Skip to main content

Why Is There Still the Misconception That Black-owned Beauty Brands Are Only for Black People?

It's well past time to debunk this notion, beauty founders say.

In 2022, there’s still the misconception that Black- and Brown-owned beauty brands only make products for Black and Brown consumers.

The absurdity of the notion might be better understood when thinking of fashion: clothing made by a Black designer or Black-owned brand could hardly be considered only for Black people. It’s clothing — just like clothing made by non-people of color is clothing.

While the conversation isn’t a new one, perceptions of these products have remained little changed over the years — even since George Floyd’s murder pushed industries to scramble and offer more support and shelf space to brands made by people of color, however performative at times.

Related Galleries

For Nyakio Grieco, founder of Nyakio Beauty, cofounder of inclusive e-commerce beauty website Thirteen Lune, who recently launched skin care brand Relevant, it’s a notion she’s been working to thwart since Nyakio Beauty started getting the swell of attention that came, in part, with 2020’s happenings.

“I was getting a lot of DMs from people saying, ‘hey, I really want to support,’ a lot of people wanted to do the right thing, but a lot of the DMs and questions I was getting said things like, ‘I really want to buy your face oil at Target but can I use it on my skin because I don’t look like you?’ It’s a face oil,” she said at a recent discussion “Black Is Beautiful: Forever,” presented by Ready to Beauty in partnership with the New York Historical Society and inspired by the ongoing exhibition on “The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite.” Brathwaite played a key role in launching and popularizing the “Black Is Beautiful” movement of the ’60s and his photographs helped affirm Black beauty and shift America’s beauty and cultural landscape during the second Harlem Renaissance. The panel was moderated by Allure editor in chief Jessica Cruel.

“In 2022, people are still asking this question,” Grieco continued. “So when I was co-creating Thirteen Lune with my business partner I thought to myself, we have to debunk some myths here because first and foremost, Black and Brown women spend the most on beauty, we’ve made people legit billionaires…and of course as a beauty founder…I’m creating products that work on my skin. [But] Black people are more prone to things like hyperpigmentation, eczema, rosacea, so if it works on our skin it’s going to work on anybody’s skin.”

When it comes to general market beauty products that target anyone who feels they align with the problem the products purport to solve, rather than being ethnically limited, Grieco said: “most of the ingredients and beauty rituals that are appropriated by so many brands come from places like Africa and Southeast Asia and China.”

In many cases, brands owned by people of color are drawing from the same locations for their rich ingredients, which means, if misconceptions about a brand’s product intentions based on the founder’s race could be bypassed for the sake of examining ingredients and problems these products solve for, it would become much clearer that the products shouldn’t be segregated.

“It’s so important that the world knows that, yes we are Black, we are beautiful, we are talented, we deserve to take up space — but we’re beauty founders,” Grieco said. “It’s not about what color our skin is that gives us our job title.”

An image from Kwame Brathwaite's "Black is Beautiful," features a Black woman's side profile with bare shoulders wearing an intricate beaded headpiece in white, pink and red.
An image from Kwame Brathwaite’s “Black Is Beautiful.” Courtesy The New York Historical Society

Certainly, there are products that address specific needs people of color face when it comes to skin or hair, and while some are what Corey Huggins, founder and global chief executive officer of Ready to Beauty, a think tank for multicultural beauty entrepreneurs and brands, calls “multicultural-specific,” others are “multicultural-suited.”

The difference, he said is, in one case, “I specifically need a certain type of product that works on my hair or that covers my hyperpigmentation, but I am suited based on lifestyle socioeconomics, all kinds of things, psychographics, to be able to be able to buy a product.”

When it comes to buying beauty products, there’s a granular choice that consumers make based on category, Huggins said.

“Until we start talking about that and working within categories and showing how categories are applicable to everyone or to a multitude of people, I think we’re going to always get that question [as to whether Black-owned products are only for Black people],” he said. “When I was working at L’Oréal, working on a white brand, I never once, never once, never once got, ‘You can’t work on Lancôme, you can’t work on Kiehl’s.’ But the second SoftSheen came, my white counterparts — and these are liberal people — said, ‘Well, I can’t work on that, that’s not for me.’ So I do think there’s something there, suited versus specific.”

There’s a transition in thinking that’s overdue in the beauty industry.

And as Tauro Jenkins, head of business at Ambi Skincare, said: “The real transition happens when, just like when people who are not African American or people who are not people of color make products that people of color use — that people who are not people of color trust — that we can make products that you can use as well.

“If we cannot transition to the point where people of color are making products that people who are not people of color feel like they can use as well, then we have a very small demographic and market size,” he continued.

As that debate goes on, there’s still the matter of segregation of these products in in-store beauty aisles, on online platforms with their badged designations for brands owned by people of color and on beauty lists rounding up Black-owned or Latine-owned or Asian-owned brands “to support now and always.”

Some beauty founders and consumers of color prefer desegregation, while others are just fine with the distinction. But there are two sides to this coin, according to Jenkins.

“When you go into these stores and you see a bunch of brands in one area, they’re there based upon, for the most part, how quickly those brands move. So if you were to take some brands that are ‘Black brands’ and put them in the same set, they will now be judged based upon the movements of that set and get discontinued, which is why you’ll often see brands that go into that set not be as productive, whereas these brands like Unilever, Dove and these brands like that, they have such a bigger market because they have Caucasians using their product, they have Asians using their product, they have African Americans using their product. So they move many more units per store, per week than the African American brands do because our market our demographic is so much smaller,” Jenkins said.

“So we need that space because this space is judged differently than this space because they understand in this space we communicate to a different market,” he continued. “But then, also, we have to find a way to transition to saying, OK these products are great products whether they’re made for people of color or not.”

But all of this comes down to inequitable resource allocation, according to Grieco, who is working to battle the misconception that brands created by people of color are only for people of color. Thirteen Lune intentionally markets itself as an inclusive beauty platform — for everyone — regardless of the 90-10 split between brands owned by Black and Brown founders and those that are not.

“Often Black-owned brands, Brown-owned brands are underfunded. They don’t have access to capital to have the marketing dollars that these large brands that are in the generalized space have. So that’s the root of the problem,” she said. “I don’t necessarily think that we would just need to be in this one space to compete if we were capitalized the same way that these brands are, if we were paid attention [to] in the same way. So even in the way that we create products for ourselves first, for a consumer that’s far too long been underserved, the root of the issue is that we’re not being capitalized, nurtured, taken care of like other brands and portfolios, etcetera. So we have to be in this smaller defined space because we can’t afford to compete with these other brands.”

A shift in that reality is what’s needed in beauty more than anything else.

As Grieco added, “That’s really where the equity happens.”