In south east Asia there is a craze for getting fair complexion in women, hence cosmetics companies - like Unilever, which sells Fair & Lovely creams throughout the Middle East and Indian subcontinent - are earning good money by making advertisements which claims fairness in 3 or 4 weeks etc.

I want to know are these fairness creams effective?

Fair & Lovely makes the following claim:

How will I know the cream is working?
Fair & Lovely Advanced Multi Vitamin’s formula combines ingredients that have an immediate impact on skin appearance as well as work over the longer term to lighten skin. You can yourself measure the results using the ‘expert fairness meter’ on the pack.

Its formula includes:

What are the main ingredients? Fair & Lovely contains a synergistic combination of extensively researched, safe & internationally approved cosmetic ingredients such as:

  1. Fairness and skin benefit actives Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) and Vitamin B6 work synergistically to lighten skin and spots and stimulate skin renewal.

  2. Other skin benefit actives and powerful antioxidants (Glycerin, Allantoin, Provit C and Provit E) which soothe the skin, improve skin texture, Lighten dark circles and provide antioxidant benefits.

  3. Triple sunscreens (Parsol MCX, Parsol 1789 & TiO2), protecting against UVA and UVB rays (including UVAI and UVAII), preventing skin darkening and tanning.

  4. White optics for instant brightening and natural glow

  • 3
    I think this needs to be narrowed drastically, probably to a specific product or ingredient. There are countless types of cosmetic products, each claiming to work by a different mechanism.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 13:10
  • Is sunscreen a fairness cream? :D
    – npst
    Commented Nov 18, 2013 at 21:36
  • @npst no both are different
    – Zia
    Commented Nov 19, 2013 at 6:05
  • @npst In the Section 25, "SPF" section of the FAQ it says that although it contains UV protection, it's not a sunscreen but a fairness cream, which works primarily by "Vitamin E which prevent sun tan while cosmetic ingredients like Hydroxystearic acid and Vitamin B3 stimulate skin cell turnover".
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 11:43

1 Answer 1


The research into effectiveness of fairness creams such as Fair & Lovely is inconclusive since Aneel Karnani's 2007 paper states that dermatologists claim that fairness creams cannot be effective without the use of skin bleaching agents such as hydroquinone, steroids, mercury salts, other harmful chemicals and further research is warranted.

"Skin-lightening or fairness creams are big business in India, an over $200 million industry that comprises the largest segment of the country’s skin cream market. Although corporations like Unilever have been widely criticized for profiting on colorism, they continue to produce advertisements that equate light skin with beauty, success, and empowerment." The marketing company Unilever has not been required to prove efficacy of Fair & Lovely creams since Fair & Lovely is not categorized as a pharmaceutical product.

Per P. Ravi Shankar et. al in 2007, "the melanocytes in the epidermis are responsible for the intensity of skin colour. The number of melanocytes is the same in both fair and dark skinned people. The amount of melanin produced by the melanocytes is partly determined by genetics and partly by the environment."

Per Aneel Karnani in 2007, "the melanin in an individual’s skin cannot be reduced by applying fairness creams, bathing with sun-blocking soaps or using fairness talc. The upper layer of skin is dead tissue, below which is a barrier zone that prevents foreign particles from entering the body. Only if a substance penetrates this barrier zone, can it reach the melanin. Medicated ointments that contain chemicals which aid in skin absorption may have some effect."

Individual Ingredient effects of Fair & Lovely Advanced Multi Vitamin

A) Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) has antioxidant effects, improves epidermal barrier function, decreases yellowing of skin, decreases erythema and blotchiness, decreases fine lines and wrinkles, reduces hyperpigmentation.

B) Benefits of vitamin B6 to skin are inconclusive since few photosensitive reactions caused by pyridoxine hydrochloride have been reported. However, Pyridoxine HCl is FDA approved and has received its Generally Recognized as Safe rating.

A) Glycerin containing cream appears to be suitable in the treatment of atopic dry skin.

B) Allantoin is a natural soothing, anti-irritant, and skin protectant that increases the water content of the extracellular matrix which provides structural support to cells.

C) The term "provitamin" is used when it is desirable to label a substance with little or no vitamin activity, but which can be converted to an active form by normal metabolic processes. Vitamins C and E inhibits the acute ultraviolet damage of erythema, sunburn, and tanning as well as chronic UV photoaging and skin cancer and are highly effective depigmenting agents. Topical vitamin C also increases collagen synthesis and because vitamin C regenerates oxidized vitamin E, its combination is synergistic in cosmetic formulation, particularly in UV protection.


A) Parsol is the trade name of a number of UV absorbers including Parsol Mcx and Parsol 1789. Avobenzone's (Parsol 1789) ability of absorbing ultraviolet light over a wider range of wavelengths than many other sunscreen agents has led to its use in many commercial cosmetic preparations marketed as "broad spectrum" sunscreens.

B) TiO2 powders are used due to their ability to confer whiteness and opacity on products such as cosmetics. Until relevant toxicological and human exposure data that would enable reliable risk assessment are obtained, TiO2 nanoparticles should be used with great care.

  1. The effect of white optics for instant brightening and natural glow is inconclusive since it is not yet researched.

Per Aneel Karnani in 2007, "The Indian Association of Dermatologists, Venereologists and Leprologists (IADVL) says that the current situation is unacceptable, and condemns the lack of a law to regulate the sale of skin whitening products".

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