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The rise of melanin-rich products: Should skincare be colour-blind?


The skincare industry has made strides to become more inclusive to people of colour (Picture: Getty Images/EyeEm)

Does the colour of your skin affect the skincare you need to use?

To a certain extent, yes.

If you have hyperpigmentation, or redness as a result of rosacea, you’ll probably want products to tackle that.

But recently there’s been an explosion of brands offering skincare solutions especially for ‘melanin-rich’ skin, suggesting that those with darker skin tones need to use skincare ranges devised exclusively for them.

So what is going on?

‘Many brands have previously simply not spoken to people of colour, or included them in advertising or marketing, which makes people with darker skin think that those products aren’t meant for them,’ says aesthetician Dija Ayodele, of London’s West Room Aesthetics.

‘With these brands there is no ambiguity, and there’s also a sense that they are saying “we understand the history and the fractious relationship that people with darker skin have had with beauty”.’

Dija Ayodele, of London’s West Room Aesthetics (Picture: Andy Golding)

Esther Olu, a US-based cosmetic chemist who posts on Instagram as @themelaninchemist, also points out that while brands will often say products have been tested on a range of skin types ‘there is a history of ingredients only being tested on white skin or fairer skin in studies, with very few done on darker skin, so there is a gap in understanding the mechanisms of ingredients on darker skin.’

This knowledge gap, in conjunction with the lack of people of colour in marketing campaigns, has led to a rise in myths about whether certain products or ingredients are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for people of colour, when actually, says Dija, ‘bar melanin [the pigment in skin], the make up of skin is the same.’

And, while some skin conditions are more common in darker skin — for example hyperpigmentation — as Esther puts it, ‘ingredients do not discriminate.’ Basically if a product works on pigmentation issues, it’s going to work on pigmentation issues whether your skin is black, white or blue.

Esther Olu, a US-based cosmetic chemist who posts on Instagram as @themelaninchemist (Picture: @themelaninchemist / Instagram)

That might explain why, when you look at the ingredients listings of products designed for darker skins, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything that sets them apart from existing formulations.

After all, as Esther says, ‘all chemists have access to the same raw materials, there is no material that is “exclusively for people of colour.”’

If it is all in the marketing then, does creating a range for darker skins just propagate the idea that they are different from white skin, while paradoxically bracketing together the huge range of skin tones that aren’t white?

‘Yes it’s problematic,’ says Dija. ‘But the bigger problem is that black women have been left out of the industry for so long. So if a brand needs to use specific marketing language so that people feel that they’re represented, I’m happier to continue that problem.’

Ultimately, it seems we’re all eyeing up a future beauty utopia where products and ingredients are genuinely tested on an entire range of skin tones, where marketing makes it clear that these products really are for everyone, and where anyone, whatever their skin tone, realises they should be buying a product based on their skin concern, not colour.

But, while we’re working towards that, and there’s a lot of work to be done, these types of brands are filling the gap.

The melanin-rich brands

So what are the melanin-rich brands? French brand 4.5.6 (456skin.com) markets itself as ‘Skincare for darker tones’ with the tagline ‘Melanin Skin Science’; Wo (wearewo.com) uses a questionnaire to assess the right products for you and includes questions on your heritage and ethnicity; and Dr Barbara Sturm (drsturm.com) has a ‘Darker Skin Tones’ range.

Wo skincare for darker skins (Picture: wearewo.com)

Meanwhile, in the US, Unilever (which owns Dove, Simple, Pond’s and Vaseline) has launched Melé, ‘science-led skincare, designed to nourish the magic of melanin-rich skin’.

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.

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