5 Beauty Brands That Are Going Beyond Light, Medium, and Dark
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
Here at Byrdie, we know that beauty is way more than braid tutorials and mascara reviews. Beauty is identity. Our hair, our facial features, our bodies: They can reflect culture, sexuality, race, even politics. We needed somewhere on Byrdie to talk about this stuff, so... welcome to The Flipside (as in the flipside of beauty, of course!), a dedicated place for unique, personal, and unexpected stories that challenge our society's definition of "beauty." Here, you'll find cool interviews with LGBTQ+ celebrities, vulnerable essays about beauty standards and cultural identity, feminist meditations on everything from thigh brows to eyebrows, and more. The ideas our writers are exploring here are new, so we'd love for you, our savvy readers, to participate in the conversation, too. Be sure to comment your thoughts (and share them on social media with the hashtag #TheFlipsideOfBeauty). Because here, on The Flipside, everybody gets to be heard.
The beauty industry has long been conflicted by a limited approach to beauty norms. Whether it's been products formulated in a limited range of skin tone offerings, skincare that neglects entire sets of skin types, or narrow-minded beauty standards, these shortcomings have been all too common. However, there are certain beauty brands pioneering change and breaking the mold for inclusive beauty.
Some of these brands at the helm of positive change are long-established and have been working to shift the industry for years. Others are relatively new and are coming to the market fresh with new ideas of how the beauty industry can be transformed for the better. We reached out to five beauty brands leading the industry in celebrating diversity and championing inclusive beauty to have them share their stories and their message.
Keep scrolling to see what these mold-breaking beauty brands have to say.
BYRDIE: Since its inception, Milk Makeup has offered a fresh new take on beauty. From unisex packaging to using diverse models (in more ways than just skin tone), Milk has truly been at the helm of guiding the industry toward a more forward-thinking and inclusive approach to beauty. Could you please speak to how the brand came into being and why these values have been so important from the start?
GEORGIE GREVILLE, MILK MAKEUP CO-FOUNDER AND CREATIVE DIRECTOR: The line itself was inspired by Milk's community of artists, tastemakers, and doers, which organically grew into a living, breathing lifestyle of its own. The energy of this diverse, dynamic community is what inspired the line and is reflected in the product architecture. From the brand's inception, we wanted our products to speak to everyone with simple packaging that can easily be unisex.
Our products are cutting edge and connect you to the living, breathing needs of the Milk community in NYC. We are a brand that aims to speak to the modern individual regardless of gender constraints. Beauty is self-expression, and self-expression should have no boundaries.
BYRDIE: Milk's Blur Stick campaign celebrates the freedom from gender binaries. Could you please speak more to this project and how Milk is championing gender diversity?
GG: We introduced Blur The Lines as part of a new series of short films, an ongoing study of the spectrum of individuality. For our first film, we collaborated with men's grooming website Very Good Light, exploring the concept of gender fluidity with founder and editor, David Yi. I wanted to create a metaphor for the product (Blur Stick) that really spoke to its deeper, revolutionary meaning in the industry—a truly universal product for anyone that could help you feel like who you really are on the gender fluidity spectrum. Like me, David views this topic as a movement and not a trend and believes in the importance of unifying people and sharing their own truth in relation to gender identity. When David and I thought of what to title this collaboration, we looked at each other and instantly blurted "Blur The Lines!"
We need to see each other as one of one. In the campaign, we used as many gender angles as possible with a focus on ambiguous, line-blurring individuals. The concept was to show the spectrum of individuality through the lens of gender and everyone we selected had to have a fresh, positive perspective on the subject. For me, what is amazing about this group was their awareness of the male and female balance inside themselves. That balance is different for everyone and is ultimately what we all have in common. We are all part of the spectrum of gender and hopefully, this piece will help people understand that.
BYRDIE: In what direction would the Milk brand like to see the beauty industry move going forward? Are there any more plans or projects in the works that you can share with us?
