Fairer skin in three weeks. When Nikhil Jain saw that claim in the advertisement for a men’s fairness cream on television three years ago, he decided to give the product a try. The Delhi resident bought the cream and started using it as described. Three weeks later, nothing changed.

His disappointment and bitterness prompted his younger brother Paras Jain, 21 at the time, to file a case in a District Consumer Forum against the Rs 10 billion worth Emami Group for false and misleading advertising. In court, the company maintained that its product was only meant to improve skin health. But the court found the defence hypocritical.

”It uses the word ‘gorapan’ in advertisement No. 1, which means ‘fair complexion’,” the court said. “In advertisement No. 2 it gives out a promise that the use of the product for a period of four weeks will ensure a fair complexion… This is in direct contrast with the defence taken by the OP (Emami) wherein it has claimed that the use of the product improves the health and quality of skin by providing protection and nourishment to the facial and neck skin which are more exposed to the vagaries of nature: sunlight, dust, wind, etc.”

Two and a half years after the case began, the court ordered the company to submit Rs 15 lakh as punitive damages and to withdraw all misleading advertisements. It also asked Emami to reimburse the Jain brothers the litigation costs amounting to Rs 10,000. They didn’t seek any damages.

The case is far from over, though.

Paras Jain, now a law student, claims that the company has not withdrawn the advertisements and continues to flout advertising standards against misleading claims. He also says that the company has engaged one of the country’s biggest law firms to take the battle to the higher State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission to get a stay on the district court’s order. On their side, he is representing his brother in the courts with no legal assistance from an attorney.

“What they are doing is atrocious and in some ways criminal,” said Paras Jain of the companies that sell fairness products. “They are making fools out of millions of people. Even Bollywood stars are roped in regularly to lie for them on TV, print and web.”


The aspiring lawyer says it is the Indian society’s obsession with fair skin that has fuelled the demand for fairness products, and turned the fairness cream category into a Rs 3,000 crore industry. “My brother was very conscious about his skin tone and he bought into their advertising which seems very compelling on the surface,” he said. “There are many people around the country who are looking for these products due to their marketing strategies and the pressure from the society to have a fair skin.”

A few years ago, some companies went a step further and launched products for vaginal fairness. One such cream’s advert depicted a woman using the product to “please her man”. Another such product made the claim that it rejuvenates and tightens the vagina – its manufacturer, meanwhile, declared that it is “redefining the term women empowerment”.


In recent years, several reports have repudiated the claims of lightening skin tone. As doctors point out, skin colour is a function of cells called melanocytes which can’t be altered with any cream.

In 2014, the Centre for Science and Environment in Delhi found toxic metal mercury in 44% of the fairness creams it tested for a study on poisonous cosmetics. According to reports, inorganic mercury can damage kidneys and cause skin problems like rashes, scarring or discoloration.

Paras Jain says that during his research he found several people around the world who have faced side-effects from such products but they’re unaware of their rights as consumers. It doesn’t help, he says, that judicial redress takes time.

“My case has been going on for three years now and it has just reached the state forum,” he said. “I don’t know for how long it will drag on but I will stand and fight. The companies often try to make settlements with consumers out of the court to prevent bad press but if large number of people don’t even know about the existence of consumer courts and how cheap is it to file a case, then they will continue to be duped.”

While Paras Jain is now preparing for the next hearing scheduled for later this month, there are others who are rallying against fairness creams. One such person is Wilbur Sargunaraj. The Indian comedian recently made a music video to call for an end to the fairness bias and remind people that “dark is beautiful”.


“As long as parents desire fair babies, as long as classified ads promote fair marriage partners, as long as the entertainment, media and film industry sell you the lie that being fair is much more preferable than being beautiful for just the way you are, then this video will be relevant,” Sargunaraj said.

“The whole reason we have to use the tagline ‘Dark is Beautiful’ is because we have been taught that being dark equals ugly, poverty, uneducated and unglamorous field work. Even though we think we are a modern country we are not progressing with our values and attitudes.”