The skin whitening industry in the Philippines
Skin whitening is a big and booming industry in many developing countries. Its popularity owes mainly to post-colonial, internalized racism. This study examines whether government intervention is necessary and more efficient than market-driven approaches in addressing the health risks and harms associated with skin whitening. We gathered empirical data on the quality and quantity of health-related information about skin whiteners with a multi-stage probability sample of consumers in two cities in the Philippines (n=110; α=0.05). Regardless of their socio-demographic characteristics, we find that cognitive biases and information asymmetries build and sustain consumers’ trust in manufacturers and distributors of skin whiteners while, paradoxically, breeding uncertainties over the integrity of these products. The results are product adulteration and misbranding, leading to pricing advantages for toxic whiteners over safer products. This has impeded regulatory efficacy. We recommend anchoring government intervention in transaction cost-reduction, containing the externalities of skin bleaching, and institutionalizing third party partnerships. Failure to do so would leave consumers extremely vulnerable to the forces of supply and demand that favor toxic whiteners, particularly in a market where voluntary collective action is difficult to organize.
Keywordsskin whitening toxicity asymmetric information cognitive biases externalities rent-seeking transaction costs
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