Skip to main content

Darker Skin Tones Are Underrepresented on Social Media, Report Says

Eyecue's report disproves the thinking that posts featuring darker skin tones don't perform well.

A new report adds data to the conversation about beauty’s colorism problem.

It’s no secret the industry has long followed a colorist belief system — one that was most publicly challenged by the seismic launch of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty. Conversations about colorism in beauty have largely relied on anecdotal information shared via social media or within inner circles. That information now has analytics to back it up.

Eyecue, an AI-powered social media analytics platform and consultancy founded by Carolina Bañales, released a report this month underscoring the lack of skin-tone representation by beauty brands on social media. Applying image recognition technology to more than 150,000 beauty Instagram posts, Eyecue found that dark skin tones appear in only 13 percent of portrait images.

That number increased sharply by 122 percent following the murder of George Floyd in May. The spike, however, was performative: The majority of beauty brands have since gone back to posting lighter skin tones, which account for 48 percent of beauty social media posts.

Related Galleries

“It’s a circular problem,” said Bañales, who founded Glam Street, which was acquired by Ulta in 2018. “If you didn’t start speaking to this audience, you are not going to have the best performance in that category. The audience is going to notice that [and] you’re not going to have many followers that are looking for that type of content. But when you speak about owners who have dark skin tones [who started their companies] talking specifically to that audience, you see the opposite.”

You May Also Like

In a followup report shared exclusively with WWD, Eyecue found that the belief that posts featuring darker skin tones don’t perform as well as ones featuring lighter skin tones is false.

Beauty brands have disproportionately posted lighter skin tones on social media for at least the past two years, according to the report. Since 2018, light-to-medium skin tones accounted for 61 percent of posts — and 64 percent of interactions. While this might suggest that light-to-medium skin tones perform better than darker ones, the report also found that brands that cater to darker skin tones garner more engagement from posts featuring darker skin tones.

Eyecue Report WWD
A snapshot from the Eyecue report. Courtesy of Eyecue

The Lip Bar, Dove and Fenty Beauty had better or similar social media engagement on posts featuring darker skin tones, Eyecue found, thus debunking the performance myth. Brands experiencing low performance on posts featuring dark-skinned models are likely less inclusive of darker skin tones overall — from product assortment to campaigns to influencer activations to social media posts. Lower performance is therefore a symptom of a brand’s underrepresentation of darker skin tones.

Mónica Zannochi, who does communications and business development for Eyecue, said the report is meant to show that if brands speak to a wider audience, that audience will respond.

“Because [brands are] publishing few content with dark skin tones present, their audience is not there,” Zannochi said. “The dark skin-tone audience is not there because they’re not speaking to them.”

More from

Why Isn’t Beauty Investing More Diverse?

The 10 Most Major Beauty Deals of 2020

L’Oréal USA Reveals 2020 For Women in Science Fellows