The Beauty Brands That *Actually* Understand Women Of Color, According To 6 Beauty Editors
Amidst the ongoing conversations (and major missteps) by beauty brands when it comes to being more inclusive, these are the brands that are getting it right, according to six established editors in the biz.
ICYMI, the beauty industry is in a bit of a tizzy right now, with conversations swirling around discussions of inclusivity and diversity, and how often brands are missing those mark (or so, so much worse). Yet despite years of ongoing discourse, when it comes down to it, there are still very few mainstream brands on the market that practice what they preach; if and when a company makes an effort at more diverse representation in the form of a campaign, the same concept doesn’t always translate in terms of the actual products (and again, some brands have flubbed this beyond belief).
Furthermore, discerning the motive behind these “groundbreaking” choices can lead to some even tougher questions: Is this all an act, orchestrated for the purpose of these companies making a big profit? Or are they truly trying to engage with a playing field that has never not overwhelmingly catered to a dominant standard of beauty?
Browse any makeup counter and there seemingly countless options for foundation. And yet the shades available for women with melanin are on the scarce side, to put it mildly. Have we not waited long enough for brands to finally start represent all of us?
The state of the cosmetics union, in terms of diversity, remains pretty dismal. But there are some brands out there making a different. We checked in with six beauty editors that are women of color to get their insights on the brands that are genuinely prioritizing inclusivity in all aspects, rather than using it as a marketing gimmick.
Kathleen Hou, Beauty Director at The Cut
“Rihanna's Fenty Beauty launch really made brands aware that being inclusive isn't just common sense, but also lucrative. Forty [shades] seems like the new benchmark for foundation nowadays. But plenty of brands have always made an effort to be inclusive. NARS Cosmetics founder Francois Nars has always said that he believed foundation should be for everyone, and he was one of the first to feature Naomi Campbell and Alex Wek in his ads.
Bobbi Brown may not have as many foundation shades, but her darker shades are lauded for having the right undertones so they don't appear ashy or red on the skin. MAC Cosmetics has always made an effort to be inclusive, and that's not just reflected in their tagline, "All races, all sexes, all ages." NPR once reported that half of their customers are women of color. Since signing Lupita N'yongo as a spokesmodel, Lancome has also been impressive.
Lastly, drugstore brands such as L'Oreal Paris, Maybelline, and CoverGirl have impressed me with the breadth and variety of their foundation shades.”
Maya Allen, Assistant Editor at Byrdie
“I can't get over the incredible impact Fenty Beauty has made on the world of cosmetics and beyond. Call me a hypebeast if you want, but Rihanna created an ode to brown girls everywhere when she released 40 foundation shades that cater to the varying deep shades and undertones that are often overlooked (and ignored) by mainstream brands. Every single woman was accounted for when formulating this line of products, and that deserves major recognition.
I'm also a big fan of black-owned beauty brands like AJ Crimson and Danessa Myricks Beauty that have always put diversity on the frontlines of their brand with next-level products that serve women of all skin tones.
Of course, I have to give props to OG shade-inclusive brands that I've been using for the longest—MAC, MakeUpForever, and Cover FX have always had extensive shade ranges. The beauty industry has come a long way when it comes to inclusivity, and yet, there's still so much more work to be done."
Jessica Chia, Senior Beauty Editor at Allure
“To me, brands that are doing a good job at being inclusive are ones that have always been inclusive. MAC Cosmetics, Make Up For Ever, Bobbi Brown, AJ Crimson Beauty, Danessa Myricks Beauty, Iman Cosmetics, Jay Manuel Cosmetics—these have always been lines for women of all colors, regardless of trends or political correctness or business decisions.
Of course, diversity is more than about just race. I think geographic diversity—realizing that women who live where the media industry is based, Manhattan and Brooklyn, hold just a portion of the many viewpoints on culture and style you'll find across the country—and that’s particularly important to me as a half-Latina, half-Chinese woman who has lived in five different states. I'm just as proud of the story I wrote for Allure that highlights Texas hair culture (in our March issue, on stands next week!) as I am about the piece I reported on monolids.”
Tahirah Hairston, Associate Editor at Lenny Letter
“I'm more of a skin care girl. I've been using and rebuying from the same makeup products forever with a recent addition of Fenty Beauty, because duh, Rihanna. With skin care, inclusivity to me means being available at price point that the average person can afford without breaking the bank. Taking care of your skin health shouldn't be reserved for only people who can afford $80 serums or $200 facials, and no one should feel obligated to break the bank. So, I'm all about trying to find new affordable lines that are just as good in quality as more expensive ones.
Everyone has been raving about The Ordinary, and the hype around the brand is very real. There is no other brand right now with this level of quality and price points, which is why I was a little skeptical about trying at first. But, so far I love the lactic acid, the peel, the rosehip oil and the niacinamide. Another brand that has fewer products and is slightly more expensive , but still very very affordable is the LA based brand Jordan Samuel. Aside from a larger bottle of their hydrating serum, every product is under $50. The retinol is amazing as well as the hydrating mist. Pixi Glow is another affordable brand, specifically for their acid exfoliators and cleansing bomb. Lastly, Alicia Yoon always has a variety of affordable options over at Peach and Lily.”
Sarah Wu, Beauty Features Editor at Teen Vogue
“I hear the word ’diversity’ constantly used in beauty lately—and it's great that the conversation is something brands are thinking about more and more. But, I do think that if brands are going to give a platform to issues like diversity, representation, and inclusivity, it's important that they're thoughtful about what that means. I want to see them uphold that platform and stand by it. When diversity is approached in a surface-level way to sell product, it's damaging.
There was a recent panel where Ashley Graham and Noor Tagouri both voiced their thoughts on tokenism and how there's a trap of some brands jumping on this the idea of a token representative and not taking that conversation any further. There has to be authenticity and responsibility behind these choices, and when that happens, people react in a very positive way. Rihanna is obviously doing a great job of this with Fenty Beauty, and there are also brands like Lush and Illamasqua that I think have figured out how to own their stances and create inclusive spaces for their customers. When I look at what they put out in the beauty space—from their campaigns to their products to the way they address these issues—I can tell that they're doing something real.”
Essence Gant, Beauty Editor at BuzzFeed
“The first brand that comes to mind is Fenty Beauty, though I also love Juvia's Place and Huda! I'm obsessed with everything about Fenty, from the products to the campaigns, because people of color are a priority—not an afterthought— in every aspect of the brand. BuzzFeed's beauty team is constantly thinking about how we can be more inclusive on all fronts, and Fenty has definitely inspired us even more with some of our own major projects underway.”
Words: Sydney Gore