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Makeup for Black People: Challenges & Progress for Equity

Quick Summary

  • The cosmetics industry is no stranger to strong discriminations against the Black community, which is poorly represented. Unfortunately, there is a significant gap in visibility and economic success of the so-called "Black beauty brand" (i.e., brands founded by or owned by Black people). Despite the progress made in recent decades, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of inclusivity and accessibility.

  • Every day, Black consumers are forced to face challenges with the cosmetic sector due to marketing that is not always inclusive towards the Black community, a lack of accessibility to stores offering quality products, limited availability of products, and an often frustrating and disappointing shopping experience.

  • In recent decades, we have witnessed the emergence of new Black beauty brands and influencers dedicated to promoting equity and inclusivity in the cosmetic sector: these give us some hope of being able to change things for the better and break down more barriers.

Black woman with radiant, inclusive makeup highlighting the beauty of black skin, against racism

From Martin Luther King to Black Lives Matter: Efforts to Combat Racism

We could say that racism and inequalities have existed since the time of the dinosaurs. Racism against Black people foolishly fixates on an immutable physical trait (skin color). There have even been attempts to use Darwinian theory to justify this discrimination: according to Darwin, the White race is superior to all others. But times change, minds (though not all) open up, and it is understood that many ideas are wrong. There are no races, only one human race. This marks the beginning of the fight for one's values and rights.

The freedom riders, the figure of Martin Luther King, and his “I have a dream!” speech on August 28, 1963, as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which aimed to abolish racial laws, were significant. Although there has been progress compared to decades ago, only in recent years have these issues become notable social themes. A significant date was May 25, 2020: in Minneapolis, a 46-year-old African American was arrested, pinned to the ground, and killed by asphyxiation due to the pressure applied to his neck by a White police officer. That man was George Floyd, and he is sadly another victim of a society dominated by mistrust, hatred, and suspicion of anything that appears different to our eyes. He was a victim of the abuse of power and a system that should provide safety and protection to people, not instill fear and take human lives.

That tragedy triggered both peaceful demonstrations and more violent uprisings: people kneeling, raised fists, and the cry of "I can't breathe!" became symbols of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Protesters in masks with signs for Black inclusivity and against racism

Black Representation in the Beauty Industry

Today, makeup and skincare products play a fundamental role in helping millions of people worldwide enhance their self-image, feel more confident among others, and improve their self-esteem, ultimately feeling better in their own skin.

The beauty industry should be inclusive and accessible to all. We should all have products with shades that match our skin tones, and we should all have adequate representation in the media. Unfortunately, not all ethnicities enjoy equal representation, at least not proportional to their actual demographic percentages. The value of equity in the industry often remains elusive. In particular, the experience of Black individuals is notably more frustrating and fraught with challenges that consumers, entrepreneurs, and non-Black brands are less likely to encounter.

Stylist applying eyeliner on a Black woman, celebrating inclusivity

In fact, according to a 2022 report by McKinsey & Company, in the United States:

  • The so-called "Black beauty brands" (brands founded by or owned by Black individuals) account for only 2.5% of the revenue in the beauty sector, despite Black consumers contributing to 11.1% of the total spending and comprising 12.4% of the population.

  • Black consumers are three times more likely to be dissatisfied than White consumers when it comes to hair, skin, and makeup products. They prefer "Black beauty brands" and are 2.2 times more likely to believe that these brands' products work for them. However, these brands represent only 4-7% of beauty brands sold in specialty stores, pharmacies, supermarkets, and department stores.

  • Only 4-5% of the workforce in the industry is of Black ethnicity;

  • Black consumers encounter numerous obstacles throughout the purchasing process, including:

    • Marketing that is not always inclusive of the Black community.

    • Lack of accessibility to stores.

    • Limited availability of products.

    • A subpar shopping experience.

The beauty industry still has a long way to go in achieving true equity and representation for Black individuals.

Marketing Not Always Inclusive Toward the Black Community

According to a report by Nielsen, only 2% of the total advertising spending in the United States from 2011 to 2019 was allocated to television broadcasters, magazines, and websites targeting a Black audience.

