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Have you noticed how itty bitty the black hair care sections are in most stores? The cosmetics and skin care aisles aren’t any better.

Before beauty brands such as Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty began to address the whitewashing of the beauty industry, black women had very few choices.

Lauren Bitar, the head of retail consulting at RetailNext, told Retail Dive that “1,000 shades of white and light tan” dominate the industry.

According to a Nielsen report, “African American consumers spend more than 9 times more on hair products than any other group.”

Clearly, these consumers are underrepresented by the products being offered.

In 2018, black consumers spent $54.4 of the $63.5 million that was spent on ethnic hair and beauty aids. In 2019, they were in the 79th percentile of mass cosmetic consumers compared to white consumers, who were in the 16th percentile.

Still, shelves are mostly made up of straggler beauty brands that remain tone-deaf to the needs of black women.

Foundation has always been the Achilles heel of makeup for black women, including myself. There have been times when I thought I had found the perfect one, only to be mortified after looking at photos where my face was two shades lighter than my neck.

Black women with darker pigmented skin experience the brunt of this — sometimes having to mix two or three different shades to find the right match for their skin. This is especially true when they’re dealing with hyperpigmentation.

As a lighter pigmented black woman, it’s easier for me to find the right shade. Still, I struggle to find foundation with the right undertone.

My hair has also given me a run for my money.

Despite my mother’s attempt to instill a strong sense of confidence in my blackness, I always imagined my hair straight and long, cascading down my back.

I bleached and flat ironed the life out of my hair, which led to severe breakage and hair loss. Eventually, I started wearing weaves. My hair was unhealthy, thin, and damaged.

At its worst, my hair resembled a mullet — business on the top and a not-so-fun party in the back. It was awful. My self-confidence took a severe nosedive.

At this point, I had no other choice but to get real with myself about what I’d been doing to my hair and why.

I ultimately decided to join other black women who have thrown their flat irons out the window and embraced their natural hair.

There are limited skin care options, foundation shades that don’t quite hit the mark, and hair care products that cause more harm to black hair than good.

Still, this doesn’t get to the root of the issue.

“Lurking beneath the surface… is a not-so-secret story of isolation and racism, with black women and those with darker skin tones systematically left out of beauty in advertising, product innovation, and recruitment for decades,” according to Molly Flemming of Marketing Week.

That means white women are viewed both as the standard of beauty and the primary consumers of beauty products.

White women with narrow facial features and porcelain skin continue to dominate the narrative of what’s considered attractive and physically desirable.

When black women are featured in advertising, colorism — the practice of favoring lighter-skinned people of color over those who are darker-skinned — is hugely problematic.

White and light-skinned models don’t authentically represent the vast majority of black women’s skin, hair, or bodies. These ads imply to the consumer that black women can wash their hair with shampoo made for finer and straighter textures or use skin care products made for lighter women and suddenly look that way, too.

This is irresponsible, dishonest marketing.

There aren’t enough products that recognize other types of consumers, that beauty can include more than European features, and that not all black women look identical.

The dehumanizing of black women is another challenge in advertising for many beauty brands.

“Lots of foundations and skin-based products for black and brown people often have names of food,” beauty journalist Niellah Arboine says in Marketing Week.

“There is something really dehumanizing about calling [products] chocolate, caramel, mocha, and coffee while all the lighter shades are porcelain or ivory, so even within the language we are using for makeup there is that inequality. Why are we food?” Arboine continues.

This sends two clear messages to many black women: we are invisible, and we’re not physically desirable.

Although strides are being made as more black women get C-suite level positions, the challenges these women face mean there’s still plenty to be done before we reach truly balanced representation.

The highest levels of business still lack racial and ethnic diversity. They also lack diversity of thought, perspective, and experience.

We can’t expect a white woman to intimately understand some of the challenges that black women face relative to beauty, but we can hold large beauty companies accountable for hiring black women who are intimately familiar with these challenges.

Becoming more aware of the disparities within the beauty industry helped me let go of my unhealthy desire to have long, straight hair. I had to ask myself what longer and straighter hair meant to me. Why had I gone to such great lengths to get it?

