Has the Beauty Industry Progressed? 16 Female Beauty Icons Reveal Their Thoughts

With our ever-evolving societal climate, change is a constant. We see major shifts in our political and cultural landscape every single day. Inevitably, the world of beauty is not left out of that conversation. If we’re looking through the lens of inclusivity, diversity, and innovations, we’ve come a long way in many respects.

It’s impossible to applaud the growth of the beauty industry’s approach—which was once limiting and stereotypical—without paying homage to the progressive nature of its heroes, the women who’ve made it their mission to create genuine brands and products that speak to all people, regardless of race, gender, age, or background.

We see more campaigns, brands, and products that don’t fit into one cookie-cutter box than before, and we need even more. Female beauty icons have carved out a fearless space that welcomes change, a good change. On the other hand, there are those who recognize even more change needs to be put in place for true progress and that the work cannot stop here.

We wanted to hear from the leaders who have kept a close eye on how the industry’s unfolded over time. So we straight-up asked them: In your honest opinion, how has the beauty industry progressed, and what can it do better? Read on for their unbiased opinions.

“When I founded my company, foundations looked artificial, and there were so few shades available. I made it my mission to make foundations that matched every woman’s skin color that came to one of my counters. Now, many other companies have created products that work on women of all ethnicities and age groups. I’m optimistic and think this will continue.”

“I think that more brands are trying to empower women to learn how to do their own hair and creating tools, products, and content that make that easier to do without a stylist. From a social standpoint, women are most active on social because we tend to share things more. We are changing the conversation in business and beauty!”

“The beauty industry has changed dramatically on so many levels. The good: On a visual level, the industry promotes diversity. Not only in color and ethnicity, but in being gender-neutral. Everyone can have a voice. Although, within the color assortment, there is the ongoing opportunity to offer a more diverse shade range. I also believe the abundance of education and knowledge on both product and application is extraordinary. Makeup has become an art form.

“The bad: As a woman who embraces natural beauty, the illusion of the perfect face is unrealistic. Contouring can have such a negative connotation; makeup should never be a mask. The beauty industry has moved backward instead of forward in regard of embracing natural beauty.”

On a visual level, the industry promotes diversity. Not only in color and ethnicity, but in being gender-neutral. Everyone can have a voice.

“We are starting to see a shift in the beauty industry as a whole as the consumer becomes more aware of how ingredients in beauty products may affect their health. There has been a greater demand for transparency when it comes to labeling as consumers want to know exactly what they are putting on their skin, particularly around fragrance allergen disclosures.

“At Honest Beauty, we pride ourselves on using clean, quality ingredients and maintaining transparency when it comes to what’s in our products. That has been the foundation of our business and, ultimately, the reason I created Honest Beauty.”

“The beauty industry has progressed somewhat to be a more inclusive place for a broader range of skin colors and hair types, but there is still more work to be done. Given that today, smaller brands can communicate directly with their customers on social, messaging from larger companies struggle to be authentic and also enough. It is challenging to be broad and niche at the same time.”

“Born and raised in California, I did not have any role models that were Asian, let alone Korean. Fast-forward to 2017 with Soko Glam reaching its fifth anniversary, and I feel like I’m living in a completely different world. As a child, I would have never imagined that the U.S. would embrace Korean beauty innovations, skincare rituals, and see Korean women as role models for skincare. As a female co-founder, I have also only felt inclusivity, open-mindedness, and support to help me achieve my goals.

“I couldn’t be more proud or content to be part of the skincare industry because of the way skincare can bring knowledge and confidence to consumers. Skincare is incredibly inclusive. It does not discriminate between race and gender but celebrates your uniqueness through skin type. Is your skin oily, dry, sensitive? Skin is skin, so it is your skin type that matters when building a routine and picking products, not your race or gender. Our mission at Soko Glam is not about achieving flawless or perfect skin (because there isn't such a thing) but helping people get it to the healthiest state it can be.”

“I feel really lucky to have launched Briogeo when I did. The beauty landscape has changed so much over the past several years, especially as it relates to how consumers can share and connect with others about their beauty routines. Social media has helped to create community and transparency between consumers and brands.

“Most importantly, it’s given consumers a more direct voice and impact over the brands that are creating their products. Consumers are speaking up and challenging brands to be more inclusive in product offerings—whether it’s makeup shades or products that cater to diverse hair types—and I think that’s a terrific milestone in the evolution of the beauty business.”

“When you look back over the last 35 years, social media has changed the dynamic of everything very quickly. A lot of us are still playing catch-up understanding the power and voice of social media. It’s the way the younger generation communicates, and you have to understand the many dimensions of it. I’m totally fascinated by what indie brands are doing now—their creativity is abundant.

“Nowadays, when you buy into a brand, you’re not only investing in the product; you’re buying into the entire landscape of what the brand represents. For over 30 years, I’ve created products for consumers, but now I’m letting the consumers create with me. Consumers have caught up with creators and want to be our equal while learning with us. The key is teaching people to be creative with you and discover your brand for themselves.”

“I do think that the beauty industry has progressed over the last couple years especially to be more inclusive and represent the world better as it really is—that is, beautiful in all its diversity of people and ideals of beauty. Having said that, I think the starting point was very far off from reflecting this reality. So while there has been improvement, I think there is still a long way to go. And this isn’t just about having more diversity in ad campaigns to appeal to more demographics, but this is about truly understanding and celebrating all the diverse nuances of people from different backgrounds.

