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Fair and Lovely Skin Lightening Cream

Reviewed by SarahK April 1, 2013 37 Comments

After writing about BB Creams and their extreme popularity in Asia, I was pointed in the direction of another serum that has been huge for decades now. Fair and Lovely, a Unilever brand that promises to lighten dark skin, has become increasingly more profitable since its creation in the 1970s. According to Bloomberg, sales of skin whiteners in general recently increased 17 percent (to $432 million) in only 9 months. Research firm Global Industry Analysts believes that the worldwide market for skin lighteners will exceed the $2 billion mark by 2012.

While the creams are the biggest selling skincare product in India, they are also quite popular with Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians in the U.S., Canada, and other countries. The question is, are these products – specifically Fair and Lovely – safe? Do they work, and if so, how?

Before looking into Fair and Lovely product ingredients, it is important to be aware of what you should avoid in any skin whitening cream. Hydroquinone is perhaps the most controversial skin-lightening agent that you should keep a look out for. As of right now, the FDA has approved up to 2% usage in products, though the National Toxicology Program is currently conducting studies because of carcinogenetic concerns. Steroids, especially clobetasol, are another worry. According to a New York Times article, long term use of a whitening cream containing clobetasol may lead to paper thin, easily bruised skin, hypertension, elevated blood sugar, and stretch marks.

Arguably the most common substance that is often found in skin lightening creams – but shouldn’t be – is mercury. It is banned for use in cosmetics in Japan but, surprisingly, is only restricted in Europe, Canada and the U.S. However, the FDA limits mercury to 1 part per million or 0.0001%. Exposure to mercury can damage the brain, nervous system and kidneys, and is especially harmful to pregnant women who may actually poison their unborn children by using skin whitening creams containing the toxin.

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Do Fair and Lovely products contain any of these dangerous ingredients? Not according to their website. Though the company actually produces several versions of the Fair and Lovely cream, Preksha, a fellow TIA staff member, happened to come across the Fair and Lovely Multi Vitamin Cream For Clear Fair Skin at an Indian ayurvedic store in Queens, New York. At only $4.59, the serum is downright cheap. And the packaging makes no mention of hydroquinone, clobetasol or mercury. There are some other components to watch out for, though.

There are concerns regarding tocopheryl acetate and pyridoxine hydrochloride regarding cancer and contact dermatitis. Fair and Lovely also lists the less than stellar phenoxyethanol, methyl paraben and propyl paraben in its ingredients. And most worrisome is Fair and Lovely’s final, ambiguous ingredient: perfume. All in all, though, this is certainly not the most frightening list of ingredients I have come across.

I couldn’t figure out exactly what the lightening agent in Fair and Lovely was until I read their FAQ section. Supposedly, the combination of vitamin B3 (niacinamide) and sunscreen agents help to protect and lighten skin. According to one study, niacinamide decreased hyperpigmentation and increased skin lightness in subjects, and works by inhibiting melanosome transfer.

While this is good news for prospective Fair and Lovely users, you should keep in mind that there have been several cases of people suffering severe side effects from whitening creams that either did not fully disclose ingredients or that were tampered with reproductions of actual whitening products. A Vietnamese skin-whitening cream has even been linked to the death of a 23-year-old woman.

As I researched Fair and Lovely, I came across more than one study (conducted by the same group of researchers) that claimed that Fair and Lovely does indeed contain mercury – though in small amounts. Still, the researchers noted changes in the brains, livers and kidneys of mice they applied the cream to, indicating toxicity. While there weren’t other available resources proving Fair and Lovely’s supposed mercury content, I wouldn’t take this limited information lightly.

See also:

A Regimen for Fading Age Spots

How to Treat Sun-Damaged Skin

What Causes Dull Skin and How to Manage Dull Skin

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  • February 22, 2017

    by pallavichopra

    Great information. I have dry skin with dark spots so can I use this cream or not? plz tell me.

  • April 14, 2016

    by Sakshi Sharma


    Hii friends,I have dark spot,oily skin.due to oily skin i have very blackheads and open poures.I am very worried about my skin,Then my friend use ayurvedic

    RoopManta Fairness Aushadhi.After a week of using it my skin started shining from insidewhen. I use this cream,it gave me Excellent Result.it leaves no greasy

    film on the skin, has good absorbency.It is important for me that it does not cause allergies on the skin.And it also prepares the skin for makeup very well. use

    RoopMantra facewash twice a day and then after use cream and see Result.I am very happy with the purchase!I recommed this cream to all.Both men & women use this

    cream.Use this RoopMantra and see results.

