Skin whitening: What is it, what are the risks and who profits?

Updated 11:03 AM ET, Wed March 16, 2022

This story is part of 'White lies', a series by CNN's As Equals investigating skin whitening practices worldwide to expose the underlying drivers of colorism, the industry that profits from it and the cost to individuals and communities. For information about how CNN As Equals is funded and more, check out our FAQs.

Skin whitening is the use of cosmetic products or services to reduce the amount of melanin, or pigment, in the skin to make it appear lighter.
It's a big industry and predominantly targets women of color in every region of the world, with the Asia-Pacific region being the most lucrative.
The practice dates back centuries, has many names -- skin lightening, whitening, bleaching -- and has a range of cultural origins depending on the region. But the trend is ultimately rooted in colorism and the fact that in many cultures, lighter skin is associated with beauty and better prospects in terms of employment, marriage and social standing.
Find out more about the global skin whitening market, the culture of colorism promoting it, the industry behind these products and the effect they can have on your health.

The global skin whitening market

Skin whitening: The global market