A Look Back at Powerful Women in the Beauty Industry
In the beauty industry, true inclusiveness is paramount but, sadly, infrequent. Scrolling through backstage images during fashion week, scanning products meant to "banish" frizz and "tame" curls, and noticing the often limited range of foundation shades prove that sentiment. Particularly given the current political climate, it's imperative to recognize this fact and work to change it.
There are so many incredible black women who have changed the beauty industry for the better—from makeup artists to entrepreneurs to scientists. There's a woman from Northampton whose mother taught her to mix eye shadow with foundation to match her skin tone, a celebrated singer who decided to stop wearing makeup because it felt like a mask. There's even the first-ever female African-American self-made millionaire. Join us in celebrating five of our favorites (and we empower you to research a few more and tell us about them in the comments below).
Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture
Why she's inspiring: Madam C.J. Walker (born Sarah Breedlove) invented a line of haircare products in 1905 after suffering from hair loss. It was so successful that she was the first African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire.
How she changed the industry: In addition to her inspiring financial success, she helped usher in a movement of speaking directly to her customer through self-promotion, door-to-door sales, and product demonstration. Her method was a huge departure from the current brands of the time, which were primarily owned by white men and advocated hair straightening products that were not helpful to hair loss.
Why she's inspiring: Pat McGrath is more than just a legendary makeup artist. Her stunning artistry has transformed the industry—taking over runway shows, the streets at Paris Fashion Week, and now the shelves at Sephora with her eponymous line, Pat McGrath Labs.
How she changed the industry: Her inventive creations are now trends. She's not only the most requested and prolific makeup artist but also the most influential (see incandescent skin and strobing). She has a major impact on both the luxury and mass beauty markets.
Why she's inspiring: Alicia Keys has been at the forefront of a makeup-free movement, forgoing foundation and eyeliner for healthy, hydrated skin. While she clarifies she's not anti-makeup, it's inspiring to see a woman show off her bare face and stand up for natural beauty.
How she changed the industry: Her act of defiance and devotion to the cause—allowing women to feel comfortable in their own skin—sets a precedent. She uses her platform to give young women something else to look up to, appearing on magazine covers (most recently Alllure) sans makeup and thus spearheading a message of honesty in the beauty industry.
Why she's inspiring: Price founded beauty brand Carol's Daughter in her Brooklyn kitchen in 1993. As time went on, the brand gained international loyalty—eventually becoming one of the most recognizable natural-haircare brands on the market.
How she's changed the industry: Carol's Daughter is one of the first African-American woman–owned beauty brands to have a flagship store and premier shelf space in department stores. She set the ball moving for many African-American woman–owned companies to come.
Why she's inspiring: Atis, now L'Oréal's Women of Color Lab manager, was working in research and development for the brand but always had trouble finding shades to match her skin tone. She took on a side project developing new shades in the lab, eventually spearheading a new category devoted to creating a wide spectrum of shades for African American women in all L'Oréal products.
How she changed the industry: Foundation shades are so personal and, for women of color, can be especially difficult. Atis realized the struggle firsthand and used her position to make a difference in the industry—creating a diversity standard for all L'Oréal products moving forward.
Next, take a look at some incredible women who started their own beauty companies.