The next frontier of inclusive beauty is unfolding, with a rising tide of skincare brands made specifically for complexions of colour.
In early 2023, I had a full face freak-out that made me feel helpless and sent me into hiding. The stress of moving across the province and away from my hometown of Toronto, with the added pressure of becoming a first-time homeowner, unleashed a relentless barrage of blemishes on my face, with dark spots to match. No one welcomes a breakout with open arms, but as a woman of colour, I try extra hard to stop a pimple in its tracks because I know that its aftermath involves my ultimate nemesis: hyperpigmentation.
“Hyperpigmentation is any deviation from your baseline,” says Dr. Renée A. Beach, founder of Toronto’s DermAtelier on Avenue. “Skin gets injured, and melanocytes — melanin-producing cells in the bottom layer of the epidermis — go into an overdrive response, where they produce more colour.” From a breakout to a bug bite, anything that causes inflammation or irritation can trigger the development of dark spots, which are notoriously hard to get rid of, especially for those with melanin-rich skin.
“Melanin is a factor in everyone’s complexion,” says Beach. “It determines the pigmentation on our face, around our nail beds, in our lips and in our hair.” But there are different pigmentation types and ratios found in lighter and darker skin tones. And that factor impacts the epidermis in a few ways, including how breakouts heal. My dark-spot-riddled complexion was a major blow to my self-esteem at a time when I was meant to be enjoying farewell visits with friends and family and snapping memories along the way. Today, my confidence has recovered but my skin hasn’t; the evidence of that trying time still lingers via post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
It’s an epidermal experience that Eadem co-founder Alice Lin Glover knows well. Before starting the brand with Marie Kouadio Amouzame (who was born in West Africa and raised in France and lives in Brooklyn), the California-based Taiwanese-American grappled with cystic acne and eczema — two skin conditions that can result in hyperpigmentation. She relied heavily on hydroquinone (an ingredient that inhibits melanin production) for treatment, until she discovered it was banned in several countries due to unwanted side effects. “The more I looked into the ingredients behind the beauty products I was using, the more I was convinced there was a need for safe, targeted products for melanin-rich skin,” she says.
When Eadem launched in 2021 with Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum, it introduced its Smart Melanin Beauty formulation philosophy to the world. “It fuses science-backed ingredients and heritage botanicals to care for melanated skin in a way that’s effective yet gentle,” says Amouzame. Beyond formulating all of their products from scratch, alongside a chemist and dermatologist — both of whom are also women of colour — Eadem’s co-founders are committed to diverse product trials. “We discovered that most of the skincare formulas on the market aren’t actually tested on every skin tone — especially not on darker tones,” says Amouzame.
Upon learning that darker skin is often not factored into skincare research, Cameroon-born, Normandy-raised Noelly Michoux set out to democratize skincare research and development. To do so, her topical brand, 4.5.6 Skin (which was co-founded by a dermatologist and scientist of colour and named one of the most innovative beauty companies of 2023 by Fast Company), built the world’s first Skin Tone Research Lab in France. The lab tests, develops and manufactures its products made for phototypes IV, V and VI on the Fitzpatrick scale. A long-standing dermatological tool with a problematic past — initially, it addressed only Caucasian skin — the scale was designed to assess phototherapy exposure for skin tones. It ranges from type I (a very fair skin tone that “always burns”) through type VI (a deep skin tone that “never burns”). Through a sweeping scope of research that includes genetics, metabolism and psychology, 4.5.6 Skin is unearthing the differences in skin tones and developing formulas that help fade dark spots, increase hydration and calm sensitive, melanated skin.
Bringing together research and diversity is also the goal at L.A.-based Sula Labs. After being faced with a lack of representation in the R&D stages of beauty product development and propelled by a research grant for a project that blended social justice and STEM, cosmetic chemist AJ Addae founded her Black-owned cosmetic formulation and testing company in 2021. Driven by a “for us, by us” promise, Sula Labs dedicates the majority of its portfolio to Black-owned brands. Collaborations with on-the-rise indie lines, such as Of Other Worlds and Range Beauty, are just a few of the lab’s success stories to date. Through her growing team of young, and predominantly Black, scientists, Addae offers a range of services, including product development and efficacy testing, that aim to involve people with darker skin tones in the formulation stage of a product rather than featuring only diverse skin tones in advertising campaigns once a product has already launched. After all, inclusivity is needed in every step of the process.
Whether it’s being driven by founders or formulators, this growing category is leading to significant change that better supports brown and Black complexions. Along with game-changing brands Eadem and 4.5.6 Skin, skincare lines Melyon (a Black-owned Swedish botanical brand) and Lion Pose (which boasts actor and producer Mindy Kaling as an investor and ambassador) now ship to Canada, providing more options and research-backed formulations for people of colour. Beach is optimistic about what this burgeoning beauty category can deliver: “I’m excited about the mission of these new product lines, which is to improve skin tones in a more diverse way.”
Below, four hero products that have been formulated with melanin-rich skin in mind.
Eadem Milk Marvel Dark Spot Serum
This fragrance-free serum boasts a blend of niacinamide, licorice-root extract and encapsulated vitamin C that helps fade hyperpigmentation and minimize the look of pores.
4.5.6 Skin Green Bae Clarifying Cleansing Gel
Ideal for oily, combination and acne-prone skin, this purifying gel cleanser is made with salicylic acid to balance sebum plus hemp oil and orange-blossom water to decrease inflammation.
Melyon Day Cream
Made with vegan ingredients, such as baobab oil and aloe vera, this soothing cream is rich in vitamins B, C and E and hydrates skin while protecting it from free radicals and pollution.
Lion Pose Unspotted 4X Acid Jelly Night Serum
Loaded with 15 per cent acids, such as azelaic, glycolic, lactic and tranexamic, this resurfacing treatment visibly reduces hyperpigmentation and was clinically tested on Fitzpatrick skin types II to VI.
This article first appeared in FASHION’s Winter 2024 issue. Find out more here.
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