What is the state of inclusivity in the professional beauty industry and what can we do better?

It was just a handful of years ago that even the world’s biggest supermodels of colour had to BYOM – bring your own makeup – to fashion shows and shoots because professional makeup artists didn’t have the right colour cosmetics – nor skills – to work on anyone but Caucasian models. Iman’s range – the first exclusively for women of colour – never got the mainstream cache it deserved. And although ranges like M.A.C (Makeup Artists of Canada) and NARS – founded in 1994 by professional makeup artist François Nars – have colour cosmetics for virtually all skin tones, you can often only find the full ranges in few select stores. Women and men of colour have long learned that beauty didn’t cater to them. As Funmi Fetto notes in an article in British Vogue covering the launch of Fenty Beauty, beauty’s relationship with diversity has been traditionally problematic at best.

But the tide is starting to turn, according to the Australian-based experts we talked to this week. They all agree that the beauty industry is becoming a more inclusive place, even though there is still work to be done. For every professional colour cosmetics range that seems to come in shades only suited for lighter skin, there is a Kryolan that caters to all and plenty more new brands and businesses baking inclusivity right into their business models from the start like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, which launched with 40 foundation colours just four years ago. Beauty is even starting to recognise diversity among abilities and disabilities as well, with brands like Kohl Kreative recently launching a range of makeup brushes for the blind.

Even tech is overcoming its racial bias, or starting to, with Google revealing that it has in development an alternative scale to the outdated, limited Fitzpatrick Skin Type with which to classify skin tones. And although the traditional corners of the professional beauty industry seem to be slower to change, treatment protocols are even starting to include education around treating non-white skin, with new educational initiatives like the Vitality Institute’s Brown Skin Agenda.

So, what is professional beauty getting right about inclusivity? What are we getting wrong? And how can we shift our thinking to understand that this isn’t a trend or something that can be ignored but rather a welcome change that is here to stay.

One initiative that isn’t necessarily professional-beauty specific but is helping pave the way for beauty brands and businesses in Australia to carry full shade ranges of colour cosmetics is Adore Beauty’s Global Shades campaign. The site has been working directly with suppliers to stock and sell all of the “globally available complexion shades”, not just a limited shade range, which has been the norm locally. This practice of stocking limited shade ranges is the problem that compelled Rebecca Willink to launch the Make The Space campaign and Makeup For All change.org petition to get Australia’s biggest grocery store chains to stock an inclusive shade ranges of colour cosmetics, whereas they traditionally on stocked the four or five lightest shades from a brand, the darkest in stock often being “Beige”.

How education plays a part

The experts agreed, though, that the real change, in professional beauty in particular, needs to start in the classrooms and course books used for training in our industry. This lack of proper training spurred LA’s Vitality Institute to launch The Brown Skin Agenda, hosting its first webinar this month to help educate beauty practitioners in treatment protocols for brown and black skin types.

Shanthi Murugan, Head of Campaign and Strategy for Adore Beauty says “there is definitely a lack of education in the beauty industry, and that starts with our academic institutes.” Training in beauty therapy has traditionally been so eurocentric in its approach that even the most recent manual facial course book released by CIDESCO included just two mentions of non-white skin through the entire book, a glaring omission that skincare expert Caroline Hirons highlighted on her Instagram feed. The post instantly went viral, racked up tens of thousands of comments and brought about an apology from CIDESCO as well as an offer of full refunds for the book and promises for more inclusive future editions.

Shanthi makes that point that “We simply cannot continue to train hairstylists, makeup artists and skincare professionals without including training on how to tailor their services to people of colour. The flow-on effect is incredibly damaging to our increasingly diverse population. If beauty professionals aren’t being trained to be inclusive how can we expect the industry to change.”

Article after article about professionals backstage at fashion weeks and on photoshoots talks about models of colour still, today, fixing their own makeup, bringing their own colour cosmetics or having an assistant of colour fix their hair or makeup after the head makeup artist or stylist didn’t have the necessary training to work with non-white models. Many women of colour on Hirons’s post commented about the struggle to find aestheticians they trust with their skin or who are capable of recognising and properly treating skin conditions on darker skin tones. In the professional realm, it really does start with the training.

What brands can do

Brands that make products and tools play a role as well. From creating foundations and other colour cosmetics and skincare that everyone can use to making sure their clinical trials or even application/useage instructions apply to everyone. Digital Creator, Writer and Inclusion Advocate Ruchi Page says “the success of an inclusive beauty brand consists of 3 necessary factors: The brand caters to a variety of skin tones in all complexion categories and in across all launches, The product campaigns utilize models with an array of backgrounds – tokenism is very evident when it comes to beauty campaigns. And BIPOC are equally working behind the scenes to create and develop the brand alongside Caucasian employees.”

Brands will often claim that there isn’t “demand” for darker shades, but it’s a hard argument to believe if they haven’t previously made them or haven’t widely stocked those shades (if they do make them) in the first place. It’s a sort of complacency that abdicates responsibility for making sure you’re not ignoring certain parts of the population because of a feature they can’t help – in this case skin colour.

Shanthi says “brands have a responsibility to ensure they are catering to all consumers. This includes educating global and local teams on the importance of inclusivity as a consumer need. Many brands jump straight to diverse representation in advertising and marketing communications. However, they still lack the products and services to cater to a diverse consumer market. We need to ensure brands are practicing what they preach – this is a requirement for long-lasting and meaningful change.”

Willink thinks “Brands can be so driven by profit maximization that they are essentially oblivious to the significant impacts on those who are treated unfairly or neglected.” And it’s worth pointing out to that ignoring inclusivity could damage that very profit margins they seek to protect. In this post-Fenty Beauty era, there will certainly be another beauty brand there practicing what it preaches and winning the hearts and wallets of those consumers and clients.

