In response to the Black Lives Matter movement and worldwide protests against racism and colourism, Unilever is renaming its Fair & Lovely skin product and removing the words “fairness,” “whitening,” and “lightening” from product descriptions. Fair & Lovely is a skin whitening cream marketed by the company to African and Asian countries and targeted largely at women.
Unilever however stated that it supports racial justice and had pledged donations that exceeded $1 million to various organizations fighting for racial equality to date. The company said it is taking responsibility to ensure that no one feels offended by the language used to describe its beauty products – even though the formulations of the products and their skin toning functions will remain unchanged.
“We’re committed to a skin care portfolio that’s inclusive of all skin tones, celebrating the diversity of beauty,” the company wrote. “That’s why we’re removing the words ‘fairness’, ‘whitening’ and ‘lightening’ from products, and changing the Fair & Lovely brand name. As we’re evolving the way that we communicate the skin benefits of our products that deliver radiant and even tone skin, it’s also important to change the language we use.”
President of beauty and personal care at Unilever, Sunny Jain, said the company recognizes that it is not right to use words such as “fair,” “white,” and “light” to describe skin types or beauty products since these give the wrong impressions that true beauty must be fair and white.
With these modifications to its product descriptions, thousands of people across the world voiced what they thought to be hypocrisy with Unilever, saying renaming their products is useless if their functions do not improve. The company said it will rename Fair & Lovely across international markets and the product will take on a new name, but there will be “no changes to formulation”.
The company also revealed that its beauty products do not contain hydroquinone or bleach which are proven to cause skin and organ damage.
One dissident however stated that “the problem isn’t the name of the product; it’s the fact that skin whitening products exist” at all. While another accused the company of benefiting from “internalized racism” and “anti-blackness sentiments” with its products. Many others sign petitions to have the company discontinue the products and pull them from the market.
The UK government banned all beauty products containing steroids, mercury, and hydroquinone due to their harmful side-effects except in cases where a doctor prescribed them for a patient. Online sellers such as Ebay even pulled the products from its inventory and pledged to “work closely with regulatory authorities including Trading Standards and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency to keep our community safe.”