Thai vulva-bleaching product

Thailand's skin-lightening craze (which includes products with such active ingredients as mercury) has reached new heights, with a widely advertised vulva*-bleaching product called Lactacyd White Intimate, made by the French company Sanofi Aventis, with an 80MM baht (approx USD2.6MM) advertising budget. The Guardian's Kate Hodal has more:

"Products [have] evolved from face-whitening to body and deodorant solutions to even out dark areas in the armpits," said Louis-Sebastien Ohl of Publicis Thailand, which created the adverts. "Now an intimate toiletry also offers a whitening benefit, because research evidenced that … women [we]re keen to have such a product."

In many countries across south-east Asia, fairer skin has long been equated with higher class as it suggests a life not spent toiling in rice paddies under the sun. The Thai language is peppered with cultural expressions that denigrate dark skin, such as the insult dam mhuen e-ga – "black like a crow". These days, rice farmers wear long sleeves, trousers, wide-brimmed hats and gloves. According to DRAFTFCB, the agency behind many of Nivea's skin-lightening ads in Thailand, such labourers provide the bulk of the Thai market for Nivea's face and body-lightening products.

Thailand's skin-whitening craze reaches woman's intimate areas

* The Guardian describes it as a "vaginal lightening" product, but I assume they mean "vulva"


    1. Depends on the technology, honestly. There’s certainly a (productive) conversation to be had about the wacky world of coercive beauty norms and such; but while that’s going on I’m pragmatically inclined to just tot up the body count and use that as a provisional point of comparison.

      Tanning is definitely not such a good plan (unless you count the dye-based stuff that provides lousy results, or the DNA-fragment based stuff that isn’t out of the lab yet). Definitely mortality and morbidity.

      I’m less familiar with the safety record of these skin-whitening things (and I suspect it varies pretty sharply depending on how slimy a corner of the industry you visit); but if the mortality and morbidity toll are lower, it’s better, albeit still bad. If they are higher, it’s worse.

      1. Except that people are bleaching their skin also because they have tanned, getting them the worst of both worlds.

        1. Well I don’t think that too many people have tanned their vulvas.  I’m also a little bothered by the bi-racial appearance of the model at some level.  Using a bi-racial model to sell products in a multi-ethnic society is at some level inclusive and norm broadening.  But using one to promote a caucausian appearance to those who don’t have the genes to acheive it seems kind of creepy IMHO.

    2. well, which one is tied to centuries of discrimination and hatred, and props up an over-arching system of skin-color-based prejudice that limits people’s ability to get jobs, be seen as smart, trustworthy, beautiful or respectable?

      1. True, but both of them are quite hazardous to the individuals health. I do agree that the whitening products speak of a perhaps larger discrimination rather than simple vanity though.

  1. Is it illegitimate or impossible for people to want to do this organically? It seems people have always gone to great lengths to change their bodies such that they look ‘nicer’ according to whatever (sub)cultural aesthetic they identify with…

    Seems silly to me, but to each his own, I say.

  2. I was reporting on how well my tan was progressing to a friend in Pune.  She remarked on how interesting it was that folks from the US were obsessed with trying to get darker while folks in her area were trying to get lighter.  I suppose we all want to be a shade different from our peers…

    1.  Part of the cultural dynamic behind skin bleaching (besides left-over post-colonial association with Europeans as the upper class) is the association of darker skin with manual agricultural labor in developing nations. In industrialized societies, where manual and low-paid labor has moved inside, it’s the rich that have the time to lay out in the sun and get tanned.

      1. This is an article about the one Southeast Asian country that’s never been colonized by Europeans and consequently has never had a European ‘upper class’ and yet that’s what a couple of people here allude to? The mind boggles.

        (Also, Japan would be an example that’s never been colonized since the Japanese arrived and yet there are skin-whitening potions produced and sold by, gasp!, Japanese companies. No real presence of eeevil Western cosmetics brands there.)

        1. There is a long standing controversy about anime cartoons which frequently have characters that are supposed to be Japanese but appear quite caucasian to our eyes. There are a lot of Japanese people who don’t see it that way and have no problem with it.

          1. I don’t see how this has anything to do with skin tones. I can honestly say that I’ve never met a Japanese who’d rather be a white Westerner.

            Japanese have quite a broad range of skin tones themselves, from almost-white to pretty dark. If anything, a darker skin tone might mean that you’re somewhere from the (rural) south.

