Regina King on How Skincare Fails Black Women—and What She's Doing to Create Change
The actress opens up to HelloGiggles about her work addressing racial inequalities in healthcare.
Regina King doesn't take her massive platform for granted. From playing a police detective fighting white supremacists in Watchmen, to directing the true reunion story of four Black historical legends in One Night in Miami, to calling for the arrest of Breonna Taylor's killers on social media, the actress has made it a mission to shine a light on important stories and issues. Most recently, the Emmy, Oscar, and Golden Globe-winning star has used her status to address the racial inequities in skincare.
As a brand ambassador for Vaseline, King teamed up with the skincare brand in November to launch the Equitable Skincare For All campaign, an initiative that provides training and resources for dermatologists and medical practitioners to better treat and care for skin of color. The necessity of this campaign is made clear through the disturbingly low number of professionals who are equipped to treat Black and Brown skin; according to a 2012 report, 47% of dermatologists expressed that their medical training didn't prepare them to treat Black skin, while only 3% of practicing dermatologists identified as Black and 4.2% identified as Latinx.
To boost awareness around these disparities, King joined in on a live conversation hosted by Vaseline and BET in late March, sharing some of her own experiences with inadequate skincare treatment. "I kind of knew from other people's experiences that if I ever was going to go to a dermatologist that it needed to be a Black dermatologist," she said on the virtual call. However, due to the small percentage of Black dermatologists out there, that was easier said than done.
Back in her mid-30s, King recalled, she sought out a dermatologist to treat her acne breakouts, but she struggled to find a doctor whose skin looked like hers. "I bit the bullet and I went to a dermatologist that was a white dermatologist—because I could not find a Black dermatologist—and what they prescribed dried out my skin even more," the actress shared.
This experience likely wasn't a fluke, but instead, a failure on the dermatologist's part to understand the specific needs of darker skin. Research shows that more melanin-rich skin is lower in ceramides (naturally found lipids in the skin that lock in moisture), making it more prone to dryness.
"It's just unfortunate that you can pass the test and say that you can provide your services to everyone and can't," King said, regarding the number of skincare professionals who don't know how to treat skin of color.
After her initial experience at the dermatologist made her skin worse, King called up a friend for advice and got a recommendation for a Black doctor, who thankfully "cleared everything up."
With such a long history of Black women being left out of skincare and healthcare in general, this experience of word-of-mouth doctor referrals is unfortunately a common one—and not just in dermatology. Relating to another panelist's experience, King discussed her long process of finding a Black gynecologist after two "not good" experiences with non-Black OB-GYNs.
"Again, it was talking to friends, and having your mother ask somebody and having your aunt ask somebody, you just are casting a net out wide and hoping that you capture something," she said. "Most times we're not so lucky." This is why, King added, it's "so important" to have a platform like Hued, an online network partnering with Vaseline that connects patients of color with health and medical professionals of color.
Following the virtual conversation, King caught up with HelloGiggles via video call to talk more about the racial disparities in skincare and beauty and how they've affected her entertainment career. The actress, who has spent over three decades in Hollywood, recalled the difficult situations of getting her makeup done on set long before there were makeup lines, such as Fenty Beauty, that came in inclusive shade ranges to match her skin tone.
"That's tough when you're an actor, you're in front of the camera, and you're in the makeup chair and then you're done and your face doesn't look like you," King said. "Because it was very common in the earlier years, especially, that your makeup would kind of have a [wrong] tone to it because makeup artists were trying to make cocktails by mixing several different foundations together."
The star also addressed the too frequent experience of Black entertainers working with hairstylists who don't know how to do their hair. "When it comes to hair, I mean, that's just a whole 'nother story," she said. "When I would complain as an artist that I don't have someone who's familiar with my hair and can service my needs, [production's] response would be, 'Well, there's not anyone in the union available,' because there were so few hairstylists of color."
However, King would challenge that unfortunate truth. "And why is that?" she remembered asking. "There's no explanation for that other than just not being let into the union, not being given the opportunity to be in situations to collect the hours that are needed to get into the union."
From the lack of makeup artists of color in the union to the lack of dermatologists of color in the medical field, King says it's all a result of this same issue.
"At the end of the day, that's what it always comes down to: just not having the access."
As someone with a long and continued career of success—tying the record for most acting Emmys won by a Black performer just last year—King recognizes her responsibility to help grant this access to others as she can. For example, she said she specifically asked for a woman of color to direct the last commercial she filmed and has seen other women in the industry make similar requests.
"It starts at the top and then you bring her in and you bring her in and it goes on and on and on," she told HelloGiggles.
The support and example of other women in the industry is part of what keeps King, at age 50, inspired to continue on in her career and her advocacy. "I'm lucky enough to have like really great examples of women that are in front of the camera, who are just are like fine wine," she said. "Helen Mirren, Alfre Woodard, those are two women that I actually am lucky to have a relationship with and talk to and [watch] their careers and [watch] how they've always leaned into who they are."
In both career and skincare, aging is something that women are often taught to fear, but not King. "I've never been one that's been scared about aging," she said. "I think I've always celebrated that."
Whether learning to embrace aging, taking the next career step, or picking out a skincare product, King's best advice for other women is to simply follow what works best for you.
"Because what works for me may not work for everyone," she said. "We are individuals. We are not a monolith and isn't that a beautiful thing?"