GG: I think it is great that brands are becoming increasingly inclusive and hope this continues—genderless beauty really is the future. For us, this project marks the beginning of a much bigger exploration into the spectrum of individuality for us—we have some exciting videos, product launches, and editorials in the works that will continue the positive exposure as part of our #LiveYourLook campaign.
BYRDIE: How did Black Opal come into being?
DEREK WANNER, VP OF SALES AND MARKETING: It has always been about caring for the skin. Black Opal started as a conversation between two friends, Dr. Cheryl Burgess, a renowned dermatologist and her lawyer friend, Carol Jackson. They both lamented about the inability to find products suitable for skins of color in retail stores. Carol Jackson's husband, a manufacturer of beauty products, helped both women formulate and develop the very first Black Opal doctor-recommended product: Advanced Dual Complex Fade Gel, addressing issues of hyperpigmentation and discolorations.
BYRDIE: What was the inspiration behind the brand, and why has diversity and inclusivity in beauty been so important from the start?
DW: The inspiration was and has always been women of color. Very early on, Black Opal recognized that global skin tones go beyond black skin. Ethnic consumers not only had beauty aspirations but buying power left untapped by a beauty industry that did not cater to the diversity of skin tones and undertones. This was a void that Black Opal aimed to fill through its skincare and color portfolio. We wanted that consumer to know that we developed those products for her and with her in mind. We championed her cause and used state-of-the-art labs to develop premium, yet affordable products for her.
BYRDIE: We love the brand's message "No matter how unique your shade, tone or your heritage, we see you and celebrate you." Can you please speak more to how Black Opal's product offerings champion the beauty of individuals who are often underrepresented in the beauty industry?
DW: The uniqueness of the individual is what drives and inspires us. We look to infuse our brand with personality at every turn and encourage others to embrace their own brand of beautiful. Our portfolio of products allows our consumers to address their individual skin type, tone, and undertone needs and create their perfect look. BlackOpal represents beauty for every color. No matter how unique your shade, your tone, or your heritage, we see you, and we celebrate the fire in you. There is a sense of pride in knowing who we are and that we own our originality. We believe that being our best, true selves is a way of life, and we encourage everyone to live their own truths.
BYRDIE: In addition to makeup, Black Opal also has an impressive line of skincare that addresses a more diverse set of needs. Can you tell us more about this line?
DW: Our skincare line addresses the two main concerns associated with skins of color: hyperpigmentation (our fade line targets areas of discoloration and helps even skin tone) and oiliness (our oil-control line helps control excess sebum production). We offer comprehensive problem/solution collections that work in synergy with our foundations to give our consumer the best possible skin. She does not have to shop multiple brands to obtain beautiful skin.
BYRDIE: In what ways is Black Opal leading the way for a more diverse understanding of beauty right now? Are there any projects or expansions in the works that you can share with us?
DW: Black Opal today is a global brand with distribution throughout Europe, Africa, the Caribbean etc. We've always believed in the beauty of all cultures, and, as we grow, we continue to strive to create beauty opportunities for everyone. Our vision extends across racial and cultural borders around the world. Our message "For Every Shade of Beauty" is supported by shade offerings that go where few brands dare to go. No matter how light or dark your blended complexion is, Black Opal has your shade, and if not, know that we will develop it. We get constant feedback on the needs and wants of our global consumers and have our labs working hard on innovative formulations.
BYRDIE: Can you speak to when you had your "Aha!" moment and developed the Stellar brand?
MONIKA DEOL, FOUNDER AND CEO: I have always been frustrated by the limited number of offerings available to medium skin tones. That is, in terms of shades, performance, and price point. When I was thinking about producing a makeup line, I thought, "Does the world really need more makeup?" My instinct and experience told me that this demographic in the world does.
