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Whitening Wars… WTF?!

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Trading Standards have been fighting the good fight to clamp down on and prosecute high street stores that were selling illegal skin whitening creams.

The banned creams contain hydroquinone and mercury. And they can cause liver, foetal and nerve damage.

Unfortunately, many stores that have been prosectued continue to push the products on their shelves.

Crazy, I know.

Why would anyone want to jeopardise the future of their business in that way?!

Sadly, as in many cases, it comes down to a lack of regulation and, more to the point, a lack of resources.

A Trading Standards officer admitted that they would need a team of 50 to 60 enforcers in London alone to knock the problem on the head completely.

And they just don’t have that sort of manpower, so the shop visits and seizures are relatively minimal.

Apparently, no-one has ever gone to jail for selling the illegal products.

Maybe they should. Perhaps it would give the rest of them a wake-up call.

On saying that though, one store was caught selling them for a second time, despite being on a suspended sentence. And fines don’t seem to make the shop owners bat an eyelid.

I assume the repeat offenders are a bit more cloak and dagger about it and don’t display the whitening creams too blatantly.

Dangerous

Why are these cosmetics – that can cause so much damage – being sold across the UK?!

Undercover BBC journalists visited 17 shops in London, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester, 6 had which had been previously prosecuted.

13 carried the illegal products. And four were reselling banned products despite previous prosecution.

One store owner in Manchester had previously been warned about importing the banned cosmetics. But continued to stock 51 illegal products.

Who on earth want to sell something so dangerous? One product – Funbeaut-A – contained 3% hydroquinone.

Not even UK doctors can prescribe medicines with this amount of hydroquinone in.

And the knowledge is out there as to how dangerous it is.

One consumer used it for more than 10 years. She ended up hospitalised with extreme scarring and burning. She had blisters all over her hands and stomach and is now permanently scarred.

Why oh Why?

Ok, so stores aim to meet the needs of their customers.

And there is obviously a call for these whitening creams, otherwise it wouldn’t be such an issue.

One user the BBC talked to said she started using the creams at the age of 16 because she ‘wanted to fit in’ as she used to think her skin was ugly.

And, especially as a youngster, by being able to simply walk into a shop and pick something up of the shelf, you just assume it is all legal and above board.

Though I would put money on the shop owners knowing that it was more than a harmless skin lotion.

Of course, there are bigger issues here than the skin whitening creams.

Girls, young women and even us (slightly) older ones need to know we are accepted, no matter what the colour of our skin.

But it’s so difficult when the media always seem to be touting the idea that white is better.

Can you remember, only last year, when Nivea put out an advert for their skin lightening product which showed a black woman becoming white?

Yeah, me too. There was backlash from all sides and their customer feedback management teams were working flat out to appease all the complaints.

It was an abomination. And while shit like that is still out there, people will continue to want to use whitening creams, no matter how detrimental to their health.

Caring for customers

Yes, it is understandable that businesses want to offer an emotive end user experience and deliver what the customer wants.

But is pushing illegal products really worth it, if it is not only harmful to your business (and could potentially close you down) but also detrimental to your consumers?

How loyal do you think those customers are really going to be if they end up with third degree burns after using the cosmetics on your shelf?

Do you really think they will come back again and tell their friends?

No, of course they won’t.

As a business, it is important to know the difference between right and wrong.

Yes, you have to think about your bottom line, but be sensible about it.

For god’s sake, there’s even a sugar tax now…. Prices are higher on fizzy drinks and brands have had to reduce the sugar content of products because obesity is on the rise.

So, that happens but illegal skin whitening products are still out there?!

It’s ludicrous.

So, yes, listen to what your customers want but also think outside the box a little.

Turn things on their head and appeal to your consumers in other ways.

If I got the opportunity, I would happily tell the beauty store owners who are peddling these dangerous cosmetics….

Instead of telling folk ‘white is right’, why not think about stocking your shelves with legal products that make people feel beautiful in their own skin, no matter what colour it is?

Because, let’s face it, we all want to be made to feel good from time to time.

Now that, my friend, is what we call an emotive end user experience.

And the BBC should take heed too. It’s all well and good hunting down and calling out the rogues selling this crap, but what about more affirmative messages out there to make impressionable women feel better about themselves?

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