Why should women of colour pay more for beauty products? Stylist’s beauty director Anita Bhagwandas praises the brands that are levelling the playing field…
“I lived for the after-school shopping trip when I was 14. My crew would gawkily pile onto the bus, take our ties off so we looked ‘cool’ and trek to Newport town centre on a Thursday evening for late-night shopping.
Our first stop was always Boots, then The Body Shop, then Superdrug. We’d spend hours under the fluorescent lighting perusing tightly packed beauty shelves. I’d listen to the cacophony of oohs and ahhs coming from my friends as they played with blushers and lipsticks in the excitement you feel between girlhood and womanhood. But I always watched from the sidelines. Every week I’d try a different shade of shadow, brow pencil, blush or foundation in the hope that something, anything would suit me. That Heather Shimmer lipstick everyone loved? It made me look like a brown Barbie who suffered from hypothermia.
To be fair, I didn’t expect anything else. There wasn’t much consideration given to non-white people in British culture back then, save the token Asian family on EastEnders. But what affected me most profoundly wasn’t the kid next door who used to shout “Paki” at me every day – I was used to straightforward racism – it was the lack of representation coming from the beauty brands. It felt like the beauty equivalent of being told to “go back home”.
I felt so invisible in the beauty world for the next few years, having to make do with any product I could find, that I became very aware of any shifts in the market. As I hit 18, Mac and Nars appeared in Cardiff’s department store – rejoice! And then, while on a trip to Selfridges with my mum, I happened upon Iman and Fashion Fair, brands that did the deepest chocolatey shades I’d ever seen. She bought a foundation and powder for us to share – the most we’d ever spent on make-up. I longed for more from those brands, but with their prices I felt like I was being shut out again.
I know first-hand how important being catered for by the high street is during your formative years and beyond. Every time I used my powder in the too-pale shade it reinforced the idea that I wasn’t worth being catered for. And while the majority of luxury make-up brands now cater to women of colour (most recently, Fenty with its 40-plus foundation shades), the high street is finally upping its game.
Next month, Maybelline is extending its Fit Me foundation to 35 shades, and L’Oréal’s True Match foundation promises to cover 98% of skintones found in the UK (though the full ranges tend to be online or in larger stores). One of the most exciting advances is that Pantene has launched a gold series aimed at afro-textured hair – the first major high street hair brand to do so. Smaller businesses have benefited from this new social conscience: the Sleek make-up brand, originally sold in black hair shops, has been bought by Boots, which also stocks EX1 – a foundation range for women with yellow skin undertones. Cake Cosmetics, aimed at dark skins, is now sold at Superdrug, which now also sells Cantu, Twisted Sista, Mixed Chicks and Vatika for black and Asian hair.
Epic news, but we shouldn’t feel ‘grateful’ for it. We’re at a point where every facet of a beauty offering should be multicultural from the start – the high street being the most important. I know this next wave of change won’t happen overnight, but it needs more action from the industry – not just because of social media pressure, but as a matter of morality.
A 2016 study* found that women of colour pay around £25 for foundation – almost £15 more than their Caucasian counterparts. The study also revealed that black and Asian women spent £137.52 more on products annually than others.
What needs to happen is ensuring extended shade ranges and products for women of colour are in every store – not just bigger, out-of-town ones. And hair salons need to offer both flat-rate pricing so women with afro-textured hair don’t have to pay more than anyone else, and modesty curtains for Muslim women.
Change needn’t cost a fortune, but if things don’t shift, it will further impact our self-worth. It’s not just up to women of colour: it’s our collective feminist duty to ensure high street beauty caters to everyone. If we let it slide, the next generation will suffer. And we can’t let that happen again.”
These are some of Anita’s high street picks
Pantene Gold Series Moisture Boost Conditioner
Infused with argon oil, this conditioning treatment moisturises and detangles, leaving hair feeling silky soft and nourished.
Sleek MakeUp Vitality Foundation
Delivering medium, but buildable coverage in a semi-matte finish, Sleek’s MakeUP Vitality Foundation comes in 24 diverse shades and is a standout brand for women of colour on the high street.
Twisted Sista Curl Perfection Crème Gel
This curl-defining cream gel is formulated to hold moisturised curls in place with avocado oils and improve strength and promote shine with coconut and almond oils.
Makeup Revolution Conceal and Define Concealer
With 18 shades ranging from fair to deep, this concealer is lightweight, working to even skin tone, counteract dark circles and cover blemishes in a matte finish.