Skin-lightening cosmetics, which were once largely marketed in markets and beauty stores, have skyrocketed in their availability online, and they are now widespread on every major social media site, with merchants not even discussing their numerous hazardous chemicals.
Photo Insert: On YouTube and TikTok, there are hundreds of lessons by people marketing powerful items or home treatments without providing qualifications to back up their claims.
On Facebook and Instagram, retailers promote creams and serums that promise lighter skin but provide little information on the items themselves, Jacqui Palumbo wrote for As Equals, a CNN series exploring skin whitening techniques throughout the world.
Palumbo stated that on YouTube and TikTok, there are hundreds of lessons by people marketing powerful items or home treatments without providing qualifications to back up their claims. The hashtag #skinwhitening has almost 254 million views on TikTok alone, while #skinlightening has another 62 million.
"Social media has become the most powerful tool right now for the sale of skin-lightening products," says Dr. Anita Benson, a Nigerian dermatologist and the creator of the Embrace Melanin Initiative, which aims to challenge colorism and dangerous skin-lightening practices in Africa.
Benson has treated many patients who had skin problems as a result of the usage and overuse of skin-whitening products, including numerous ladies who bought them on social media.
She is worried that social media platforms are aiding in the perpetuation of colorist ideals – the perception that lighter skin is connected with beauty, success, and, in many cases, riches – and that they are now offering a marketplace for items that act on these ideas.
Previous research on other types of media has found that they have a big effect on colorism, according to Amanda Raffoul, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard's public health incubator STRIPED who is researching how these items are promoted on TikTok.
"But there's little known about how (skin-lightening) products are promoted across social media platforms," she said to CNN.
Though the long-term impact is unknown, specialists like Benson are concerned by what they are seeing firsthand. She cites last year's #glowupchallenge, a TikTok hashtag with over 4 billion views, as an example of how users compared before-and-after photographs of themselves.
Many of the images Benson viewed showed people growing lighter in complexion, and she feels that such appearance-based viral challenges have made bleaching (whitening) products "more popular and more acceptable."