To be honest, this is actually 2 separate subjects, but I had to address them both together, for one relates to the other. This is also going to be a touchy subject, as I will effectively be saying to not support local industries, but some things have to be said.
I live in Malaysia and there is a thriving local beauty cottage industry, that is unfortunately, not premised on legitimacy nor integrity, but purely on making money. Lots and lots of money. Founders of such local brands are known as “Jutawan Kosmetik” or Cosmetics Millionaires, because they are. And they flaunt their wealth in the most ostentatious way.
* Images are used for illustration purposes only
I’ll preface this by saying that this is by no means a slur on legitimate local cosmetics businesses. How can you tell? There’s the real rub – you can’t. I could tell you that a legitimate cosmetics business will have some modicum of research behind it, or that it will have a proper ingredients list, and a proper company setup behind it, not just the face of one person flaunting their wealth and faces. Yet, as we all are aware, indie cosmetics companies often start out in someone’s kitchen, especially if they leverage on the current trend and demand for natural and organic skincare. Or they are formulated by a lab, which then sells the formula on an OEM (original equiment manufacturer) basis to be repackaged. Legitimacy therefore, is subjective and something to be earned, in my eyes.
I decided to raise this rather touchy subject, because locally, some beauty products have just been banned by the authorities for containing controlled substances. These are hydroquinone (skin lightening/whitening but can be carcinogenic) and tretinoin (treatment of acne but which can cause skin to peel). They are not banned substances per se, but may only be administered under medical advice, not sold to the general public. Prior to this, some products were banned for containing mercury (ostensibly used for skin lightening but which is also a poison).
For the most part, what I have observed over the years (these news crop up now and again) is that the creams and products that are banned usually target the one thing that local women actively seek – to lighten, or more accurately, whiten their skin. Locally, as in many parts of Asia, it is still widely perceived that fairer is better. There are ads on TV that tell you basically, that if you are fairer (or whiter) you’ll be more beautiful, more successful and be more attractive (Fair & Lovely anyone? 😛 )
It is no surprise therefore, that in the local market, whitening, or, the more politically correct term, brightening ranges of skincare bring in the bulk of a skincare brand’s income. It caters to what the people want, and it promises a whole host of things. Yet, I’ll state right here and now that I don’t use any whitening or brightening skincare. Not any more, and I’ll tell you why, based on my personal experience.
Whitening / Brightening skincare products dry out the skin
I bought into the whitening/brightening hype many years ago, when first starting out on my skincare journey. I have hyper-pigmentation, and at a more insecure time in my life, I felt I should do something to lighten or eradicate it altogether. There are a ton of products out there that promise to do so – I tried so many of them! Spot Treatment serums, Whitening serums, I’ve tried most of them at least once. Every time I walk to a beauty counter, the sales people would take a look at me, and immediately divert me to their whitening range.
Did they work?
For the most part, no. The serums from one or two brands did deliver some results (Clinique Even Better serum (old version, not the new one) and Shiseido White Lucent serum (last used in 2012) are notable), where my pigmentation appeared a little lighter, but nothing could eradicate them, despite the promises. Yet, I later realised something even more disconcerting.
My skin was getting drier and drier. Remember, this was pre-internet, and I really had nothing to go on except the advice of the sales assistants, or what I read in magazines. I was using whole ranges of whitening products, from cleanser to creams. But I eventually came to my senses, and stopped.
The one underlying common theme I experienced in all whitening/brightening skincare is that it is very drying to the skin. I believe that it is to do with the ingredients used to “whiten” the skintone, and perhaps a rather more inelegant formulation.
I raised this observation with someone in the industry once, and received a reluctant nod in response. Yes, the ingredients in whitening/brightening skincare are generally quite drying to the skin. This is why you see the newer formulas always promise a more hydrating product – but it’s only because they are now recognizing this. I noticed this 6-7 years ago, which is when I stopped cold turkey.
If you are using a whitening skincare product in your regimen, please be sure to sandwich it with hydrating serums and lotions. Not only is it better for your skin, it will also combat the drying effects of the whitening/brightening skincare product. I have since refused to try all whitening/brightening skincare products, which is why you no longer see them on my blog. I will try the makeup, and I may try the odd sunscreen which is placed in this category, but serums or lotions or creams? Nope and nope. Never going back there.
Dry skin looks dull, sallow and makes pigmentation look worse
When I stopped using these whitening products, I switched my focus to hydration. It was not long before I realised that well hydrated and moisturised skin not only looks healthy, my pigmentation problem looked less obvious. This, I believe, is because the skin cells are healthier and more plumped, and light reflects off them more evenly. So, this means my skin looks healthier and more glowy, and this makes whatever pigmentation look less obvious.
