Why Are Global Skincare Brands Excluding People Of Colour On Instagram?

Photographed by Lauren Maccabee
Until recently, colour cosmetics brands got away with ignoring darker skin tones when it came to creating foundation and concealer ranges. Their Instagram feeds reflected this: a sea of mostly white faces staring back as you scrolled down the grid.
Since Fenty, however, global beauty companies have got their act together, catering to a much wider range of skin tones and featuring models and influencers of all races on their feeds. So why haven't skincare brands followed suit? With the idea of treating skin in terms of its type (dry, sensitive, oily, acne-prone, combination, etc) as opposed to its colour, skincare is the most inclusive of all elements in beauty. Skin tones across the spectrum are able to benefit from serums, moisturisers and cleansers featuring all manner of ingredients like retinol, acids and vitamin C, and yet the lack of diverse representation in advertising, especially on social media, is a huge issue, even in 2019.
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Last week, Rhea Cartwright, founder of lifestyle platform Nah Femme and who also currently works in the skincare industry, took the opportunity to call out a handful of skincare brands for their shocking shortfall in posting pictures of people of colour on Instagram. In a post captioned "Why is there no visual diversity in the Instagram feeds of multiple global beauty brands?" (soon to be reposted by anonymous beauty collective Estee Laundry – known for its 'no bullshit' approach to addressing issues in the industry), Rhea highlighted three black women in 729 posts on skincare brand Natura Bissé's feed and just two black people between March 2016 and now on Goldfaden MD's page. She identified similarly sorry numbers from other big name beauty companies, and unsurprisingly, it seems the worst offenders are luxury brands.
"People of colour have consistently been ignored within beauty by the mainstream media," Rhea told R29. "The fact that we still experience it in 2019, in such a fast-paced, digital age is deeply disappointing for consumers and embarrassing for those of us that work in the industry. The focus has been on makeup brands, given that we can instantly see by swatches and shades if a brand offers a balanced colour spectrum. Skincare has been completely overlooked because the products themselves don't need to cater for different shades, and therefore, a lack of diversity is only noticeable within visual marketing strategies."

People of colour don't need 'special' skincare. Just like their Caucasian counterparts, people of colour also suffer from acne, oily skin, dryness and even rosacea.

This is something Dr Ewoma Ukeleghe, clinical skincare expert and founder of SKNDOCTOR, seconds. "Great strides for diversity have been made recently in cosmetics, but the skincare industry is still lagging behind and there is a significant lack of ethnic faces in the advertisement of skincare products. Inadvertently, these brands are telling people of colour that their products are not for them, nor do they care for them."
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The lack of posts showing people of colour perpetuates the myth that darker skin needs an entirely different skincare routine from lighter skin. "People of colour don't need 'special' skincare," continued Dr Ewoma. "Just like their Caucasian counterparts, people of colour also suffer from acne, oily skin, dryness and even rosacea. There just needs to be a consideration to skin issues that are a particular concern for ethnic women, such as hyperpigmentation. Formulations in skincare products should also reflect this. It is no coincidence that there has been a renaissance of women of colour-owned brands filling that gap, such as Epara. In fact, ignoring ethnic faces in the advertisement of skincare products further cements the concern within ethnic communities that their colour is seen as a trend and deep-seated issues regarding race have not been addressed."
For Rhea, and many more people of colour, the absence of diverse Instagram posts comes down to a handful of things. "I think it is complacent marketing teams not understanding consumer demands, a distinct lack of racial awareness and unfortunately, in some cases, a complete unwillingness to try and be inclusive," Rhea told R29. "My post was not a scathing attack or to encourage people to stop buying, but for brands to have the opportunity to act and do better and the response has been overwhelmingly positive."

Instagram is the fastest growing social marketing platform and brands have a responsibility to include and represent all the regions they trade in, whether that be ethnicity, gender, age or disability.

After a number of brands who have failed to represent people of colour on their Instagram feeds were tagged in the post, Rhea received hundreds of comments from Instagram users, agreeing that the absence of POC must be addressed, and it wasn't long before brands themselves acknowledged the post, too. Goldfaden MD was one of the first to reply: "Thank you for sharing your concerns and bringing this to our attention," they wrote back on Instagram. "As a company, we have always strived to create transparency in everything that we do. Our goal has always been to celebrate our diverse community and create skincare solutions for all skin tones, textures, and ages. We will continue to voice this goal and do our part to better share that position with our audience."
Rhea's response? "Comical. I’m at a loss as to how they can state they 'celebrate all skin tones' if they've only shared two images of people of colour since March 2016. A few hours after our communication, they uploaded an image featuring a pair of black hands with the hashtag #inclusivity, but consumers prefer honesty. Had they said, 'You know what, you’re right. We weren’t aware of it, we’re sorry. We promise to do better', I would be far more understanding but to call it a 'celebration' is farcical. The issue of diversity isn’t new but I think it’s the first time that skincare brands have been truly called out. Instagram is the fastest growing social marketing platform and brands therefore have a social responsibility to include and represent all of the regions they trade in, whether that be ethnicity, gender, age or disability."
Of course, there are skincare brands for whom representation is intrinsic, with Rhea pinpointing Drunk Elephant, Sunday Riley, Dr Dennis Gross and Pixi as just a few brilliantly inclusive brands unveiling exciting new products, shaping skincare trends and sharing advice on Instagram. But there's still a long way to go to eradicate the exclusion of people of colour from the skincare industry, and right now, it seems social media is the place to start.
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