The beauty politic: South Africa’s long and complicated history with skin lighteners







  • South Africa remains the only country in the world to prohibit all cosmetic claims to skin bleaching, lightening or whitening. And we have a blend of Black Consciousness and science to thank for it.
  • But regulation hasn’t totally snuffed out demand for dangerous creams containing toxic chemicals.
  • Read this book extract from Lynn M. Thomas’s ‘Beneath the Surface: A transnational history of skin lighteners’

At a 1969 Durban marketing conference, one presenter, Mr A. Tiley, expressed an abiding optimism in South Africa’s skin lightener trade.

Tiley explained that another business consultant, a recent immigrant — likely from the United States — had offered a “misguided” prediction: political independence in Africa and the Black Power movement with its affirmation that “Black is Beautiful” signalled the trade’s long-term demise.

The country’s market was too strong and too distant from those political movements to feel their

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