Eyes have been opened as never before on the topic of how the beauty industry values diversity. Which, clearly, is not as highly as it should. This is not new – it’s been a deeply rooted problem for many years, from the blanket assumption that lighter skin is more desirable than darker, to the locking up of products for darker skin in retailers (in the US) based, presumably on the assumption that they’re more likely to be stolen than products for lighter skin.
So, it’s progress of sorts that Unilever’s Fair & Lovely will be renamed and allusions to skin lightening will be removed. Similarly, Johnson & Johnson have pledged to stop selling skin lightening products altogether. However, a massive part of their income comes from setting the idea that lighter equals more beautiful – they’ve spent years lodging that particular notion and I don’t see them giving it up easily. I’ll be interested to see how it’s re-marketed – which it surely will be. Expect to see plenty of allusion to ‘clearer tones’ and ‘brighter skin’.
The path for inclusivity is not made easy throughout the entire beauty chain. Brands looking to make foundations, for example, that cross every tone, soon find that retailers baulk at selling colours that they assume won’t disappear off the shelves as quickly as standard ‘beige’. They don’t like to see stock hanging around – this could manifest as putting products on lower shelves to they’re not as easily found and then saying the products don’t sell so it’s an economic decision to discontinue stock. Some of our ‘beloved’ high street retailers charge brands for premium shelf space – fine if you’re L’Oreal, but if you’re a smaller brand trying to change the inclusivity landscape, all the cards are set against you, almost from the very beginning.
CVS and Walmart have pledged to unlock the glass cases that hold hair and skin products for women (and men) of colour. That it ever was the case is outrageous – I have never seen it in the UK (although my local Tesco used to lock away skin care that was considered premium) which isn’t to say it doesn’t happen, but I’ve just never spotted it. The lock up is quite clearly, indisputably, based on racial assumptions. There are a lot of those in the beauty industry – assumptions. I’ve seen very obvious signs of it and have been oblivious to the less obvious signs but I know they exist. It’s a problem that at the top of virtually every beauty company tree is a board of middle-aged white men. You do not have to ever feel apologetic for your colour, but you do, I think, have a responsibility to ensure that your decisions are not entirely formed from a one-tone base. There are a lot of uncomfortable learnings to take from the last few weeks that need long-term thinking rather than knee-jerk reaction. I’d like to see a national diversity board specifically for the industry that’s formed from lived experience with power to make fundamental change. Although several brands (such as L’Oreal) have made swift moves to form their own diversity panels, it’s not the same as an independent body and I feel strongly that their needs to be one. L’Oreal, incidentally, has apologised publicly to Munroe Bergdorf and invited her to be on their internal panel.
In other news, remember Victoria Beckham Beauty took exception to an Australian brand registering VB Beauty as a trademark and took legal steps to stop it? An Australian court found that the brand hadn’t provided sufficient grounds to stop Skinlab VB trademarks, so they are being allowed to proceed.
Also from the courts (in California) is the case of KKW Beauty – Kim Kardashian is being sued by Seed, the makers of her own brand beauty products. It’s thought that Kim, like her sister, Kylie Jenner, is about to sell the majority of her beauty brand to Coty. Seed is concerned that their trade secrets, such as formulas and business models, would become known to Coty, a competitor, and therefore their business would be damaged.
L’Oreal has bought Connecticut based naturals brand, Thayers Natural Remedies. It’s not particularly well known in the UK but it’s clear that the corporation has its eye on natural brands. They went too early with The Body Shop and off-loaded it to Natura so it’s my guess that they’d like to position Thayers into that same space and give TBS a run for their money. One to watch over the long term.
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Good heavens. I never realised all the rubbish and discrimination that went on in the beauty business. I mean, really? People are people and it’s incomprehensible that any of them should be treated differently. It’s not as if those lightening products work! I’ve been trying to get rid of sun damage for decades and nothing, from the expense of SkinCeuticals down to the reasonable The Ordinary, touches them. Actually the only discrimination I’ve ever really noticed in the beauty industry is the complete disinterest in anyone over 50! Like the clothing industry! Anyway, Jane, as ever it’s really interesting perusing your blog. Thank you for that and I hope you and yours are well.
Ann, behind the scenes, it’s a hot mess. All of it. I agree with you re over 50 – something I am continually at logger heads with brands over their casual
negativity towards women over 50. It’s so ingrained they hardly know they’re doing it. Thanks Ann, always so pleased to have your feedback x
Jaw-dropping stuff about those American stores openly accusing persons of colour of having an inbuilt urge to shoplift.
About skin lighteners though, I’m stunned. I’d thought they’d been comprehensively banned years ago. (My inner conspiracy theorist has long thought that the more recent craze for skin brighteners/freckle faders as essential skincare for all was invented in order to resell disgraced skin bleach under another name.)
