Obsession with skin tones

By Wang Han Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/26 18:28:00

Local women talk about a different white people problem

It's summertime, and Shanghai's streets are filled with women under parasols and behind big sunglasses, a literally stark contrast to Westerners striving for tanned bodies.

To better understand Chinese women's fascination with skin whitening, the Global Times interviewed four young women about their reasons and methods to whiten their skin.

Luo Libi (pictured below), 25, a bank clerk in Hangzhou, has been passionate about skin whitening for a few years. Her preference for pale skin is influenced by China's common disposition toward whiteness.

Dominant preference

Light skin tends to be a symbol of beauty in Chinese culture. According to a report in the Chinese edition of Self magazine, more than 90 percent of female Chinese respondents said white skin can mask ugliness, and over 65 percent said lighter skin makes women look more clean-cut.

"As the Chinese saying goes, 'a white complexion is powerful enough to hide three faults,'" Luo said. "I think I look more beautiful with pale skin, though some people do look gorgeous when they are tanned."

Luo also said lighter skin makes her look better-off. "While Westerners tend to view tanned skin as a symbol of better financial status, tanned skin in Chinese culture is associated with laborers and peasants who work in the sun and therefore get darker."

Yang Xin (above), a 20-year-old undergraduate student, said her awareness of skin tone and whitening began a couple of years ago, influenced by online media and magazines. "I feel I am better looking when my skin is whiter," she said.

Zhang Bingqing, a 26-year-old journalist from Zhejiang Province, said her skin was quite dark in her teens, and that struck her confidence. She said pale girls tended to be more popular, as their light skin tone is a symbol of beauty and attractiveness.


According to online retailing researcher VennData, over 8.8 million units of sunscreen were sold online in China in the first five months of 2015.

Luo said she uses about seven 30 ml bottles of sunscreen annually, which costs around 2,500 yuan ($378.44).

She said she tends to use high-protection sunscreen every day, regardless of the weather. "I prefer to use high SPF index lotion throughout the year, as it can provide longer and better protection for my skin, and this makes me feel safer outdoors."

Wang Ziyi (below), 24 from Anhui Province, studies in Japan. She said maintaining a white complexion is relatively easy for her in China, but it's different at university.

Photos: CFP and courtesy of the interviewees

"The sunlight in Japan is much stronger than that in my hometown, and I am allergic to ultraviolet light." Wang said. "So if I stay outdoors for four or five hours in Japan, my skin would soon turn red and then burn. Therefore I had to try every possible way to block ultraviolet light."

Wang said that in spring and summer, she applies sunscreen almost every other hour. "But in autumn and winter, I wouldn't bother to use sunscreen and only use skincare and cosmetic products with a UV protection function," she added.

She said she mostly uses high-end Japanese sunscreen, spending over 2,000 yuan annually.

Apart from sunscreen, Chinese females are also dependent on parasols and sunglasses to avoid inadvertently tanning.

Yang said she would never go outside without an umbrella and sunglasses when the sunlight is intense.

Zhang agreed. She even avoids going outside or doing outdoor activities during daytime in summer. She also tends not to travel during summer.

"I don't like to be exposed to sunlight, as it not only makes my skin darker, but also leads to aging skin," she said.

Skin-whitening products

While whitening skincare products are not welcomed in many Western countries, Chinese women crave effective and safe products of this sort.

For example, Wang said that she is fascinated with whitening facial masks and serums, and spends around 10,000 yuan on whitening products every year.

Despite her investment in this, she said she has not found a product that works perfectly for her. "But at least, I didn't get darker," she said.

Luo employs whitening serums, estimating she's used 10 bottles over the past three years.

"I have been trying serums with different whitening elements, hoping to find whitening serums that are particularly effective for my skin type," she said. She added that a whitening serum that works for one person might not be effective for another.

Apart from using whitening skincare products, some interviewees said they take skin-whitening pills, which are said to be effective to lighten skin tone throughout one's body.

For instance, both Yang and Wang said they took expensive whitening pills for a while.

Wang said she had been taking a high-end Japanese brand for three months after traveling in summer once. "My body did get a bit whiter, but I am not sure if it was a natural self-recovery or because of the pills," she said.

As for Yang, she said she didn't notice any obvious change of her skin tone, though her face looked a bit brighter.

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, About Town

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