Sejal K Shah, a young doctor at the St Luke's and Roosevelt (SLR) Hospital in New York City, conducted the study with Andrew F Alexis, director of SLR's Skin of Colour Centre. About 190 individuals recruited from local cultural fairs and temples participated in the study.

One out of seven, or approximately 15 percent of participants, said they use or have used some sort of skin-whitening or bleaching product because they want to make themselves look more beautiful.

An equally alarming result from the study indicated a low awareness of the potential risk of skin cancer among South Asian Americans.

Shah blames pop culture for most of the misunderstanding, especially for the biases Indian Americans have towards lighter skinned people.

"Many Bollywood actresses and Miss India winners have noticeably lighter complexions. A quick look at Indian matrimonial sites also indicates a strong preference for a 'fair' bride. Our study brings to light what has long been suspected in the South Asian culture: Lighter skin tones are favoured," she notes.

Most disturbing, Shah points out, is the commonly held, and incorrect, belief among South Asian Americans that they do not require the same skin protection against the sun in comparison to people of paler complexions and skin tones.

"People with darker skin tones have more melanin, which is a natural protector against ultraviolet radiation. However, that does not mean that skin of colour individuals are not at risk when out in the sun," said Shah.

Shah and Alexis have submitted the study to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.

(Agencies)

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