African-American women are vibrant shoppers of prestige beauty brands, but their biggest challenge is finding products that are effective and effectively marketed toward them. Such points were revealed last week at Essence’s Smart Beauty panel, which discussed the African-American woman’s shopping experience in the prestige beauty market.

Essence beauty and cover director Mikki Taylor led a discussion on the findings with celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine, dermatologist Rosemarie Ingleton and Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, at a breakfast at the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan.

This story first appeared in the May 19, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

African-American women spend $7.5 billion annually on beauty products, but shell out 80 percent more money on cosmetics and twice as much on skin care products than the general market, according to the research. That difference comes as African-American women sample many more products to find the ones that are most effective on their skin.

“She spends a lot, but there’s little satisfaction. What keeps us buying is the hope that this product will do what it’s supposed to do,” said Fine.

The type of beauty goods she’s searching for, according to the findings, are brands she trusts, that reflect her personal style and offer high-quality ingredients. She’s also more likely to buy products from aspirational labels — Chanel lipsticks and Versace perfume, for example — than brands that are associated with celebrities.

Nevertheless, Fine said she believes African-American women are looking for affirmations of their own beauty through seeing spokespersons or models of color in ad campaigns for beauty products. One area that was void of faces of color were antiaging products, according to Fine.

“There’s no face of aging in the African-American community,” said Fine. “There’s Sharon Stone and Christie Brinkley, but no one who’s African-American.”

Essence has rolled out four installments of its Smart Beauty research. Smart Beauty’s first session in 2004 discussed the spending power of African-American women, while the following year, Smart Beauty II: “Counter Intelligence” addressed the retail experience. In 2006, Smart Beauty III: “Speak to Me” focused on language and messaging in marketing to the African-American consumer.

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