The app lets users drag a line across a screen to lighten their profile pictures, similar to what Vaseline Men UV Whitening Body Lotion is supposed to do (the model is Bollywood actor Shahid Kapur). Vaseline, a subsidiary of the Anglo-Dutch company Unilever, views the product as benign, the equivalent of suntan lotion.
“Much like self-tanning products in North America and Europe, skin lightening products are culturally relevant in India,” the firm said. “In India, men use these products to lighten and even out their natural skin tone and to reduce the appearance of spots while protecting their skin from the sun.”
But opponents think that the lighter-is-better message is wrong, encouraging the acceptance of “seriously racist attitudes” in the dating scene, especially in India, where impressionable younger people feel pressured by parents to have whiter skin to find a mate. They’ve started a Facebook petition to get the app taken down.
While the product and app are targeted at men, Vaseline also sells a similar product for women, called Healthy White, in Asia. This Thai TV commercial gives a taste of the message–the English tagline at the end says “Hollywood here I come!”
There’s also the question of whether these products, which use Vitamin B3 (Niacin) as a whitening agent, actually do more than any other sunscreen, with review sites offering various opinions that don’t seem fully enlightening.