How Beauty Brands are Committing to Change + Next Steps

As brands have released statements over the last week, along with follow-up statements about where they’re positioned today and what steps they’re taking to commit to more equality and inclusivity as brands, I thought I’d share some ways I feel the beauty brands, and to some degrees, the community itself. I’m really looking forward to seeing if and how brands implement the changes they’re committing to in the next six-, 12-, and 18-months.

I previously shared how the language of the beauty needs to change, and I also detailed areas where complexion products could use further improvement or “next steps” to go beyond just offering 40 shades in a single formula.

First, here are some changes to look out for (and hold brands and retailers accountable for) based on commitments made this week:

L’Oreal has finally issued an apology to Munroe Bergdorf, and now, we will see her take a seat on L’Oreal UK’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board to advocate for Black, trans, and queer voices in the beauty industry.  They also donated €50,000 to Mermaids Gender and UK Black Pride.

Glossier issued one of the strongest responses with an initial $500,000 donation across organizations fighting against racial injustice, but they will also allocate $500,000 available as grants to Black-owned beauty businesses (which they’ll provide more details on this month). The latter will go a long way to long-term, ongoing change.

Anastasia is also committing $1 million with an initial $100,000 donation and is working on specific initiatives to “support Black-owned businesses and artists in the beauty industry” going forward. ColourPop has donated $50,000 and will donate an additional $250,000 going forward.  There are many beauty brands who have made unspecified donations and donations from $5,000 to $50,000, so I’ve only called out some of the higher donation amounts.

Violet Grey has committed to stocking all shades in the complexion products they stock on their website, rather than a curated shade range (sometimes as ridiculous as 5 of 15 shades available).  This morning, SpaceNK said they’ll only provide testers for brands that have all shades displayed, and those who have a more edited display will have samples upon request for all shades.  What I like about SpaceNK’s decision is that it acknowledges how important accessibility is, especially in-store, to be able to see and try your shades.

Sharon Chuter, founder of UOMA Beauty, started #pulluporshutup (documented for easy access @pullupforchange) to push brands to share where they are today so that the community can hold them accountable going forward in a more transparent way. #pulluporshutup is less of a “gotcha” moment as it is a more measurable way to hold brands accountable, despite percentages only telling a partial story–how brands treat their BIPOC employees, the types of policies they have, whether there are glass ceilings for BIPOC, etc. are all more important than having “good” numbers.

Here’s why Sharon created this campaign, from an interview with Essence:

“I want to make it clear that this isn’t about bullying brands, it’s not an exercise in naming and shaming. This is a wake-up call. It’s saying, there is a problem,” she continues. “Thank you for your monetary donations, but we have to go back to the root cause, we have to go back and look at the overall system of oppression that has lasted for 400 years. We have to be cognizant of that. For the first time the world is listening, people are partnering with us at mass—we have the opportunity to make a long term change for future generations.”

A lot of the brands that “pulled up” shared their plans to create a more diverse workforce.  This has ranged from putting together diversity councils/boards, consulting with diversity experts on corporate policies (like recruitment, training, etc.), investing in internships and mentorships.  Brands that already wanted a diverse workforce but have not yet achieved it, they’ll need to dive into why and look into the hiring process, where they’re recruiting from, and if there are biases within corporate culture that they need to address.

Here’s how Sharon sees phase two of Pull Up or Shut Up, from an interview with Cosmopolitan:

“My push for phase two is that we need to set up independent diversity boards made of all people of marginalized groups,” says Chuter. “They will be charged with implementing true policies for change, documenting this, working with the companies to ensure their staffs are diverse and that those people are protected.”

Suggestions for Change

Here are four ways brands could do better going forward that would be effective with what I’d expect is “little” effort compared to implementing long-term policies that address the system beauty operates in.  These are on top of my suggestions for how complexion still needs to change.

Improve product diversity at all levels.

This means going beyond more inclusive shade ranges in foundation and concealer.  It means that offering one highlighter or one bronzer shade is not enough.  Too Much Mouth has a recent follow-up video on the latest bronzer releases and how they appear on deeper skin, which comes a few months after a prior update on the state of “bronzers for dark skin.”  Nyma Tang also has an excellent video on products from 2019 that failed POC.

Examples:

There are some brands who have better than average ranges, and categories like bronzer have seen definite improvements in the last two years but many brands have not seen fit to expand there.  “Better” is really relative to how short most ranges are, though, in most cases below.

