Ellie James
20 September 2017

Diversity is a far broader term than it was 30 years ago, and it seems not much has changed, even as everything has.

In 1990, Maybelline started Shades of You, a makeup line for black women. It was discontinued in the late nineties. Maybe the formula wasn’t quite right or the advertising, but it didn’t hit home. Maybe it was because at that time no minorities worked in marketing at the company or in middle or upper management.

In 2006, Village Voice asked, “Has the cosmetics industry really come to recognize women of color as a target audience?” It added that although lots of brands had added a model of colour to their lineup to represent the brand, there were still not enough products.

Now it is 2017, the number of shades available has improved in just the last month with the release of Rihanna’s Fenty line (which sold out its darker shades on the first day) and diversity is no longer just about the colour of your skin, it includes age, size and gender. But the question remains, are beauty companies diverse enough?


When people think of diversity in beauty they usually think of different shades, or the lack of them. Until recently, traditionally large beauty companies simply haven’t catered for women with darker skin tones.

Additionally, according to recent research from George Washington University, mercury and other potentially harmful ingredients are found in cosmetics products commonly marketed to African American, Latina and Asian women, and even small exposures to suspected toxic chemicals can lead to health problems, such as premature reproductive development in young girls, neurodevelopmental issues and cancer.

                                      (Image: Fenty Beauty)

Ingredients from skin lightening creams and other products used to conform to a ‘European standard of beauty’ were particularly high risk. And lots of beauty tutorials by brands and influencers on Instagram are aimed at ironing out differences rather than celebrating them, for example, tutorials for ‘fake-creases for Asian eyes’. It seems that it is still true that the aim of makeup for many people is to gravitate towards flat hair and a Caucasian face.

                   (Image: @hanaylee / Via

But things have changed in the beauty industry. There are more products available now for women with different shades of skin.

You can’t talk about diversity and inclusivity without mentioning Fenty Beauty. Rihanna recently brought out her new line Fenty Beauty with 40 shades of the Pro Filt’r Foundation, including a number of darker shades, and a universal lip gloss that looks good on everyone.

                     (Image: Fenty Beauty)

ASOS Face & Body promoted a similar message when the line dropped today. The line’s first major promotional video features a diverse cast of models and the promise of everything costing under $20, maybe times are changing and makeup can be for everyone?


So more shades exist. Problem solved, right?

Not completely. Even if the products are there, that doesn’t mean people can find them. When sales assistants simply don’t know which products will suit their customers, it can feel awkward and difficult going in store to buy your makeup. And if sales assistants are predominantly white, they are unlikely to have the knowledge to be able to find the right shade for women of colour.


While we are talking about beauty counter assistants, another demographic that feels ignored by the beauty industry is older women. When sales assistants are usually in their twenties and have no idea of what problems an older woman might face or the type of makeup she would want, they will often just point towards the products aimed at them and be done.

But the beauty products aimed at older women seem to be anti ageing or anti wrinkle, and this isn’t what the audience wants. They want to celebrate what it means to be their age, not deny it.

At the moment only niche brands like White Hot and Forme Laboratories create products that allow older women to look good at the age they are. Whilst it is great that these brands exist, it seems there is a gap in the market for the right products from mainstream brands.

               (Image: White Hot)

Furthermore, all these products aimed at older women seem to be aimed at Caucasian older women. Women of colour have more melanin than Caucasian women and so age differently. They might experience pigmentation more than fine lines or wrinkles, and sagging rather than crow’s feet.


CoverGirl in the US has for a long time been a protector of diversity but they made a statement with the release of their new mascara last November. The So Lashy launch ad featured their most diverse cast of ambassadors to date including the first ever CoverBoy James Charles. Also in the lineup was Katy Perry, Sofia Vergara, Muslim beauty blogger Nura Afia, DJ Amy Pham and young R&B duo Chloe x Halle.


Manny MUA, the first male brand ambassador for Maybelline, and Patrick Starrr, arguably one of the most influential male beauty bloggers with over 3.4 million followers on Instagram, are two of the most prominent makeup boys.

Both have been courted by more than one makeup brand over the last few years. Patrick is a Formula X brand ambassador at Sephora and is a frequent attendee of beauty conventions. Brands do seem to be getting on board with the idea that makeup isn’t only for women.

               (Image: Manny MUA)

And it isn’t only men that have been embraced. Transgender models and celebrities have also been included in collaborations and as brand ambassadors.

In 2015, Make Up For Ever featured transgender model Andreja Pejić in its campaigns. And last year, when MAC teamed up with Caitlyn Jenner with the lipstick collaboration Finally Free, 100% of the selling price of the lipstick went to the MAC AIDS Fund Transgender Initiative.

               (Image: MAC Cosmetics)


Whilst size is more often talked about being underrepresented in the fashion world, the lack of representation is just as important in beauty.

The CEO of IT Cosmetics, which was sold to L’Oreal in 2016, was told she was too fat to sell makeup to women. A $1.2 billion deal later, she has proven her potential investor wrong and was a frontrunner when it came to diversity in campaigns, using a 73-year-old woman and an African American model with acne for her launch in 2010, which sold out.

A post shared by IT Cosmetics (@itcosmetics) on

While the number of ‘plus-sized’ models are increasing with a record 27 models on the runways at the autumn-winter 2017 shows, up from 16 the previous season and a mere six before that, there is still a long way to go if brands are going to represent the actual population of the audience they are targeting.


So a few companies are now using underrepresented models, and whilst you have to applaud these brands, it simply isn’t enough. You only have to flip through one of the more popular fashion and beauty magazines and the lack of diversity is startlingly obvious. You can normally count the number of non-white, skinny female models on one hand.

The beauty industry is making steps towards being more inclusive, but it seems that they can only take a step in one direction at a time with a few standout exceptions. You don’t see plus size older women in adverts much, nor plus-size gender fluidity. Even diversity pin-up brand Fenty was criticised by model Ashley Graham for the lack of plus-sized women on the Fenty X Puma runway.

If the beauty industry wants to be truly inclusive, brands need to fully embrace diversity right to the core of their messaging.

Ready is delighted to announce the imminent launch of a new report entitled BEAUTY AND PERSONAL CARE: PURCHASING HABITS ACROSS THE GENERATIONS.

The report takes a detailed look at how UK consumers of different ages discover and purchase beauty products today, and what that means for the industry tomorrow.

To be notified when it is released, get in touch on

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