August 26, 2008

Beyoncé Knowles & the Skin-Whitening Controversy
by max blunt at 04:35PM (CEST) on August 11, 2008 | Permanent Link | Cosmos

Cosmetics company L’Oreal has been accused of

“whitening” singer Beyoncé Knowles’ skin colour in

a series of press ads in women’s magazines in the US

The ads for L’Oreal Paris’ Feria hair color product,

are in the Elle, Allure and Essence magazines

Cosmetics company L’Oreal has been accused of “whitening” singer Beyoncé Knowles’ skin colour in a series of press ads in women’s magazines in the US.

The ads, for L’Oreal Paris’ Feria hair colour product, feature in the September editions of Elle, Allure and Essence magazines in the US.

In the ads the 26-year-old star, who is married to rapper Jay Z, appears to be much whiter than typical pictures of the singer-cum-actress.

There has been a backlash in the US over the images. The New York post said that the “digital lightening” made her “virtually unrecognisable”.

Gossip website TMZ described the Beyoncé images as “bleached out” and “Photoshopped”, launching an online poll to ask if the whitening was “a slap to blacks?”.

However, L’Oreal maintained there has been no lightening of the singer’s complexion in the ads.

“We highly value our relationship with Ms Knowles. It is categorically untrue that L’Oreal Paris altered Ms Knowles’ features or skin tone in the campaign for Feria hair color,” the company said in a statement.

Knowles has worked with the cosmetics company since 2001.
Millions of Black Women ‘Bleach’ Their Skin [Source]
It’s great that L’Oreal has publicly denied that it had deliberately tried to make Beyoncé appear whiter in its latest campaign.

However, “bleaching” is still a huge issue for young women around the world.

The 27-year-old singer, who has an African American father and Creole mother, is naturally light-skinned, with dark brown hair, but appears with very pale skin and strawberry blonde hair as the face of L’Oreal.

She appears, if not exactly “white” then definitely racially ambiguous. It is a tactic Beyoncé appears to have used herself previously – perhaps to make her image more commercial.

Her trademark has been very long blonde hair extensions and yes, looking as light as possible. Whether or not this was her actual intention, her commercial success is undeniable.

Beyond her endorsements, as a solo artist she has sold many millions of albums and singles worldwide, dwarfing the solo earnings of other members of the Grammy-winning girl group Destiny’s Child, who incidentally are much darker.

This is not the first time advertisers have been accused of white-washing. There was uproar when the black “Halifax man”, appeared to have become progressively lighter and his voice was dubbed.

Halifax denied the accusation. Then there was the infamous Ford company photo where black faces were simply changed to white. Ford apologised.

But the problem goes beyond the airbrushing and whitewashing of global corporations.

“Bleaching” is a huge industry in developing countries. This legacy of slavery or colonization, where lighter-skinned or white people were given visible privileges over hundreds of years has resulted in societies where the lighter you are, the higher your status socially and economically.

In India, women strive to achieve the “wheat” colour much-requested on Asian dating websites. In the Caribbean, light skin is also highly desired while in African countries even seemingly minor variations in skin tone can contribute to ethnic conflict.

Containing the active ingredients hydroquinone and/or mercury, bleaching creams have been linked with the disfiguring condition ochronosis, marked by the darkening and thickening of the skin.

Also, there is the appearance of tiny dome-shaped bumps and greyish-brown spots, according to the US FDA which proposed a ban on skin-lightening creams without a prescription back in 2006.

In the UK, the amount of hydroquinone allowed in retail skin-lightening creams has been limited to just 2% but demand means there is a ready unofficial market for stronger potions.

Ironically, skin-lightening creams are often a misnomer, since after discontinuing use, normal sun exposure can make you darker than before.

Women can then become psychologically addicted to creams and over years destroy not just their complexions, but also their health and self-esteem.

Marketers are well aware of how a “white” or “black” face on packaging can affect sales.

The purpose of the recent Italian Vogue issue featuring completely black models was mainly to combat the widely held perception that black faces “don’t sell”.

However, advertisers may not be aware of how younger girls are influenced by images of women being airbrushed ever lighter, skinnier, blonder.

L’Oreal have denied that their actions were deliberate, but nevertheless yet another message, that the whiter you are the more successful you will be, has been sent.