“What seemed to work 10 or 20 years ago should not be deemed as acceptable anymore,” says Willink. “There needs to be constant evaluation of how Australian has and will continue to change.” According to the 2016 Australian census basic community data, more than a quarter of Australians were born overseas and the biggest source of those residents is the UK, China and India and those trends don’t appear to be slowing much except for the unexpected dip in migration due to closed borders during the pandemic. “All customers should have the right to access makeup and relying on “demand” is an outdated and exclusive approach,” says Willink. And if the products aren’t available for people of darker skin tones then, frankly, there won’t ever be demand for them.

The pro brands leading the charge

Page and Murugan name several professional beauty brands that have been quietly practicing inclusivity for a long time, although that doesn’t negate all the work that needs to be done and the excuses many brands have made for not practicing inclusivity in both corporate and product offering. Shanthi says “One of the most inclusive beauty brands that have practiced a celebration of diversity from day one is the Parisian [professional makeup] brand Make Up For Ever. The brand’s DNA is built on the notion that everyone should have access to beauty products… This year the brand launched a range of setting powders that come in a variety of shades to ensure all skin tones are catered for. They even created a linkup of primers that cater to different skin tones and concerns – something many brands are yet to do!”

Without regulations for stocking requirements that don’t discriminate, however, it might be hard to get all corners of the industry on board. There are no rules around this sort of thing. It’s all voluntary, left up to brands and businesses to decide which customers they create treatments, products and tools for. Shanthi says ”There is no governing body to ensure Australian beauty retailers or being inclusive.” Nor is there one for the professional beauty industry. “When global beauty brands launch into the Australian market,” says Shanthi, “there are no guidelines to ensure each brand is responsible for catering to the full market” What this can often mean is that brand often don’t have a full range of shades even available in Australia at all, let alone in a store or salon instead of just online. 

Ruchi says she’s seen professional beauty brands traditionally perform better than retail, although they haven’t always risen to the occasion either. “Brands such as M.A.C Cosmetics have consistently been reliable with diversity and inclusion. I never had to be concerned with any of their ranges and the experience is what I imagine most Caucasian people feel when they walk into their local supermarket for makeup.” Which also addresses the issue that many non-white people have faced with affordability as well as access in beauty for ages. There have been products available for all skin tones since the 1990s – like Iman’s makeup range – but you would need the time, know-how and money to source them in Australia. Thanks to brands like M.A.C and the slate of new brands in the last four years from professional makeup artists of colour – like Dame Pat McGrath and Danessa Myricks – the quality and accessibilty in professional makeup – both high-end and affordable – for women of colour is on the rise.

Why this change now?

As with many things, social media has played a major role in forcing the issue more broadly in beauty. Everyone has a voice and can tell their story, which can be both good and bad. In the search for inclusivity, it’s been great, giving inclusivity advocates, like Willink and Page, platforms to effect real change in the public eye. Page says “While the dynamic world of social media can be under scrutiny for displaying unrealistic expectations, I have discovered the delightful part of social media where “real” is welcomed and celebrated along with challenging the norm.” This sort of mainstream embrace of what was once marginalized could only happen with a public forum like social media that has given voice and presence to people who weren’t always included in the conversation. “I think social media allows people to think beyond, and it provides written, spoken and visual information for millions to actually understand,” says Page. “We have the opportunity to hear real stories from people who have lived these experiences. Equality activism matters on this platform. It is heard and it has impact.”

What can clients and consumer do to demand inclusivity in the industry?

Shanthi says “Sign the petitions to demand change at globalshades.org and change.org/makeupforall. But beyond this, if you’re a person of colour, ensure you’re demanding your shade from your favourite beauty retailers if they don’t stock your shade. And if you’re an ally, demand all shades be ranged at your favourite beauty store to ensure you’re helping encourage discourse around inclusivity.” Willink recommends you can share the news of the trials happening at Woolworths and Coles, go out and buy a bottle of the Maybelline Fit Me foundation in your shade and sign the petition.

Page thinks there are several things beauty brands and businesses can do right now to start becoming more inclusive. “Host a call-to-action meeting with all employers and employees where strategizing short-term goals to achieve the long-term goal of inclusive cosmetics will come into play. Understand your product. Not only do you need to understand your skin types when creating complexion products by skin tones should be on the top of the list… the entire range should remain on hold until it is available for everyone.” Willink seconds this recommendation, saying “Brands releasing new products that haven’t ticked all these boxes should be waiting until all consumers have equal access to purchase and doing their best to ensure this happens.” She points out that often people of colour need to buy their shades at special outlets – often only online – and for a premium.

Willink says she wants people to understand this isn’t just about complaining. What’s happening is the very definition of discrimination. “It’s about equal access to products that currently is not afforded to BIPOC. It is also a matter of representation and the harmful implications of cultures being visibly underrepresented in society.”

Page wants brands and businesses to consider their marketing too. “How do you advertise your product,” asks Page? “Challenging the traditional standard of beauty comes into play here. Put in the hustle and effort to locate people of all backgrounds to represent your brand.” And your campaigns and visuals should reflect inclusivity – and realness – everywhere. Frankly, if your brand is truly being inclusive it will feel real because it is a real reflection of the world today, particularly on social media, says Page. “When you’re being inclusive, it should feel and look captivating. If there is a drive to want to change, opportunities are in sight. I see brands who posted a black square last year but fail to follow through with their actions. To avoid this, we should be hearing updates on what strategies are put in place. We should be visually seeing Instagram feeds diversify and we should especially be seeing a change in products and how they are campaigned.”

Read the current issue of our digital magazine here:

Have an idea for a story or want to see a topic covered on our site and in our pages? Get in touch at info@professionalbeauty.com.au.

Back to top