Skincare is not just about reversing dark spots and reducing the effects of aging. Luxury skincare is wellness, rituals, and routines, and yet another space Black and brown people are ignored and silenced despite their skincare spending. Black consumers spend $1.2 trillion each year, and that number is projected to rise to $1.5 trillion by 2021, with Black men outpacing the total market by 20% on toiletry items in 2019 according to Nielsen.
However, marketing and advertising of beauty products, especially in the luxury space, are rarely aimed at BIPOC. Social media communities help fill this void, opening up dialogue, education, and community. The transparency in these spaces means they are widely trusted, and trust is key when it comes to purchases and follows. “I basically don't trust any influencer,” says Tacola Buyarski, administrator at a real estate and investment management firm.
Flip through a magazine, or scroll through your Instagram feed—and if you’re a beauty maven like us—it’ll be filled with ads of serums, moisturizers, and oils. However, one thing is still clear. The messaging is not inclusive. In fact, Buyarski says skincare brands tend to ignore anyone who’s not a white woman. “I don't really follow a lot of the skincare brands on Instagram because I've tended to notice that a good amount of them only post people that are white.”
Brands will have a Black model dotted here and there, and there will be some variation in skin tones, but it always feels like an afterthought.
Brands will have a Black model dotted here and there, and there will be some variation in skin tones, but it always feels like an afterthought. Luxury skincare brands are the biggest culprits. The paradox of the paid review as well as the lack of diverse skincare influencers can make it difficult for BIPOC to find real evidence of what actually works for their skin—that’s where social media groups specifically designed for BIPOC come in.
Buyarski founded PoC Skincare: The Group on Facebook in early 2018 after noticing (in another skincare group moderated by all white women), all Black people were lumped together when it came to their skincare needs. It’s a common concern. While forums exist for skincare and beauty discussion, there is a distinct lack of resources for those with darker skin.
Since then, Buyarski has balanced her day job with maintaining and building a gender-inclusive community of about 30,000 like-minded people who are passionate about skincare. Run by a group of skincare enthusiasts in their spare time, groups like this have a global reach and are full of members enthusiastically sharing their reviews, asking for advice, and sharing education. Groups like this aim to be accessible for members at all price points, genders, and ages.
For Black and brown people, a lot of skincare problems manifest differently, explains Buyarski. “A lot of skincare conditions present differently on darker skin, so I think it's important to be able to have a space that people can post a picture and say, ‘Hey, I'm dealing with this,’ and somebody can say, ‘I was dealing with that too.’”
Skincare hasn’t been democratized and made equal. We’ve gotten to the stage where we've acknowledged different hair textures and types have different needs, but we haven’t reached anything near that in skincare.
Dr. Hani Hassan, MBBS, a London-based physician and YouTube skincare micro-influencer agrees there’s a racial gap in skincare representation and information. “Skincare hasn’t been democratized and made equal. We’ve gotten to the stage where we've acknowledged different hair textures and types have different needs, but we haven’t reached anything near that in skincare.”
The 24-year-old doctor’s relatively new YouTube channel, featuring videos about hyperpigmentation and dehydrated skin—to name a few—was born out of frustration. “I felt like skincare was very 'white normative' and I couldn’t find solutions to my specific skin issues, so I started looking at scientific papers indexed on PubMed and my medical school library. I managed to learn so much, and it ended up doing a lot for my skin.” Realizing other BIPOC could benefit from the same information but weren't able to engage with the dense scientific text, Hassan’s YouTube channel was born. She already has more than 38,000 subscribers.
Hassan believes these tightly-knit online communities provide the information that isn't available to everyone, but skincare brands have a responsibility and are still failing at filling a need for a community ready to be catered to.
Part of the issue, says Hassan, is racism. “Let’s just call a spade a spade,” she says. “Black people are classically seen as disenfranchised, from lower socioeconomic groups without any consideration of the broader factors that might produce some of the statistics that people use to back up their racism. Things like luxury products, not just skincare luxury products, aren't targeted at us.”
Cosmetic chemist and consultant Javon Ford, who owns cruelty-free and vegan brand Eclat Naturals confirms this widespread problem starts before products even hit the shelves. “When I get presented with new ingredients to incorporate into a product, there’s always an extensive study shown on the effectiveness of XYZ people over three months, but it is only tested on white women and sometimes Asian women,” he says. “They never focus on African American women or men or other people of color. They only look at lighter skin tones, and we’re not given a second thought.”
This isn’t only a concern about representation. “With darker skin tones and even Asian skin tones, it's not one-size-fits-all. We have different collagen percentages. We have different melanin levels, and that affects how product penetrates and how it works,” he says. In groups like PoC Skincare and some Reddit groups, skincare enthusiasts and experts come together and understand those issues specifically and can recommend luxury products that will work.
Skincare products and procedures center white people and lighter skin tones while relying on stereotypes that 'luxury isn’t attainable by Black people.'
Unfortunately, Black people are still an afterthought, says Sarah Johns, a makeup artist and cosmetic educator who has worked in the beauty industry for over eight years. Skincare products and procedures center white people and lighter skin tones while relying on stereotypes that “luxury isn’t attainable by Black people,” she says. “We are never the target audience when it comes to makeup or skincare, even though we funnel hundreds of thousands into the industry itself. There's a stereotype around us, and they assume we aren't interested in luxury products—but it is the complete opposite. The Black women I know spend money. We like our services.”
Consumer data all but confirms this. Nielsen reports that Black consumers in 2019 outspend the total market on personal soap and bath needs by nearly 19% ($573.6 million).
Johns studied esthetics because she wanted to have a better understanding of skin for advancing her career, and has relied heavily on social media groups. “I would discuss skincare with my fellow makeup artists, a group of Black women, but having a group where people are discussing products for different skin types has been a huge eye-opener for me,” she says.
Luxury in general is pretty isolating for people of color. Attaining luxury beauty and skincare products in brick-and-mortar stores is typically a less than welcoming experience for POC, specifically Black people. Though Black consumers are more likely to say they shop at high-end stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdales, they’re often subjected to profiling and discrimination. Ford attests to this firsthand. While trying to shop at a Versace counter in Macy’s, he was brushed off by the store associate. Ultimately he bought a whole collection of fragrances from another salesperson, but notes the first deemed him not likely to spend money and left soon after he had arrived at the counter.
Instead of being constantly othered by messaging and imagery that ignores BIPOC, they can find a home, a safe space, and trusted information in skincare groups created with them in mind. “Our group really fills that void because you can actually hear people of color people who look like you, who are dealing with similar issues, and get real advice from a real person,” says Buyarski.
In 2020, this still shouldn’t be an issue—Black consumers being ignored—but it is. Buyarski points to the lack of diversity in the decision-making ranks at skincare brands as a possible problem with a clear solution. “I feel like the culture change definitely comes from within, so maybe in these times of Black Lives Matter we’ll see a turn in the tide.” For now, BIPOC continue to find community online and hope brands do the work to change the image of what "good skin" looks like. “For some reason, they tend to think luxury and they think white people,” says Ford. “And that's just not the case.”