Looking for sustainable make-up for every skin
More and more responsible creams and foundations are on the market, but are they also available for every skin tone? Nsimba Valene Lontanga is looking for sustainable options for her skin: ‘I can hardly go to Etos or de Bijenkorf.’
NV_Bio Photo Nsimba Valene Lontanga
18-10-2019 Reading time: 6 minutes
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Nsimba Valene Lontanga
As a black girl with Congolese roots, I saw my aunts and other women who looked like me bleach their skin – the visible after-effects of decades of brutal Belgian colonization. My mother gave me the message to celebrate my color, especially to strengthen myself as the only African child in a white village. But no matter how proud I was of my black skin, through the media I was told that in a white world there was no room for my beauty. This was also reflected at my local drugstore, were among the ten shades of foundation there was only one variant that should be for me. As if black people are born in one shade, instead of hundreds. As if only one black person is ‘worth it’ – after the famous L’Oréal slogan. It did not apply to me. Learn more beauty tips
THE RANGE OF COSMETICS FOR DARK SKIN IS LIMITED IN THE NETHERLANDS. I CAN HARDLY GO TO ETOS OR DE BIJENKORF
The range of cosmetics for dark skin is still limited in the Netherlands. I can hardly go to Etos or the Bijenkorf and have to rely on the so-called black beauty shops. But these are not exactly safe spaces either: Asian owners set the standard and often sell very harmful products. The shelves full of relaxers (chemicals to style curly hair) and skin bleaches symbolize the contradiction: a ‘black space’ that is at the same time against black beauty.
My true safe space nowadays is with the #blackgirlmagic movement, a US-based global online movement of black women who appreciate their natural looks. The women give each other beauty tips not to camouflage their dark skin, but to accentuate it. Partly due to the influence of #blackgirlmagic, the conversation about, and the offering of cosmetics for black people changed. Especially influential American vloggers such as Jackie Aina forced the big brands to include black people in their product development.
THROUGH TIPS FROM WOMEN IN THE # BLACKGIRLMAGIC MOVEMENT, I CAN NOW FIND NUDE LIP GLOSS SUITABLE FOR MY LIPS
Partly because of Aina’s tips and those of other black women in the #blackgirlmagic movement, I can now find a nude lip gloss that does not immediately turn white and is also suitable for my lips. I used to have to mix different shades to create my ‘naked’ color. My beauty routine is no longer a way to conform to a white beauty standard but has become a way to contribute to a better self-image and a more diverse world.
Singer Rihanna is one of the first superstars to bring the growing self-awareness among black people into her Fenty Beauty line of cosmetics. Launched in 2017, she created a whirlwind with 40-shade makeup. Each shade group – light, medium, tan, deep – again has ten shades. Her line has now been expanded to fifty colors. There was a clear need for this kind of diversity: in the first year, it already generated a turnover of 500 million euros. With her inclusive and highly successful brand, Rihanna has stretched the beauty standard. Her message: dark skin deserves a range that is just as diverse and high-quality as all other skin tones.
Fenty Beauty makes a strong statement for a more inclusive future and the products are not tested on animals, but what is still lacking is attention to sustainability. Consumers want that: 66 percent of millennials are willing to spend more money on sustainable brands, according to the McKinsey Business of Fashion study from 2018. More and more consumers expect beauty brands and their suppliers to focus on a greener world. There is hardly anything to be found about how consumers of color think about this. They may be overlooked in this area.
COSMETICS ESPECIALLY FOR BLACK WOMEN ARE LARGELY NOT MADE BY BLACK WOMEN
The beauty industry is actively responding to environmental concerns and healthy lifestyles among millennials, but it seems that dark-skinned consumers are barely included in these plans. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an American activist organization that conducts research into chemicals in products, among other things, concluded that cosmetics specially intended for black people score poorly on safety. For example, in general, public cosmetics, 40 percent is “of little concern” when it comes to “potentially dangerous ingredients.” This includes substances that may disrupt hormones, are associated with skin cancer, or increase the risk of skin allergies.
