Beauty Segregation: The Ethnic Skin Care Aisle Debate

If you live pretty much anywhere in America, you’re probably familiar with the concept of the “ethnic skin care aisle” where drug stores and pharmacies stock hair products targeted to black and multi-ethnic shoppers. Some see this practice as a convenience, some as a subtle form of discrimination.

Many companies, such as Shea Moisture and L’Oreal, have started the campaign to break down this barrier as a symbol of integrating black beauty into mainstream beauty. However, there’s still the fact that ethnic hair and skin demands special needs and attention due to thicker hair strands and increase melanin that one-size-fits-all formulas just do not treat.

Read more from this article by Jessica Cruel on how she finds the separation beneficial for her shopping convenience.

Recently on a long vacation back home to see my family, I had to run to the store and stock up on a few products to do my hair. The big tubs of gel and mists I typically use on wash day are not exactly TSA-compliant. No matter: I strolled into the Publix and went directly to the ethnic hair section. There, in the middle of the sprawling hair-care aisle, were five neat shelves of products for natural black hairlike mine. I scanned the options for about two minutes, picked up a shampoo from As I Am and a twisting butter from Taliah Waajid, and was on my way in no time.

If my story seems anticlimactic, it’s because it is. I needed hair stuff. I found it easily because I knew just where to look. The end. But the mere fact that I can go into any supermarket, drugstore, or discount department store and know exactly where to find beauty products for my kind of hair is fraught. Some see the ethnic hair section as a symbol of lingering racial discrimination—a separation of “us” and “them” that harkens back to the “white” and “colored” signs that once hung on water fountains, bathrooms, buses, and pools. (There’s usually a sign marking the aisle, but even if there isn’t, you know it when you see it.) And since the ethnic hair section tends to be a lot smaller than the general market area, you get the distinct feeling of, you know, separate but not equal.

Lately, there’s movement in the industry toward increasing the number of mainstream beauty products for the dark-skinned, permed-or-kinky-haired consumer and selling them in the main aisle along with their other product lines—bringing the fro to the fore, if you will. I appreciate all of that. But if it’s up to me, I’ll keep my segregated beauty aisle, thanks.

There are hundreds of products that seem like they are being vague on purpose, trying to appeal to as many potential buyers as possible. Is my hair type included when a bottle says it’s for frizzy, textured, or curly hair? Is pomade the same thing as edge control? Will the darkest foundation shade be dark enough for my skin tone? Were these formulas even tested on black women like me?

I like knowing where to look. I like knowing that, over here, when the bottle says “curls” it means my kind of curls (type 4B to be exact) and not the curls of my Caucasian counterparts. To me, the ethnic hair sign is like a big arrow cutting through all the marketing BS and telling me “this product was made for you.” As a woman who has been ignored by the mass market brands lining the shelves in the rest of the aisle, I’m happiest when I can go straight to the little section at the back (yes, sometimes it’s at the back—it’s OK) and find products that work for me, made by companies that get me.

What do you think? Do you think the separation adds convenience and makes it easier to find the brands specifically for your needs or would you rather all products be labeled “beauty” instead of dividing us by our skin color?

Clear Essence has long been proud of its classification as a ethnic skin care company as it has filled the gap of products available specifically for the needs of medium to dark skin tones. When there once was not a company to give products for this under-served market, Clear Essence rose with solutions for treatment of hyperpigmentation and other common melanin issues. Clear Essence continues to give black beauties a skin care line with their needs specially in mind and strives to help all skin tones feel flawless and beautiful! Let us know below what you think!

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