Racial Discrimination in the Cosmetics Industry


The following presentation aims to communicate with a number of groups concerning issues faced by black models and women within and as a result of the cosmetics industry. While its important for black individuals, especially aspiring models, to be aware of the hardships and disparities that are commonly met within the business, it is more vital for industry leaders and key players to face these issues. The majority of the racial discrimination that exists in the makeup business is the direct result of adherence to white beauty standards and the inability of cosmetics business owners to provide black models with appropriate resources.

The purpose of this report is to highlight the ways in which both external and internal factors influence the disparity faced by black models and consumers of makeup. Since the majority of these issues originate with executive decisions that are often related to keeping costs low and attempting to implement trends that usually prioritize white beauty, change must begin within the industry. Currently, even as diversity becomes more prevalent, norms and standards that are practiced within the industry exclude or limit the black models that work within the industry. It is essential to recognize that the lack of black models is a result of executive decisions.


Race is the primary thematic element as the most commonly and purposefully disadvantaged group within the industry are non-white women, especially black models and consumers. Class is also a vital component as beauty standards are often related to an individual’s economic, social, and cultural background. Similarly, beauty is a concept that is entirely subjective, though this becomes distorted within the cosmetics industry as a result of choices made by industry leaders.

Racism and Cosmetics

A majority of companies have begun to diversify their public appearance and branding in recent years. Though such a tactic of perceived diversity is popular with big-name brands, internal and less visible issues within the industry promote completely different notions (Lawson, 2020). The many sources of such issues are unfortunately complicated and not simply on the basis of discrimination against black models and consumers. In fact, certain evidence has revealed that black business-holders within the cosmetics industry are also likely to exploit black models (Phipps & Prieto, 2018). Such findings reveal that racism continues to exist within the scope of the industry on a fundamental level that has yet to be directly addressed.


The stereotyping, sometimes even from sources that aim to celebrate features unique to black culture, often results in detriment to both black models and consumers. While the reference to specific hairstyles, makeup trends, and other aspects of appearance as being exclusively black or even model-specific by cosmetics firms aims to illustrate its uniqueness and value, it can also have negative effects (Brooks, 2019). This is frequently because such stereotyping limits a black model’s ability to be portrayed outside of such stereotypes, which have transformed into branding. On the other hand, while these barriers do not allow non-black models to implement appearances that have been dubbed as exclusively black, it also denies black models the ability to enter sectors that are traditionally inhabited by white women (Shawna, 2018). However, this issue has recently been resolved by introducing black models as a standard of beauty by placing them in positions where white models were previously the only existing norm. Such diversity is instrumental in social matters and likely to improve a firm’s consumer spending (Cifre, 2019). Despite this, such diversity may also result in increased issues of a racial nature as black models may often be utilized to promote items they do not really use.

Freedom and Justice

While certain contradictions and minor issues within business politics may seem inconsequential, they are often indicators and contributors to large issues of discrimination in the cosmetics industry. Lipstick, an item that has long been associated with status and culture, is one such element that comes in direct conflict with the justice and freedom black women lack in the cosmetics industry (Gurrieri & Drenten, 2021). As a symbol that represents idealized feminine beauty, factors such as color, shape, and price often expose the ways in which beauty standards relate to privilege and self-expression. Certain lipstick may not be appropriately applicable to black women despite being advertised to them as the epitome of beauty (Sandeen, n.d.). Such a contradiction implies that it is not the makeup that is at fault for a potentially inadequate appearance but the consumer’s looks instead. Though this is untrue, advertising within the cosmetics industry suggests it to be so.

Black Models and White Beauty

Despite the many positive changes within the industry to pave the way for black models, cosmetic companies continue to present black individuals as still not within reach of white beauty standards. Of the myriad of products that exist within the industry, a disproportionate majority is still oriented toward white consumers. Whether it is skin toners or blush, lighter tones benefit from more variety and options, while darker skin tones often suffer from having to select tones lighter than is needed. This creates the attitude that in order for black women to be beautiful, they must adhere to white beauty standards and look lighter than they are. The term ‘colorism’ summarizes this phenomenon experienced by black women and essentially defines a situation in which black women are urged to appear lighter in order to display certain social status. While black consumers continue to purchase such inappropriate products due to the influence of companies, these purchases result in the continued manifestation of racial discrimination and expectations within the industry.

While white beauty standards, stereotyping, and controversial politics regarding cosmetics emerge from larger issues of ongoing racism, the core of discrimination within the industry cannot be tied anywhere else but to the groups and individuals maintaining its operations (Van, 2017). In fact, skin color stratification is as present within the cosmetics industry as it is in other facets of society (Hall, 2017). Within business, this manifests as industry leaders or key players judge models based on skin color, with lighter tones usually being prioritized. This causes models with very dark skin tones to lose a number of employment opportunities that would be appropriate for audiences with similar tones simply so that a firm can adhere to false beauty standards. Additionally, black models are often required to do additional work, such as styling their own hair prior to shooting, without pay, as stylists are not always capable of working with curly hair (Sanchez, 2021). Similarly, photographers that are experienced in using lighting that works best with dark skin colors may not be hired by a firm in order to assure that the model is working in the best setting. Oftentimes this is the result of companies being unwilling to hire diversified professionals, either due to financial or other costs. However, this results in the negligence of not only certain features and beauty aspects of black models but their presence entirely in certain situations.


In conclusion, like many other industries, the world of cosmetics has experienced a rapid increase in diversity and equality over the past few years. However, such progress is often overshadowed by the inherent and applied discriminatory functions within the business. Black models and customers continue to experience unreasonable comparisons to white beauty standards and inappropriate product advertisements. Black models are still susceptible to mistreatment or disparity, being ignored or inadequately presented almost always as a result of choices made by industry executives. Essentially, key players within the industry continue to pursue trends and ideologies that are often limited or even untrue but directly harmful to non-white individuals. As such, much change is still needed in order for black models to experience equality within the cosmetics industry.


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Van, A. (2017). More than skin deep: an analysis of black women’s experiences with race, skin tone, and cosmetics. Minnesota State University. Web.

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