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Sun, Aug 04, 2013
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The evolution of whitening
by Gladys Chung

Fairness has long been associated with beauty, especially in Asian cultures where light, untanned skin is regarded as a sign of status and wealth - only women who do not have to work under the sun are privileged enough to have fair skin.

Whitening products, therefore, have always been on the market. One of the French cosmetic brand Bourjois' bestsellers in the 19th century was the Poudre de Riz de Java (Java Rice Powder).

Created in 1879, it promised to lighten the complexion and soften skin. By 1897, two million units were being sold globally per year.

In 1917, Shiseido launched the Peroxide Cucumber, one of Japan's first whitening products. It was formulated with cucumber, quince and the bleaching agent hydrogen peroxide.


The tanning trend that was all the rage in the 1980s quickly faded when scientists reported on the damaging and ageing effects of UV rays from the sun and tanning beds.

As a response, beauty brands started to add skin-whitening ingredients into their anti-ageing formulas.

In the 1990s, brands such as Clinique, Christian Dior, Estee Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, L'Oreal and Kanebo launched their first whitening ranges.

These early formulas contained mainly sunscreen and vitamins C and E to keep skin fair.


Popular Japanese celebrities and South Korean pop stars with clear, dewy skin have fuelled the craze for whitening skincare products.

The effects of the latest skin-whitening products are no longer restricted to just eradicating pigmentation at the source, or bleaching the skin's surface. The focus is now on radiant skin from the inside out. The formulas also target dull, yellowish skin tones.

Moisturising and firming ingredients are added to whitening formulas to help skin better reflect light and appear more translucent and youthful.

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