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National News: Acclaimed skin-whitening studies from Ottawa raise racism concerns Black Habits Articles Award-winning research by Ottawa biochemists into technology that makes dark skin fairer is renewing controversy about a type of cosmetic product worth billions in Asian markets.

Two graduate students at Carleton University, Pratik Lodha and Eman Ahmed-Muhsin, have been developing Gloriel, a skin-lightening cream based on Nobel Prize-winning gene-silencing technology.

The product won $5,000 as a finalist in the 2007 Student Technology Venture Challenge, an annual business competition for post-secondary students in eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

The research has also been awarded additional funding from Carleton University and the inventors hope to patent it in two years so they can sell the rights to a cosmetic giant such as L'Oreal.

Lodha's inspiration for the idea came from India, where he is from and where skin-lightening creams are a billion-dollar industry.

Critics have accused the industry of racism and imperialism. Ranni Moorthy, a U.K.-based actress from India, told CBC News the products are touted as cures, as if dark skin is "some kind of disease, to be put right."

"This idea of kind of positioning oneself on ... Western beauty standards is quite insidious," Moorthy said.

Ahmed-Muhsin defended the technology, which she says could also be used by pale people to darken their skin.

"We're not racist," she said, pointing out that tanning products are popular in North American in the way whitening products are in places such as India, Japan and China.

"The market exists and we're not going to increase or decrease that market. We're just offering a safer and more effective method."

She said many skin-whitening products contain harmful chemicals that can damage skin.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on over-the-counter sales of skin-lightening products, citing potential health risks of the common ingredient hydroquinone.

Hydroquinone is a possible carcinogen and has been linked with disfiguring condition called ochronosis that causes darkening and thickening of the skin, along with raised bumps and greyish-brown spots.

Unlike those products, Gloriel uses a reversible gene-silencing method called RNA interference to reduce the production of skin pigments called melanin.
Posted on Tuesday, October 30 @ 15:03:12 UTC by jcohen

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