  • February 23, 2016

    by zeba mullani

    Is Himalaya fairness cream and face wash is good gor normal skin n its really gives fairness or it's doesnot work I had used many products but I don't get any best result so now I won't to give chance to Himalaya so plz help me

  • February 19, 2016

    by Saph

    I have been using this product on and off for a while.
    In bio class we were talking about how melanin actually protects your skin and decreases the chances of getting skin cancer. Melanin is the dark pigmentations you have on your skin, eyes, etc. This fact made me question whitening products, and is how I got here.
    So thank you for this, really. I have come to the conclusion that as long as you have clean, glowing skin, it doesn't really matter what colour it is.

  • January 26, 2016

    by Samantha

    Wow, this helped a lot i am soo glad I read this before buying their product

  • August 6, 2015

    by jazzlyn

    fair and lovely works but i think you shouldnt use it too much! once in a while is fine!

  • April 17, 2015

    by munny

    i was stared using this cream when I am 13 but i didn't know this now i read this but i think it is true

  • March 14, 2015

    by eshal

    when i first saw the fair and lovely commercial i was really facinated at the age of 9 so i begged my mom to buy me it once i finally saw and bought at the super store i used it for maybe a couple of days but after our librarian told us that it causes cancer i threw it out the moment i got home i am 10 now and i reccomend the clean and clear face wash 100% better than fair and lovely and safe 2!

  • January 15, 2015

    by Eva

    So, I've read all of the comments regarding the article. I've been using Fair & Lovely for so many years I can't exactly remember how long I've been using it. I've been trying to change to better products so many times though, but Fair & Lovely still suits me best. Now that I read the article, is there any recommendations for other safe skin lightening products aside from Fair & Lovely which suits my skin like Fair& Lovely do?

  • September 3, 2014

    by anita

    I am a regular user of fair and lovely cream for many years. I didn't knew that it has side effects too. please let me know about the side effects It causes and alternative for it.

  • July 30, 2014

    by Deepali

    I am using this Fair and lovely cream since i was 14. Now i am completely habituated with this and it makes my smooth and bright. If I stop using this cream it makes face look dull and dark. After reading this article, it really making me worried should I continue to use this cream or not. and my skin is oily. If I dont dont use this cream i look very different. If not to use this cream please suggest some other good option for me.

  • June 12, 2014

    by Ant

    I have a lot of hyperpigmentation on my arms, back, chest, thighs and face from obsessively picking at my skin from acne and kp, psorasis and levido reticularisis

    . For those of you who are looking for a lightener to get rid of these marks. I would suggest niacinamide capules just the capsules no fillers inside , water and glycerine and te niacinamide should be 3% othewise there cold be some serious damage to yor skin. You can find recipies online and start at low concentration. It should not be used long term as niachimide has found to be pro ageing long term.

    Exfoliate the skin with a brown sugar mask you can also apply sake on your skin which has kojic acid. Sake is japanese rice wine. You can do an egg white mask

    I wold say AVOID THIS CREAM parabens cause CANCER. Oh and you can apply licorice root extract that meant to help even out the skin

  • April 13, 2014

    by Max

    Why can't people realize that no one chooses who we are? We are all individuals, randomly dropped into bodies not of our choosing.

    Vibrant, healthy skin of any color is attractive.

  • April 4, 2014

    by Selina

    I've been trying to find a cream to help me with brightening my skin tone as it is very uneven. I have heard vitamin b, c and e can help so have decided to purchase these oils and apply as my own serum to avoid the nasties we don't know about.

    I was astonished at how many lightening products came up when I typed in brightening. I think proper exfoliation, sun protection and natural products can help. It just takes time.

    Yoghurt and lemon masks with gram flour help to brighten skin too.

  • March 20, 2014

    by harveena

    I m a Fair nd lovely user and buticians says that it harm to our skin's natural glow due to excess of bleaching agent in it. Nw i am confussed that i will keep it using or stop its use now.

  • September 18, 2013

    by Do

    ..and we, white people, spend hours and hours to get your lovely Indian tan...isn't strange?

  • July 13, 2013

    by grace

    even though this thing works,my family member (mother) will not allow me to use this.but my oder people are used to tjis. i am an indian mediam color girl. satisfy with whatever we have. adapt to nature

  • April 12, 2013

    by Ginger

    I agree that dropping like flies is not a good standard to evaluate safety of a substance, however the cancer concerns were linked to mice who ate hydroquinone. Fda was not impressed and asked for more research, did not see enough of a connection to ban or even put warning labels on the product. I am waiting to find out what additional studies say, until I see more direct concerns proven I will keep using hydroquinone. I am african american and my family up to my grandmother have been using it for decades.

  • March 28, 2013

    by Nayana Sri

    Well said Amali ..