I literally took the Pantone Skin Tone chart and populated it with every shade of every foundation that Sephora sold in 2015, and it was right in front of my eyes. The fair tones were saturated, the very deep tones were surprisingly well populated, and the middle tones were, as I expected, not very well represented. I took out the foundations that were 50 Canadian dollars and over, and the gap just grew.
BYRDIE: What do you think causes this limited, binary approach to beauty? Would you say advertising, the modeling industry, entertainment industry, etc. contribute to this narrow perspective of beauty?
MD: In all fairness, it's more complicated than that. Medium skin tone beauty clients have not been where the money is for big brands until recently. That's because, frankly, whether you're talking about East Indians, West Indians, Latina, Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino, Native American, or any other group that falls into the medium range, most of us are more recent immigrants to North America. Our mothers were quite happily buying drugstore brands, and makeup was a nice lipstick and the wrong foundation. Now, both culturally and financially, we are an emerging force. We've become more sophisticated in our lifestyles, and we have the financial clout and know how to support that lifestyle.
The other part of the equation is that big brands are traditional in their approach to skin color. It's light, medium, dark. It's warm and cool. Look around. North America has the most multiracial society on Earth. Complexion has become far more complicated than that.
Another factor at play is power in the entertainment and beauty industry. Being very straightforward, the people with power in the industry-editors, advertisers, producers, owners of big brands, etc. have been mostly "white," until very recently. They were not necessarily going to bring the perspective that diversity is an important reality because they haven't lived the issues. Until recently, immigrants and children of immigrants were not encouraged to go into media, advertising, and entertainment. I know, I was a huge rebel in my culture pursuing a career in entertainment. It wasn't easy. Now, these careers are recognized as viable and in fact, admirable professions that young people aspire to. That's a game changer as they put in their time and become power players.
BYRDIE: Your collection has an impressive range that addresses subtleties in skin tone. How did you come up with these formulations that are able to address so many different backgrounds (included mixed race) and nuances?
MD: I realized that to truly address the lack of options and to "nail the color" for most people in the medium range, we would have to acknowledge and invest in the fact that "a few sizes don't fit all." There are so many subtle undertones in skin color and that is the key to actually producing great shades that work for a large group of people. I based the shades on real life tones, and I tested them on real people with undertones of yellow, peach, olive, and red. It's subtle differences in the same color family, with an offering of different undertones within that family. And then applying that approach to many different colors, so that all skin tones are addressed. That's the only way to truly execute a fantastic line of complexion products.
I believed that if Stellar built it, they would come. It's a gamble, but I'm willing to take it because I think there's a need. I think someone who has lived in that skin, gets it.
The Limitless Foundation formulations had to be weightless, long-wearing, and seriously buildable to address concerns like hyperpigmentation. The Limitless Concealer had to have top-notch coverage with a luminous, natural finish to deal with the dark circles that come with our DNA.
BYRDIE: In what direction would you like to see the beauty industry move going forward? Are there any more plans in the works for Stellar that you can share with us?
MD: I think we have to have a new dialog and speak a different language when it comes to complexion. With the wonderful diversity going on in the world, it just isn't as simple as light, medium, dark, warm, and cool anymore.
Even the consumer has to be more aware of the subtle differences that will help them choose a better shade in a foundation. They have to learn that all colors of skin are good colors and feel empowered to love the skin they're in and get the right shade to be the best-polished versions of themselves.
I have learned so much in this process. For example, it turns out that super-fair skin also has challenges with finding enough choice in a high performance and well-priced foundation and concealer. I would love to be able to offer a huge range of shades in the future to cover everyone.
Over the next few months, we'll be bringing new Stellar products out that are quite innovative. Stardust Lip Powder Palettes, Cosmic Face Lustre, and a few other intriguing stars from the Stellar universe. Stay tuned.
BYRDIE: MAC was one of the first brands to really offer a range of products that truly consider all skin tones. Can you please speak to the brand's philosophy and how it's always celebrated inclusive beauty?
