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 thoughts on “Why People Risk Their Lives To Bleach Their Skin | Shady | Refinery29

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

  2. 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)

  3. In some people perception you look stunning with whiter skin others see you like a walking dead.

  4. Is this woman in the background picking a massive wedgie?? Lol no shame in her game 😂 0:56 – 1:01

  5. 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

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

  7. 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…

  8. 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.

  9. No matter who you are,where you from, your SKIN COLOR , ur gender identity
    Speak yourself
    BE YOURSELF

  10. 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.

  11. please, i keep looking at the interviewer and forgot to listen to the content

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. Should also go to Bangkok Thailand, which is you can find many skin lightenning products.

  15. Filipino women r gorgeous they don't need to do this. Actually no one should be doing this

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. 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 🙂

  19. 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:( ❤️

  20. I was actually shocked to find this video was in the Philippines, i started to realize all the moments my mom/auntys told me to take skin whitening pills/products, thank god for this video i would’ve probably continued.

  21. Meanwhile everyone around me makes fun of me because of how pale my skin is..

  22. hahahahaha you people are so fucking lame!!! I wear my blackness like a force-field!!! Only weak uneducated people hate their natural color!!!

  23. “We treat it from the inside and from the outside”
    Yeah but “it” is a natural skin complexion… not an illness or symptom!

  24. I m a brown skinned girl from india..I've be been looked down for my ethnic skin tone coz it's not up to the beauty standards..but I ve overcome that.built my confidence..believe I m beautiful..no need others to tell me dat..just be urself..its hard but since I was in this situation ..I know wat I am saying

  25. Rather than working to ban the mercury products, they should try to reshape the beauty standard. (The cream producers will just re-brand, they're fighting a losing war this way.)

  26. People in the West hearing about the government is in collusion with smugglers : Pika Pika?!

    Asians : They also are connected to human trafficking as well as sex slavery. It's a normal thing here by now.

  27. Wow, skin whitening is such a common sense in Asia here, like everyone think that the lighter your skin, the more beautiful you are.
    I haven't thought that much about it either.

  28. Seeing how happy he was when the meeting was successful 😭. I love what he’s doing and he deserves recognition for the research and work he’s put into this ❤️

  29. Girls with curly hair straighten it
    Girls with straight hair curl it
    White girls get spray tans
    Dark girls are encouraged to look whiter
    Thick girls are told to lose weight
    Thin girls try to to be "thicc"

    I'm starting to wonder if the standard of beauty is just "anything but who you are."

  30. damn how light are they tryna get, they're already light skinned compared to black people. melanin looks better anyway 🤦🏽‍♀️

  31. So sad how black people and darker skinned people are labeled lower classed and ugly just for existing. Years of colonialism and ignorance has crippled many easterners minds. No one has control of what their skin is naturally so why is beauty based of just color for there ppl. Mind blowing

  32. I woukd only use the lightening on my inner thighs that is it. I am naturally darker because i am from puerto rico in the carribean. I get mad when people ask "why are you not lighter". Puerto Rico is always sunny and hot. My skin is made to protect me from it.

  33. Jusme I only want clear skin in my face😂 ay nvm kung pwede whole body nalang😂 clear skin lang im proud of my skin color 😂❤️

  34. I'm an Asian who lives in Ireland. I've always wanted to be paler but since secondary school started every girl puts on fake tan for discos and say I'm so lucky cause I don't have to and don't look orange.

  35. pale people want to be darker, dark people want to be paler. the grass is always greener on the other side.

  36. I think this is just a screwed up society… everywhere you look there's pictures of what "perfection" should look like…people with dark skin think they want or would look better with pale skin and someone like me who was born very fair is standing out in the sun, without sunblock, trying to darken my skin because I feel I'm too pale . So, instead I get burned and freckled which gives me some color BUT not what I wanted or what I perceive to be beautiful ( which is darker) now I'm speckled and probably will end up having to get skin cancer removed in a few years if and when I decide to get any odd marks checked. It seems to just be shoved into our minds, if you have low self esteem, that how you look no matter how that is, ITS WRONG! That's sad. So how do you try to raise beautiful children to believe they are truly beautiful, with the way society is? I was always told as I was growing up that I was beautiful by my parents..they never made me feel less than that with their words and actions yet somehow I grow up hating how I look. Where does that come from and who can change it? It's just so sad the lengths people will go to change how they look and when they do, it's never enough.

  37. That is the result of 2500 years colonialism of Asians by Romans-Europeans; the colonizers have brainwashed the colonized people: so, they can't forget the masters.

  38. Yahh getting rid of my pimples and minimizing my pores are much more concerning to me than getting lighter skin while living in a tropical country and being exposed to 30-32°C of Sun heat 24/7. People should be more concern on how to protect their skin from UV Rays in order to prevent skin diseases.

  39. The real Answer is when You have a White skin In PH you Look Rich and when you have Dark one they think your poor It is Unfair but More People Do Descrimination about skin tone

  40. I think what this video misses out a lot on is the underlying racism and white supremacy that these whitening products gave rise to.

  41. I don't know how you managed to pin the "blame" of local preference for lighter complexion to Western colonialism when those beauty standards have existed since the time of the Han Dynasty. If you were born into the aristocracy or well-to-do landowning class, your complexion would naturally be lighter than those who worked the fields. This is true of every East Asian and South East Asian civilizations. The imperial harems—from India to Korea—took a liking to women with fair complexions. It was a common practice for ladies during the Tang Dynasty to powder their face white to emulate the nobility.

  42. Lexy, was the worst person to interview anyone. She's just going to make all those Filipino women jealous.

  43. my mom wants to be white and you best believe I’m not finna let her do that cause she won’t look like my mom she will look like a dang marshmallow so no ma’am hindi 아니 לא

  44. I didn't know this until now and I went to the Philippines last year. It's so sad that people change their apperance just because people would not except them if they look like something else. And also my parents are from the Philippines.

  45. This is awful. I think dark skin is so beautiful ❤ I guess I didn't realize this was a thing because so many people here in America want to be darker. It's sad that nobody can be happy with their skin color 😯

  46. They are all so beautiful! I hate that people have to feel so cursed by what is so naturally amazing….What have we done to the world….

  47. I mean damned if you're dark, damned if you're not. People cant be happy in their own skin.

    What really irks me the most though is this video is shot in the Philippines where most filipino people naturally fall on the dark side of skintone colour compared to other Asian which is absolutely fine. Why be someone youre not? Embrace that melanin people!

  48. I just find this ridiculously funny that most filipino are christian and go to church every week but are the most judgemental people in the world. I suggest everyone skipping the Philippines for a holiday visit and come straight to New Zealand. We dont bite and you arent forced to scrub off the skin you have with bleaching products over here lol

  49. The Professor: No, the Filipinos aren't seeking to look like "white people", they just want lighter skin
    The Reporter, 2 seconds later: Implies that Filipinos want to look like white people because they'd been controlled by white people in the past

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