          2. As Nathan pointed out, there are some people (not including me) that think anime fetishizes westerners. This is due to not only  the skin tones but the round eyes. Others have said the round eyes are a holdover from the early days of Japanese animation when they were trying to create Disney-like characters.

        2. Japan also has subcultures obsessed with getting as tan as possible (to the point of being repulsive to me, someone who finds the standard/typical Japanese female aesthetic features among the most beautiful of any). Thailand (and other SE Asian countries) is a very different place from Japan – despite Japan’s reputation as being a conformist society, which, broadly, is true, it’s actually extremely tolerant of people being different. Which is obvious when you see the subcultures that arise there.

          In Thailand, society has not advanced to that point yet. It’s still very much a developing country, despite how it appears in TV ads like this. There are subcultures, but they’re very much outcasts and conformity is extremely important no matter what your station in life. And like the article says, if you have dark skin people will treat you poorly. Very, very poorly. It’s not quite pre-civil-rights-era America, it’s different, but the prejudice against dark skin is very real and very intense.

          So how this ties into “evil Western cosmetics brands” is simply that they’re taking advantage of this destructive and hurtful part of Thai society. Not just taking advantage of it, but exploiting it as far as they dare to go (hence, well, vulva bleach). They’d never get away with this sort of thing in developed Western countries and instead of realizing this is something harmful in Thai society, something that the rest of the world moved on from, and rightfully so, they’re going for maximum profits while they going’s good. 

          If you go to buy toiletries in Thailand, it’s easier to single out the products that don’t have some sort of whitener – if you can even find any. I spent two weeks washing my face with what I only realized later was a whitening face wash – for men, with a photo of a male model on the tube. Not sure if it really did anything to my face but when I went back to find something else I had to look extremely carefully (it doesn’t help that there’s no English on most toiletries and I didn’t know any Thai at the time).

          BTW, you can buy all this stuff in the US if you know where to look – larger Asian grocery stores and the like will have it. It will mostly be Korean stuff you’ll find and I’m not sure if they’ve advanced to the vulva stage yet, so don’t get your hopes up too much.

    2.  Ironic that some Thai girls would be into bleaching since so many white guys like their naturally brown skin tone.

  3. I think one needs to look at WHY someone wants to change their color. I have no idea what is behind lightening your skin – other than to emulate the west. A tan says many positive things about you – that you’re active, in the sun, and healthy. Too pale and you are thought to be sickly or anti-social because you’re not “out”.

    1. Only the (very) contemporary west. Those Victorian ladies with their White Lead makeup and aversion to sun exposure would have felt right at home with the skin whitening products industry.

      (The regions where the local color is so heavily melanized that you just can’t tan any harder than you started might have a different dynamic going on; but wherever people do change noticeably with sun exposure it’s a question of whether your despised underclass toils outside or inside.)

      1.  I purposely avoid tanning for a couple of reasons:  I sunburn badly, and I have vitilago on my eyelids and the backs of my hands.  So when I do tan some, I turn splotchy because of the white eyelids and hands.  I just don’t think it looks good, and so I stay a little paler than most people.

    2. Of all the parts to worry about, why worry about your vulva skin tone?  And the lucky person who does see it is probably interested in you enough by that point to not have a tinted mound be a deal breaker.

  4. Manipulation of people based on their sense of self-worth, and related prejudices, should (at least) stop short poisoning.

  5. I know this isn’t FARK, but if no-one else is going to say it then it seems I must:

    This thread is useless without pics.

    Anyway, I personally find lightening and tanning equally ridiculous, with bonus points given out for health risks.

  6. So I watch the ad and my takeaway:
    1) Those ladies want a whiter lily.
    2) They hold bleaching parties.
    3) An unbleached vulva under white pants stands out about the same as candy-striped boxers.

  7. Not sure why this is noteworthy, unless it’s that there’s a fairly explicit TV ad about it, as anal bleaching has been a thing for years in the US. (And we’ve already seen ads touting pubic hair grooming here.)

  8. Why is it that people (in general) don’t seem to understand the difference between vaginas and vulvas?  Do we blame it on abstinence-only sex ed?  That can’t be the only explanation, though, because — at least in my experience — I know several doctors who taught their own kids the wrong term.

    1.  Just because they are doctors doesn’t automatically mean they feel comfortable talking about the specifics of their genitalia with their kids.

      I, for one, completely blame it on the current sex-ed/sexual repression/female repression of western culture. After all, kids knowing the names of the different parts of the female reproductive system requires a solid mental image of that system on which to hang the names.