KAREN BUGLISI WEILER, GLOBAL BRAND PRESIDENT, MAC COSMETICS: MAC was built on principles of diversity and inclusion. It's a part of our DNA as our mantra is "All Ages, All Races, All Sexes." MAC is available in more than 120 countries and territories around the world, so it's imperative that we cater to the needs of people in a variety of environments, with different skin colors, tones, and textures. Our best-selling product, MAC Studio Fix is a foundation that offers more than 50 shades—you'll be hard-pressed to find a brand that has this many shades in a single foundation. We also collaborate with artists and personalities from all over the world, bringing their diverse points of view to our customers globally. Next month, we are launching a collection with Chinese fashion designer, Ms. Min. While she is very popular in our Asian markets, other parts of the world may not have exposure to her. Launching these regionally relevant collaborations globally is another way we celebrate the beauty of diversity and inclusion.
BYRDIE: MAC collaborates with a wonderful range of artists and talent for its gorgeous Viva Glam campaign and beyond. Could you tell us more about these iconic collaborations and if there are new any projects in the works that you can share with us?
KBW: The VIVA GLAM campaign is the heart and soul of MAC. Since the brand's inception in the '90s, we have been committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. We have historically tapped into celebrities to create their own lipstick where every single penny of the selling price goes to the MAC AIDS Fund, which helps people globally affected by HIV/AIDS. To date we have raised more than $450 million—that's a lot of lipsticks. Over the years, our VIVA GLAM spokespersons have been incredibly diverse, but what unites them is a strong point of view and not being afraid to use their voice to help raise awareness and end stigma around HIV/AIDS.
MAC was one of the first brands to bring the collaboration idea to life in the beauty world, and we are constantly innovating this model. While we can't tell you who our next collaborations are with, we can say we are working on some exciting and surprising ideas.
BYRDIE: MAC was ahead of its time in terms of having a diverse product range. Has the makeup industry been catching up? In what direction would MAC like to see makeup and beauty move going forward?
KBW: With the growing popularity of social media, consumers have more choices and are exposed to so much more than just a few years ago. I think every beauty brand wants to cater to every skin color, but what sets MAC apart is our unparalleled product development and our more than 18K artists around the world who consistently give us feedback to offer the most expansive shade range. At MAC, we are constantly evolving and changing as the market and consumer changes—but our motto will always inspire us and be at the core of what we do.
BYRDIE: Becca is known for its impressive lineup of shades suited for every skin tone—a very different approach than so many other brands out there on the market. Can you please speak to how the brand came to being, its development, and why this inclusive range was an important part of its offerings?
KERRY COLE, GLOBAL BRAND AMBASSADOR AND STYLE DIRECTOR FOR BECCA COSMETICS: From its inception, Becca has been a brand focused on perfected complexions. With a highly curated product portfolio, our range of shades will fit every woman's or man's personal skin tone and type. We strive to create products that match everyone's complexion while highlighting the features that we love most.
BYRDIE: Can you speak more about how Becca has consistently offered a 50/50 split in its foundation range? How has BECCA made sure to include this diversity even when streamlining its product line and developing new products?
KC: Becca has always had a foundation range that's unique. 50% of our shades fall into the light-medium category, and the other 50% fall into the medium-deep. This 50/50 split allow us to cater to all Becca Beauties, regardless of skin tone. During product development, we do extensive testing on light through deep complexions, to ensure that all new products and shades are complimentary.
BYRDIE: In what other ways is Becca championing a more diverse and inclusive approach to beauty?
KC: To us, it's about a two-way conversation, which we're always having with our Becca Beauties, influencers, consumers, and each other. We have always been cognizant when creating or sharing imagery, that it represents, and stays true to our brand DNA of inclusion. Whether it's a Becca event, an influencer dinner, or collaboration, we are constantly engaging with those that influence communities. From yogis to lifestyle influencers, our approach is one that invites other to join the conversation, while encouraging interaction and inspiration.
Next up, discover model Andreja Pejic's entire beauty regimen.