Racism in the beauty industry

array of coloured pencils

Is there racism in the beauty industry?

Shot of Sadie Fisher smilingLife coaches? Pah! What I need is my own personal make-up artist who can turn me into Halle Berry with a flick of a brush. A girl can dream, can she not…? To be honest with you, I’ve never bothered with make-up, hoping people would mistake it for the latest ‘no-make-up-make-up look,’ but it just screamed ‘can’t-be-bothered-look.’

Make-up has evolved over the years. Now we have products that matify, cover, lift and give us that dewy glow. Some even claim to adapt to our skin colour. However, the irony is that some things never change…

Whilst browsing along the make-up counters in search of a foundation, I was dismayed at the lack of products available for ethnic skin types; even more disconcerting was the ignorance that prevailed amongst beauty consultants. Terri Dunn, skin dermatologists, says, “Although ethnic skin has extra melanin which protects it from sun damage, this can leave skin sensitive and vulnerable.” I was curious to know if any beauty consultants were trained in the complexities of my skin type and were aware of the extra melanin that makes it prone to sensitivity. So I sidled up to one particular orange-hewed assistant, busy polishing her stand. “Hello, I was wondering if you’ve got a foundation suitable for my skin type?” Her vacant look spoke volumes, but the commission-led girl in her showed me an array of colours – none of which were suitable, at least not for me. I then strolled over to the MAC counter. Yippee!! Colours suitable for ethnic types. Alas, not suitable for the wallet. £14.00 for lip liner! MAC, Bobbi Brown and Iman, all specialise in make-up for ethnic skin types, but not every women’s budget stretches to their prices. Why can’t I get a lip liner in Poundland, I wailed to myself.

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Poundland storeThen, right in the middle of the department store, I had a Carrie Bradshaw moment, and couldn’t help but wonder… is there racism in the beauty industry?

Naomi Campbell has been very vocal about her inability to secure a lucrative cosmetics contact like her Supermodel pals. Claudia’s got L’Oreal, Kate is still with Rimmel and Cindy Crawford had Revlon. Naomi cites this as racism. She also recently accused fashion designers, notably Victoria Beckham, of not putting enough ethnic girls on the catwalk. Whatever you think of her, she has a valid point. The new Supermodel, Jourdan Dunn, says that the make-up artists she works with backstage shy from doing Black women’s hair and make-up as they are not trained in it. On the plus side, Jourdan has just been signed to Maybelline.

Why can’t companies work on the principle that women of all colours should have an extensive range to choose from? We live in a multi-cultural society and cosmetic companies should reflect this in their marketing, products and pricing. And don’t get me started on Beyoncé as a role model for ethnic girls; I swear that women gets lighter with every front cover she appears on. Magazines whitewash their ethnic ideals to match their perceptions of ethnic women. Mica Paris highlighted this in a recent article in the Daily Mail, arguing that many ethnic women on magazine covers are whitewashed and lighted to have more appeal. Magazines are popular culture that could help integrate communities, but they just alienate ethnic women.

Every beauty consultant should be trained in the complexities of ethnic skin type. Susan Taylor, a Harvard trained MD, has written a bestselling book, Brown Skin, which discusses the skin condition, acne post inflammatory, which is common in black/ethnic skin types. She reveals how over-the-counter products can compound the problem. She advocates using non-comedogenic cosmetics. How many consultants are trained on products like these, or are even aware of them? If cosmetic companies invested some time researching products that are compatible with ethnic skin types, I believe their profit margins would increase, as they would be seen as striving for equality and giving women of colour a choice. The actress Thandie Newton recently criticised Boots for not stocking enough colours for Black Skin.

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array of coloured pencilsThere was a glimmer of hope…  Prestige Cosmetics started out 25 years ago as a pencil company in the US. Prestige is about “colour for all”. The brand is currently the fastest growing brand in the US as it is available in over 50 countries worldwide and was exclusive to Boots. But I have noticed that it is no longer available. We need more companies like these that provide a choice to ethnic women. Not just colours that purport to adapt to all skin types. How about cosmetics that are just for ethnic skin types at affordable prices?

About Sadie Fisher

I left school wtih hardly any qualfications but my imagination always led me to writing. I like to think I am a work in progress, just like my writing. Writing keeps me sane and in times of angst and heartbreak, I always write. Words on paper can be a thing of beauty, it can make you laugh, cry and think. I am also an avid letter writer, to my friends, newspaers, etc. In fact you can't shut me up to be honest...