This is considerably lower for cosmetics for black women: less than 25 percent. EWG also wrote that cosmetics specifically for black people were largely not made by black people. So you could say that there is a shortage of people of color who make safe choices for dark skin.
EVERYTHING FROM THE SAME FACTORY
Someone who does know the way behind the scenes of the cosmetics industry is Senegalese-American beauty expert Diarrhea Ndiaye. She worked as a social media strategist at L’Oréal and as a product developer at the American cosmetics brand Glossier. In the American podcast Naked Beauty, she recently shared her most important lessons and experiences. “Racism runs very deep,” she says. “Ultimately, all brands go to the same factories, where the same chemists work. These chemists create formulas for people who don’t have my skin type. One size fits all is chosen. ”
Ndiaye now wants to develop its own, sustainable brand for people of color under the name Ami Cole. It is time for a world in which all black people feel safe while smearing, she says. She does not have to reinvent the wheel but can build on what the Indian-American online influencer and entrepreneur Deepica Mutyala has achieved. She was the founder of the inclusive beauty brand Live Tinted, which began as a discussion platform about beauty and culture with 60,000 Instagram followers today. Live Tinted launched a durable multi-correction stick for all skin tones this year. All ingredients are vegan, not tested on animals and the products are free of potentially hormone-disrupting substances such as parabens and phthalates.
BLACK AND GREEN
Apart from the initiatives of Ndiaye and Mutyala, sustainable make-up for dark skin is hardly within reach, I notice as a fan. Yet I find several precursors that are black and live green. For example, there is BLK + GRN (Black + Green), an American ‘marketplace’ where black entrepreneurs offer make-up and care products that are non-toxic to people and nature. Founder Kristian Henderson, the public health expert, believes in a holistic approach; using the power of plants and nature to make you feel happier. Yet the range at BLK + GRN is also limited: there are only a few options for foundation shades, mascara, lipstick, and highlighter.
Closer by, in Europe, I came across Maréna Beauté, a Swedish-Senegalese brand for people of color with a wide variety of hues. Apart from being free of animal testing, it is not particularly durable. Larger American brands such as the hair care line SheaMoisture and natural make-up brand BLAC Minerals are, but their range – animal testing free and without potentially endocrine-disrupting substances – is not complete enough to be able to participate in your entire beauty ritual. The basis, foundation, for example, is missing.
THE AMERICAN PLAIN JANE IS THE ONLY SUSTAINABLE BRAND WITH OPTIONS FOR ALL SKIN TONES AND A WOMAN OF COLOR AS THE OWNER
The American brand Plain Jane has a non-toxic, plant-based base and is the only sustainable brand that is especially for people of color, has options for all skin tones, and has a woman of color as its owner. At the other end of this spectrum, there is the popular Color FX, also a US-based brand that is vegan and cruelty-free. Not only does it target women of color, but it has a foundation offering with forty shades, half of which are shades of brown. The range of brands is therefore small, but there is hope.
Black women outside the US can’t just go to a store for these green and black beauty products. We have to rely on the internet, resulting in an enormous climate footprint. Think of the CO its toot emissions during transport, but also of all extra packaging for transport. I would rather go to the drug store around the corner instead of having to order online. Not every brand says anything about packaging for inclusive, sustainable cosmetics. Plain Jane has replaced the plastic concealer and corrector bottle with a paper version since last year, but in general, zero-waste packaging still seems a bridge too far for this niche. The products will also not be affordable for everyone: for a matte lipstick from Maréna Bauté you will easily pay 30 euros (including shipping),
Safe and environmentally friendly cosmetics are therefore not exactly within reach for women like me, but there is more and more information to be found. If you are unsure about your purchase, you can check the Skin Deep database of the EWG knowledge center to find out how the product scores on potentially harmful ingredients. Recently 1100 products for black skin have been added. I hope that soon I can also find cosmetics from black female entrepreneurs like Ami Cole among them.