White Washing: A Social and Health Epidemic

Over the course of this trip, the discussion amongst our group about the lightness or darkness of our skin has come up numerous times. Some people have expressed interest in becoming more tan and some people have expressed interest in avoiding a tan altogether. To some of us, these discussions are ridiculous while to others it is a legitimate concern.

Throughout history the colour of one’s skin has been a very heated and controversial topic for many reasons. There has long been racism and discrimination based on one’s race or skin colour largely due to the colonial history of the world. There has also historically been associations between skin colour and status whereby lighter skin suggested a higher status because you did not have to be outside labouring in order to obtain darker skin. In some countries, being darker is considered to be more beautiful, but recently in the western world there have been trends in young teenagers bleaching their skin for the same reason. In fact, Snapchat recently got a lot of heat for making their filters “whitening”.

But what does this have to do with Morocco? Recently I noticed that in the washroom of our host family, there are numerous shelves dedicated to various skin whitening products. This made me curious about whether the ideas of beauty and class associated with lighter skin in North America were also applicable here in Morocco. Upon googling I found that skin whitening is in fact a trend in Morocco, and many skin whitening products are made right in Morocco, including Argan oil! Although I couldn’t find any solid information on why it is a trend specifically in Morocco, many sites have said that recent trends are a result of women wanting to be more attractive to men who have been raised thinking that lighter skin is more attractive than dark.

Although the recent trends in skin lightening has created a large economic boost for cosmetic companies, what many people do not consider when bleaching their skin is the health side effects of it. Essentially, skin bleaching products use chemicals to remove layers of your skin. This also removes your skins ability to protect itself from the sun, and this can result in sun burns as well as skin cancer. Furthermore, the products can put your liver through extra stress which could over time result in liver disease. So although skin lightening can have many social benefits (although I personally don’t agree with the lengths people go to to achieve it), it can also be detrimental to one’s health.

Could this trend in Morocco, the African continent, and the rest of the world become a new health epidemic?

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