Show, Not Tell: The Beauty Industry Continues To Tackle Inequity

June 16, 2022

Iman. Naomi Campbell. VIVA Glam. FENTY Beauty. The 15% Pledge. Pull Up for Change.

As a result of modern social justice movements and the pandemic, the beauty industry is accelerating its journey towards a more equitable marketplace. Inspired by our role within Neutrogena’s Heroes of Skin Health Equity initiative, we delved into what institutional progress actually means for consumers with Black and brown skin. How are corporations adjusting their cause marketing budgets, brand strategies, content pillars?

While we’ve observed large institutional gestures since 2020, we know that consistency and tracking are necessary for achieving long-term, industry-wide change. “Racial progress requires vulnerability and real transparency, and choosing accuracy over opaqueness is a key part of creating trust,” wrote the New York Times last June, reporting on Black representation in the fashion industry.[1]

In this (quantitative) spirit, we’ve highlighted methods below that encourage sustained change because they focus on [1] educational content, and [2] directly supporting Black- and brown-owned businesses:

1. New Visual Indices For Skin Concerns Emerge

"What am I looking at?"

Medical literature and textbooks have historically underrepresented pictures of skin of color, leaving critical diagnostic information off the page.[2] This has led to a reported lack of dermatological training on how to identify symptoms on darker skin tones—as a result Americans with Black and brown skin are having trouble finding appropriate caregivers for their skin.[3] “Pattern recognition is central to dermatology, and a lot of the pattern recognition is training your eye to recognize certain colors that trigger you to think of certain diseases,"  Dr. Jenna Lester, director of the skin of color program at the University of California, San Francisco, told the New York Times in 2020. If a doctor is trained to identify a visual symptom in a specific color, they may not recognize that symptom present itself in another color.[4]

Working to reconcile this disparity, industry stakeholders have stepped up to provide self-service, educational resources for consumers. Similar in sentiment to individuals sharing images of skincare concerns on Reddit—shoutout to r/skincareaddiction—these indices function as aids for self-identifying skin conditions:

  • Brown Skin Matters — The community-sourced “database of dermatological conditions on non-white skin” and has an active, dedicated Instagram account[5] to UGC imagery of skin conditions, in addition to a visual index on their website, categorized by skin condition (ranging from mosquito bites to vitiligo).[6]
  • Mass Index — Care company Soft Services offers Mass Index, an online index of expert-level dermatological information and reference imagery, created to address the educational gap for body skin concerns.[7] Their Body Gallery webpage houses over 100 images of skin concerns, from acne to tinea versicolor, across body types and skin tones.[8]
  • Black Derm Directory — Currently referencing 261 doctors, the website supplies a directory of dermatologists who specialize in skin of color.[9] With less than 4 percent of U.S. dermatologists identifying as Black, the weight of this resource is straightforward.[10,4]

2. Publications Implement Diversity-Driven Content Franchises

"Who is this for?"

Conceptual clarity within DEI initiatives is often overlooked: are those being represented the ones doing the representing? We observed consumer-focused beauty editorials highlighting new content franchises that specifically focus on skin concerns for Black and brown individuals, primarily created by contributors of color. The Cut actively runs a series entitled “Black Beauty Matters”, which currently has 53 pieces attributed to it.[11] Similarly, Allure offers “The Melanin Edit”, which houses 53 pieces to date.[12]

Byrdie’s website now has designated subcategories for “Hyperpigmentation” and “Natural Hair”, while their “Wash Day” and “Crowned” content series’ on Instagram are created specifically for natural hair textures.

“Hyperpigmentation” has been an active sub-category within “Skin” since 2020, with a total of 22 articles published to date. At least 13 of these pieces include a person of color within the article as an expert being interviewed, a writer, or a medial reviewer.[13]

Particularly impressive are Byrdie’s rigorous editorial guidelines and processes, including fact-checking, a review board of experts, and a quantitative diversity pledge.[14]

Articles go the extra mile to emphasize that they have been created specifically for those with darker skin tones. A piece entitled “Skincare Products For Women of Color” explains, “Usually [skincare is advertised] for specific skin types, like oily, dry, and combination, completely disregarding the underrepresented group of people with dark skin. Those with darker skin are more prone to things like hyperpigmentation, melasma, dark spots, and more.” The passage concludes with this line, emphasized in bold: “A lot of these concerns are hereditary and a part of our genetics”.[15]

3. Stakeholders Offer Inclusive Incubation And Acceleration

“What’s the bottom line?”

Incubators are a vital aspect of the beauty industry, providing a new pathway for fledgling brands to establish competitive positioning, scale, and be discovered by consumers.

