Nothing gave my ego a bigger boost than that first week in Hanoi in 2005. Whether shopping, or dinning at an outdoor café in the old French Quarter, or boarding a ship in Ha Long Bay, it was nearly impossible for me to escape the flattery. Women especially would take my pale arm and hold it up in the sun and sigh, “Ah, so beautiful.”
Later in SaiGon, after three weeks of being in the sun, I was convinced I was hideous. No one looked at me anymore: no more smiles, no more special treatment. I felt like poor white trash, or more specifically, poor well-tanned trash.
Most cultures throughout Asia covet the palest of skin tones, and they have for centuries. After all, when was the last time you saw a bronzed geisha? In VietNam, women wear full-length gloves and swath their faces and necks with scarves before putting on conical hats and mounting their bicycles. In Lao P.D.R., women ride with parasols on their scooters — sidesaddle. In Burma they cake on a yellowish dried tree root that acts as both decoration as well as a natural sun block. And in Thai social circles, the translucence of a lady’s skin practically reveals the bundles of bahts in her bank account. Pale skin is such a marketing ploy that throughout most of Asia it is nearly impossible to buy any face or body product without a whitening agent — including deodorant.
The main difference between Asia and America — outside of FDA approval — is that the products on our shores use the term “brightening” in lieu of “whitening.” Before you think that all the major cosmetic companies, like Lancôme, Shiseido, et. al recently jumped on the round-eye bandwagon, think again; they’ve been peddling these lotions from Tokyo to Mumbai for over a decade; it’s only been in the past two years (Clinique was the first) that we’ve been able to get our liver-spotted hands on them.
It must also be noted that today’s products are far safer than their predecessors in Asia, where bootleg copies of Fair & Lovely, among others, promised faster dramatic results, yet left many unsuspecting women disfigured. The newer brighteners aren’t only safe when used as directed; they also soften, and erase sun spots and even out skin tones, while protecting the skin from further damage.
DiorSnow White Reveal UV Shield SPF 50 is our personal favorite, both for the gentle clean scent, and the fact that it has the highest sun protection
(SPF50-PA+++) of the lot. DiorSnow also lightened sunspots, freckles, and made visual improvements on discoloration from acne scars. Best of all, it’s weightless and does what it promises. The 1.3 ounce tube that sells for $50.00 may seem a bit steep, but when you consider that it does triple duty as a moisturizer, sunscreen and brightener, it’s practically a bargain.
Considering that Shiseido has been in the game longer than most of the major players, we were especially disappointed in their White Lucent Brightening Protective Cream SPF 15, which is priced comparably with DiorSnow, yet whose viscosity is heavier and the sun protection is paltry at best.
But should you find yourself in Bangkok at any of the million-plus 7-Elevens,
I recommend Pond’s White Beauty UV to lighten your freckles and vanish sun damage in just a matter of weeks. The jar will last you for months and for less than a few bucks, it can’t be beat. I only used it on my arms and shoulders sparingly and it was remarkable how quickly it made years of reckless sunning disappear.
After countless hours of sunbathing, tanning beds, self-action tanners, and choking on clouds of bronzers, it’s refreshing to embrace my natural skin tone and wash away some of the damage. Sure, I had to travel to the other side of the world to learn that lesson — but only in northern VietNam; south of the old DMZ, however, I’m still making people puke.