After years of public criticism, Johnson & Johnson has finally decided to stop selling skin-lightening products abroad.
The corporate giant announced this past week that it will cease production on its Clean & Clear Fairness and Neutrogena Fine Fairness lines, Reuters reports. The products—which are not available in the United States but have been sold throughout Asia and the Middle East—may still be available for purchase before stocks run out, but they will no longer be manufactured or shipped.
“Conversations over the past few weeks highlighted that some product names or claims on our dark spot reducer products represent fairness or white as better than your own unique skin tone,” the company said in a statement. (Such conversations far predate “the past few weeks”—i.e., the Black Lives Matter protests and the mounting global uprising against white supremacy—and this criticism is nothing new, just for the record.) “This was never our intention—healthy skin is beautiful skin.”
Johnson & Johnson is one of many brands to alter its products to make them less overtly racist, colorist, or otherwise anti-Black over the past month. Per The New York Times:
- “Quaker Oats said it would retire Aunt Jemima, the pancake mix and syrup brand, after acknowledging that its logo, a grinning black woman, was based on a racial stereotype.”
- “Band-Aid, which is owned by Johnson & Johnson, announced it would start selling bandages meant to match different skin tones.”
- Cream of Wheat, Uncle Ben’s Rice and Mrs. Butterworth’s all said they would be reviewing how the brands’ products are packaged.
One might reasonably assume noble intentions on the part of Johnson & Johnson (though perhaps not, considering how it continues to sell talc-based baby powder outside of the U.S.) But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching brands pinkwash their products over the past couple decades—that is, incorporate LGBTQ elements into their marketing strategies to target progressive consumers—it’s that the corporate embrace of a marginalized group primarily serves to function the corporation itself, rather than materially improve the lives of members of that group.
That said, it certainly isn’t a bad thing that companies are finally responding to decades of public criticism over the harm their products have caused, however long it took them to finally do so. Now, if only Unilever, Procter & Gamble, and L’Oréal—three multinational corporations that also happen to sell skin-lightening creams to women around the world—would do the same.