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Skin Lightening in England: a baseline survey

This ground-breaking project is the first attempt to measure and understand use of these products in England
May 2014 - May 2015

Steve Garner is leading a one-year pilot project funded by the British Academy on Skin Lightening in England. This ground-breaking project is the first attempt to measure and understand use of these products in England.

The project is a pilot whose objectives are:

- to create the first dataset about skin lightening in this country

- begin scoping skin lightening practices using quantitative data, to prepare the way for qualitative data collection in a later funding bid

- to establish skin lightening as a public health agenda item in England.

We are aiming to survey around 300 women from Black and Minority Ethnic groups in London, Leicester and Birmingham about their use of skin lighteners.

The growing use of skin lightening products is a global phenomenon, generating large profits for multinational companies. Moreover, they are highly gendered, having only recently been marketed to men. Published medical research has indicated deleterious health effects, but has focused primarily on Africa. Although British documentaries have been made on skin lighteners, and the widely-advertised products are available in local shops, no dataset about the practices and extent of skin-lightener use in England exists.

Skin lightening products are cosmetics, not medicines, and are not governed by the traditional regulatory authorities. No national body has responsibility for ensuring their safe use. However, illegal products (containing toxic elements) are available here. Moreover, sustained use of ‘legal’ products also poses health risks, as well as raising issues relating to identity: the reasons why people want to whiten their appearance have long and complex histories, an exploration of which should constitute the next leg of the project.

The envisaged broader problematisation of this issue places it the intersection of individual and collective identities; and of choice/ agency and social structures.

This pilot will end with a dissemination event targeted at interested parties in public health, trading standards and other professional groups as well as academics.

Related Contents:

Watch a short video presenting the project



Learn more about the research programme: Enactments