How Women of Color Are Taking Back the Beauty Industry

For many years young girls of color have spent endless amounts of time in stores like Sephora and Ulta trying out the latest and greatest makeup trends. While much of that time was spent finding their shade of foundation in so many brands, the last few minutes were spent frustrated because they had no options. Colors being way too light, washing them out or way too dark that very few people could use it, had many women of color buying two shades of foundation for years just to mix to match their skin color.


While women of color have taken the backseat of the beauty industry, they finally hijacked the front and have diverted the direction of the entire industry. With this new attitude, it has opened the floor for brands like Fenty and Juvia’s Place to thrive. Although Fenty was the first brand to truly gain recognition for the many shades, there have been brands before them embracing the not so standard skin for a long time. Due to the media not casting a spotlight on some brands like Iman Cosmetics, Lipmatic, and The Lip Bar, many women of color including Manhappenin’ models and k-state students Tinaris Watson and Johari Snell had to make do with subpar foundations and other products until now.


“I’ve been using makeup since I was 15 or 16 and It was extremely hard to find makeup because my skin color isn’t the typical “dark skin” tone. Same for many women of color,” said Tinaris Watson


While Watson dealt with the perspective of a darker skin woman, Johari was on the end spectrum from a lighter perspective as a woman of color.


“I’ve always just played with makeup. I don’t think I’ve ever been too serious when it comes to diving into full faces and makeup routines. When I do really want to do my makeup finding the right colors is really difficult, I have medium brown skin with yellow undertones and dirty blonde hair (eyelashes/eyebrows). I think nowadays since women of color are a target audience, for many different brands, not just makeup, has really fast forward the timeline of getting more diverse palettes.” stated Johari.

Photo By- Hannah Greer

In the last few years, we’ve seen a significant shift in beauty industry standards. Women of color have always been a main consumer in the beauty industry, but it hasn’t been until recently that the industry has seen brands become more inclusive. Gone are the days that brands can get away with sub-par shade ranges and whitewashed representation. Diversity is not just a consumer want at this point, it is not an option. With the launch of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line, makeup lovers everywhere were awed and a new beauty industry standard was created. Even makeup giant Maybelline added 16 shades to their fit me + poreless foundation line to keep up with industry trends. With the Beauty industry being worth over 530 billion dollars there is not only a need but certainly room left for a shift.

Impact on Beauty Professionals

With the expansion of diversity in the beauty industry, beauty professionals find themselves having more options for clients. Senior Education Consultant at Sephora, inside JCPenney, Nadya Gutierrez says that in the past the lack of options left her frustrated because she couldn’t cater to all her clients. Not only were makeup artist lacking the training to apply makeup to clients of all skin tones but the tools needs. With brands taking initiative to be more inclusive, Gutierrez says “I think that is really nice because we are now able to offer things for all clients and make everyone feel welcome.” Like Gutierrez, Ulta prestige beauty advisor and makeup artist Brittney Branch agrees there are more options for her to pick from for her clients. She said, “it definitely helps that I can go to different brands and get more shades that I want or not have to mix and match for different shades.”

Photo By- Hannah Greer


Thanks to women of color influencers, everyday people are able to see themselves in a product and get insider details and perspective from women that have the same needs and concerns as them. Several top women of color influencers found their success alongside Youtubes beauty boom. When talking about catering to women of color we too often see products and advertisements geared towards WOC with no collaboration from them during the production process creating the product or ads. Brands often miss the mark when trying to expand shade ranges due to lack of input from people who are actually of that skin tone. Companies like Too faced and NYX  joined with Jackie Aina and with Alissa Ashley to get insight from WOC on shade range needs. With each influencer having over a million followers each, they can help brands reach consumers that were otherwise left out. Branch says she has noticed that “When someone shows that they are putting forth effort towards you or your demographic then people want to support that, even if that product may not work out for them.”

Photo By- Hannah Greer

Flawed Launches

These days, a brand’s reputation can be tarnished by a flawed launch. Although there is a new standard, some companies still seem to miss the mark. An industry demand for 40 shades doesn’t mean 40 pales, a full light to medium to dark range is the expectation.  

  • When Tarte announced it would be releasing a foundation version of its much-loved Tape Shape concealer the anticipation was serious but that anticipation quickly turned to disappointment after it’s lackluster 15 shade range was revealed.  Influencers and makeup lovers alike were confused at the shade range that included less than five usable shades for people of color. “Instead of expanding by making so many different formulas they should have expanded their shade ranges,” said Gutierrez. The foundation was quickly condemned then forgotten after the scandal.


    • Like Tarte, Beauty Blender suffered from a similar mishap with its Bounce foundation that launched earlier this year. Although it boasted a 32 shade range, consumers and influencers were quick to call out that the range was made up of mostly light to medium colors, again excluding people of color.

Brand Owners

Although black women alone spend nearly 2.3 billion in the beauty industry, according to Mintel market research, we are seeing the shift from women of color being consumers to owners.  Now more than ever we are seeing more and more women of color owning emerging brands.

Pat McGrath Labs; Pat McGrath

    • After working in the industry for years as a makeup artist for the top fashion houses renowned makeup artist Pat Mcgrath launched her own luxury makeup line in 2015. The line is sold in Sephora and now worth one billion dollars.


  • Huda Beauty; Huda Kattan
    • Iraqi-American Huda Kattan became a well known influencers on Instagram and YouTube for her wide range of beauty tips and tricks. The influencer features Arabic videos and translations on her channel. With over 28 million Instagram followers, the influencer launched her brand in 2013 and has had a successful run since.
Photo By- Hannah Greer


Along with extended shade ranges, companies also strive to reflect that in their advertisements. Branch has noticed the impact of companies being inclusive, “So many lines are doing it because I think they’re seeing that it’s making people turn out.” Branch added, “I feel like the brands that are making that their movement – people come in and ask ‘well, I want to try this’ just to support.” Consumers want to see themselves as a part of a brand, not just a catalyst to make more money.


It is without a doubt that the women of colors impact on the beauty industry has been game-changing. Creating a lane for women of color can only add to the 530+ billion dollar industry. The expansion not only gives consumers the tools they need to create their own look but makeup professionals the skills they need to execute a look on any skin tone. With the impact of women influencers of color, it has never been so easy for women of color to see themselves in once whitewashed industry. While subpar launches and campaigns are definitely not a thing of the past, beauty lovers of all shades can feel hopeful that the industry is rapidly adjusting itself to include everyone.




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