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TikTok Erupts Over Anti-Black Racism In The Beauty Industry

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Racism is once again on full display in the beauty industry. 

Issues with Youthforia’s new line of foundations were first highlighted by TikTok content creator, Golloria George, in September of 2023. She and other creators criticized Youthforia for not being tone-inclusive, with most of the available foundation shades leaning heavily towards lighter skin tones, and commented on how unacceptable it is to be in 2023 and still encountering this failure in the beauty industry.

Following the viral review, the CEO of Youthforia, Fiona Co Chan, mentioned how she always intended to extend the shades eventually, but claimed that shade development takes time and that she wanted the base formulas to launch first as a “proof of concept” and see if they would be successful before expanding the shade range to darker complexions. This excuse was not well received. Chan then issued a second apology where she stated the brand missed the mark, and that the other shades were already in development. 

The brand went on to quickly release four more shades. The regular development time for the brand was two years, but these new shades were released after just four months of development. Golloria George went back to create another review for the newly-released darkest shade, named 600.

Quickly, Golloria condemned the foundation for being “minstrel-show black”, equivalent to the exaggerated jet-black face paint used to perform blackface. The foundation had no undertones present – the product only had one base color, an all-black pigment, whereas the other shades of foundation have a mix of at least three pigments to represent the different undertones that human skin has. It is important to note that makeup brands such as Fenty, Urban Decay, Covergirl, Nars, and Haus Labs have developed deep shades that black creators have praised. This shows that achieving these dark tones for foundation can be done when handled with knowledge, care, and attention. Golloria reviewed the newest shade 600 side-by-side with black face paint, finding barely any difference between the two.

This was a failure yet again to deliver on what should’ve been a correction to the first mistake.

For the brand to claim that they planned to be inclusive all along, this second failure appeared to be a malicious mockery of women of color simply asking to be included. These brands that want to pose as inclusive want to benefit from a wider base of people to market to, while not genuinely caring about what Black women would actually like and use. Then, when their poorly designed products fail, they drop the product and blame the consumer as the reason for the product not being marketable to begin with. 

Youthforia has yet to publicly address the negative reactions to the abysmal attempt at providing an actual shade people can wear. Recently, Youthforia products have been pulled from shelves at stores like Credo and Revolve. 

An Industry Fraught With Racism

This scandal speaks to the long history of racism that is still common within the beauty industry. The Youthforia CEO’s first apology really highlighted the all-too-frequent excuse that many makeup brands have used for their lack of inclusion with their range of shades. When stating that they want to make sure the lighter shades are successful first, before expanding and including deeper shades, it portrays that inclusion for those with darker skin is an afterthought and not the audience they are concerned with. Often, some makeup brands tend to have anywhere from 5 to 15 shades for lighter or fair skin tones, while only throwing in two to five darker shades. 

The frustration Golloria felt is echoed by many Black content creators and consumers, as for many years it has been a long struggle to find products that work for them. Even in the late 1940’s when makeup options for Black women were available, most beauty companies primarily focused on skin lightening products instead. This speaks to the Eurocentric and whitewashed beauty standards still upheld today. In the 1920s and ‘30s, white consumers abandoned skin lighteners for tanning lotions to present an outdoor and leisurely lifestyle. From this point, women of color were primarily associated with skin lighteners. Harsh chemicals were commonly used in skin lighteners, such as mercury. The Black is Beautiful movement in the 1990’s brought global attention to harmful impacts of lightening agents, and through this cultural and political movement fought for the government to ban skin lighteners in South Africa. 

Hair relaxers and straighteners are another staple of the beauty industry that has capitalized off of anti-blackness. The chemicals in hair relaxers such as metals, parabens, and formaldehyde, have been linked to 18% higher risk of breast cancer and a possibility of other health issues. Part of the Black is Beautiful movement was also embracing natural hair, which has influenced a general trend towards sulfate- and paraben-free products. Today, we have seen the changes in availability of products for natural and curly hair unlike any other time before, and also a major change in making straightening products and tools that are safer for hair, mainly pioneered by Black women – which has changed the landscape for the better of all. 

We Need Creativity Free From Capitalism

Women of color know how far the beauty industry has come in terms of inclusion, yet know how much further it still has to go. Some think that the solution to racism in the beauty industry is more women of color being represented in the higher decision making levels of these brands. But unfortunately, capitalism requires exploitation – diversity at the top of a corporate ladder won’t change that companies need to feed our insecurities to sell products, which is inherently linked to systemic oppression. Visual characteristics of marginalized communities will continue to be deemed flaws, so beauty companies can sell us products to “fix” them. Not to mention, many brands owned by prominent women of color, like Beyonce’s Ivy Park and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty, rely on the exploitation of women of color in the neocolonial world to make their products cheaply.

Even with the best intentions, we will always find ourselves ramming against the barriers the system has set forth for its survival. 

Within a socialist world, workers have the power to create products that benefit society, because they too are not separated from society but the makeup of it. When we own the materials in our places of work we democratically get to decide on what to use. We can examine using ingredients that are better for us and the environment. We can have the freedom to play and create more variety instead of catering to what sells the most.

The outrage around this topic truly is more than skin deep. Makeup is a fun and creative way many people get to express themselves – it is a shame that capitalism within the beauty industry seeks to rob us of not only representation and inclusion in these spaces, but in the same turn making us feel inadequate when or if we are included. They make us feel not enough to be represented, not enough to be compensated, and not enough to be seen as beautiful. What really is never enough are these companies’ conquests for more markets and products for us to consume and expand their profits, without being accountable to the ones spending their hard-earned dollars on their products. 

The failure is on the system, not on us ordinary people. It is rightfully just for us to demand inclusive and truly democratic environments for us to participate in, and products that are made with our needs in mind. The toxicity in the beauty industry is a direct product of the exploitative nature of capitalism. When we see ourselves outside of their profit margins, we see our true humanity, we see our collective beauty.

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