[KS] Skin whitening in East Asia

Namhee Lee namheeleeucla at gmail.com
Wed Sep 15 23:58:35 EDT 2021

Dear Koreanstudies list members:

This is an inquiry from a colleague who works at Google regarding the "use
of skin lightening in East Asia/or historical beauty norms around skin
tone." If you have done research or know someone who has done research on
these issues, please kindly respond to this email.

I am currently working on a skin lightening policy proposal to limit the
advertising of such products on Google platforms. The impetus for this
change is multifactored -- partly due to the presence of toxic ingredients
such as mercury and hydroquinone; partly to discriminatory and misleading
marketing that suggest the life outcomes of people with lighter skin are
superior to those with darker skin; and partly due to historical systemic
discrimination against darker skin tones whether due to racial or economic
factors. The research that I have conducted illustrates that at least some
of these factors is present in every region of the world, but I am also
looking to get a more nuanced perspective of East Asian beauty practices
regarding skin lightening. Might you know anyone in-region in the medical
field (dermatology) or social studies who can speak to the use of skin
lightening in the region and/or historical beauty norms around skin tone? I
recognize this is a very niche topic, but any assistance would be greatly
Many thanks in advance,

Namhee Lee
Professor of Modern Korean History
Asian Languages & Cultures
Director, Center for Korean Studies
she / her / hers
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