    2.  And now many of the same people think that vulva is synonymous with labia minora. Many of the responses on this thread seem to make that assumption. The vulva, to be clear, is the entire pubic area of females, including mons pubis, labia majora, which surrounds the labia minora, which in turn surrounds the vulval vestibule, onto which the urethra and vagina open, and clitoris and clitoral bulbs (which are actually internal).

  9. Brother Dave’s Doggerel For The Day, 09/23/12:

    Yeah, we do wackadoo stuff here in my land.
    But the skin-lightening craze over in Thailand
    Is inane and insane, both totally and at once:
    TV ads beseech women to bleach their c**ts.

  10. All the rest of that day, on those
    wild screaming beaches,

    The Fix-It-Up Chappie kept fixing up

    Off again! On again! In again! Out

    Through the machines they raced round
    and about again!

  11.  I know it’s compulsory to view the West and white people as the cause of every social ill, but pallor for women has been desirable in every culture since time immemorial. Only the 20th century West saw a reversal due to associations with expensive travel to sunnier climes.

    I would guess that the current global trend for total pubic shaving is what’s really responsible for the heightened neuroticism regarding the appearance of the labia minora (see the masssive uptick in labiaplasty), as they’re pretty much on show all the time now (in clothes-free scenarios). I suppose if the rest of you is artificially pale, your deforested crotch will make your fanny flaps stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

    1. pallor for women has been desirable in every culture since time immemorial.

      You mean every culture that you’ve read about.

      1.  I suppose there might be an odd one out somewhere but in any given ethnic group the men tend to be darker than the women, so it seems to be a general thing for women to emphasise that. Youth, nubility and whatnot.

    2. I thought fanny flaps were something a proctologist looked after, not a gynecologist. Not an aspirational term, IMO.

  12. Jesus. I need a unicorn chaser. The male-gaze shot to the white short-shorts. The references to flowers.

    I need mind-whitener to erase what I’ve just seen.

  13. Hmmm. Just my two cents here. I think the product may not be as bad as one might think at first glance. Sure it plays on women’s insecurity about their looks and may commercialize a previously unknown need, and of course, there is a market in many countries for products that promise to lighten skin tone in general, many of which contain dangerous chemicals. But I don’t think this product is specifically about being “whiter”. I’m thinking this may be intended to combat the crotch version of what the former Senora Sabeletodo referred to as the “dreaded dark knees and elbows”. Basically areas that receive more friction from clothing like elbows, knees (and crotches, ‘specially if you are all hairless there) thicken protectively, and if you have more melanin than Mitt Romney has, as she does (and I do as well) it will look a darker than your general skin tone, which she didn’t like. Her regimen: exfoliate (olive oil and sugar) and moisturize (cocoa butter) religiously, and occasionally use lemon juice as a bleach.

    1. 1) Why bother moisturizing if you’re going to put LEMON JUICE on the same skin?
      2) Are you actually arguing that vulvas thicken and darken due to friction from clothing?
      3) If maintaining one overall skin tone is the preferred look, should women bleach their lips and nipples as well?

      1. 1. Lemon juice OCCASIONALLY. And not necessarily in the order I listed.
        2. Any skin subjected to friction tends to thicken a outer keratin layer (the dead outer skin cells). If you have more pigment than a fair skinned person it will add color as the dead skin builds up in thickness. This happens at the knees, elbows armpits, neck and at skin folds of obese persons. Why wouldn’t clothing friction induce the same reaction in the pubic area? The crotch is a common area for chaffng.
        3. The exfoliation, moisturizing and occasional mild bleaching with lemon juice are aimed at evening the skin tone, not altering a person’s basic skin color.  Your comparison to lips and nipples seems to indicate to me you think this is about the labia minora. It is not. This is referring to the outer pubic area (mons pubis and labia majora) where the skin is basically similar to 95% of the rest of one’s body, discounting the pubic hair, of course.

        I wish to be clear: I believe people, among whom I count women, often do things for cosmetic reasons. Some of these things done for cosmetic reasons affect the appearance of the skin. I also believe that these things may include some types of “lightening” that can be done without being ashamed of being of non-Northern European descent, or done from a desire to look like you are. Sometimes people just want their cafe au lait colored major joints to match the rest of their slightly lighter limbs because they think they look better when things match. I can see where the same sort of cosmetic concerns, without an overriding racial self hatred, might revolve around the skin of the crotch, not including the lady flower. I profess this upon belief and evidence provided by the 13 years of direct, though anecdotal, observation of a cafe au lait colored 3/4 Jewish, 1/4 Jamaican woman who used to make me take the garbage out. Further anecdotal evidence has been gleaned from observation of my female relatives of the maternal line, notably my sisters and female cousins, proud dusky Latina beauties, every one of them. YMMV.