It was simple. I wanted to be seen as beautiful and desirable according to a standard of beauty that wasn’t designed for me.

Over the years, I’ve replaced the products that didn’t work for me with smaller lines designed to address black women’s needs.

I invite you to take a look and make this list your own.

Skin care

Urban Skin Rx

Known as the “melanin experts,” this brand is an absolute skin care powerhouse and one of my personal favorites. With a diverse group of aestheticians behind its product development, Urban Skin has gone the extra mile in addressing black women’s skin care needs.

From their super brightening serum which gives my skin an illuminating glow to their even tone night treatment that does an amazing job smoothing my skin tone and correcting areas of hyperpigmentation, I love it all!

Tree Hut’s Sugar Lips Lip Scrub

I fell in love with this little gem after receiving it as a gift. This lip scrub is incredibly soothing and always leaves my lips feeling super soft and supple.

Made for all skin types and with all-natural ingredients such as shea butter, jojoba oil, and Indian peppermint oil, I even feel comfortable using it on my 2-year-old daughter.

I was also attracted to the diversity in their advertising. Even their glowing reviews are from ethnically diverse groups of women!

Hair care

Mielle Organics

Mielle has been a favorite of mine for over 5 years and was one of the first products that I used when I decided to go natural.

I absolutely love their Brazilian Curly Cocktail and their Rosemary Mint lines. Created by a black woman, their products always meet the mark for black women’s hair care needs regardless of type or texture.

Melanin Hair Care

Founded by sisters Whitney and Taffeta White, this product has stood by my side through thick and thin — literally. These sisters get it!

This amazing hair care line was a response to their frustration with limited options for black hair care, and they nailed it. I absolutely love their products, especially their elongating style cream and leave-in conditioner.

Adwoa Beauty

When I ask friends for hair care recommendations, Adwoa is first on the list. They also boast glowing reviews from YouTube natural hair sensations such as PrettyWitty77 and OneSmartFro.

This gender-neutral hair care line is for all curl patterns and textures. One important thing to note is that most of their products are designed specifically for natural and curly hair.

Makeup

Fenty Beauty

Nearly everyone has heard about Fenty Beauty. Many have tried it and love it. Fenty Beauty has the most diverse foundation shade range I’ve seen.

Believe it or not, I found my shade online! Risky, I know, but that’s just how good Fenty is.

I also love their Mattemoiselle Plush Matte lipstick in “Dragon Mami” and their Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer lipgloss in “Fenty Glow” and “Glass Slipper.”

Uoma Say What?! Foundation

I haven’t used this product, but nearly all of my friends of color recommend it for all skin types and tones.

Uoma foundation comes in almost as wide a range of shades as Fenty Beauty does and is designed specifically for oily and combination skin (right up my alley!). I also like that they use natural ingredients such as tomato and berry extract to brighten dull skin.

Hue Noir

Hue Noir was started by a black female chemist and is run by all women of color who understand the diverse needs of black skin. Their lip butters are highly recommended and their products are affordably priced.

Although the recent push toward more inclusive beauty trends has been an excellent start, there’s still quite a bit of work that needs to be done to empower people of color.

In many cases, the term “inclusive” is being used as a buzzword in the beauty industry to drive sales. Often, there’s very little follow through.

Big beauty companies need to walk the walk by integrating ethnically and racially diverse models in their campaigns. To develop truly inclusive products, they need to hire key executive decision-makers who are black.

Beauty journalists also need to take responsibility for the promotion of inclusion, equity, and diverse representation in the beauty industry.

Until this happens, beauty trends will not only continue to disempower black women, but they’ll continue to oppress us as well.

In the meantime, black women don’t have to accept not being seen. We can create our own standards of beauty that reflect and celebrate our authentic and unique differences by supporting the brands that truly see us.


Dr. Maia Niguel Hoskin is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, college professor of graduate level counseling, public speaker, and therapist. She has written on issues related to structural racism and bias, women’s issues, oppression, and mental health in both scholarly and non-scholarly publications such as Vox.