July 12, 2008










Speak out!
African people who use harmful using skin whitening and chemical hair straightening products are said to be acting on a legacy of British slavery and the racism borne of colonisation and empire. Others argue it is simply a fashion statement. Which is true?

Couple caught selling poisonous products to African people
Illegal skin poisons seized at Afro Hair and Beauty shop

Sat 6 January 2007

Yinka Oluyemi and her husband Michael have been fined £70,000 for selling illegal and harmful skin products containing excessive levels of hydroquinone to their African customers.

The couple, who have three children and lived in a £725,000 home in Sydenham, earned £1 million selling poisonous skin lightening products. They admitted four counts of selling or offering for sale prescription-only products and six counts of supplying cosmetic goods containing hydroquinone, a chemical that is banned in the UK under the Consumer Protection Act 1987.

The former Black Business Award winners operated from their two cosmetic shops Yinka Bodyline and Beauty Express, in Peckham, south-east London and had received a number of official warnings and a fine in 2001 for selling products containing harmful levels of mercury and hydroquinone. Despite this, in October 2005, the couple were awarded a Black Business Award “for their contributions to the hair and beauty industry”.

In sentencing the couple, Judge Nicholas Philpot described the Oluyemi’s as “hard-nosed business people determined to make money regardless of the danger to public health”. He went on to say that although he felt a custodial sentence would have been appropriate, exceptional personal circumstances persuaded him to suspend a nine month prison sentence. They are also expected to pick up the prosecutions £22,000 legal costs and have been disqualified from being company directors for five years.

Skin lighteners containing hydroquinone has been banned from many european countries because it has been known to cause irreversible skin damage, skin swelling, permanent discolouration and even leukoderma, commonly known as vitiligo. Singer, Michael Jackson is perhaps the most famous person alleged to be suffering from vitiligo with many suspecting that this is due to excessive skin bleaching. The use of mercury in skin whitening products is also thought to cause liver and kidney damage and as well as mercury poisoning. As awareness of the effects of these chemicals increases along, companies are constantly seeking to use other potentially harmful chemicals in their products such as Kojic acid. However, in 2001 a study conducted by the International Agency for Research on Cancer found that kojic acid can be genotoxic (poisonous to organisms by damaging its DNA) to rodents and there was limited evidence to suggest that it can also cause cancer in experimental animals. These chemicals all work by inhibiting the production of melanin. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHPRA) have also warned that steroid based creams such as Dermovate should not be sold over the counter.

Michael Jackson before and after his excessive skin lightening, hair straightening transformation

BBC downplay Asian involvement

The use of skin lightening products was extensively discussed last Saturday on the community radio station, Galaxy FM. The show’s presenter, Sis Aura devoted most of the popular breakfast show to exploring the underlying issues of this emotive subject and exposing the disproportionate media coverage given to the minimal occurrences of unprincipled African people who engage in the illegal selling of these products whilst the Asian business community, who has a economic stranglehold on the illicit industry, escape criticism. This was affirmed by a debate on BBC London hosted by Vanessa Feltz which launched a discussion about skin lightening following the conviction of the Oluyemi’s but had previously remained silent on the conviction of an Asian family in October 2006 who had also pleaded guilty to selling and supplying unlicensed skin products.

The process of altering skin pigmentation also afflicts Britain’s ethnic majority who increasingly seek a darker skin appearance and a fuller figure through the processes of tanning and cosmetic surgery respectively. Despite the risks of melanoma the growth in the British skin tanning industry belies the practice as a passion of europeans. Many who seek to escape an image of banality do so by browning their skin in an attempt to project a healthy image using intense UV radiation or chemical agents. When a parliamentary colleague quizzed the British politician Peter Hain in the House of Commons about his tanned appearance as mentioned in his interview with The Times entitled “Perma-tan Hain sees light at end of dark days” he responded defensively, stating; “I am afraid I cannot do anything about [the perma-tan], but I shall pass on my African roots and see if that helps the right hon. Gentleman”. Hain of course joins George Hamilton and the racist anti-African Robert Kilroy-Silk as media personalities who are accused of engaging in excessive tanning. Scientists state that europeans who expose their skin to strong sunlight for only a brief period are at a higher risk of developing malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Cancer Research UK says that the disease is “almost entirely preventable”.

