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Johnson & Johnson To Stop Selling 2 Lines Of Skin-Lightening Products Popular In Asia

Johnson & Johnson has been one of a number of companies, such as L'Oreal, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, that sell these kinds of products. Here, a store keeper in Mumbai, India, is shown taking stock of beauty and whitening products.
Prashanth Vishwanathan/Bloomberg
Bloomberg via Getty Images
Johnson & Johnson has been one of a number of companies, such as L'Oreal, Procter & Gamble and Unilever, that sell these kinds of products. Here, a store keeper in Mumbai, India, is shown taking stock of beauty and whitening products.

Johnson & Johnson has announced it will discontinue two lines of skin-lightening products popular in Asia, making it one of the latest major companies to change business tactics seen as racist amid the global debate over racial inequality.

"Conversations over the past few weeks highlighted that some product names or claims on our Neutrogrena and Clean & Clear dark spot reducer products represent fairness or white as better than your own unique skin tone," Johnson & Johnson said in a statement emailed to NPR. "This was never our intention – healthy skin is beautiful skin."

The consumer products giant says they will no longer sell the Neutrogena Fine Fairness line, sold only in Asia and the Middle East, and the Clean & Clear Fairness line, sold only in India.

A Clean & Clear product in this line is advertised aspromoting "Fairer & Brighter Skin," while Neutrogena has said a serum in this line "doubles your skin's whitening power."

Together, the company said these two lines represented less than 1% of Johnson & Johnson's 2019 global beauty sales.

Companies such as L'Oreal, Procter & Gamble and Unilever make similar products.

Skin-lightening is a fast-growing industry that is expected to be worth $31.2 billion by 2024, according to the World Health Organization.

"Skin bleaching treatments are largely unregulated," Claire Chang, a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, told Vogue last year."There are a lot of 'skin whitening' products and treatments out on the market with little or no medical evidence."

"A lot of it ties to colonization," Minnesota-based public health researcher Amira Adawe told NPR in 2018. "Certain skin colors were more accepted in the society. But through the years, it became so embedded in the culture to where it's become normal. If you're light-skinned, you're more accepted."

Reaction to Johnson & Johnson's move on social media in Asia, where skin-lightening products are a staple of the cosmetic industry, has been mixed.

Some have praised the decision, reiterating that the products were racist and projected a harmful message that what is considered beautiful in the West should be the global standard.

"Such a powerful move amidst #BlackLivesMatter protests," one Twitter user said.

Others have pointed out that people have the right to buy these products if they want to, and that colorism, discrimination that favors lighter skin over darker skin, in Asia should not be dictated by the West.

"Colorism is extremely complex and predates colonialism and contact with the West," another Twitter user wrote. "Addressing Asian problems with more colonialism isn't helpful."

Johnson & Johnson's move caps a week of several companies announcing efforts to removed racist advertising, including Quaker Oats, which will retire its Aunt Jemima logo after acknowledging it is based on a racial stereotype.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.

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