Examples:

More Inclusive Color Stories

Brands can still release shades that work better on lighter complexions, but it’s about pushing brands to ensure that they’re creating products that fit a color story that works on darker complexions.  If you take a critical eye to a lot of the limited edition color collections that launch, they tend to hover around more of a light to light-medium skin tone depth–that’s often who they’re “most” for so those with medium and deeper skin tones are more often “making them work” rather than having the collection work for them.

This is seen readily through cheek colors launched–like launching a single blush or highlighter–along with eyeshadow palettes where several shades are nearly unusable for deeper complexions.  There are several brands that will launch two cheek colors in a collection but often they’ll be very similar in depth, where it would be more useful to offer two shades with differing depths.

Examples:

Here are some products that have done well with readers, period, but have seemed to work well for medium and deeper complexions with less work…

Do Better with Themes & Names

From cultural appropriation to exoticization and/or fetishizing of people and places to racial slurs as names (g*psy still in use, though greatly reduced in the last five years) to the microaggressions like “nude” (when it means light beige) and gendered language.  If brands really create more diverse workforces and enact policies that support anti-racist policies in the workplace, I hope that we’ll see less brands make poor choices in collection themes and names.  But here are a few things that retailers and brands could do right now with little effort:

  • Brands + retailers defining nude as a concept, not a color.  Rename shades that are “Nude” when they really mean beige–particularly in complexion ranges.  Renaming should also occur for other commonly used choices for beige shades: Natural, Flesh, Skin.
  • Brands + retailers using gender-neutral language in product copy, marketing emails, etc.  These are often automated but pervasive yet greetings and copy can easily be edited to reflect gender-neutral language like they/them and people/person.
  • Brands + retailers stop using and stocking products that use racist slurs, like g*psy.  We’re so close to this one.  Sephora has one product that shows up, and Ulta has five (two from NYX!). Nordstrom has 11 (most being Byredo’s G*psy Water). Beautylish has six.

Provide More Accurate Swatches on Real People

Look, I get that brands are going to edit and manipulate their promotional photos–including swatches–to show their products in the best light (literally and figuratively), but if you’re going to show swatches on multiple skin tones, then those should be real people getting photographed, not digitally darkened (or lightened) skin.

Many brands have taken editing so far that swatches from brands have are often as useless as hex-code base square “swatches” were 10 years ago.  What is the point of showing swatches on three skin tones if the brand has manipulated them to look the same on everyone (when they’re not)?  (I appreciate Clinique showing how un-bronzer-like their bronzer is on deeper skin tones, though how marketing saw that and didn’t go, “Whoa, whoa, wait a minute!”)

Viseart provides more realistic swatches that are still neater, like they did for Spritz Edit, which clearly showed a difference in how colors appeared on lighter and deeper skin tones.  On other hand, you have a more “indie” brand like Melt Cosmetics that releases promotional swatches that look painted on and appear the same on all three skin tones… what’s the point?  Natasha Denona has been criticized for similar behavior, especially with respect to the mini Bronze & Glow released (but you can see here how the Love Glow palette is quite different on deep skin).

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Great, informative post! Basically brands need to stop relegating inclusiveness to an afterthought and start factoring it in from the beginning. No cutting corners in development. Then they wouldn’t be scrambling to use ridiculous editing to cover their tracks, because they’ll have products they’ll be proud of showing across a number of skin tones. It’s a question of caring enough to try.

Yet another great article!

But from my point of view most brands right now are marketing washing unfortunately. While change and donations are good, the motivations are not so they won’t scale in the long term. Money don’t change opinions, don’t make people less racist/biased, they just yield some actions and make nice news. Education and mindset change is hard to quantify. Maybe (and hopefully) I’m wrong. But this whole week I just felt every brand was on a mission to save their back and prove how good they are… and few brands seem genuine.

I wish still that brands would have also addressed the issues with sending less PR and paying up to 75% less influencers that are minorities (even if they have same following as majority influencers).

Yes to everything you said, Ana Maria! But, in particular, that last paragraph concerning BIPOC influencers and the appalling lack of PR and recognition sent their way by most beauty brands. It makes me sick inside that some extremely talented and knowledgeable creators are routinely overlooked (ignored?) by these brands. So I’m putting a shout-out to any brands reading this to do right by: @kelseebrianajai @kinkysweat @nappyheadedjojoba @thefancyface @jackieaina @alyssaashley.
(If I miswrote any tags, please feel free to correct the above info! I’m dyslexic, so I’m not very good at tagging)

Thank you for the good news! I just sincerely hope brands are in it in order to actually be inclusive instead of being performative and using diversity as a selling point!

