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Unilever set to rebrand whitening cream 'Fair & Lovely' after years of criticism

Though the move is quite important, critics believe that the brand should discontinue the product altogether.

Unilever set to rebrand whitening cream 'Fair & Lovely' after years of criticism
Image Source: Twitter/ksurya1007

Hindustan Unilever has manufactured the highly criticized skin whitening or fairness cream, Fair & Lovely, for decades now. The product promises to lighten skin tone in just a few uses and has been heavily marketed and sold in South Asia, where "dark" skin tones are majorly stigmatized and thought of as ugly or undesirable. In a recent move, Hindustan Unilever vowed to rebrand the product and drop the word "fair" from its name, Indian media outlet The Hindu reports. However, the product remains inherently a whitening cream, which still contributes to a problematic culture of colorism and anti-blackness. Critics who have been protesting the product for several years now have demanded that the company stop producing the cream entirely.


The decision was reportedly motivated by the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement in the United States. The movement's goals have reached international shores, with shockwaves being felt even in South Asia. In a statement released on Thursday, Hindustan Unilever Chairman Sanjiv Mehta promised a more "diverse" range of products. He affirmed, "We are making our skincare portfolio more inclusive [to feature] a more diverse portrayal of beauty." While the Fair & Lovely product is not the only skin whitening cream on the market, it is one of the most popular and is a brand widely recognized across the continent of Asia.


"We recognize that the use of the words 'fair, white, and light' suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don't think is right," added Sunny Jain, the president of Unilever's beauty and personal care division, in a separate statement. "And we want to address this." It is not clear at present how exactly the company plans to address the issue. According to a source who works with L'Oréal in India, another brand under the parent company Hindustan Unilever, the changes will mostly be reflected in labeling. They explained, "Words such as skin brightening, whitening, lightening could soon become a thing of the past on all labels and product sales pitches."


Hindustan Unilever said the name change in the Fair & Lovely product would be subject to regulatory approvals. The company is yet to announce what the name will be changed to. For many, nonetheless, changing the brand's name does not change the inherent purpose of the cream. It is, ironically, simply a cosmetic change⁠—it does not reflect an equal and meaningful change in the product itself. Additionally, the Fair & Lovely brand has used "fairness" as a path to success. In many of the product's commercials, a woman is seen failing at an interview before she uses the cream. Once her skin is fairer, she attends another interview and gets the job. There are various iterations of this commercial; in another, a woman is seen as a suitable wife after she uses the product.


The brand has promised to discontinue these ads as well. Many have argued that the brand must learn from its competitors Johnson & Johnson, which has announced it would discontinue skin whitening products entirely. While we await more information about how Hindustan Unilever plans to tackle the culture of colorism that the company has undoubtedly contributed to, the product description of Fair & Lovely still officially reads: "The brand has a strong emotional connect with consumers, and they consider it to be the mentor that gives them the confidence of beauty, empowering them to fulfill their dreams."


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