Adapting to beauty

Believe it or not, our skin has an adaptation of its own — tanning. Humans adapt to the sun’s ultraviolet rays through the production of melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color. Melanin shields deeper layers of the skin and prevents the sun’s harmful rays from breaking down folic acid, an important vitamin that repairs blood cells in the body. As a short-term adaptation, most people develop a tan when exposed to the sun. In the long-term, human skin color reflects where your ancestors evolved, with the ancestors of darker-skinned humans having evolved closer to the equator and the ancestors of lighter-skinned humans having evolved in places with limited sunlight.
However, women and to some extent men have a desperate desire that borders on obsessions for beautiful fair skin. Studies show that men from all races prefer fairer skinned females. Fair skin is subconsciously linked to “innocence, purity, modesty, virginity, vulnerability and goodness”. The preference for light skinned women has remained prevalent over time in all cultures: Asian, European, African, Caribbean and American however they are exceptions like the Maasai in Kenya who associate light complexions with being cursed or witchcraft.
In Europe, during the Industrial revolution, light skin was associated with high social status as those with tanned skin were the poorer classes who worked outdoors. Colonization and racism perpetrated the idea that light skin slaves were more beautiful, smarter and cooperative and they often got jobs working in the house “house negroes” while their darker relatives slaved in the fields “field negroes”. Lighter skin amongst blacks still retains its elevated status to the point that studies have associated blackness with low self esteem. In the light of this, those with the obsession for light skins have resulted to bleaching. Although the cosmetics industry has spawned a new language, with terms either being derogatory or flattering, “skin whitening and lightening” which seems more diplomatic while bleaching is more critical.
The science behind bleaching involves removing the melanin pigment of the skin. Melanin absorbs ultraviolet light, thus protecting humans from harmful UV radiation. Using chemicals to lessen the concentration of melanin is one of the most common forms of potentially harmful body modification practices in the world. Though some are able to achieve a fairly even skin tone but a majority end up looking awful. Prolonged use of skin lightening products and the concomitant decrease in concentration of melanin increase risks of skin cancer. Skin bleaching also encourages premature aging, irritates the skin, and cause other complications like eczema. Mercury is the most harmful culprit found in some products. Topical use can lead to mercury poisoning, the symptoms are memory loss or forgetfulness, headache, emotional instability, fatigue, inflammation of gums and mouth. In most cases if not discontinued it leads to kidney damage and psychiatric problems.
Misuse of Hydroquinone usually found in some of these products paradoxically leads to blue-black darkening of the skin i.e. increased pigmentation in the skin called “ochronosis”. Steroids can be useful for treating some skin diseases but treatment must take place under the care of a dermatologist. Long term uncontrolled use of products which have steroids can lead to increase risk of skin infections, fungal infections, scabies, hypertension, elevated blood sugar, skin thinning, poor wound healing, acne and permanent stretch marks.
Even with my enlightenment on the obsession with light skin, i probably won’t understand the why because i’m already light-skinned. Many of human physical appearances are being modified: hair straightening, hair removal, hair colouring, make-ups and tattoos, would it then suffice to say that skin bleaching is equally acceptable.


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