It’s an entirely different industry, but I feel like this is especially relevant with the Bon Appetit fiasco from today.

I hope it continues to be possible to check on brand progress. I would like to direct my spending to companies that prioritize diversity both in their workplaces and their product lines but that requires the ability to get information. I already check on animal testing before making a purchase and it is a simple matter to do the research there because there are a number of people and organizations willing to do the work in compiling lists. I hope it becomes feasible to obtain information on diversity as well.

It’s at least an encouraging beginning of changing the current unacceptable situation in the beauty industry when looking at the brands who are commiting to making a difference. Yet, on some level, I cannot help but feel that things ought to have always been inclusive, ie; foundation and other base products shade ranges, for one. Still, I welcome their efforts of late.

Then we get down to the naming of specific products. Some names have got to GO. Permanently. Like, G*psy, Savage, and anything else that is either racist leaning or misogynistic.

I am okay with ND’s I Need A Nude lipstick line being called such, as it truly encompasses the full range of “nude” lip colors for all. Other brands need to take a page out of her book and do this!

I agree with mindset, as Ana Maria said. While realizing that we are here in a beauty community, I think the problem is totally pervasive. It’s just more obvious and overt with beauty products. My day job advertises itself as committed to diversity, and has since its inception, but upper and middle management is all…you guessed it. It’s a bit better on the residential side. Therapists are probably the most diverse group. At night job, I saw an excellent example of attitude adjustment, with a couple of young gents from cultures who have been at odds since I was born, related to the partitioning of India. They both came from either sides of the line drawn through the Punjab. The Hindu gent was from an upper middle to upper class home.(’But, kjh, you don’t understand! I had one closet for my jeans and another just for my white shirts.’) And that’s a direct quote. The Indian gent hid, actually hid, when Muslim people came in the store, and he refused to speak to the younger Muslim Pakistani gent (who eventually became an engineer, yay him!). To be fair, the Pakistani gent didn’t much care for the Hindu guy either. Amit’s behavior was so unacceptable that I dragged him into the office and read him the riot act. That is not how we act in America. Etc, on and on. I told him what I found admirable about Hamza and how all people have more in common than the differences that their parent’s generation and their cultures stressed. Long story short, flash forward a few months, and they were great buds, chatting in Urdu, Hamza’s first and Amit’s third language. And Amit served the Muslim customers with some level of courtesy. I think that ‘bridging the gap’ if you will (it’s more like light dawns on marble head) happens via individual relationships and by growing up in settings that value diversity. Have you ever seen preschoolers be other than diversity welcoming, in the most innocent way?

I suspect that lack of diversity in complexion products may have come down to costs and desire to maximize profits – more SKUs results in more products to stock (some retailers only allot a certain amount of space, and/or charge for it), produce, etc, plus sales of shades at the outer edges of the spectrum may be lower than middle shades. However, this is an area where brands are going to have to accept higher costs and lower profits in order to do the right thing and stock sufficient SKUs to be inclusive. Not everything can be purely about extracting maximum money anymore. How about fewer new releases and more permanent products that work for a wider range of skin tones?

Tarte as a brand keeps getting away with their atrocious lacklustre foundation lines and not just the one listed here, it was only 2 years ago *after* they were called out about their limited line for their Shape Tape they stated “we know people get a tan in the summer” before promising to expand to more shades AND STILL HAVEN’T. Tarte actively excludes people of colours and even the other products they release are limited to working best on fair skin and not much more. To see them as a celebrated brand for their products sucks because it’s overwhelmingly clear to me they’re employing tokenism on their website and social media to cover their bases and sell their products.

A thought provoking article Christine, addressing the genuine issues regarding diversity within the beauty industry. Australia is a long, long way behind and yet we are a diverse nation.

Thanks for this article, Christine. The beauty business is not as superficial as many people believe it it is. We can no longer beat around the bush or ignore the elephant in the room. Change for the better of all!

Thank you for being outspoken and thorough in your posts! As a long time reader who is part of the BIPOC community I really appreciate how you have addressed this issue and how well researched your posts have been. It does make a difference.

