Many White Beauty Pros Don't Know How to Cater to Black Hair and Skin—That's Racist
"Inclusivity" may be a buzzword, but for anyone who has ever felt left out of conversations in the beauty space, it's so much more. In Shades of Melanin, we celebrate Black beauty, support the brands and founders that are fighting for inclusivity in the industry, and unpack the issues that still need to be addressed.
A few years ago, I went to Sephora to get my makeup done and was paired with a white makeup artist. That shouldn't have been an issue, but unfortunately, she didn't know how to work with dark complexions. The experience made me feel uncomfortable, ugly, and ostracized. At that moment, I felt as if my skin color was a detriment to the beauty process and as if I had been transported back to the days when businesses had "whites only" signs posted on the doors. Sadly, this wasn't the first time I felt far removed and out of place in a salon.
There are white-owned hair salons where the stylists don't know how to work with textured hair because they don't feel the need to learn how to work with Black hair. Not only is the industry segregated, but Black beauty has forever been an afterthought.
Many white beauty professionals hide under the guise of exclusion and they don't know how to work with Black complexions or hair. What they may not realize is that their words and ignorant actions are based on white supremacy—they're choosing not to learn. When they started learning their crafts, they could've learned how to service all women but chose not to. Many beauty schools haven't geared their curriculums to teach how to service all races; I'm shocked and appalled that this is still so commonplace.
It's not okay. If all women can't be serviced somewhere, then that somewhere shouldn't exist. At this point, the beauty industry has become eerily parallel to Jim Crow Laws. Blackness in beauty has always and will continue to be an otherness that is swept under the rug—rarely prioritized or treated with equality.
It took way too long for makeup brands to create inclusive shade ranges. It still makes me disgusted to think about how formulators were coming up with new products and didn't think it necessary to be racially inclusive. There's a theme across the industry that constantly reiterates that Black beauty isn't important, but tokenized as well.
Recently, I read articles on how some Black female celebrities have had to do their own hair and makeup while on set. For example, actress Monique Coleman from High School Musical recently divulged that she wore headbands in all the movies because she didn't feel the team did her hair correctly. Actress Tati Gabrielle from Sabrina The Teenage Witch also said she did her own hair while filming.
I'm sorry, but whiteness is not the norm. Whiteness is not the standard to adhere to. Black women deserve to take up space. Black women deserve beauty and Black women are just as valid as white women. I'm confused as to what is not understood about dispelling racism in all aspects of the beauty industry.
California-based makeup artist, Lottie Stannard, recently posted an image to her Instagram account that sums up the disconnect in the beauty industry. "Want to remind everyone AGAIN— that you are NOT a professional makeup artist or hairstylist if you are not able to work with ALL skin tones and hair types," read Stannard's post. She nailed it.
Unless we've been teleported back to confederate times, and it sometimes feels like we have, it's not okay to have a business that only services white people. It's racist and unacceptable. If the Civil Rights Act was truly enacted to protect people from discrimination, then this issue should be tackled more vigorously.
I talked to Missouri-based celebrity hairstylist, Tippi Shorter, about her experience in the beauty industry to get her insight on this issue. She told me she has countless stories about the inequality she's seen in her career. "I've definitely experienced stylists that didn't have the knowledge to work with texture and leaned on me to 'fill that gap,'" she said. "I've also worked with major brands that blatantly told me that high fashion styles looked better on straight hair than on textured."
Whether it be microaggressions or blatant racism; none of it is acceptable. Could you imagine if a Black makeup artist or hairstylist took on a job not knowing how to work with straight, Eurocentric hair or fair skin tones? They wouldn't have a career. So, why is the opposite okay? Why is anti-Blackness still so prevalent in the industry?
Brooklyn-based makeup artist Melissa Drouillard perfectly conveyed what needs to change. "In 2021 there is no excuse for Black beauty to be an afterthought. We've seen brands, such as FENTY and Lancôme, show that there is a market for these products and that Black/Brown people are willing to spend, given the opportunity, to see themselves represented in products," she told me. "Social media is at our disposal, and if brands want to hear what people want, they can simply ask [them]. Hire a professional makeup artist to help extend or curate your shade range. In testing stages have women and men of color be there to make sure you are making colors that are realistic to our skin tones. We live in a world of resources—no more excuses."