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Why People Risk Their Lives To Bleach Their Skin | Shady | Refinery29

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. it shocks me that people wish to become lighter when me as a white women gets told im extremely pale and should get a tan.

  3. 1st world countries… " try all summer to a tan and be browner "

    3rd world countries… " spend all year trying to get whiter "

    me… FML 🤦‍♂️

  4. I would only want my face a bit lighter since it is darker bc of my acne and hyperpigmentation my whole body is lighter than my face and at least I want my face to be the same color as my body since it looks like I put a the wrong foundation shade on my face

  5. So uhm im Tan and Asian and a few days ago my mother asked me if I wanted whitening pills (as a joke because I complained about being tan and ugly) it’s summer I never go outside, because I want to get whiter and prettier

  6. That melanin they hate so much IS actually the thing that will makes you look 50 when you're 60 and preserve your skin
    Let’s just love and appreciate ourselves the way we are

  7. I’m Filipino and I love being brown. I wish that people could learn to love themselves with what they were born with.

  8. It is so interesting how different beauty is perceived. I live im Germany and I‘m reeeeaaaally pale. I ALWAYS get comments on it especially after vacation that the weather must have been bad or that I always look sick. It doesn‘t matter what you look like – people will always comment something stupid.

  9. Well how about white or lighter skinned people stop getting away with shit dark skin people have to go thru…it’s a fucked world these days! Even kids don’t wanna choose the dark skin dolls

  10. Indonesia was used to be addicted to these cheap skin-bleaching products. However, after the release of a local television show on false and dangerous products, including mercury-laced cream, the selling decreased tremendously. Moreover, people now don't really care about skin tone. There are female role models in Indonesia who embraced their dark skin and it's really aspiring. Colorism still exists but not at the level Philippines has. You can get a good job even though you are dark-skinned. Perhaps the only prejudice industry on colorism in Indonesia is soap opera.

  11. I don't believe that only half of Filipinos have used skin whitening products. It's hard to buy lotion of any kind without added whitening.

  12. It is post-colonial hangover. No matter how much these countries, including mine, had moved ahead; they cannot let go of these unnecessary and genetically unattainable standards.

  13. the store they bought the illegal creams is the store where my friends and mom bought whitening products. im disturbed rn 🤧

  14. the store they bought the illegal creams is the store where my friends and mom bought whitening products. im disturbed rn 🤧 commonwealth market 😭

  15. Honestly, it is the colonization and oppression of the Whites 300+, 400+ years ago that caused South Asian or should I say Asians at the very least to think that being whiter or paler means superiority, or elitism. They once loved and took pride their very own skin tone that symbolised their culture and personality as 'Asians' but when these White people (Americans and Spaniards in the Philippines) for example came and held these countries on their hands, oppressed them, made them feel worthless for being who they were, Asians felt that if they became paler, whiter and fairer like those who held them captive, they might just get the freedom they want, that these Whites will no longer oppress and they are one of those Whites already. So I find it awful when White people today judge these Asian countries and people for choosing these kind of decisions. The hypocrisy is so maddening.

  16. Since the main reason of this issue is the culture of having white skin means prettier, there is actually another way to solve this problem. Instead of reducing the import of the product which will make concumers buy the product by themselves from another country, they can use media. Make a beuty figure of how beauty isnt judged by how light they skin is. They can make movie, series, posters all over the place. Make a product, create an animated character. Make a story that touches peoples feeling but played by a dark skinned actress. I always taught that peoples mindset can always be controlled by this effective way, all we have to do is do it properly. Why do we take a risk by making consumers angry instead of persuate them slowly without them noticing?

  17. Where is the documentary about white people tanning so that they get skin cancer ?! Why is it that whenever it's people of color trying to change their appearance theres so much scrutiny but I dont see a documentary on fake tanning beds, lip injections , butt implants etc that are associated with white people trying to get features that are common in other ethic groups

  18. i can feel their emotions and why they are bleaching their skins i live in a third world country which was occupaid by a europeen country which created in my insist's mind the idea of white is better therefor today many brown people like me suffered from racism and that was and still so hard for me and made myself estime low and caused me a lotof health issues

  19. For me people would tell me I'm pretty but I'll be prettier if I was a more darker since I'm Mexican but I have really light skin

  20. If you look at beauty ideals it really is about looking "more white". Our supermodels now ( Kendell Jenner, Hailey Beiber) aren't necessarily incredibly beautiful, they're just white enough (nose, body type, hair etc) to be held up in the media as the ideal you should measure yourself against, because self hate sells.