I feel strongly that we can make changes at all levels, both small and large, and that they really can come together for larger impact down the road! Some push back and say “it’s just makeup” and yet I always think, “So shouldn’t that mean this is a safe, inclusive space?” If it’s for fun, why isn’t it all fun??

Thank you, J! 🙂

This isn’t a new thing, but one thing I like about Charlotte Tilbury’s website is that the carousel of swatches on each shade’s product page shows how that shade will look on 20 skin tones. I hope that the number grows and that other makeup companies will do the same.

Asking for inclusivity at any level isn’t economically sustainable, especially for small brands and in the long run, it will cause barriers to entry for most indie brands that, in order to start a business, will have to stick to eyeshadows and lipsticks. As an economy & management student, I can’t help but see this side of the story and believe me, I’m an NC15, not a very included color in the most foundation and concealer ranges until a few years ago.
In order to make any launch inclusive, you need lots of money and you need to be quite sure that the product it’s going to sell incredibly well, otherwise, it will be a big, expensive fail. Then you have a distribution problem: how many physical retailers will have enough space in stores to give all brand the space they need to display their 50 shades of foundation or concealer? Brands that can pay more will get the space, the others will have to display just some of the shades in store, some online. Then you have a demography issue: brands have to analyze which people are more likely to spend on cosmetics. For example, white people (lots of different shades of white, from a nordic white skin-blonde hair-blue eyes to a Southern olive skin-dark eyes-dark curly hair) in Europe are the vast majority and the ones that are more likely to spend a big amount of money on cosmetics. Yes, we have POC in Europe but they’re a minority and a part of this minority is still a first or second-generation immigrant that economically isn’t able to spend lots of money on makeup, especially high-end makeup. That’s one of the reasons why high-end brands do just a few shades of foundations, they look at who is their standard client: is a white, wealthy middle-aged lady (it’s a stereotype, I know)? That’s why we get just a few shades and boring repeats. Yes, maybe who’s entering the shop isn’t the most accurate indicator of your potential client, because POC won’t go shopping in places where they already know won’t find shades for them, but here we have a vicious circle: not enough inclusivity -> POC not having options, will not buy -> the brand will cater just to those who do buy their products. Then you also have investors that have a say in the business plan. Most investors want just to maximize their profit, so they’ll encourage things they know already work, not a new and innovative, inclusive approach and they have a say in what the brand is doing: if the brand has a really honest and open-minded manager that will go after an inclusive strategy, but with some risks and costs, they can change the manager to one that will pursue their interest. And finally, you have the cost, let’s say for each foundation shade: probably the best-sellers are the middle-range shades, because of the demography and those shades will allow the brand to increase their profit (the more they make and sell a single shade, the least will cost that shade for the brand and the bigger will be the profit on that particular shade). That’s why most brands can’t simply go inclusive. And the cancel culture and boycotting aren’t helping as well. A wise approach is to have a good range at the launch in order to allow most people to try the product and if the product has good feedback, expand the shade range in order to reach almost anyone. Remember, the mission of a business/brand is to survive and make a profit, not to please anyone.
Then are other products that are simply difficult to be inclusive. For example, how can a single, not huge morphe-like palette have a brow bone highlighter and a transition shade for every skin shade? For me, it’s better if the palette has a strong, cohesive color story and I bring my brow-bone highlight and transition color to the table. That’s why Pat’s and Natasha Denona palettes meet most people needs: they are good quality, pigmented and able to show on any skin shade (very buildable) and come in a variety of color stories so there’s something for anyone (light, dark, cool tones or warm tones lover).
As for limited editions, it’s hard to make them inclusive (while staying small, capsule-like), but not impossible. Let’s say lipsticks or blushes: instead of doing slightly different variations of the same color, they can go for 2-3 really different intensity colors, one that will reach fair to light people, one for light-medium to medium-dark and one for dark to very dark people. And then we must say that even if inclusive, a collection won’t appeal to anyone, and considering the fast-fashion strategy that even cosmetic brands adopt nowadays, a part of the products will eventually go to landfills, impacting the already huge environmental problems we have.
I’m ok if I’m not included in limited editions, I tend to like the limited edition concept less and less. At least I have fewer things to keep up with, I buy less and less goes to waste. I would like to see brands doing their best for their permanent lines (quality and inclusivity) and think less about the next limited edition.

