Ok, see

Vietnamese girls like white skin


Vietnamese girls like white skins.

Which one is accurate?

Searching for "they like white skin" returns 14000 results while "they like white skins" returns only 1 result.

It seems that below is correct.

Vietnamese girls like white skin

But can we say

Vietnamese girls like white skins?

  • 6
    I think this question arises because "skin" can be used in a mass noun sense or a count noun sense. If we were talking about "mountains", it would be easy: Vietnamese girls like white mountains. But "skins" in a count noun sense usually means something like "pelts". If we want to talk about skin in a general sense, it's a mass noun, so skin sounds better.
    – stangdon
    Dec 10 '15 at 13:47
  • 3
    @stangdon So you are saying, if the girls like a mound of human skins from white people, "Vietnamese girls like white skins" is appropriate?
    – Yakk
    Dec 10 '15 at 16:12
  • 20
    @Yakk - Yeah, pretty much. I hope no need for that sentence arises outside a horror movie! I can see it now... "I like white skins." "You mean, you like white skin." "No, I like white skins!" throws open door to reveal a pile of flayed Caucasian skins
    – stangdon
    Dec 10 '15 at 16:15
  • 1
    I looked up that one search result for "they like white skins" - disappointingly, it's not about some macabre collector who is fussy about the skin tones of the people he flays, it's some discussion of "skins" in the sense of computer images wrapped around 3D models in computer game development :-( Dec 10 '15 at 23:47
  • 2
    Related question about describing East Asians as having white skin (the context was a Vietnamese person describing another Vietnamese person, incidentally): ell.stackexchange.com/questions/63733/… Dec 11 '15 at 0:47

@Stangdon's comment is, I think, the core of the right answer.

"Skin" in English can be either a countable or a non-countable noun.

As a countable noun, "one skin", "two skins", etc, it refers to the hide of an animal, after the animal has been killed and the hide removed from the body. Like, "He kept two bear skins hanging on the wall as hunting trophies." (You could talk about the skin of a human being, of course, if you killed someone and made a rug out of his skin. But that's getting kind of creepy.)

As a non-countable noun, "skin" refers to the thing in general, of a creature living or dead. You can say, "Bob has white skin." You wouldn't say, "Bob has A white skin", just "has white skin". It's not countable.

"Vietnamese girls like white skin" is ambiguous without context. It could mean that they like their own skin to be white, or that they like men with white skin. I'm guessing you mean the second. If so, you could also say, "Vietnamese girls like men with white skin". Note that "men" here is plural, because "man" is a countable noun. ("Man" can also be uncountable, if you are talking about the human race, like "Man has written history going back several thousand years." But here we're talking about individual male people.) So "men" is plural, but "skin" is uncountable, neither singular nor plural.

  • 3
    You should include the right answer in your answer so I don't have to go find the comment.
    – djechlin
    Dec 10 '15 at 20:57
  • 7
    Having light skin is very popular/fashionable in Vietnam, there's a big market for skin lightening products and it's common to see women walking around trying to keep their faces out of the sun to avoid getting a tan (it's like how having a tan is fashionable in the West, except the exact opposite). So I'd guess the intended meaning is "Vietnamese girls like to have light skin" ("light" skin means less tanned, "white" skin isn't wrong but will usually be taken to mean "racially Caucasian") Dec 10 '15 at 23:44
  • I think this comment by @user568458 is the best answer so far... It answers the real question, which is, "What is the best way to convey the meaning?" rather than "Is skin a count noun?" It also identifies the other problem with the usage, which is that in English, "fair skin" or "light skin" is generally used in preference to "white skin". Dec 11 '15 at 7:47
  • "Light skin" could more formally be "a fair complexion". Thus we might say, "The majority of Vietnamese women use skin whitening products and shun sunlight because there is a decided preference for fair complexion." Dec 11 '15 at 7:59
  • @user568458 Note that such products are commonly known as skin whitening products around this region. So, even though light skin may be a better term, white skin is probably what most people in this region are more familiar with, and it's not white as in Caucasian white, but it's white as in Japanese/Chinese/Asian white, in my humble opinion. Dec 11 '15 at 19:25

It is possible to say:

Vietnamese girls like white skins

However, skins in this case would refer to something else, like a covering, skins that are white. For example the covering on smartphones are referred to as skins.

Vietnamese girls like leopard skins
Vietnamese girls like skins that are white, i.e. rabbit, polar bear

(In the examples, furs can be used in place of skins)
Skins would not refer to the girls' own skin colour.


What sounds natural is ...

You like white skin

Here, you are talking about 'white skin' in general, as a common matter.

A plural word 'skins' is also possible when you don't refer to one group in general. You probably want to include various types.


cosmetics for sensitive skins.

  • 1
    It would be "cosmetics for sensitive skin", as in "cosmetics for skin which is sensitive". Saying "cosmetics for sensitive skins" just sounds completely and utterly wrong. Dec 11 '15 at 15:56
  • Wrong? Sorry! need to recheck OALD then! @AnthonyGrist
    – Maulik V
    Dec 14 '15 at 5:09

Other answers have addressed the skin vs skins issue. I'm going to mention the potential confusion of using "white". In English talking about white skin in regards to people usually means referring to Caucasian people (people of European descent). So it isn't clear whether you mean people with light-colored skin, or people of European descent, who are generally called white regardless of actual skin color.

In this sentence, I'd guess you mean light skin color regardless of race. Using "pale skin" or "light-colored skin" would make that clear. More context would also make it clear.


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