“This also means having more diversity in leadership positions within beauty companies so that there is truly diversity of thought stemming from diverse backgrounds as well from the top down. I think as an industry, we are collectively making progress, but I do hope that baby steps turn into large strides forward quickly.”

This also means having more diversity in leadership positions within beauty companies so that there is truly diversity of thought stemming from diverse backgrounds as well from the top down.

“On one hand, curly and coily hair is much more accepted than it’s ever been—in the workforce, in pop culture, and in the classroom. But it was still a major statement on How to Get Away With Murder when Viola Davis’s Annalise Keating pulled off her wig to reveal her natural hair. After 20 seasons of The Bachelor, admittedly a cheesy cultural barometer, there is still little cultural diversity among contestants. It was a big deal when the most recent Bachelorette was black.

“Models with curls and coils now can be found in print and TV ads, but the Council of Fashion Designers of America still had to release racial diversity guidelines last year—nearly a decade after the discussion initially started—to encourage diversity on the runway.

“Products for curls and coils occupy a growing amount of shelf space at stores like Target and Walmart, but some of the largest companies still view their ‘ethnic’ category as something completely separate from other beauty offerings. More stylists are specializing in working with texture than ever before, but in many cities, a woman with curly or coily hair might be hard-pressed to find anyone with any training on how to work with their hair. As a society, we still view ‘multicultural’ as a niche rather than the new general market. Until we truly have cultural inclusion in all areas of beauty, we still have work to do.”

“I think the beauty industry has progressed greatly in my lifetime for sure, but I think it has such a long way to go. Representation of all types of women, in color, origin, orientation, age, and size, needs to be a priority for brands so when we look at media, we see them. It’s changed for the better in so many ways, but discrimination is ingrained in our culture. Being Latina, I have certainly felt it my whole life. Being 47 years old this year, I feel ageism.”

“I absolutely feel that the beauty industry has progressed, not only in terms of inclusivity and diversity but in formulas and technology as well. Innovation of formulas and applicators/tools has affected every aspect of the industry. Coming from a creative standpoint, I see the advancements having a sort of trickle-down effect. When I play a role in any modernization of beauty products, whether it be shades or packaging, this will inevitably result in diversification, at least in terms of how my brain works. Of course I would like to see even more inclusivity, but I started from a place of innovation in this industry from the beginning of my career, so personally, I operate instinctually from a place of forward thinking and wanting more across the board.” — Dineh Mohajer

“I would say the beauty industry has progressed in the sense that we have endless choices, and even more so in terms of accessibility. Technology has made makeup online a new experience that allows more room for inclusivity. The ability to ‘virtually’ try makeup on online allows more space for individuals to take more chances with their beauty choices, and as beauty product creators, we can reach a much larger audience than ever before. Ultimately, modification leads to diversification. For as far as we have come in the beauty industry in terms of diversity, I would still like to see people take more chances with their beauty choices, to utilize all the new formulas, color palettes, and innovative applicators to make individual statements. It is an exciting time in the beauty industry with an abundance of options; I look forward to seeing how the consumer can inspire the creators.” — Jeanne Chavez

“We’re finally seeing more diversity when it comes to advertising, influencers, and multicultural representation. Five years ago, you saw less cultural diversity being represented in the beauty industry—from models, advertising, celebrities, and bloggers—but we’re starting to see more inclusive representation, which is great. I also see a progression in how educated the consumers are about products and ingredients that are meant for their skin types and needs. Consumers that chat with us on our live chat line, via Instagram, and at events are starting to ask really smart questions about specific ingredients or questioning product performance. Consumers are no longer falling victim to marketing tactics swaying their purchasing decisions—they want products with specific ingredients and proven results. And the retailers are responding by bringing in brands and experts that are catering to a more diverse audience.”

“Historically, the beauty industry has been slow to adapt to change. Now, though, with social media and instantaneous communication, consumers are telling brands what they want to see. It’s a unique opportunity to have a two-way dialogue with clients and to understand what they want. Brands who use social media to listen, not just talk, are the ones who will stay relevant in the future. There has also been a rise of interest in Asian skincare and ingredients, which indicates a widening perspective on where our inspiration comes from and how we define beauty.”

“The beauty industry is progressing, and it’s evident by how beauty is being redefined. Today, beauty is seen in all colors, shapes, genders, and orientations—nothing is more beautiful than that. Much of this change is being driven by beauty fans and the beauty industry is listening and responding. While we recognize that there’s still a way to go, it’s encouraging to see the industry moving in a more positive and inclusive direction.”

“A combination of wealth of knowledge and the incredible emergence of indie brands have contributed greatly to progress in the beauty industry, giving consumers access to products that suit their needs, lifestyle, skin, complexion, and look. Indie brands are generally nimble, creative, and not constrained by traditional definitions of how beauty businesses are run. New needs arriving from democratizing, changing habits, and rapid access to information from various sources including social media are driving innovation in the industry. Emerging indie brands are quickly responding the needs of a changing consumer who has limited time, is not interested in complicated beauty routines, is not loyal to one brand, is very knowledgeable, and is looking for high efficacy and an authentic message.”

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