Complexion in a Bottle

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I’ve always wondered, how much does media marketing influence our perspective on beauty, in comparison to how much we influence each other?

Today’s Topic: Complexion in a Bottle.

My objective here is to analyze the marketing of complexion altering products, and to decode the subliminal images that are used to influence consumers. I’m specifically focusing on the way that media is advertised, while keeping in mind the cultural perspective of consumers, which varies among different geographical locations. Media strategists focus on social trends, so despite the negative effects that it may have on people, marketing will go in the direction that sells. This can be seen for example, in the marketing of skin lightening and self-tanning products. Just to give you a little background- Colorism became more apparent in Southern Africa after European colonialism. As a result, lighter skin tones were attributed to those who were considered elite. European imperialism had a strong influence on countries such as India, Japan, and China as well. Therefore, having a light skin tone had been idealized in these regions for a very long time. With that being said, advertisements that promote the usage of tanning products are particularly new. Tanning didn’t become popularized until the 1920’s, when pioneer designer and fashion icon, Coco Chanel was spotted, sporting this sun-kissed look by accident. Coco had returned to Paris after vacationing in the French Riviera and her tan became a great source of attention. This tan may not have been intentional, but being the trendsetter that she is, many men and women wanted to emulate her. The job of marketing experts is to tailor their advertising images and messages to appeal to their audiences. This explains why ideologies regarding light skin are viewed as beautiful, youthful, healthy, and are attributed to having a good character. Meanwhile, having tan, sun-kissed skin is attributed to vacation vibes, trendiness and possessing a high social status. This is not something that was created by the media, but it’s a way of thinking that’s been ingrained in societies for years. The media strategy comes into play when marketers use these social ideals to their advantage, to lure in consumers. Whether intentional or not, many marketers have encouraged the idea of racial superiority. In order to address the demands of consumerism, the transformation of one’s race can now made be bought as a commodity. It is important to recognize, that this cultural transformation is related to race, but it can’t just be solely reduced to that. There are implications that need to be called to light, and many of these go over our heads everyday. The advertisements that I’m going to discuss, are a form of self-fashioning for consumers and a moneymaker for beauty brands.

Here we have Aishwarya Rai. Rai is a very famous Bollywood actress and model in India. Very often she is named, “the most beautiful woman in the world.” In this advertisement by L’Oreal Paris, she is featured modeling a product called “White Perfect.” Yes, white perfect. Does this imply that having a white complexion, can be attributed to perfection? To make matters more explicit, at the top of the ad in blue text, it says “Innovation: Melanin-Block Technology.” Growing up, the only skincare block that I was aware of, was sunblock, so why does melanin need to be  “blocked” too? Sunburns are one thing because they’re harmful, but is melanin supposed to be viewed as a threat as well?                

In this ad, we have Michele Reis, a very well-known movie star and model from Hong Kong. Reis is not only lauded for her striking good looks, but her fair pigmented skin is another attribute that makes her a strong candidate in Asian markets. She is the standard of beauty that many women are encouraged to achieve. Advertisements such as “WhitePerfect,” enforce this societal standard. This White Perfect advertisement, says things like, “less yellowish complexion, more rosy glow” and “reveal your true inner fairness!” They’re implying that having a yellowish complexion is a bad thing. Therefore, being fair-skinned is what one needs, in order to be considered beautiful. There is a lot of contradiction in this advertisement, that I noticed as well. Also, in the smaller text, it says “with advanced Melanin-Block to regulate melanin production at the source.” As I stated above, with regards to the other WhitePerfect ad, emphasizing a block on pigmentation is completely nonsensical. Also, regulating melanin production at the source, makes it sound like brown skin needs to be treated like a blackhead.

The advertisement above is from Vichy, which is an active cosmetics division of L’Oreal. The name of this product is BI White: The Skin Pigmentation ID. It’s purpose is to help individuals get rid of dark spots.  Looking at the initial skin layer, one can see that this woman has a few brown spots on her face. Also, she has a medium skin tone. In an effort to show the before and after transformation, there’s a zipper which is used, to unveil her new layer of skin.   This “new” layer is much paler than the one in the first, my question is, why is that? As a brand, it is L’Oreal’s mission to make people feel more beautiful. This includes covering up and eliminating one’s imperfections, in order to give them the look they desire. In this display, it is apparent that a few dark spots aren’t the only “imperfections” deemed as necessary, to be changed in this transformation.


In addition to skin bleaching, the usage of fake tanning solutions has been popularized in the media as well. Emma Patissier Alm is a beauty pro and owns a tanning company in Stockholm, Sweden. Her tanning product is called Emmaatan. As one can see from this image, the results from using this product are very potent. The model featured in the side by side Instagram photo doesn’t even look like the same person. To make matters worse, consumers can even choose their desired shade of blackness. This includes caramel brown, dark chocolate, extreme and more. This product allows those who are not black, to appear black by choice. That is what makes this product so controversial. It’s blatant appropriation.

Normal to dark is a tanning cream made by Dove. My question is, what does Dove consider normal? According to this advertisement, if I had a dark complexion I wouldn’t qualify as normal. When in all actuality, normal isn’t a shade, because ALL pigments are normal. The explicit disregard for varying skin complexions and the lack of equal recognition here, is completely lost. How did product advertisers not catch this? The message it sends to consumers only further perpetuates the idea that fair skin is the principle standard. This is the standard that so many people try to measure themselves by.

Kaci Gregory is an account executive at IHeartmedia. She graduated from Muhlenberg College with a double major in Media & Communications and French & Francophone studies in 2018 and spends her free time working out, spending time with friends and blogging about positivity! Because of her interest in women's studies, diversity and her passion for cosmetics and fashion, she founded the blog "She's Debonnaire." Her objective is to facilitate dialogue among women on issues related to gender, race, culture, and sexuality and how they impact perceptions of beauty.

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