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Skin lightening, a dangerous fantasy

Published on 12 July 2021

Skin lightening is a practice dating back to the end of the Middle Ages in Europe. According to the WHO, 40% of African women currently engage in this practice. But using chemical substances in an attempt to whiten the skin can cause irreversible damage.

An age-old practice?
Beauty standards have long placed an emphasis on skin, its colour and its appearance. As demonstrated by the French historian Georges Vigarello, during the Renaissance period one of the major criteria for feminine beauty was skin whiteness. A pale complexion was considered a sign of nobility, good health and elegance. White skin was associated with the upper classes, denoting people who did not need to work outdoors. To achieve an ideal complexion, women did not hesitate to use lead or mercury. In the 18th century, the appearance of new shades of red in make-up led to a greater acceptance of colours and the idea that beauty could have many faces.

Read the rest of this article on SKEMA's knowledge website, ThinkForward. Article written by Rodolphe Desbordes and Frédéric Munier (professors at SKEMA), and Mathilde Imboden and Heloïse Leclercq (both students at SKEMA)

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