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Skincare Research

Are Malaysians Pro Fair Skin or Tan Skin?

The Malaysian perception of having the ‘right’ skin tone varies from one end of the spectrum to  the other. Historically, we have seen, through advertisements and wide-scale branding, that many brands tend to skew towards promoting achieving a fairer skin tone.

In the age-old debate of fair skin vs tan skin, we have seen various factions torn between, attempting to attain a different skin shade or embracing their natural skin tone and aiming instead, for flawless skin. Then, there are those who opt out of the skin tone race and instead believe that “Perfection isn’t necessarily found only in publicly accepted trends. Perfection is found in self.” ― Nike Thaddeus


Over the course of 3 months, we applied the ‘social listening method’ to uncover the propensity of Malaysians towards their perception of skin tones. The findings documented a high concentration of ‘fair skin’ mentions but this was largely due to beauty products catering for such skin tones that were heavily promoted on Instagram, at a high margin of 58%.


Diving deeper into specifics, we noted that mentions on ‘fair skin and white skin’ dominated as there seemed to be a general consensus that Malaysians commonly perceive having such skin tones as being more societally accepted and wanted. Sentiments show that models, celebrities and even social media influencers with fairer skin tones tend to stand out on the ‘appeal’ factor with the general Malaysian netizen population.

Those who seek flawless or blemish-free complexion are noted to be on the fence on the debate of skin tone preference. Out of this group:

  • A handful of them perceive that ‘flawless complexion’ is the desired complexion no matter what the skin tone.
  • The majority have come embrace the tone they are born with.
  • A select few completely disregard skin tone related chatter and instead believe that personality and inner beauty is what defines a person.

It is quite the opposite, however, when it comes to women’s preference of the male skin tone. Women have indicated that:

  • They show more interest or prefer men with a tanned skin tone.
  • They prefer men who are tall and tan.
  • They feel that a darker man tends to exude a higher sense of masculinity.
  • They perceive fairer men as ‘sickly’ if they have a lighter skin tone than females.

(Note: The above indicators are derived mainly from the Malay community that makes up more than 60% of the Malaysian population, as a whole)


Key Takeaway – Dominance of Beauty Products

  1. With the majority of Malaysians being skewed towards having a fair skin tone, vendor heavily promote, through direct-selling, either imported or non-mainstream brands that require external application, for example, make-up and skin care products or those that require internal consumption, for example, pills and collagen products.
  2. Majority of products directed at Malay netizens expand further than skin tone solutions and traverse into other areas such as hair/scalp health and anatomical/physical enhancements. The example below details various type of products apart from conventional skincare that are a demand in suburban/rural market:



  • Sensitive skin
  • Scar remover
  • Skin whitening
  • Anti Aging
  • Cures pigmentation
  • Prevents acne
  • Brightens skin



  • Slows Aging
  • Tightens Vagina
  • Shapes the breast and glutes
  • Tightens Skin
  • Helps overcome dull skin problems
  • Make the pores smaller
  • Softens Skin
  • Prevents vaginal infections
  • Helps to stabilize hormones (menopause)
  • Acne removal and pigmentation
  • Makes hair healthy and shiny
  • Strengthens nail and encourages healthy nail growth
  • Brightens skin
  • Lowers cholesterol


  1. The crux of it is that there is a demand for a variety of beauty products and direct selling of these products are mainly based on massive data that is collected and subsequently targeted in bite-sized portions to entice potential customers and to retain the regular ones. However, it is to be noted that these product offerings are mainly tuned towards the Malay community in non-urban areas within the Peninsular. This sub-urban and rural areas remain an untapped market where mainstream brands could seek to pursue.


  1. Some netizens have expressed dismay and dissatisfaction that most beauty products do not cater to tanned skin toned individuals, in terms of volume and availability. Though, in recent years, research has shown that various mainstream brands, such as L’oreal Paris and Lancôme, have launched specific lines catering to tanned skin individuals. On a negative note, the range in these lines mainly consists of cosmetics rather than skincare as they plan a major role in highlighting skin tone.


  1. The search for flawless skin prevails for a select few who seek to find products that do away with acne, blemish and skin pigmentation. It is denoted that this group is concerned with the effects of the sun and environmental effects on their complexion. Though many products have skin care solutions that cater to this for fair skin toned customers, but what is sorely missing and could be a potential avenue for mainstream brands to set foot into is skin care solutions that solve this major problem for tanned skin individuals.


Marketing Approach

In a country where residents spend an increasing amount of time and money online and have an average of four social media accounts, Malaysia is set at the center in the growth of digital marketing with cause and effect on numerous industries. Tom Osborne, the Regional Director of Hays Malaysia has said that “Malaysia is a perfect place for e-commerce to expand. Most people speak English, many are fairly affluent and there is a large middle class, and it is one of the most developed country in Southeast Asia. And most importantly, people are extremely comfortable shopping online and living in a digital world” (Hays Malaysia, 2018).

Marketers are always looking for that “IT Factor” that makes a brand stand-out among other brands albeit through the packaging, product features or brand offerings. Based on the research findings on skincare, marketers and brands can look into targeting specific audiences with digital marketing approaches that cater for various needs and demands.

  1. Content Creation: Malay netizens still find darker skin or tan skin to be beautiful and sexy. Some perceptions shown are that fair skin girls tend to be more favourable as models or to appear on television. Traditional mindset of Asians tends to think dark skin tones are considerably less attractive and “dirty”. Cosmetic line of brands may create campaigns that not only promote but also empower women that come from different walks of life. This in turn can be looked into by creating content that highly promotes a variant of skin tones that caters for the Malaysian market. Educate and start creating awareness that beauty is only skin deep and with the right shade of skincare would help
  1. Leverage on Current Market: Marketers are always looking for that “IT Factor” that makes a brand stand-out among other brands albeit through the packaging, product features or brand offerings. Majority of the beauty products directed at the Malay netizens are products that not only addresses the state of fair skin complexion but even expanding further to other areas like healthcare of hair, scar removal and even body enlargements. More known or mainstream brands can engage these social media users to also promote their products and brands as they have an existing target reach that major brands may not have or be targeting. These users utilize wechat/whatsapp to engage with their potential customers. Major brands can potentially look to developing relationships with these sellers to convert their customers to purchasing the brands’ products.
  2. Brand A&P: Advertising is vital in this time and age however fair skin tones are always the highlight for a brand where not many are targeted specifically for tan skin. Thus, marketers for specific skincare line can look to create ad campaigns on social media to drive with more attention paid on tanner skin that portrays local Malaysian models. Brands can even approach social media influencers who have tanner skin tones that are able to tie up with their products to empower other women. Copywriting is key and as several Malaysians are looking to solely have flawless skin, representation of content can be adjusted as to not solely showcase a particular skin tone or type that may cause backlash of netizens to think that they need to be fair in order to be flawless.


In a nutshell, a brand is looked upon as a solution to meet a consumer’s need. A brand sets customer expectation for experience. Delivering an ideal customer experience is possible only when the brand understands the link between brand and customer experience which can clearly be addressed that although the end-result shows that fair skin triumphs in demand, but data also shows a strong presence for tan skin and such prospects should not be neglected. One such fundamental is where a marketer presents a brand or product that deliver the ideal customer experience on those expectations for greater growth in the beauty industry.

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