Really eye popping stuff Jane, many thanks.
You’re so welcome – there’s a difference I think between skin (of any colour) that looks fresh and bright as opposed to whiter and bright. I’m okay with skin brighteners in terms of exfoliants that allow skin to gleam and glow rather than any ‘bleaching’ effect. Bleaching products are illegal in the UK but the implication that things can bring you whiter skin is not. The brands mentioned don’t sell those particular products in the UK that I’m aware of although easy to get on Ebay x
Oh, I know I’m indulging in hyperbolic imaginings, but it’s certainly true that many a British brand has adamantly insisted that their skin brightener serum will swiftly erase my freckles (not that I asked). Sounds like Domestos Luxe to me!
The real, illegal stuff though is greatly entangled (in the UK at least) in a very unfortunate facet of colour prejudice that is extremely tricky to journalise (if that’s a word). Your speaking of it surely helps to bump the matter in the general beauty conversation.
Yes, I hear you – there are a lot of claims made that never really provide the pot of gold promised even if you get to the very end of the rainbow!
Hello…..just read this in The Guardian.
I swear to god I’ve a memory of reading exactly the same thing about 35 years ago. (It’ll be interesting to see if the other side of unabashed ‘whitening’, aimed at the Korean/Japanese markets, quietly broadens its reach, into this supposedly abandoned market now.)
The industry knows demand is very strong, and it surely isn’t going to take a stand against colourism unilaterally. Labelling just going discreet again, for a while.
It’s not just an East Asian thing about skin lightening. It’s a South Asian issue in the U.K. community too (and I can’t speak for the black community but know it has been covered in some of the journalism I’ve read). Friends and family bring lotions and potions over from abroad or buy it under the counter. It happens here in the U.K. a lot. I’m fairly high educated and I struggled to find work. It has affected me to the point where I chose names for my children that sound western enough and not too Islamic. People deal with racism every day in every aspect of our lives. I appreciate the way Jane uses her platform and the respect people are giving to hear the voices that don’t often get heard. I feel like you were willing to read my response so I put it out there things I’ve never said out loud. I’d it wasn’t for the BLM I would never have breathed any word of it so imagine how our fellow Black people actually feel. My heart is just broken and in hope change will happen
Thank you for reading
Thank you for putting your feelings across so thoughtfully – we are glad to hear you. x
I was thinking – where I live there are very few people of colour (like, very very few) . So, it will be an obvious suicide to even try to sell darker shades of foundation here. Brands need to have the option to decide which shades should be sold in which markets, otherwise there will be so much waste. And we hate waste, right? There are no simple solutions like ‘we should all sell all shades everywhere’. Meanwhile, brands that already have an extensive shade selection can offer an insight into the way people of different colours consume their products (there certainly is a difference) and this can become the basis for change. Also, change in the way lighter shades are sold, I assume. This comes from an extremely pale individual who can barely find a matching shade in the drugstore – but I know that this is because not many are like me where I live and I don’t get mad at brands just wanting to make money (or rather, girls here still love the oompa-loompa style for whatever reason but this is another story)… The ultimate goal in making business is to make money – so whatever changes we try to make should either comply with this, or we need to change the model. Which is problematic on so many other levels. Anyways – truth is, there is a need to change, but not at the expense of hard-working people. Policies have to be very well thought of to produce the desirable results (that is, everyone should have access to the shades they need) in the long run.
You’re right that there are no simple solutions – it’s perhaps more important to get as much decision making diversity within brands as possible and look at all the options to provide wherever possible. Clearly, if there are no customers for a particular product then that’s a different matter but I am sure, on the business side, there are ways and ways to provide more effectively even if it means some creative juggling and perhaps a tad less profit (don’t forget at the top of the tree lie some very fat cats indeed. But if brands aren’t attuned to alternatives because they don’t have the right thinking internally, it’s difficult. Thanks for your insightful comment.
As for the locking up of products that are marketed to blacks in the United States, you are making an inaccurate assumption. Those items are locked up based on the number of them that are stolen. Other items like certain razors are quite often locked up. It’s not a decision made on the basis of race. It’s an issue of losses because of theft.
With foundations I never understood why the Prescriptives custom blending system didn’t take off back in the day. It seemed a great concept.
Made it into my local House of Fraser earlier this week and it was very strange walking through the beauty hall with all the testers removed or covered up. Why buy in store if you can’t sample the product?
Also in the news today the UK retail park owner Intu is in administration. Will we live to see the end of the retail park? I can remember being driven around an under construction retail park with the driver explaining it used to be a steelworks. In a few years time will be reminiscing about shopping centres that have been covered in housing.
If all makeup retail ends up online it will hopefully bring equality of distribution.
