The Johnson & Johnson will No Longer Sell “Lightening” Products

The American company Johnson & Johnson has announced that it will no longer market products aimed at “lightening” the skin. An announcement which comes in the context of strong mobilizations against racism in the United States.

In the international press, the American group Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) solemnly undertakes: “We will no longer produce or ship this range of products. ” To know  those of its flagship products Neutrogena Fine Fairness and Clear Fairness by Clean & Clear, presented as creams to “reduce dark spots” but often used, in fact, to practice skin whitening.

“Healthy skin is beautiful skin”
In a context of strong mobilizations against racism and police violence in the United States since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, the brand intends to make an impression. The two products mentioned were sold to date in Asia and the Middle East … but not in the United States. “The conversations that have taken place in recent weeks have highlighted the fact that some of our products present light or white skin as preferable to one’s own complexion, the company said in its press release. It was never our intention: [for us], healthy skin is beautiful skin. ”

On the hygiene and cosmetics market, certain brands are in fact criticized for their positioning deemed untenable: expressing their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement while continuing to sell products that maintain, in one way or another , the idea that a white complexion is a model. More than 12,000 people have signed a petition calling on Unilever to stop selling Fair & Lovely, a lightening cream marketed in India and the Middle East… which its advertisements present as a means of “becoming a successful person”.

According to data from the specialized company Euromonitor International, around 6,277 tonnes of products aimed at “lightening skin tones” were sold worldwide in 2019. Depending on the context, the reasons for this success vary: in some countries in Asia such as South Korea, for example, fair skin does not refer so much to the idea of ​​a “western look” as to that of a relatively high socio-economic status, dark skins having been historically associated with poverty and work in the fields.

But elsewhere, as in Australia, the historian Kathleen Jackson notably showed that black skins were explicitly considered as “dirty” at the very beginning of the last century, at a time when advertisements existed “suggesting that certain soaps had the power to eradicate indigeneity ”. Racist prejudices that sometimes persist even today, including in France: in 2018, the famous singer Aya Nakamura explained in particular that her former producers had advised her to have her skin whitened in order to “please a wider audience”.

Beyond the cosmetic sector, advertisements of the same kind have multiplied in recent weeks. Faced with an intense and very active mobilization on social networks, many brands seem to be no longer able to content themselves with simple press releases in support of the anti-racist movement. Quaker Oats, Cream of Wheat and Mrs. Butterworth’s, for example, have decided to give up their respective advertising figures, created several decades ago to promote the image of smiling and harmless black men and women, often confined to the roles of servants.

The same goes for the giant Colgate, which has announced its intention to “re-examine” the promotional marketing of its “Darlie” toothpastes sold in Asia. In issue, the name “Darlie”, which means in Chinese “toothpaste for black person”, as well as the logo used by the brand, which indirectly refers to “minstrel shows”, shows born at the beginning of the 19th century in the United States where white people wore black. Proof that, even for toothpaste, the choice of symbols is never trivial.