Bleaching and lightening products remain popular, but few admit to using them

maskedwomanSkin-bleaching products were common in the United States among African-Americans during the 1920s and 1930s. Advertisements for creams and ointments such as Bleach and Glow, Plough’s Black and White, Artra and Nadinola appeared in black publications. These, like Artra, bluntly advertised that they would offer a change, promising “lighter, lovelier skin.” By the 1950s, it was no longer politically correct to advertise “skin-lighteners,” and so a more subtle approach was used: Creams and lotions were advertised to help “even the skin tones,” “clear complexions,” and “help with hyper-pigmentation.”

Similar products have been manufactured in West Africa and the West Indies, and followed immigrants to England and France. African and West Indian grocery stores have shelves of products with names such as Pure White, Sure White, Fair and White, Maxi Light, and Body Milk. Primarily, these are sold to, and marketed for, women.

“We sell a wide variety of bleaching products from the more expensive, high-class brands such as Fair and White, to the cheaper brands Movate and Dermovate,” said a cashier who wanted to be identified only as “Monique.” Monique works at one of several African stores on Burnside Avenue in East Hartford. “Every day there is something new that comes out on the market. There’s Extreme Bright, there’s lightener-this and bleaching-that. There’s Lemon Lotion ‘brightening.’ A lot of them say in their names what they are supposed to be doing.”

The same products can be found at the African stores on Farmington Avenue, and the West Indian grocery stores on the North End of Hartford. Some wig and hair shops carry the products, which are usually made in France, England, and Switzerland before being shipped to Western African countries and making their way to the United States.

“There is a demand for these products,” said Ivan Alexander, owner of the West Indian grocery store ACA Foods in Hartford who along with the African stores gets supplied by a distributor in New York City. “It’s not something that we are selling cases and cases of, but we do try to stock a large variety of brands and different product names because people ask for them. People will ask for the Fair and White, some people will ask for the Dermaclear, or the Dermovate.”


Extracts from a Hartford Advocate article by Robert Cooper, published 11 August 2009 (original).

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