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'Fair & Lovely' Skin Lightening Brand, Popular In South Asia, To Change Name

The Fair & Lovely brand of beauty products, shown here for sale at a store in Mumbai, India, in 2013, is going to change its name.
Kuni Takahashi
Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Fair & Lovely brand of beauty products, shown here for sale at a store in Mumbai, India, in 2013, is going to change its name.

Generations of South Asians have grown up with grocery aisles full of Fair & Lovely skin-lightening products. The brand's TV commercials feature Bollywood stars and equate pale, fair skin with beauty and success.

Those are racial stereotypes many find to be the opposite of fair.

As the Black Lives Matter movement prompts reckonings about race and skin color around the world, India's most popular skin-whitening cream is changing its name. Its manufacturer, Unilever, said Thursday that it's dropping the word "fair" from the Fair & Lovely brand name – and also eliminating any references to the cream's whitening or lightening affects.

"We recognise that the use of the words 'fair,' 'white' and 'light' suggest a singular ideal of beauty that we don't think is right," Sunny Jain, president of the company's beauty & personal care division, said in a statement.

The company plans to instead emphasize the product's aim of creating "glow, even tone, skin clarity and radiance," it said.

No word on what the new name will be. The company says the change will happen "in the next few months," and will affect Fair & Lovely products sold across Asia.

With up to 70% market share, Fair & Lovely has dominated the skin-lightening industry in India. Unilever's name change follows a similar announcement last week by Johnson & Johnson that it's discontinuing two of its skin-lightening product lines.

On social media, some are cheering the name change.

"So happy to see Indian companies make a change in aspects that bring negative connotations to darker skin tones!," one person wrote on Twitter. "Really nice seeing the company wanting to change the 'fair' part to include everybody."

But others say it's not the Fair & Lovely name that needed to be scrapped, but the product itself.

"Is it really enough?" another Twitter user asked. "Using the words 'glow' and 'brighten' doesn't really change what the product was built for."

Thousands of people had signed online petitions in recent weeks, accusing Unilever of promoting "anti-blackness" and calling on the company to halt production and marketing of its Fair & Lovely brand.

In its statement, Unilever said the brand "has never been, and is not, a skin bleaching product." But it acknowledged that last year, it removed "shade guides" from its packaging in India. These were color charts – like paint swatches – that allowed customers to chart the lightening of their skin.

Another skin-lightening brand marketed toward Indian men – called – is made by a different company, Emami, and no name change has been announced there.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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