Multicultural Approach Charts Future of the Beauty Business

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Despite all of the advances though, Beecham—who counts Kelly Rowland, Fantasia Barrino and Usher among her clients—still sees gaps in the offerings. “One thing we’re missing for sure is a bronzer that looks really good on darker toned women,” she said. “If you have really dark skin, they have gold that looks too sparkly and glittery or too ashy.”

Generally, Beecham is able to find what she needs by cherrypicking from different brands like MAC, Bobbi Brown, Iman and Black Opal, which she says a lot of celebrity makeup artists use thanks to its color range and affordable price. She’s also had success with foundations from the Queen Collection, though she only tried it after receiving free samples. “I wouldn’t have thought to try it, because when I buy drug store makeup it’s never been the match I’m looking for,” she said. “But I was happy to see that there is inexpensive makeup that works just as well.”

Going Skin Deep

More so even than color cosmetics, experts say that skin care products designed to enhance the appearance and slow the effects of aging are often top sellers. “We index very high in lightening and evening products for African-Americans,” confirmed Boone. The primary concern for Black women is uneven skin tones caused by hyperpigmentation, or dark spots that result from an overproduction of melanine, and a general darkening around the perimeter of the face as we age, she said.

For this reason, products that promise to reduce or cover discoloration—which is of greater concern than wrinkles in this group—are found in all lines targeting Black women. Black Opal, for instance, offers its Fade System, a treatment designed to reduce spots and generally brighten skin tone. The company also folds treatment into some of its color cosmetics. “We offer some unique multitasking products such as our Fade & Conceal Concealer, which not only covers unwanted marks and hyperpigmentation but also helps fade discoloration,” said Hutson.

One thing that consumers often misunderstand is the role melanine plays in our skin. Though the mainstream beauty market has been aggressively touting the virtues of solutions with sun protection, many women of color haven’t taken that message to heart, according to Rolanda Johnson, Ph.D., a senior scientist for P&G Beauty, which offers the Cover Girl, SK-II and Olay brands, among others. “We don’t wrinkle or burn as fast because of the melanine protection in our skin but we can start to see the effects down the road as we age,” she said. P&G addresses this problem with its Olay Total Effects product, which includes ingredients that even skin tone.

Expanding Opportunities

P&G credits the breadth of its products for women of all skin types to the focus groups that allow them to hear their concerns firsthand, according to Vince Hudson, general manager of North American Cosmetics. For its part, L’Oreal corporate—the beauty behemoth behind brands such as SoftSheen-Carson, Maybelline, Kiehl’s and Lancome—opened the L’Oreal Institute for Ethnic Hair & Skin Research in Chicago in 2003 to gain an edge in developing products for women of color here and all over the world.

Efforts and expenditures such as these are guaranteed to produce dividends because although only about half of African-American women wear makeup, those that do often spend a substantial amount on beauty products in general. “The major brands cater to the needs of African-American women and also market to them,” stated Carolyn Holba, senior vice president of marketing for Maybelline New York. “Everyone recognizes women of color have significant purchasing power, set trends and like to wear the latest trends.”

Kisha Mitchell Williams, multicultural brand manager for P&G’s My Black is Beautiful initiative, described the buying power of this group as “phenomenal” given that Black women spend three times more of their disposable income in the beauty category than the general market consumer.

Moreover this focus on beauty products for women of color has not only helped consumers but raised the profile of African-American women within the industry. “There has also been a shift in these companies as more Black women are running these operations,” stated Jones of SMSi-Urban Call Marketing.

Boone has witnessed this during her tenure at Flori Roberts, where she said many of the Black executives that currently hold positions at mainstream companies got their start. And increasingly more products and marketing might means more lucrative beauty contracts for black actresses and models, according to Wallner. “Fifteen years ago, you never saw a woman of color modeling for the majors in any consequential way.”

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