Beyonce Knowles flaunts her long, blonde hair

LIGALI Comment

The issue of skin whitening is a serious and complex issue which coincide with the notion of African aesthetics and the systematic attack on African identity.

In 2007, when the government are initiating an orgy of cultural self glorification, they and the British public continue to assert that ‘slavery ended a long time ago’. However, African people reject this assertion and highlight that the Maafa and the legacy of racist ideology continues to affect the entire world. One of the enduring legacies of the Maafa is the perpetuation of a colour caste system institutionalised during African enslavement. The British used divide and rule strategy to create factions in unified groups by deliberately giving preferential treatment to one group based on superficial differences. ‘Lighter’ skinned African people, or indeed the dual heritage children born as a result of the extensive and systematic rape by slavers of African women were often afforded marginally better treatment at the hands of their enslavers.

The institutionalisation of an enduring colour caste system across Africa and Asia by the British empire is one of the most horrific expressions of this successful British strategy. The residual outcome of this is present in the western media where African women such as the music entertainer Beyonce are presented as a light skinned, blond woman to promote a cultural aesthetic which is anti-African whilst the successful African entertainer, Michael Jackson, uses chemical agents and invasive surgical operations to entirely suppress all vestiges of his African identity.

The majority of British dramas, films and adverts almost always favour casting African actors who are either light brown or dual heritage in leading roles as the ‘acceptable’ major love interest. In its dramas and soap operas, the BBC is often accused of only casting Africans with dark brown skin in roles where they aspire to ‘whiteness’ by almost exclusively choosing european partners for relationships. Performer, Grace Jones was also encouraged and rewarded for portraying herself in the media as wild, aggressive exotica to project a damaging image for African women whose skin is dark brown and wear their hair in a natural fashion.

In 1999, politician Jeffery Archer received wide-scale condemnation after he announced: “Your head did not turn in the road if a black woman passed because they were badly dressed, probably overweight and probably had a lousy job. If you walk down London streets now there are most staggeringly beautiful girls of every nationality. That is part of getting rid of prejudice and making things equal,”. His comments were defended by actress, Patti Boulaye.

The attack on the African aesthetic is unrelenting and we must therefore ensure that our defence is holistic and wide-ranging. Ligali reaffirms calls for information about shops that sell skin lightening products. Any requests to remain anonymous will be respected. You can email us at

Whilst we are financing these predominantly Asian owned outlets, they are reaping the economic benefits of exploiting the cultural and identity insecurities within our community. The fact that some Asian shops have now begun to employ African staff is simply to mislead the African community whilst maintaining their profits from harmful hair and skin products. We also advocate a complete boycott of Black Beauty and Hair magazine and any other publications that feature extensive advertising for skin lightening products.

We must also refrain from ostracising and condemning women and men who use skin whitening products. This is not conducive to community self recovery and will simply further entrench notions of self hatred in these individuals and allow for the perpetuation of this dangerous self hatred for another generation. It is also easier to judge these people who simply have a physical manifestation of their self hatred as opposed to an invisible emotional and psychological insecurity. Instead, we would encourage a system of education, that is preventative and also in response to those who currently use the products to raise awareness of the harmful effects of skin lighteners and chemical hair straighteners and also instil a sense of self pride in their natural appearance. Young women in particular are very vulnerable to the MTV Base notions of beauty which have become more overtly european over the decades. Concurrently, young women are increasingly suffering from receding hairlines, weakened hair and even alopecia as a result of the over use of chemical hair straighteners.

Finally, we should continue to support the great work of organisations like Adornment who, on the 8th and 9th of April 2007 at Battersea Evolution, will be hosting their increasingly popular Adornment Expo which promotes a natural and Africentric lifestyle. Not only does this event encourage ways of celebrating and enhancing our natural beauty and lifestyles but it also provides African businesses with an exclusive opportunity to reach an African audience.

E-mail this article to a friend Printable version


If you found this article useful please click here to make a donation


Back to top

To view, listen or read any audio/media clips or reports on this site, you will need to have Windows Media Player and Adobe Reader installed on your computer
Ligali Constitution | Terms and Conditions | Correspondance Policy | E-mail this page to a friend

Copyright © 2000

%d bloggers like this: