Ethnicity and Racial Diversity in Personal Care: Where Are We At?


A lack of diversity in the beauty space can be disconcerting for people of color who do not see themselves represented by an industry defining cultural standards of what it means to be considered beautiful. Even today, the majority of beauty products in the U.S. market are designed and marketed towards white and light-skinned minority women. Funmi Fetto, Beauty Director at Observer Magazine, reflects on this occurrence as she observes how women of color from all walks of life still struggle to find products designed for their skin and hair type:

“….  I have had countless women of color approach me via social media, at dinner parties, on the streets, to ask me for product recommendations. They have a wide span in age range, class, and walks of life. If all these women are struggling to find products and beauty “professionals” still don’t know what to do with darker skin and Afro hair, then the beauty industry, retailers, brands, marketers and, yes, even editors, are failing them…”

            Beauty brands need to be conscious of the unique differences between skin types when developing products. For example, darker skin tones often have higher sensitivity to an inflammation cascade, leading to problems like hyperpigmentation, dark spots, rosacea, and blackheads. Products with anti-inflammatory compounds to soothe, antioxidants to fade out dark spots and even out complexion, and sheer formulations that won’t leave a white cast are needed for darker skin tones. As another example, Asian skin tones tend to be acutely sensitive, and have skin that tends to be on the oily side that lead to acne, scarring, and discoloration. Products without harsh treatments or chemicals, and soothing anti-inflammatories that gently manage acne and scarring are needed for Asians. Finally, Latino skin tones are more prone to dark under-eye circles, and produce more sebum that results in increased propensity towards hyperpigmentation, melasma, acne, and scarring. Products with retinol to increase skin renewal and decrease dark spots, and that do not contain drying alcohol-based cleansers are needed for Latinos.  

Aisha Beau applies ATEM’s Super Cream moisturizer

Moreover, brands need to realize that they leave money on the table when they neglect women of color. According to Nielsen data, racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are quickly outpacing whites. Black women spend nearly nine times more than their Caucasian counterparts on hair and beauty. Hispanics, driven by a strong culture of Latino beauty influence, are a growing ‘foundation’ for beauty sales and are more likely to spend on hair care and cosmetic products than the general market. Asian- Americans spend 70% more than the average share of the U.S. population on skincare products, and are more likely to spend on premium brand name products and drive beauty sales through high use of mobile and social media usage. When brands fail to offer diverse product offerings targeting the needs of different ethnicities or feature models representing their true end customers, it’s bad for their image as well as for their bottom line. Increased representation in the beauty industry needs to be more proactive, and not merely reactive to broader market trends if sustainable change is to come about.

However, as natural deodorant indie startup PiperWai founder Sarah Ribner articulates, as the dialogue around racial justice topics swells, it’s important to guard against mere performative allyship. To enact genuine change, brands need to examine their motives and ensure that actions taken aren’t just tax write-offs or guilty appeasements. According to an American Express report, “…Black female founders earn an average revenue of $24K per firm vs $143K among all women-owned businesses. The gap between African/ Black women-owned businesses’ average revenue and all women-owned businesses is the greatest of any minority…” Among others, Ribner suggests that ensuring that formulas aren’t copies of minority-owned business innovations and having difficult conversations in the VC space about the lack of funding and underrepresentation of minority-owned businesses are good places to start. 

Mentoring youths of diverse backgrounds is critical for growing a more inclusive future for the beauty and wellness industry.

            Here at ATEM, we prize diversity. It has always been our vision to create a quality skin care line that spreads an important message about mental health awareness to beauty lovers of all ethnicities. That’s why we regularly host focus groups involving people of color of all ethnicities who provide feedback on our products. We also hire diverse international teams involved in all areas from R&D to marketing. And we always ensure that we work with a diverse range of models to be our brand ambassadors. Moreover, we also encourage our community to find beauty products they love targeted towards all different ethnicities. Some of our favorites are below, but leave a comment if you have others!

o   BLK + GRN is an all natural marketplace and retailer offering carefully created, non-toxic products from black owned businesses only. 

o   Zit stickers (ZitSticka, CosRX, Peter Thomas Roth) are hydrocolloid bandages that will absorb fluid from pimples. After a couple hours, you peel it off to reveal flat, zit-free skin with no dryness. They’re effective for all skin types, and aren’t offered in any specific shades so designed from inception to be racially inclusive. 

o   Dr. Barbara Strum’s “Darker Skin Tones” line include formulations that even skin tones and reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation

o   Clinique iD offers 20+ lotions and gels customized to a wide range of skin concerns across multiple ethnicities. You choose a base (lotion, gel, or jelly) followed by a specific concern (irritation, uneven texture, uneven skin tone, wrinkles, etc.) and it creates your unique custom product

o   Black Girl Sunscreen offers sunscreen made by women of color to people of color that doesn’t leave a whitish cast when applied

Obviously, there is more work left to be done in the beauty industry. What are some concrete steps beauty brands can take to be more inclusive? 

Firstly, increase diversity in hiring. At major beauty companies, key decision makers are white. These brands need a broad array of voices, life experiences, and diverse perspectives from all age groups and ethnicities. 

Secondly, invest in beauty entrepreneurs of color. Rather than see big brands suddenly embrace a demographic they’ve ignored for years to fill a market gap, wouldn’t it be more encouraging to hear stores of venture capital investment in ethnic beauty startups, for example? 

And finally, develop R&D and marketing geared towards the needs of people of color. As we’ve seen, skincare isn’t a one size fits all that works for all ethnicities. Investing resources in understanding how to create formulations for different skin types is integral to developing a more inclusive beauty industry, as is consciously publishing marketing featuring a diverse range of models.  

What are your thoughts? Comment below on your observations of how inclusive the beauty industry is!

For Further Reading:

1.  Fetto, Funmi. “The Beauty Industry Is Still Failing Black Women | Funmi Fetto.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 29 Sept. 2019, www.theguardian.com/global/2019/sep/29/funmi-fetto-happy-in-my-skin-beauty-industry-diversity

2.  Shapiro, Bee. “How Skin-Care Companies Are Tackling Issues Faced by Women of Color.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Dec. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/12/26/style/skin-care-women-of-color.html

3.  “Hispanic Consumers Are the ‘Foundation’ for Beauty Category Sales.” Nielsenwww.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/article/2015/hispanic-consumers-are-the-foundation-for-beauty-category-sales/

4. Sarah Ribner Co-Founder @PiperWai | Forbes 30U30 | EY Entrepreneurial Winning. “Performative Allyship vs. Open Dialogue.” LinkedInwww.linkedin.com/pulse/solutions-performance-allyship-sarah-ribner/

Written by Susan Yoomin Im & Theophila Lee

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