While this is not a new development—indeed, Fashionista waxed in 2018, “it's only a matter of time before incubation goes from experimental endeavor to the new beauty establishment”[16]—we are seeing this business model evolve in favor of Black and brown founders:

Outside The Box

Corporate entities have long been interested in incubators as a way to effectively diversify holdings, connect with consumers, and promote focused agendas that many deviate from the larger company perspective.[17] The beauty incubation trends of the 2010’s saw corporations tapping into internal talent as a way to stay financially and operationally lean, rather than folding in external brands or entrepreneurs.[16] This method of business development proved to be largely insular, dulling the cutting edge of innovation that parent companies were aiming for.

Cut to 2020 and beyond: companies are actively looking outside their ecosystem for talent, refreshing the landscape with businesses and founders who are laser-focused on skin health for Black and brown individuals. Incubator, accelerator, grant, and scholarship programs have now been largely restructured to drive DEI programming and objectives. The performance-driven Sephora Accelerate completely focused their 2022 brand incubation program on founders of color[18], while Ulta Beauty launched their MUSE accelerator program focused on early-stage BIPOC brands (alongside Diversity and Inclusion Advisor Tracee Ellis Ross,[19] as part of their $5M spend on diversity initiatives for 2022.[20]

In The Weeds

The financial partners of today’s industry are keenly aware that a brand is as good as its narrative and product—they work in step with founders to ensure that their efforts resonate with target audiences.

Alexis Maybank, the CEO and co-Founder of Creative Beauty (the CAA-backed incubator which recently launched Pley Beauty) notes, “...a strong ethic is necessary...We want an individual who really cares, down to the last detail of how a business is built, how a product is developed, the voice, down to the quality of the formula”.[21]

This rigor has been shown to bolster early-stage brands, particularly when it comes to reframing social constructs around skin health concerns and “imperfections”. Case in point is Topicals (“Skincare for flare-ups 🤠✨”), who raised a $2.6M seed round in 2020, and joined Sephora Accelerate in 2021.[22] Focused on body, hyperpigmentation, and mental health, the cult-feeling Gen Z brand boasts Bozoma Saint John and Issa Rae on the cap table. Co-founder and CEO Olamide Olowe—the youngest Black woman entrepreneur to raise over $2M—praised Sephora Accelerate’s process, noting that the company helped them ideate and work on concept development as part of their application, before they were accepted into the program.[23,24]

Caitlin Strandberg, and investor in Topicals and a partner at the venture capital firm Lerer Hippeau, commented: “A lot of money is being made in the category...Companies with billion-dollar valuations. There’s much more funding, there’s much more M&A activity in the space, the investments are looking more like venture returns than ever before”.[25]

This movement has also propelled EADEM into the spotlight: the skincare brand creating “effective products for people of color” was awarded Glossier’s inaugural grant for black-owned businesses in 2020, receiving $10K within the “Pre-Launch” category.[26] Co-founder and CEO Marie Kouadio Amouzame gained significant value from the grant programming, stating that she formed meaningful relationships with fellow grant awardees and Glossier employees—“Our company aged two years with all the knowledge they shared with us”.[27]
In 2021, EADEM went on to receive: a $50K grant from Johnson & Johnson’s JLABS to help advance their science-backed products, acceptance into Sephora Accelerate, and an additional $50K grant from Glossier. This year, they were named The World’s Most Innovative Beauty Company by Fast Company.[28,29]

In Conclusion

Witnessing tangible progress, publicized on an international level, feels like a substantial step towards addressing the gap. As stakeholders develop trackable DEI initiatives, by way of inclusive programming, the results seen from both end consumer and brand founder perspectives are promising. These initiatives feel like they have staying power due to the representation appearing on both sides of the camera or pen. We feel confident that addressing Black and brown skin concerns is becoming an industry standard, and the beauty business is taking note. Watch this space.


