Why Aren't There More Clean Cosmetic Brands for People of Color?

As a skincare and haircare brand, our goal at Alder New York has always been to make products that are clean, are effective, and work for everyone. We are always excited about brands that are doing the same thing in adjacent markets- so we always have our eye out for cool cosmetic brands in this area. Which is how we first noticed something- Why is there not a clean cosmetic brand being designed for people of color?

Pioneers But Not in Clean

When it comes to cosmetic brands for people of color, Iman was the pioneer. Now, thanks to the goddess that is Rihanna, we’ve got Fenty Beauty, a brand with a wide range of shades specifically for people of color. It’s exciting and needed and should have happened forever ago. But there is one big issue- neither of these are clean cosmetics brands, meaning they are using unsafe ingredients, as recognized by the Environmental Working Group. So what's the deal?

Clean Is for Everyone

Clean makeup brands as a whole are definitely on the rise. We’ve got Juice beauty, with creative director Gwyneth Paltrow, and RMS Beauty, which has massively grown in popularity over the past few years. But for some reason these same standards- safe ingredients as defined by the Environmental Working Group- aren’t extending to makeup brands targeted to people of color.

Toxic Beauty Standards

In fact, in a recent commentary published by theAmerican Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, researchers from George Washington University and Occidental College showed that women of color are actually regularly exposed to higher levels of toxins in their cosmetics products than white women.

They believe the reason for this is that many of the cosmetics products and treatments marketed to women of color are designed to meet traditionally white, European standards of beauty. This includes products like relaxers, which often contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, or skin lightening products, which often use hydroquinone, another toxin.

This same issue also extends to makeup. While there are more clean makeup brands than ever before for white people, this same trend isn't happening for people of color. For too long people of color have had to struggle just to find foundations, highlighters, and concealers that work for their skin tones. It’s taken so long just to get to the point where we get Fenty Beauty- though it’s crazy success in the market means that brands are finally catching on to how needed this is. So why can’t the industry catch up and start making clean cosmetics for people of color as well?

2 Niches Don’t Make a Mainstream

It’s likely because, unfortunately, both markets are still viewed as “niche.” The good news is that in both cases, the market is starting to get bigger, as brands realize there’s demand. On the clean beauty end, Sephora just launched a clean beauty section, and clean makeup specialty stores like Follain are expanding to meet demand. And the success of brands like Fenty continue to show that there is a huge need for cosmetics brands for people of color.

Change is Gonna Come

There are some exciting changes happening though. Younger, more millennial focused cosmetics brands are getting the memo that people of color want clean cosmetics too. Milk Makeup has a foundation designed for a wider range of skin tones than traditional brands. They’ve also started to make their products cleaner (though their use of ingredients likes fragrance and EDTA means that we would not consider them a clean brand yet) and has focused on designing them to be vegan and paraben free.

There are also some smaller beauty brands owned by people of color that are entering the clean beauty market.Mented Cosmetics, a vegan, paraben free lipstick brand, was launched because its founders were tired of never finding a “nude” lipstick that actually worked for them. They also just received $3 million in funding, which shows that the market is there. (Word of caution: they do use BHT in their products, which falls into the bad ingredients list for Alder New York).

We think it’s just a matter of time before a truly clean makeup brand shows up for people of color. In the meantime we will continue to make truly clean skincare and hair care products for everyone. And we cannot wait to shout out the cosmetics brands that do the same for the cosmetic industry. They are wanted and needed.


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