Beauty has always meant something very specific within the Black community, both in concept and in practice. Stemming from an industry tendency to push potentially harmful products onto or completely ignore Black consumers, Black people have been left to fend for themselves when it comes to grooming and personal care. This reality inadvertently created a Greenbook culture where vetted community recommendations were the only force powerful enough to usher new products into the proverbial Black Beauty Hall of Fame. Products created in neighbors' kitchens and developed by Black founders immediately established trust, initiating what can now be considered a preference for Black-owned beauty brands. Even as the industry begins to prioritize inclusivity across the board, the unique Black beauty experience continues to drive consumer behavior as well as the brands and products awarded community cult status.
“When I think of Black beauty I think of legacy brands like Black Opal and Fashion Fair, which are both making a comeback and it's exciting to see,” says beauty editor Akili King. Despite the genesis of brands targeting women of color dating back to the early 90s and 70s, respectively, mainstream beauty remained uninterested in serving Black buyers. Consequently, the products Black women used were largely dictated by the other women around them. “My grandmother was very obsessed with Chanel No. 5,” recalls Tembe Denton-Hurst, writer at The Strategist. “I remember one summer she sent me down to my other grandmother with a bottle of Chanel No. 5 and she was like ‘what’s a six-year-old doing with this?’”
The community became a sacred resource to pass down beauty advice, but what was once limited to the inside of homes and hair salons changed with the rise of Youtube in the mid-2000s. The network established a new way for Black women to reach and create community, cracking open the world of beauty for the first time. “I didn’t grow up around Black people. I grew up in a predominantly white area,” says Yuri London, Licensed Esthetician and Community Manager at Dieux Skin. “I was getting a lot of beauty advice from Youtube because my mother didn’t know anything about anything beauty-related.” Social media and its first influencers like Patricia Bright, Jackie Aina and Raye Boyce shaped the products young Black women immortalized. “Ruby Woo! That’s a lipstick everyone with deeply melanated skin loved,” says London. “And Chestnut lip liner from MAC? I still use it to this day!” King recalls the trending products she managed to buy with high school babysitting money with varying degrees of fondness. “I was honestly using the pink Neutrogena Grapefruit Cleanser – that was the thing,” she says. “I remember using my CoverGirl mascaras. I was a huge lip gloss girl. Victoria's Secret lip gloss was a staple. C.O. Bigelow was also a big thing. I was just trying different things I would see online.”
Over the last five years, the availability of products thoughtfully marketed to multicultural consumers has exponentially increased. But despite a positive uptick in representation across the board, the products Black consumers rally around are disproportionately Black-owned. “After 2020 there was a lot of transparency from [mainstream] brands. We figured out where Black people sit and their employee statistics,” says Alicia Lartey, UK-based aesthetician and owner of Saint of Cells skin studio. “We realized our loyalty wasn’t of value so we shop around, but we have a lot of loyalty to Black-owned brands.”
Black-owned brands’ authentic storytelling is particularly powerful for Black beauty enthusiasts. “I wrote a story not too long ago, Is This the Telfar Bag of Lip Gloss?, about the Ami Colé Lip Treatment Oil,” says Denton-Hurst. “It has such a hold on the Black beauty community because it's really great and they have positioned themselves as the Glossier for Black girls. The story and branding really resonate. The entire brand does a great job of making Black women feel seen and heard.” It’s important to mention that every single person interviewed for this story indicated Ami Colé as Black women’s newest legacy brand. “Another brand that comes to mind is TOPICALS,” says King. “The Faded cream and those pink and yellow tubes are so cute. Even before I knew what it was, I was drawn to it. Finding out it’s Black-owned is even better.”
Other brands mentioned many times over the course of interviews include the Black and POC-owned brands EADEM, Hyper! Skin and KLUR. When asked what seems to be the driving force behind what becomes meaningful to the Black beauty community, these women resoundingly pointed to Black estheticians and dermatologists like Tiara Willis, Sean Garrette and Dr. Adeline Kikam sharing trustworthy, free information on social media and subsequently amassing large platforms. “When Tiara talks about a product, I start to hear about it from my friends who aren’t in the beauty community,” says Denton-Hurst. “The science-backed and credentialed influencers are making a difference.”
Taking stock of what makes waves amongst Black beauty shoppers tells the story of continued hunger for Black-owned brands and the remaining gap the industry must close. “It’s a choice when we are excluded,” says Lartey. “There’s still so much space for Black skincare and hair care brands, but there has to be the funding to allow them to innovate.” Although there is an undoubted emphasis on brands born from Black founders, it’s clear that visibility of Blackness from influencer partnerships to corporate employees offers an industry-wide opportunity to tap into the legacy of Black beauty.
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