Racism in Beauty Industry


We do not usually speak out on hot political topics leaving that to the media, experts and opinion makers who are likely to have a much better grasp on the current events. Naturally, as individuals we may or may not have varying opinions on recent elections, immigration, Coronavirus, Brexit and other hot topics. If you bump into us having a well-deserved Friday drink in a pub, you may even hear some of those! But as a company we prefer to stay well clear of unrelated themes. We only ever go skin deep, excuse the pun.

Meder Beauty is a company that manufactures and sells skincare promoting skin health. Ask us how to fight acne, smooth wrinkles or get relief for sensitive irritated skin, and we’ll happily give you research-based advice. Anything skin-related, we’re your girls (and guys).

But the way things are now, being silent is a statement in itself. The recent wave of anti-racist protests in the United States of America and the subsequent reaction of the rest of the world had us all in a state of great agitation and distress. Racism is a crime, all the more dangerous because it so often goes unnoticed, unrecognised and without punishment. And our industry, most regrettably, has not the least hand in the perpetration of systemic racism. From unequal representation in the workplace to racism in marketing and advertising, the beauty industry has a lot to answer for.

People of colour are still grossly underrepresented in beauty campaigns

Let’s face it, the face of the beauty industry is still heavily photoshopped, slim, young and usually white. According to a report conducted in 2016, just 22% of the models featured in ads in the UK and US were people of colour (Black, Asian, Hispanic) while the rest (78%) were white. Not only does advertising construct the idea of what beauty is today, but it also strips the world we live in of its rich and vibrant diversity establishing instead the outdated illusion of a predominantly white society.

Despite the ongoing struggle for equality and equal representation, the beauty industry continues to advertise predominantly to white women using the images of conventionally pretty white women. Speaking of pretty…

Beauty standards glorify white beauty, while people of colour are often labelled ‘exotic’

If you type ‘beautiful woman’ into Google image search, you’ll get countless pictures of young white women with long blond or chestnut hair, fair or lightly bronze complexion, full, but not too full lips and slim straight noses, plus an occasional photo of an actor or singer of colour whose appearance is the closest approximation of blond beauty. Far be it from us to deny any woman being called pretty, but the lack of variety in the popular image is shocking — and dangerous for those who are far from the standard. From straightening African hair to performing eye surgery to make Asian eyes look more European, the pressure is on women of colour to change themselves according to white beauty standards. Lighter skin is deemed prettier, and women of colour are pulled into using skin lightening solutions, never mind the hazardous side effects which include permanent scarring, leukemia, liver and kidney damage, severe skin conditions.

One of the most popular bleaching agents, hydroquinone, can irritate dark skin and even lead to the development of ochronosis (persistent blue-black pigmentation), especially when used routinely by people with black skin. The same complication is associated with resorcinol, an ingredient used in the treatment of acne, seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, etc.

All of this is known to aesthetic dermatologists worth their framed certificates, and yet two-thirds of dermatological products marketed in to Indian customers are for skin bleaching. 77% of Nigerian women use skin whitening products because they believe that lighter skin is more beautiful and increases their chances of good marriage and success in life.

When it comes to the skin, the message is clearly that of white supremacy. The lighter, the prettier.

The selection of skincare designed for women of colour is limited

Any woman of colour who ever tried to buy a makeup foundation in her shade knows how limited the choices still are. Same goes for blush and lip gloss, hair products, concealers, etc. Makeup industry is changing, however, albeit not quickly enough. Skin care industry on the other hand…

Skincare is developed with white skin in mind

Research proves that there are differences between skin of colour and white skin regarding sensitivity, skin barrier, pigmentation, regeneration and even transdermal drug delivery! Take this, for example: the number of melanocytes (pigment cells) is more or less the same in all shades of skin. However, in dark skin melanocytes are larger in size, more dispersed, much more sensitive to any kind of stimulation and contain a lot more melanin which is much harder to suppress compared to white skin. What does it mean for people of colour? It means that their skin is generally much more likely to develop post-inflammatory pigmentation after all kinds of aesthetic manipulations, from chemical peel to hair removal. Skin irritation, inflammation, small injury, cosmetic allergy — all can easily result in pigmentation. Much more so than in white skin. People with dry skin are at higher risk, and did you know that dark skin is more likely to be dry than white? Probably not, because it’s not something the industry focuses on.

Black and brown skin is actually more fragile than white, despite the popular opinion that still dominates in the industry, despite research demonstrating the opposite being easily available.

Transepidermal water loss (TEWL) is higher in dark skin, the rate of desquamation of dead skin cells is lower, which leads to dryness, sensitivity and in some cases even xerosis, increasing with age.

A major concern in treating acne in skin of colour with topical agents is irritant contact dermatitis. In clinical practice, irritant contact dermatitis from topical acne medications is a seemingly common complication in skin of colour, especially with agents that have a propensity to dry the skin.

Furthermore, the irritation has the potential for producing prolonged postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.

In order to maintain skin health, all ingredients with a potential to cause irritation and skin dryness should be avoided or treated with caution. This includes benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, salicylic acid and glycolic acid. The latter two can be used by people of colour in daily skin care for mild lightening or to prepare the skin for chemical peel, but it has to be done very carefully and under dermatological observation.

These are all research-based facts, available to industry professionals. And yet, have you ever seen a warning on a retinol-based or salicylic acid containing product “Can cause hyperpigmentation in dark skin”? If you do, send us a photo!

The ingredients potentially harmful for black and brown skin are found in all kinds of products, from cleansers and toners to serums and creams, exfoliants and makeup foundations without any warning! This white-centrism of the skincare industry must be changed as the lack of targeted approach can be extremely harmful to a huge group of people, who already suffer from unexpected and often easily avoidable side effects of cosmetic use!

Patients of colour rarely receive a (correct) diagnosis of rosacea delaying their treatment

Recent research suggests that rosacea is reported a lot less than it actually occurs among people of colour. Yes, rosacea is a diagnostic challenge and it is hard to discern erythema in darker skin. And yet, at least part of the problem is the fact that the susceptibility of people with highly pigmented skin to dermatologic conditions like rosacea, whose triggers include sun exposure, is underestimated.

Many people of colour who have rosacea might experience delayed diagnosis, leading to inappropriate or inadequate treatment, greater morbidity, and uncontrolled, progressive disease with severe complications, including phymatous rosacea.

Dermatologists and aesthetic professionals need to promote increased awareness of rosacea in patients of colour and reduce disparities in the management of their disease.

Along with many others, our industry needs to wake up and start developing new products and improving the existing ones to address the skin health problems of people of colour. Acne treatment, pigmentation therapy, smoothing post-acne scars or relieving inflammatory lesions, providing a more suitable sun protection and even tailored to darker skin anti-ageing should be brought into focus.

Dermatological skin care, paradoxically, is where the industry chooses to become colourblind — and not in a good way, excluding people of colour almost completely. This needs to be changed now!

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