  • March 4, 2013

    by Amali

    I can't believe some of the comments left by some. I came across this site as my maid uses Fair & Lovely often & was worried for her as for a fact I know any chemical used over a long period of time is not good on the kidneys.
    Fair & Lovely is at the top when it comes to bleaching & peeling the top layer of the skin which makes us into thinking we're getting fairer.
    Dear reader, go easy on the person who submitted the article (SaraK) & grow more nerve connections to understand that it's better to read more than one article to draw a conclusion than attack SaraK.

  • January 14, 2013

    by red rose

    My skin is fair and light but I dont know why I start using fair and lovely from 2001 and I still use this cream because I have no problem with it But now I am worried about this.so should I continue its use if not what will be other option for me.Any body guide me pls.

  • January 8, 2013

    by kristen

    Is fair nd lovely good for one who is hypertensive

  • January 5, 2013

    by anthony j khaemba

    fare and lovely cream has been the best for me since 2002. it reduces sweat and makes face smooth. so far no side effect i have experienced .

  • October 18, 2012

    by sydney brown

    Chemicals(toxic substances) doesn't brighten the skin, it always destruct the skin and cause the skin cancer other diseases eventually (even a five grade student knows about it) then why so called highly educated people blinds after using the hazardous substance in order to just look bright!!

  • September 29, 2012

    by sitara

    so is fair n lovely is safe for skin or not?as u tell that it contains Tocopheryl acetate and small amounts of mercury...so can we use it?

  • July 24, 2012

    by tiger

    Massie
    IS IT WORKING FOR YOU?
    iS YOUR SKIN FAIRER?
    LET ME KNOW>

  • September 2, 2011

    by Ann

    Mattie, it looks like these products may be available on amazon or try the manufacturers website.

    A word about hydroquinone, the skin deep website rates it as a ten which is their highest rating for danger from an ingredient! Furthermore, one of the side effects is darkening of the skin so if you want skin lightening I'd definately steer clear of hyrdroquinone!

  • September 1, 2011

    by MATTIE

    I AM IN THE USA, NOT USS, I AM IN AMERICA

  • September 1, 2011

    by MATTIE

    I AM INTERESTED IN PURCHASING THE FAIR & LOVELY VITAMIN CREAM FOR MY FACE. I STARTED USING IT WHEN I WAS IN IRAQ AND CAN NOT LOCATE IT IN THE USS. SO CAN YOU HELP ME AND TELL ME WHERE I MAY PURCHASE SOME AS I AM ALMOST OUT.
    THANK YOU,
    MATTIE

  • December 10, 2010

    by VickyL

    SarahK - I too would like to thank you for your interesting article and research. This is why I love the TIA website - working together to be better informed and use that knowledge to make better decisions for myself. It's about enhancing my quality of life whether it's health concerns or not throwing away my money on poorly conceived products.

    I'm assuming that we use cosmetic products to treat a condition or enhance our looks. If I know the potential up and down sides of a product then I can make better choices. I don't want to even my skin tone and end up with a bad breakout because of irritating ingredients. Certainly someone who has a respiratory disease (EPA lists hydroquinone as "Known human respiratory toxicant")or is battling cancer would want to know about ingredients that can make them sicker. Informed consumers can say yes and no, thus influencing manufacturers to develop better products.

    It may be unwise to rely solely on the US public health standards for protection. Contrary to what we might like to believe, the FDA and the EPA resources to inspect manufacturers or research and regulate chemical formulations are far outpaced by the huge increase in products over the last two decades. With limited numbers and old guidelines, they can only react to problems not research and prevent them.

    It's the independent research, anecdotal evidence, consumer concern (and of course lawsuits) that fuel the investigative process. People who research and write articles or reviews describing product benefits and negatives are the very essence of TIAs purpose. Cosmetic companies provide little real product data unless they are challenged by consumers. Since scientific knowledge and analysis methods improve over time, ingredient opinions will vary. If research is coming back that an ingredient is harmful, I want to know. Cosmetic companies and review boards won't improve their products and processes unless they know it is of concern to their customers.

    So I read articles and opinions on TIA, and in books or mags, and watch TV, and talk to friends, and surf (sciencedaily.com is fascinating). I like to gather information then put the pieces together and make a value judgment. I can say so what, but I'd rather challenge the formulator to make a better product.

  • December 10, 2010

    by Jaysie

    SarahK - I very much appreciate the info presented in your article because I have used a wide variety of lightening products to reduce age spots on my fair skin. I used TriLuma a number of years ago and it did nothing for me. I first read about the hydroquinone controversy a couple of years ago and have avoided it ever since even though it has worked wonders on many women. I have tried to convince myself that my spots aren't that horrific and make-up helps, but I'm always on the search for new ways to conquer the damn spots and every bit of info, obscure and otherwise, is tremendously helpful!

