Is it normal, outside of the context of discussing a person's race, albinism, or very artificial make-up, to describe someone as having white skin, as opposed to using words such as "pale" or "light-coloured"?

The context it was used was an East Asian person describing another person of the same ethnicity in terms of how beautiful she is.

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    Not enough context. Describing the skin's color generally, or, as Beta Decay suggests, describing its appearance under special circumstances (e.g. sudden fear, shock, illness)? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Aug 7 '15 at 12:23
  • @TRomano good point - I've added context. – Andrew Grimm Aug 8 '15 at 0:31
  • "white" can be neutral (or apparently, in your example, positive). "pale" has a negative connotation; people's faces get "pale" when they are feeling faint. "ashen" is even worse, and "pallid" might be used to describe a corpse. To me, "cream" or "ivory" seem like a healthier sort of white. And both suggest smoothness as well. – Brian Hitchcock Aug 8 '15 at 9:56

Yes, it is perfectly normal, for example:

My God, you've gone white...Are you okay?

Light-coloured isn't really used to describe the abnormal colour of someone's skin, but pale is a good alternative to white.


In the days when many people worked in the field, the field-workers were exposed to a lot of sun. They would be swarthy, ruddy and tanned.

Posh ladies had no need to be out in the sun all day - so pale skin became a signifier of wealth and/or status.

Nowadays it's almost the opposite - most people work indoors in offices away from natural sunlight. The way to get a tan is often to jet far off to hot sunny climes for a holiday. The tan becomes a signifier of having the means to holiday somewhere a tan can be acquired.

Ruddy complexions were often seen as a good thing for a peasant.

"Alabaster skin" was often sought after.

  • +1 for this answer, as although it seems to refer to the positive associations of white skin in European history, this perception is also a contemporary one in parts of Asia (where the person using the term originates according to the OP), i.e. pale skin denotes a higher status due to not having to work outside in the sun. – Nathan Griffiths Dec 11 '15 at 4:01
  • As a historical aside, white skin was once so sought after that 18th century Europeans would use makeup made from "white lead" to lighten their skins - this was toxic and damaged the skin, eyes and teeth and caused lead poisoning. – Nathan Griffiths Dec 11 '15 at 4:18

No it is not usual. We might say ivory.


Describing someone as having white skin is not normal or even nice. That's pretty racist if you ask me. A better way to describe "People with white skin" is by saying "the Caucasian person", not "white".

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    The question specifically pointed out that this was outside the context of race. Pointing out that someone's skin is, in fact, remarkably close to the shade of a piece of paper can be rude at times, depending on the situation and the way it's described, but it need not be considered taboo. – Nathan Tuggy Nov 10 '15 at 23:49

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