Monday, 20 April 2009
The Land of The Snow White Sun.
I am an unabashed sun seeker, and feel I look my healthiest and prettiest when I have a bit of colour on my cheeks. I luckily have quite sallow skin, but this does mean that I look a bit peaky without a bit of bronze on. Nevertheless, I have never succumbed to the allure of the tanning booth. Tanning has become a major beauty trend (verging on obsession) in the West with many people ‘investing’ in their own personal tanning booths in search of a year round glow. The money spent on 'inside tanning' is quite alarming. A home tanning bed could set you back around $1,000 to $5,000. More significantly, an approximated 10% of Americas spend on average $300 each year to achieve that 'healthy glow', with increasing technological advancements and consumer demand we are set to see this statistic rise.
Asia women have a very different perception of beauty and they actively avoid the sun. Pale Asian models peer at you for editorials and adverts, there beauty found in their flawlessly white skin and achingly thin frames. In traditional culture those with dark sallow skin were seen as a lower rung of society; their complexion due to having to work the land, facing the elements all year round. Pale Skin has become associated with a higher social status and wealth, the privilege of not having to work outside.
The spring sun has been shining in all its glory here in Nanjing and Nanjing ladies would not consider leaving there homes without the protective shade of a parasol. But this is just one of the many steps they take to maintain their creamy complexion. There has become an increasing trade in skin-whitening products with reportedly 45% of Hong Kong women spending at least 10% of their monthly wage on skin whitening products. These products come in a multitude of forms, the most obvious example of sunscreens starts at around SPF19 commonly featuring an ‘active’ skin whitening ingredient. This may sound like responsible sun safety; however as with most beauty trends there are extreme fanatics that are willing to try the most dangerous products to achieve the Snow White complexion. Many of the most dangerous products contain strong acids, mercury and bleach; unnervingly these products are often the cheapest. Continuous use of these products can have lasting damage on your skin, including discolouration: mercury can give the skin a blue grey tint; hydroquinone can break up connective tissue making the skin red and blotchy, which really defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. On a more serious note it can potentially lead to organ failure of the kidneys and liver through mercury poisoning, and by altering the skins make up can break you natural defences against skin cancer.
These measures seem extreme and unhealthy to many but consider the dangers of tanning. Even though we are now more than ever aware of the potential dangers of UV light (both through natural exposure and tanning booths), skin cancer has raised 5 fold from 1975 to 2005 in Great Britain. And this dangerous rate is set to rise. The beauty mania for the perfect complexion has vast differences from West to East, but one common thread is that the dangers it can induce are not to be taken lightly. I’d take a St Tropez self-tanning mousse or Geisha inspired foundation over kidney failure or melanomas any day thank you very much!