Furthermore, most advertisements related to the beauty industry fail to capture the interest of the Black audience because they do not represent a diverse population or cater to individuals with curlier or kinkier hair textures or darker skin tones.

Tracee Ellis Ross, the founder and CEO of the natural hair care company Pattern Beauty, recalls that beauty advertisements during her childhood promised assistance for curly hair but didn't deliver on those promises for this hair type. "Hair product advertising didn't reflect images that resembled me, nor did the products provide what my curly, kinky hair needed." According to McKinsey, marketing that represents diverse skin tones could persuade 75% of Black consumers to make purchases.

Lack of Accessibility to Stores

Many neighborhoods primarily inhabited by Black people lack goods and services. Therefore, when it comes to finding stores that may offer higher-quality products, consumers are often forced to settle for fewer options or travel longer distances. On average, Black shoppers must travel 3.36 miles to reach a specialized beauty store, which is about 21% farther than White consumers. Black consumers are also required to travel over 17% farther to reach department stores.

Limited Product Availability

Once consumers have struggled to locate a store, finding the desired products can be challenging. Consequently, only 13% of Black customers find products that meet their needs. Of the participants in McKinsey's survey, 47% said they purchased beauty products from mass retailers or supermarkets, but only 13% found it easy to locate beauty products that catered to their needs in such places. Even in specialty beauty stores, which often boast a variety of shade offerings, there are obstacles. In fact, 73% reported that beauty products for Black individuals are often out of stock when they attempt to purchase them, while 54% said that when available, these products are difficult to find.

Poor Shopping Experience

Black consumers often have a negative in-store shopping experience because

salespeople lack knowledge about beauty products for Black individuals. Personalized advice is crucial in influencing beauty product sales, but salespeople frequently are not prepared to provide informed recommendations. Only 23% of respondents in McKinsey's survey stated that salespeople could engage in in-depth discussions about brands and beauty products for Black individuals, and only 13% said that salespeople could make informed recommendations for Black consumers. This problem may stem from the lack of diversity among store employees and insufficient training regarding the needs of Black customers.

Infographic showing Black underrepresentation in beauty industry

The Emergence of Black Beauty Brands and the Challenges Along the Way

Until just a few decades ago, there were only three Black beauty brands (AFRO SHEEN, Fashion  Fair, Sacha Cosmetics), while other non-Black brands tended to favor lighter shades. According to a 2020 article by NSSG-Club, it was only in the 1990s that new Black beauty brands began to flourish, and brands like MAC Cosmetics, NARS Cosmetics, Bobbi Brown, IMAN Cosmetics and CoverGirl started to expand their product ranges, especially with new shades of concealers and foundations.

From around 2010 onwards, more and more brands have been founded, including:

  • Beauty Bakerie (2011): Beauty Bakerie is known for its unique aesthetic and a range of makeup products, including the popular lip whip, which gained popularity on social media.

  • Juvia’s Place (2016): Known for its vivid, high-impact colors, Juvia's Place offers a range of cosmetics that celebrate the richness of African heritage, quickly becoming a favorite for its inclusivity and bold pigments.

  • Fenty Beauty (2017): Founded by Rihanna, Fenty Beauty has had a significant impact on the beauty industry with its extensive range of foundation shades and inclusive products.

  • PATTERN (2019): Created by celebrity Tracee Ellis Ross, PATTERN is known for its natural and curly hair products, which have been well-received by the Black community.

Certainly, over the past thirty years, significant progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go before we can talk about absolute inclusion and equity in the beauty industry.

Finally, Black beauty brands have not yet reached their full profit potential. This is due to the fact that they face significant hurdles in entering the market and building a loyal customer base, including insufficient market research and data needed for product development, lack of representation in the beauty industry, and difficulty finding investors. In fact, on average, they raise $13 million in venture capital, significantly less than the $20 million raised by non-Black beauty brands, despite having a median return 89 times higher than that of non-Black beauty brands (McKinsey, 2022).