  21. I just used Jergens to get tan legs, so I don't look dead in my summer shorts. Grass is always greener I guess.😅 Most of the year I'm pale and fine with it, I'm a northerner and that's just how it is.

  22. Im filipino, currently trying to whiten my skin with products just so the people around me can stop colorshaming me for being "dark"

    Ive never felt more disgusted of myself lol

  23. Wait bruh I literally spend half my time tannin and fake tanning not to look pale as a sheet yet these ppl risk their lives to look like me lol

  24. back in the day, white men and women portrayed white skin as beautiful and they wanted everyone to think they were better because they had white skin, and they still do today ON TV, have y’all noticed they make all the black people either gangsters or drug dealers, or basketball players and for the white people as doctors and lawyers!? they want to make sure all white people are seen as gods, and they always want to hide the fact they were slave owners that stole an ENTIRE race from their OWN country 😭 not only did they do that but they also wiped most of the native Americans off the face of the earth! and they also cut the mothers stomach and ripped the babies out of them while cutting of the mothers body parts😭😭😭😔🥺 all I’m trying to say is, white people ARE NOT all good and innocent they just don’t want people knowing about what they did because they KNOW every other race would get on their asses for that horrible shit they did!

  25. It's the same in China, Japan, Korea and many other countries, even in Africa. We are not born with porcelain skin and in the past whiter skin was associated with higher social class (just like 19th century Europe I guess??). But nowadays, it's not about social class anymore, it's just the public view on what beauty is. My mom always say: 一白遮百丑 (fair skin sheilds all imperfactions). It's hard to change this culture so maybe just make sure people are using safe products.

  26. I don't understand why people keep encourage me to look 'beautiful'…just because I haven't 'white' enough…😟 why do u think that way?

  27. Your skin is your biggest organ, it is the barrier of protection. As long as it is healthy and strong it is beautiful, no matter what damn colour. Skin has a purpose, and does not need to be categorised by attractive/unattractive.

  28. I am from the Philippines and I still love my brown natural Filipino skin. And btw, I saw Belo once again Ugh…
    It is because of colonial mentality, thats why they really want to have fair skin.

  29. They had to take the possibly most white western female journalist to do a documentary on philippino women who lighten their skin to get better jobs…its unbelievable and very sad. Not helpful in order to shed an empathetic light on the topic.

  30. I don't see many comments talking about Thony. This man is literally out here dedicating his life to protecting the public from these harmful products! And did you see how happy he was when he walked out the meeting? Thank you for all your hard work Thony. Wish there were more people like you.

  31. It's so sad that the amount of pigments in your skin matters. That people are willing to risk their health to go lighter or darker. I think all tones and colors are gorgeous! ❤ It should be the inside that matters…

  32. It sad to see how Asian are brain wash , and what most shameless is those assimilated people instead of people bullying them they bullied people's with original skin. Dark skin is more healthier and beautiful.

  33. what a sad sad mentality to have. plus you live in the philippines, its hot and sunny there.. theres a reason your skin is darker its for protection… you know, natural evolution did you a favor

  34. I’m white and very pale and used to as a child feel a pressure to tan but it’s a very superficial pressure please don’t compare pressure to fake tan to pressure to lighten the skin it’s very different

  35. Melanin is provided by nature to give protection from the Sun. The more you have of it, the more protected you are. Somehow, a lack natural protection from the ravishes of the Sun has become a status symbol, while those who have it in abundance are despised. Knowing what I know about melanin, it amazes me that people want to lighten their skin while I marvel in jealousy at the Nilotic people. When ever I see one in America, I almost embarrass myself staring at how beautiful their skin is.

  36. This goes out to everyone reading the comments. Nomatter what skin color you have you are perfectly fine just as you are. Ladies you are beautiful just the way you are. Guys you are handsome just the way you are. Don't listen to anyone saying you should be lighter or darker. They're wrong. The only thing you should do is love yourself and remember that you don't need their approval. If they don't like how you look then oh well. Be healthy, safe and happy everyone!!

  37. "In a fear inspiring way I am wonderfully made". God made every gorgeous race for us to love the diverse beauty! Racism is so sad and pointless

  38. I struggled with my skin colour for years. I’m really pale. People always feel like they have to comment on it too. This is the body god gave me and I’m okay with that

  39. As I child my father who is from the Philippines, has always told me that skin lightening was a huge issue in the Philippines.

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