        1. 1. OK, moisturizing AFTER lemon juice makes a lot more sense.  Let’s put it this way: lemon juice does NOT help ashiness.

          2. Girls spend around 12 years wearing clothing of various types against their vulvas without pubic hair to soften the chafing and yet do not develop darkening skin in response.  This is why I assume the bleaching referred to here is done more on the inner than the outer labia (as a comparison, anal bleaching isn’t done on the butt cheeks but on the actual sphincter after all).  That inner darkening is just a function of age, really, not chafing, although I suppose there are women who wear such tight clothing that there is specific damage done as a result.

          3. I admit I was exaggerating for effect here, but my basic point was that we acknowledge and even celebrate the fact that certain areas of our bodies stand out due to darker color.  We’re not talking about a port wine stain or a Mongolian spot in a prominent location….we expect a little extra definition in the crotch area.  In fact, there are evolutionary reasons for having our sex organs stand out.

          Vulva bleaching isn’t occurring in a vacuum.  Why do so many women rip out their pubic hair so that they look like pre-pubescent girls?  Here’s a hint: it’s only done in some cultures and not others.  It’s the same with bleaching.  Are these women really afraid of getting “no, thanks, your vulva is too dark for me” turn-downs from guys? (Why would they *want* to get intimate with a guy like that?  But I digress….)  There are powerful cultural forces that convince women to do expensive, time-consuming, damaging, and potentially even dangerous things to their bodies, simply to make themselves more desirable to men.  Even women who think of themselves as proud and free.  We’re all swimming in our culture.

          1. “……Why do so many women rip out their pubic hair so that they look like pre-pubescent girls?  Here’s a hint: it’s only done in some cultures and not others….”
            As I said before, I already floss, so…..  Seriously though there’s a lot less oral sex in Asia. Also there is a lot more modesty about  female genitals, so it’s probably assumed that in Asian cultures they will not be examined as closely.  Hence less interest in shaving and waxing…

  14. Thailand is a very multi-ethnic country with people that look very different with different skin tones depending on the region of their origin. The tribes from the mountains of the north-west have light skin, the Isaan people from the north have very dark skin and facial features that look very different from the north-west people etc.

    Many people are talking about the farmers outside vs wealthy inside status thing. Yes, maybe in the past it was like that (actually not that much). But today it’s purely about beauty and status. And it has a very different psychological background to ‘tanning’.

    In modern Thailand ‘beautiful’ people have very light skin and facial features that are a variation from East-Asian to Caucasian. If you see Thai TV, many stars are mixed raced with a lighter-skinned race (Or they’ve only married other light-skinned people). When I lived in Thailand, I’ve heard many of my Bangkokian friends making fun of the dark-skinned and ‘funny-looking’ country side people. Describing someone as being “Laos” was a derogatory term for them.

    I think the Philippines is a more acute example of this where Caucasian features equals beauty. Their TV stars almost all mixed-raced (or they’ve never mixed outside of their Spanish heritage). Most TV stars look almost Caucasian, whereas most of the population is dark to medium toned Pinoys.

    I think a lot of people are in denial about this and get defensive about it (We’re not trying to be White! It’s tradition!).  But, people shouldn’t feel bad about it. There is no objective beauty. It’s all subjective beyond physical manifestations of poor health. If you think about it, it’s all about status (and everything that goes with it) in a globalised world. 

    I think this phenomenon reaches the globe. It’s not just about skin-colour, but everything that indicates your racial-sexual-monetary-whatever status/hierarchy (We do live in a very classed society). People tend to want to mimic those who have status, and in a globalised Thailand, lighter skin seems to be it.

  15. The sad thing is that if women would place a personal ad saying something like “very hairy butt” or “very large dark labia” they would probably find a wide selection of potentially  very very devoted boyfriends.  Instead they’ll hook up with someone that will feed their feelings of shame.

  16. Sometimes “beauty” products go too far! The last time I heard of mercury used in the sake of fashion was for a brief period in Tsarist Russia, where noblewomen would use mercury in their eyes, which would make the sclera (whites of their eyes) *turn black* (yes, I read a lot).

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