti-blackness sentiments amongst all its consumers,” the petition says. “Colorism, discrimination based on the color of your skin, is a direct by-product of racism affecting millions of people today, that fairness creams such as Fair & Lovely continue to advance.”

Skin lightening products have been an insidious issue in the beauty industry for a long time – back in 2017, Nivea was criticised for an advert that ran in Africa, promoting its Natural Fairness cream for Black skin. At the time, Munroe Bergdorf was one of many to voice condemnation and concern: “Advertisers have the power to change this narrative, but campaign after campaign we see it being used worldwide,” she wrote on Instagram at the time. “Making money out of making people hate themselves is never acceptable. Whitening and lightening creams are not only physically damaging, but also ethically wrong. Empowerment is not too much to ask for. All black skin is beautiful, no exceptions.”

Unilever recently pledged more than $1 million to organisations working for social justice and racial equality including Black Lives Matter and the National Bail Fund Network. As the petition points out, this is just 0.2 per cent of Fair & Lovely’s revenue. “Unilever prides itself as an organization that celebrates and advances diversity and inclusivity… however, continuing with the production and sale of Fair & Lovely is directly contradictory to that pledge,” the petition states. 

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