    TIA is my #1 source for beauty product info because of articles like yours.

  • December 9, 2010

    by Naja

    Well, bully for you!

  • December 9, 2010

    by SarahK

    Personally, I consider serious side effects and possible toxicity a "big deal," regardless of whether they are prescription, over the counter, popular, widely used, whatever...point being, members of the TIA community have the right to know about the dangers of substances, and then form their own opinions product usage.

    Also, "legions of women dropping like flies" seems to be a bit of an exaggeration regarding almost anything. For example, it is well documented that trans fat is bad for you. We don't necessarily see people "dropping like flies" due to trans fat consumption, but shouldn't people be warned about the associated risks like heart disease, for example? You say "so what" that there are plenty of other medications linked to toxicity, and adverse side effects...that's like saying "so what" that there are plenty of foods that are linked to heart disease - trans fat is just another one.

    I'd rather not consume trans fat or use hydroquinone.

  • December 9, 2010

    by Naja

    Frankly, a number of prescription medications or clinical ingredients, such as retinoids, have adverse side effects, some of them serious, or have been linked to some toxicity study. Big Deal. So what.

    As I said previously, if hydroquinone is really so bad, where are the legions of women dropping like flies or being riddled with cancer or something else?

    If these women exist, they are either in developing countries or they have used skin lighteners manufactured or produced in developing countries.

    The skincare products available to women in the US are far safer than what is available to women in developing countries. Buying a hydroquinone product from Obagi in the US is simply not the same as buying a skinlighter produced by some unregulated "fly by night" company in Vietnam, India or Nigeria where there are no real public health safeguards.

    You shouldn't use skin lighteners from those countries for the same reason that you should avoid drinking the water there. You don't know what else is in it.

  • December 9, 2010

    by SarahK

    While I concur that there are many ingredients that people can disagree about in terms of safety, hydroquinone is quite plainly a controversial, risky substance. Many reputable journalistic sources (see the New York Times article I referenced in the article above) have reported on adverse affects, as have a plethora of scientists. Unfortunately, just because something has been on the market for years doesn’t make it safe – which explains why the FDA issued a special Q & A dedicated to hydroquinone. Notable sections include:

    “Hydroquinone also has been linked with a medical condition in humans known as ochronosis (skin darkening and disfiguration) when it is applied topically.”

    “We believe that additional animal studies, such as dermal toxicity and carcinogenicity, are needed to better understand if topically applied hydroquinone may be harmful to humans.” (Which is why the National Toxicology Program is in the process of conducting a study on the substance today – results should be announced in 2011)

    As someone of South Asian decent, I understand the dermal issues that women of my skin tone suffer. When recommended by a doctor, I don’t doubt that hydroquinone can be relatively safe and effective. However, it is my job as a writer for TIA to note that women who are buying skin-lightening creams over the counter, without a prescription, are at risk of using hydroquinone (intentionally or unintentionally) without knowing the array of adverse health effects they are facing.

  • December 9, 2010

    by Naja

    Enough of the exaggerated cancer/toxicity scare over hydroquinone. It's been on the market for years in the United States in concentrations of 2% (OTC) and 4% (Rx) and no one is dropping off like flies or being riddled with cancer as a direct result.

    If you take these studies seriously, almost everything is potentially toxic or carcinogenic.

    The bottom line is that hydroquinone is safe and extremely effective, particularly when used in conjunction with retinoids and AHAs.

    Despite their inflated price tags, many of the hydroquinone alternatives on the market have very little or no effect, especially on women of color who have far more severe melasma and skin discoloration issues than white women.

    As a group, women of color are not interested in whitening our skins. We come in a million different shades, all beautiful, and we did not have to bake in the sun or open a bottle of chemical goo in order to achieve that lovely, coveted and emulated "tanned" look.

    Women of color are primarily interested in addressing and alleviating a key problem of colored skin, which is the unfortunate tendency to hyperpigment. Almost every blemish, cut or irritation on colored skin results in dark spots and/or patches, which are very difficult to remove. The tendency of colored skin to "overheal" also results in thickened dark patches or scars.

    As with any other skin care ingredient, some companies make a better product than others. I know nothing about BB or Fair & Lovely, but reputable companies and brands, such as Obagi and Galderma, make safe and effective prescription strength hydroquinone products. Tri-Luma is probably the best one on the market.

    An even-toned complexion is something every woman wants and I have no problem with products that help women achieve this.

  • December 1, 2010

    by Jennifer

    Based on your review, I'm thankful for having fairly light skin!

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