Some really good points by both you and Christine (and everyone else). I actually typed out a very lengthy reply with my (similar) thoughts, but I deleted it before posting, because posts here can be neither deleted nor edited once you hit “post comment.”

But, yes, I agree with much of what you said.

I’m sorry but immigrants in Europe who are not white don’t have lots of money to spend on luxury makeup – that’s a pretty sweeping generalisation!! You’ve obviously never been to a Indian wedding before to understand if they can spend money! I am from London – I’m pretty certain there are more black and south Asian owners of luxury cars than their white counterparts. In the UK anyway, haven’t MAC, NARS and Bobbi Brown provided that ethnic minorities can afford luxury products since they are still viable businesses 20 years later? Apart from Giorgio Armani (and Pat made their foundation) most European brands that sell in UK have atrocious colour ranges in complexion products. Demographics play a part – but in a multicultral city like London where you have British nationals of all ethnicities, economic migrants (who have jobs!), foreign students (who have money!) and foreign tourists from all over the world who come to shop what is the excuse then? Brands like Bobbi Brown, Pat McGrath, Lisa Eldridge and even Victora Beckham started with capsule make ranges that suit all skin tones and capsule is the key word. Fenty is the exception as because of the joint venture with LVMH, Rihanna was able to come out with so many shades in beginning – but doesn’t the fact that her brand is popular show that LVMH’s initial investment was worth making?

I originally had a longer response to leave up here, but in all honestly this comment just makes me sad.

I think many of us are well aware that there are likely cost reasons as to why some brands don’t care larger shade ranges. I think we are also well aware that as consumers, we can vote with our wallet and also push brands to be more inclusive. This statement:

“Yes, we have POC in Europe but they’re a minority and a part of this minority is still a first or second-generation immigrant that economically isn’t able to spend lots of money on makeup, especially high-end makeup.”

Is quite a loaded statement as Vaishali mentioned. I don’t even know what to do with such a generalization other than to say it’s still an excuse, and most luxury brands have a fair amount of international reach now and I think can still do better here. If we’re already making excuses for brands based on assumptions and profit than honestly we’ve already halted progress. I’d like to think we can do better than that, and I hope more companies are not thinking among these lines and being more exploratory and inclusive in our thinking.

And as an aside – I do understand your point about indie brands (quite a few others have made similar comments here). I’m unsympathetic to that argument though as I’d argue that there are quite a few indie brands who have done better in these areas – Sydney Grace and Clinoadh eyeshadows – but for those who don’t, then that’s their lost opportunity. For those who have always had the luxury of choice due to their skin tone, I’m sure there are brands that will continue to only cater to them, even in the indie space. But I don’t see why that should halt us from pushing them to do better.

This will all increase cost and products will be more expensive. Increase in price will reduce demand when demand is already dwindling due to econ downturn. Some brands will shut down. Likely smaller ones which can not afford to provide variety and remain competitively priced. It will be interesting to see who will be left in a couple years.

Bravo! You are a pro! I shared this in my Facebook series. Christine, you’re a workhorse! (I hope that’s a positive thing to say!). You are inspiring in how deeply you research and analyse, and I as an analyst in my career appreciate it! This article needs to be seen, so I hope you don’t mind, I’m sharing everywhere I am present. ;). Thank you!

I really wish that tragedies didn’t have to happen for people to say, hey, maybe we need to recognize and be inclusive of a huge percentage of the world population. This includes cosmetics firms and “influencers”, but extends to every facet of society.

I’m glad change is happening, but it makes me despair that it wasn’t common sense to be inclusive right off the bat.

This was a really wonderful post to read. I think it’s easy for all of us to immediately jump into saying why a brand may or may not be able to do something, but as you noted here there are even simple steps they can do right now to stop the constant practice of othering & excluding people. Providing accurate swatches and redefining the concept of “nude” are simple things that seem obvious in my perspective, but would go a long way.

I also appreciate you noting that this is more than foundation and concealer. As much as I love (hoard) foundation, I feel that much of the inclusion conversation has centered around that, and only recently have people discussed that there can be greater ranges in bronzers, blushes, eyeshadows, highlighters, and probably the worst offender – face palettes – but just in general we can go beyond the foundation discussion.

While this is something that will continue to grow over the next few months and years, I’m really excited to see how the conversation around this develops. It’s been a long time coming, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

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