That’s a good point about online – location doesn’t matter so the issue of not enough customers for a particular product in a particular area just wouldn’t be valid.
As always, I probably love these posts the most as you share information about the beauty business from the financial (to which this applies of course) to the racism and ageism. Thank you for keeping us all aware of the positives and the negatives
You’re very welcome – so glad you enjoy 🙂
The big brands like Lauder and Clarins renamed whitening serums to brightening serums years ago, not out of altruistic reasons but because it’s better for business. If they use the term “whitening”, pale women won’t buy it. If they use “brightening”, bingo! Women of all colors buy it. Of course they won’t admit it. Virtue signaling at its best.
I live in Japan part of the year. One of my favorite Japanese serums is called White Lady, which lightens dark spots effectively (it has Vitamin C). It makes me livid to be told, especially by a white SJW, that I shouldn’t be allowed to buy White Lady because it offends her white guilt sentiments. A black American blogger in Tokyo says it was one of her faves. Is she brainwashed? Should she be prohibited from buying this serum by a tiny group of white people who want to bring us a kind of Utopia?
By the way, as a reminder to people who like getting a tan, fake or real, being pale is simply a cultural aesthetic among the Japanese (as well as Filipino, Thai and Chinese) even though with many Thai and Filipino women are quite dark. I know this is hard to understand for those who hit the tanning bed and fake tan creams in winter.
So are western countries going to dictate to women in these cultures that their aesthetic is evil? Force them to stop buying whitening serum because it’s politically correct in the USA? Maybe it’s time for the USA to stop telling other countries what they should think. Their histories are so different and they don’t really give a damn about the West’s obsession with political correctness. They just want nice pale skin.
My auntie owns a cosmetics company in Thailand. The “face” of their products is always a pale Thai-Chinese model who looks more Chinese than Thai. That is what Thai girls aim for. Is that bad? Do Americans want to muck around in that too? Many years ago Americans said that the West shouldn’t tell Asians what to think and what to do. Apparently now there’s an exception for politically correct stuff.
If people in the beauty industry truly want women in different cultures to celebrate their unique beauty with acceptance of their different skin color, they should do what Bobbi Brown did. She deserves an award for her entrepreneurial spirit at a time when no one was doing it – making products for a wide variety of skin tones, showing women how to apply the best makeup for their particular ethnicity, and just being gracious and decent. MAC too deserves to be commended.
Instead of screaming, threatening (“cancel” culture) and beating people over the head with diktats, Bobbi Brown and MAC made high quality products for women from the very pale to very dark. They have done far more for women of all ethnicities than any of these screeching SJWs.
Thank you so much for your detailed comment. You’ve raised some very interesting issues – I think we need to be led by the voices that have the lived experience on this which is why I suggest a body or board that has some authority within the industry. I think everyone just wants to do the right thing by anyone who feels that they’re not being heard so it’s a little unfair to allude to social justice warriors when a lot of this is trying to redress the balance that is long overdue. By all means, if whitening skin is what you actively want to do, then there’s nothing to stop you.
More on colour privilege and cosmetics (specifically re Bollywood, and by extension, that particular ethnic market globally) in today’s Observer, and how L’Oréal and Garnier et al are first choice for skin whitening in this enormous market. (Different from the initial report about US practices, but possibly greater in terms of worldwide profits, for the industry)
The article cites ‘Fair and Lovely’, which Jane’s post speaks about, and it underlines that the product isn’t withdrawn, but only renamed. Which is exactly what happened decades ago. Then activism calmed down, until the concern re-emerged. The demand will always trump the damage done.
There’s one very sobering point in the article, not made on behalf of the beauty industry as far as I can tell. If these carefully renamed whiteners were ever withdrawn, the economic and social pressure within that market for lighter skin is so extremely strong that very dangerous alternatives would be sought, akin to DIY facial fillers using cement.
Markets are gonna market. In this tremendously tricky one, I’d say little will change until prominent, relevant faces stand up and decry the continuance of colourism, even though they themselves (by default) promote it in film and the wider entertainment scene. (As you say Jane, only direct experience (and high profile repudiation) of this prejudice is going to shift anyone in the industry.)
Hope everyone’s having a serene Sunday
There will be a lot of nervous marketers out there wondering how to crush confidence without using the confidence crushing words they’ve relied on for years!
I miss Bobbi Brown, she was a breath of fresh air when she first launched. I wonder if she stepped down from her company because the whole Kardashian contouring and highlighting trend was very different from her pop of colour on the cheeks technique.
I wonder if we’ll ever know why!
I also miss Bobbi Brown. A lot of women don’t like her minimalist approach but they have so many other options for the 1970s Disco Face as every cosmetics brand seems to be pushing bright red and shocking blue eyeshadow. We have only one Bobbi Brown.