By Marilyn August
With rising incomes, more and more Asians are turning to products to lighten their skin color - and cosmetics giants are cashing in.
Swayed by advertising, TV soaps and blockbuster movies featuring glamorous models with creamy complexions, Asians are spending away in a rapidly expanding skin-whitening market.
The number of such products introduced across the region skyrocketed to 226 in 2006, after averaging about 50 annually since 2002, according to market research company Datamonitor.
The preference for lighter skin is nothing new, said Thai dermatologist Dr Chitralada Vibhagool, but it has been boosted by media campaigns tapping into an expanding middle-class and women's growing incomes.
"Traditionally, people with darker skin were the ones who worked outside in the sun," she said in her Bangkok office. "Today, lighter skin is connected to higher social status and wealth. Nowadays, people have more money to spend on cosmetics."
A survey by Synovate, another research firm, found that skin-whitening products were used by 58 percent of Thai women between 18 and 64 with a monthly household income of at least 20,000 baht (US$665).
Respondents spent US$65 monthly on skin care, roughly 10 percent of their income, according to a 2004 survey. The same survey found that half of Filipino women, 45 percent of Hong Kong women and 41 percent of Malaysian women use a skin-whitening product. India is another growing market.