I also noticed this when using certain brands of whitening/brightening products, because about 2 weeks in, I’d notice a sallowness to my skin that was not there when I started. Interestingly, my facial skin would look darker than normal, with a yellow, sallow cast that looks rather unhealthy. My mom drew this to my attention once, and it worried me. When I stopped using the products, my natural colour eventually returned. I believe now, that it is likely due to my skin drying out without my realising it, that reflects an unhealthy pallor. If you’d like to know (cos I will name and shame, the products in question are SK-II Cellumination Aura serum and an Obagi serum prescribed by a doctor who refused to acknowledge the effect it had on my skin. Meh! 😛 )
Whitening/Brightening Products Should not be used for the long term
If you use whitening/brightening products, I hope you realise that it isn’t a range of products you should be using for the long term. I know of people who use it for years and years, in their quest to be white and fair. But I got this advice straight from someone in the industry – whitening/brightening products are NOT meant for long term use. You are supposed to use them maybe once or twice a year, if you want, just to even out your skin tone. Not use it 365 days for years and years.
This ties back to my complaint about the products being too drying. When I mentioned it, this person told me that yes, it can be drying and further, that you should use maybe 1 cycle of products and then stop. Use something else, and then return, if you want. This is to allow your skin time to adjust and for you to repair or replenish the moisture levels of your skin.
But are you told this at the counters? Nope. No one till tell you this. I was told this years ago, and it stuck with me ever since. Why then should I want to use whitening products, that do nothing for me anyway?! You may remember the controversy with Kanebo brand skincare products in their whitening ranges, that caused people to suffer discolouration on their skin. I don’t think they’ve really recovered from that bad press. As you can see, not even the Japanese, with their high standards and quality, are immune from error, and it is notable that this was because in Japan, as in many parts of Asia, fairness of skin is a thing of beauty, and people go to all sorts of lengths to achieve that porcelain white skin.
Many local brand creams promise quick results – whitening should not be quick
Now, coming to the local creams. Many of them promise quick results, often in a few days or a week. Now, think about it. your skin cells take 28 days to renew – longer if you’re older. Most, if any changes in your skin may only be noticed in about 3-4 weeks, which is why it takes that long to try a skincare product to know if it works for you.
How do these local brand creams work so quickly then? Simple – mercury and hydroquinone. The latter is often prescribed by doctors for patients who want a sure-fire solution to their hyperpigmentation or melasma problem, aside from laser treatment. Do bear in mind that while these creams not prescribed by doctors may deliver results, they will also damage your skin. Often, irreparably. I’ve read of people experiencing what looks like chemical burns, or discoloration of the skin. Do you want to risk that?
I know I’m pretty much preaching to the choir, as most of you reading my blog won’t be the target market for these creams and cottage industry brands. To be honest, I have never even seen these products sold anywhere, because they aren’t even sold in pharmacies. Often, they are sold by way of direct selling, or in rural areas, or random pop-up booths. Yet, from what I understand, these creams do not come cheap – they can retail for over RM100 a tub. I would just tell you to get Olay creams, that retail for about the same price, and actually deliver results. Perhaps not whitening, but they give you healthier skin and have solid research behind them.
If you know of anyone using these products, do educate them. Don’t berate them or tell them they’re stupid for believing the claims. People will feel slighted and most people then dig their heels in and refuse change. Just tell them why they should not use such products that may damage the skin, and why they should instead use something more reputable. Pharmacy or drugstore products may have lower efficacy, but for the most part, they are legitimate, and should not contain harmful ingredients that can damage your health and skin.
Did you hear about the “Krim Kilo” controversy?
While reading about these local brand creams, I came across something called “krim kilo” (kilo creams) not long ago. Basically, people buy pails of creams, sold by the kilo, which they then repackage into smaller tubs for sale. Such products are widely sold on Facebook and Instagram, I’m told – just look up the #krimkilo hashtag. I did, and it scared me silly!
This is a local thing, and you can read something about it here (written in Malay) but in a nutshell, such bulk creams are packaged into little tubs e.g. 5g, which are then sold for an “affordable” RM28 a tub. 1kg of the cream costs about RM500 and this is how people become “jutawan kosmetik”.
Just imagine this. You have no idea what’s in there, no one can give you an ingredients list (and even if they did, I’d not trust a word they say), it’s unsanitary, and yet, people buy them because it’s affordable. Don’t. Just don’t. Tell your friends, your family, to stay away from these unscrupulous sales tactics. You can get effective products in the pharmacy, sometimes for an affordable price. Why use these products of unknown origins, just because a local personality endorses it? Or because your neighbour or hairdresser recommends it?
What about brands or products purportedly created by local personalities then?
Honestly, I’d stay away too. Many (not all) are repackaged OEM products. Some of these come in from China, and perhaps, are a more upmarket “krim kilo” but with the same concept. Large quantities of products of unknown origin and ingredients, are packed into tubs for sale, on its own or as a set with soaps and what they say is “sun block”, which I’d honestly not even use because it probably does nothing for your skin.