Joyful Black woman in underwear raises fist for inclusivity and black representation in beauty

Influencers Championing Black Beauty, Equity and Inclusivity

Scouring social media, one can identify influencers working to raise awareness about equity and inclusivity for the Black community in the beauty industry.

  • In Italy, Loretta Grace is a beauty influencer of Nigerian descent who advances her integration project through cosmetics, demonstrating that racism is unfortunately not just a sad reality in America but also affects a world closer to us.

  • Sharon Chuter, also of Nigerian origin, founded the renowned brand UOMA Beauty, the first Afropolitan makeup brand, inspired by Africa.

  • In England, known for her significant collaborations with major fashion houses such as Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, and Prada, Pat McGrath has been named by Vogue and Time as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, thanks in part to her beauty brand, PAT McGrath LABS.

Currently, those operating in the beauty industry have all the tools at their disposal to support Black beauty brands more equitably and serve Black customers better. It would take very little: ensuring that stores carry more products for Black individuals, increasing the number of Black employees in the beauty sector (both in companies and in stores), adequately representing and contributing to the emergence of new Black-owned brands, and boosting the development of existing ones.

Upon closer inspection, these requirements are not so abstract, utopian, or impossible to put into practice. It would take a small but consistent dose of commitment and altruism, empathy, and the ability to put oneself in others' shoes.


What are the problems with the Black beauty industry?

The Black beauty industry faces several challenges, including limited representation, inadequate product availability, inaccessible stores, and poor shopping experiences for Black consumers. Black beauty brands also struggle with insufficient market research and difficulty finding investors.

How to promote Black beauty?

Promoting Black beauty involves ensuring inclusivity, representation, and accessibility in the beauty industry. This includes carrying products for diverse skin tones, increasing the number of Black employees, supporting Black-owned brands, and diversifying marketing efforts to cater to a broader audience.

What is the current state of representation of Black individuals in the beauty industry?

Representation of Black individuals in the beauty industry remains inadequate. Only a small percentage of the workforce is of Black ethnicity, and Black beauty brands account for a small fraction of the industry's revenue despite significant contributions from Black consumers.

What are some challenges faced by Black-owned beauty brands?

Black-owned beauty brands encounter challenges such as insufficient market research, difficulty securing funding, and a lack of representation in the industry. Despite strong potential, these brands often raise less venture capital compared to non-Black beauty brands.

What are the accessibility challenges faced by the Black community in beauty stores?

The Black community often faces accessibility challenges in finding quality beauty stores. Black shoppers may have to travel longer distances to reach specialized beauty stores and department stores compared to their White counterparts.

How does limited product availability impact people of Black heritage?

Limited product availability negatively impacts people of Black heritage as they struggle to find products that cater to their specific needs. This results in frustration and difficulties in accessing products that enhance their self-image.

How can the shopping experience for Black consumers in the beauty industry be improved?

The shopping experience for Black consumers can be improved by increasing the knowledge of salespeople about beauty products for Black individuals, ensuring that stores carry a wider range of products for diverse skin tones, and reducing out-of-stock issues.

What is the history of the emergence of Black-owned beauty brands?

Until a few decades ago, there were only a few Black beauty brands, with non-Black brands primarily favoring lighter shades. In recent years, there has been an emergence of Black-owned beauty brands, offering products that cater to the diverse needs of Black consumers.

Which successful Black-owned beauty brands exist in the market?

Successful Black-owned beauty brands include Juvia’s Place, Fenty Beauty, PATTERN, and Beauty Bakerie, among others. These brands have gained recognition for their inclusive products and diverse offerings.

Which influencers are working to promote equity and inclusivity in beauty?

Influencers such as Loretta Grace, Sharon Chuter, and Pat McGrath are mentioned in the article as individuals working to promote equity and inclusivity in the beauty industry by advocating for diversity and inclusivity in beauty products and representation.

How can beauty be more inclusive?

To make beauty more inclusive, it is essential to ensure a broader range of products for diverse skin tones, increase diversity among employees, support Black-owned brands, and improve marketing efforts to represent a more comprehensive spectrum of beauty.

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