Selected Sources

  1. Friedman, Vanessa, and Salamishah Tillet, Elizabeth Paton, Jessica Testa, Evan Nicole Brown. “The Fashion World Promised More Diversity. Here’s What We Found.” The New York Times, 4 March 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/04/style/Black-representation-fashion.html.
  2. Kwong, Emily. “Meet The Dermatologists Advancing Better Care For Skin Of Color.” NPR, 1 April 2021, https://www.npr.org/2021/03/31/983051020/meet-the-dermatologists-advancing-better-care-for-skin-of-color.
  3. Majmudar, Shivani. “What ‘Skin of Color Dermatology’ Is Doing to Make Health Care More Inclusive.” SELF, 25 March 2022, https://www.self.com/story/skin-of-color-dermatology.
  4. Rabin, Roni Caryn. “Dermatology Has a Problem With Skin Color.” The New York Times, 30 August 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/30/health/skin-diseases-black-hispanic.html.
  5. Brown Skin Matters. Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/brownskinmatters/?hl=en.
  6. “Brown Skin Matters.” Brown Skin Matters, https://brownskinmatters.com/.
  7. “Mass Index.” Soft Services, https://softservices.co/massindex.
  8. “Body Gallery.” Soft Services, https://softservices.co/massindex/gallery.
  9. “Black Derm Directory.” Black Derm Directory, https://www.blackdermdirectory.com/.
  10. Shatzman, Celia. "Why Your Dermatologist Should Look Like You.” Women’s Health, 27 October 2021, https://www.womenshealthmag.com/beauty/a37963338/why-dermatologist-should-look-like-you/.
  11. “Black Beauty Matters.” The Cut, https://www.thecut.com/tags/black-beauty-matters/.
  12. “The Melanin Edit.” Allure, https://www.allure.com/collection/the-melanin-edit.
  13. “Hyperpigmentation.” Byrdie, https://www.byrdie.com/hyperpigmentation-5200597.
  14. “Editorial Guidelines”. Byrdie, https://www.byrdie.com/editorial-guidelines-5196791.
  15. Allen, Maya. “Skincare Products For Women of Color.” Byrdie, 22 December 2020, https://www.byrdie.com/skincare-products-for-women-of-color.
  16. McIntyre, Megan. “For Major Beauty Companies, Brand Incubation Is the Way of the Future.” Fashionista, 20 September 2018, https://fashionista.com/2018/09/beauty-brands-incubators-2018.
  17. Eagar, Rick and Phil Webster, Petter Kilefors, Ingrid af Sandeberg. “The Next Generation of Corporate Incubators.” Arthur Little, 2019, https://www.adlittle.com/en/insights/prism/next-generation-corporate-incubators.
  18. Ware, Asia Milia. “Sephora's Accelerate Incubator Program Is 100% BIPOC This Year.” Teen Vogue, 9 February 2021, https://www.teenvogue.com/story/sephora-2021-accelerate-incubator-program-bipoc.
  19. “Ulta Beauty Announces MUSE 100, Honoring Black Voices in Beauty.” Press Releases, Ulta Beauty, 22 September 2021, https://www.ulta.com/investor/news-events/press-releases/detail/139/ulta-beauty-announces-muse-100-honoring-black-voices-in.
  20. Manso, James. “Ulta Beauty Kicks Off Muse Accelerator Program.” Yahoo! Finance, 7 June 2022, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/ulta-beauty-kicks-off-muse-040109277.html.
  21. Spruch-Feiner, Sara. “Exclusive: CAA backs new beauty incubator, Creative Beauty — and its first brand is with Peyton List.” Glossy, 15 December 2021, https://www.glossy.co/beauty/exclusive-caa-backs-new-beauty-incubator-creative-beauty-and-its-launching-its-first-brand-with-peyton-list/.
  22. “Topicals”. Companies, Crunchbase, https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/topicals.
  23. “Sephora Accelerate: feat. Kulfi and Topicals | Sephora.” Sephora, YouTube, 26 February 2021, https://youtu.be/6RHHEHez9hU.
  24. “Hyperpigmentation, Spotty Hotties and Gen-Z Nihilism ft. Olamide Olowe of Topicals.“ Naked Beauty. Apple Podcasts, 19 March 2021, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/naked-beauty/id1131628553?i=1000514829885.
  25. Kunthara, Sophia.”Beauty Industry Startups Start To Turn Venture Investors’ Heads.”  Crunchbase, 16 September 2021, https://news.crunchbase.com/business/beauty-cosmetics-startups-vc-investment/.
  26. “Grant Initiative for Black-Owned Beauty Businesses.“ Blog, Glossier, 11 June 2020, https://www.glossier.com/blog/grants.
  27. Bryant, Taylor. “Glossier Grant Recipient And Sephora Accelerate Participant Eadem Launches With A Dark Spot Serum.” Beauty Independent, 20 May 2021, https://www.beautyindependent.com/glossier-grant-recipient-sephora-accelerate-participant-eadem-dark-spot-serum/.
  28. Jana K. “Meet the Black Innovators in Skin Health QuickFire Challenge Awardee.” Neutrogena, 10 June 2021, https://www.neutrogena.com/the-bar/black-innovators-skin-health-quickfire-challenge-awardee.html.
  29. “The 10 most innovative beauty companies of 2022,” Connie Lin. Fast Company, 8 March 2022, https://www.fastcompany.com/90724367/most-innovative-companies-beauty-2022.

Blog

This is some text inside of a div block.

Heading

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Button Text

Latest

This is some text inside of a div block.

Heading

This is some text inside of a div block.

Heading

This is some text inside of a div block.

Heading

This is some text inside of a div block.

Heading

This is some text inside of a div block.

Heading

This is some text inside of a div block.

Heading