I also see many brands being peddled on Facebook and Instagram that promise all sorts of things, from whitening to lifting and firming… in one bottle! They often claim to be Swiss-made etc, and are sold at a high price. This, I’m sorry to say, is more prevalent among the Chinese community, which for some reason, places more trust in something labelled European, and comes with a high price. But I can tell you that quite often, they are just repackaged OEM products from China, or repackaged locally. I receive requests every so often to try and review these products, but I always refuse. I don’t trust them, and I always go by my gut feeling.
There is also makeup sold locally, produced en masse by factories, and merely rebranded and repackaged for sale. This is especially true of the matte liquid lipstick trend. But, I have not tried those and have no comment. I will just query the ingredients in the products, and leave it at that.
Are you just a snob, PB?
Yes I am. When it comes to putting things on my face, I am a snob. When it comes to putting a product on my blog, I’m a damned snob! I don’t just want something that works. I want something that will not harm me, my health or my skin. I’ve used products from the super high end, to the low, and really, it’s all about legitimacy, trustworthiness and efficacy. So, am I disparaging of local products because they are local?
No. If they are truly local and I can trace their origins and know what goes on, then I’m happy to give them a go. I don’t know of many local brands that I’ve personally tried (Esmeria Organics is alright, albeit basic) but I have come across quite a few new ones in recent times that I’m observing with interest.
But if they can’t give me a brand history, only have a Facebook or Instagram presence, have no certification, can’t produce me an ingredient list that makes me comfortable, costs an arm and a leg (if it’s truly local, it shouldn’t) and is only peddled through direct sales or online, then no. I look askance at them and frown on these practices.
I also always check the websites of these local brands for information. I was approached by one recently, and when I checked the website, saw they were shouting about their product being EcoCert certified. This was in large bold letters on the screen. Yet, there was no logo on the bottle, and no other information anywhere about their EcoCert status. Most companies that are certified by EcoCert proudly bear the EcoCert logo, and I have been given to understand that it is a tough certification to get. When I queried them, I was told, after a week, that ONE of the INGREDIENTS was EcoCert certified. Let me just say that doesn’t happen and my alarm bells rang so loudly, I shut them down. Yet, a search tells me that so many other bloggers have picked up on this product, and are extolling its virtues. Don’t they read, or do their research? Don’t these people have a conscience?! That bugs me most of all 🙁
Skip the whitening/brightening. Just focus on healthy skin
I’ll let you in on a secret. If your concern is truly skin whitening/brightening, you can achieve that (marginally) by just focusing on keeping your skin healthy.
Focus on having healthy skin not fairer, whiter skin
- Keep your skin well moisturised and hydrated. Well hydrated skin is healthy skin. When your skin is well moisturised and hydrated, it will glow and you will look better. Isn’t that more important than just looking white?
- Use a good sunscreen. Don’t want dark spots from the sun? Use a good sunscreen. Not only does it protect your skin from getting dark and uneven in skin tone, it protects your skin from aging as well.
- Use a good Vitamin C serum. Vitamin C not only protects your skin against free radicals and aging, it has the added bonus of giving your skin a more even-toned, and sometimes, a slightly brighter appearance. I found that it helped very slightly, lighten some of my pigmentation as well. It also strengthens the skin, and makes it healthier.
- Use Retinol or lactic acid or glycolic acid. I have yet to find a retinol product that works for me (still looking) but I have used lactic acid and glycolic acid with great success. Not only do these acids help remove dead skin cells (thereby revealing brighter skin), they also help your skin stay healthy and strong.
The upside of having healthy skin, is that you will notice that it will look brighter. Your skin tone will be more even. And you’d have achieved it all without endangering your health, or destroying your skin.
Remember. Whiter, fairer skin is not a standard of beauty. Healthy, glowing skin is. I’d much rather have the latter, and be happy in your skin, whatever the colour.
Some of you may think I’m talking through my hat, because I am naturally quite fair, even by Asian standards, and therefore don’t know what it’s like to be tanned. It’s unfortunately (or fortunately) genetic, and I’m fair all over, not just my face. Can you imagine a whitened face, but tanned body? It just looks odd doesn’t it? 😛 That said, I have pigmentation problems, that leave me with an uneven skin tone, so I am your prime candidate for whitening/brightening/spot treatment. Yet, I still avoid it like the plague. I’ve learned to live with my flaws. However, tanned skin is not a flaw so don’t EVER let anyone tell you otherwise! 🙂
I’m not saying that you should follow what I do. If using a whitening or brightening skincare range floats your boat, go right ahead. But if you or someone you know are using these local brand random creams, please stop. That much, I am against. For everything else, it’s your choice 🙂
Do you use whitening or brightening skincare products? Have you seen these local brand creams before or know anyone using them?
I know this is a long one, so thank you for reading 🙂 Please feel free to disagree, politely of course 🙂