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Related Categories: International | Racial Justice
Colorism Within the Beauty Industry
by Zachary Brikovich
Wednesday May 19th, 2021 10:08 AM
OP-Ed that takes a look at colorism in the beauty industry and the projected trends of the skin whitening market in the future.
Beauty products have become a massive part of everyday life for people all over the world. This market in America has put forth major strides within the last decade to rid itself of racism and discrimination with makeup brands like Fenty offering 40-50 different shades of foundation and concealers. Despite these efforts, there has been a continued use, marketing, and production of things like skin whitening products across the globe, which then in turn extends the influence of colorism as well as racism. Understanding why there is such a demand and market for these products requires understanding societal practices and how these big companies continue to feed racist ideologies.

Colorism is the concept defined by Margaret Hunter which describes "... the process of discrimination that privileges light-skinned people of color with their dark-skinned counterparts" and is seen around the world, having a great impact on female beauty standards. Being influenced by the Western and European worlds where there is an emphasis on one’s “fairness”, regions like Southern Asia and Africa, for example, set this as their standard too. This ends up creating insecurities among the people and allows the beauty industry to take major advantage of this concept and feelings by making products that bleach the skin or aims to make one appear lighter. This is a big problem because when it comes time to sell these products, the marketing strategies that the companies are using become harmful to the people viewing them. The way that the products are being marketed play into deep rooted societal beliefs about one’s race and the color of somebody's skin. Another problem is the way that these products continue to impact cultural views and practices of the modern era and into the projected future.

The global beauty market continues to be one of the biggest and fastest growing global markets, being worth an estimated $532B and boasting roughly a 5% growth rate per year, putting it over $800B by the year 2025. While these numbers sound impressive, they also include issues that prove racism and colorism are still present within modern life. According to the article Colorism in the Beauty Industry, the year 2015 saw the skin whitening market sitting at a value of $10B and is projected to triple by 2024, being worth over $32B. With this market bringing in so much revenue, these beauty and cosmetic companies continue to produce and put these harmful products on store shelves. In order to promote these products, companies turn to globalized advertising that end up relying on colorism and reinforcing long racist messaging saying the lighter or fairer your skin becomes, the better your life will be. Specific advertisements for these skin whitening products relay messages that by using these products, finding love, being happy, and fitting into society will be easier.

The harmful messages provided by advertisements and the continued productions of skin whitening products are exemplifying long existing racist ideals that reflect in colorism today. As colorism influences modern day society and images of beauty, people are starting to push back against the type of culture big businesses promote. Whether that’s through social media campaigns that encourage self love and acceptance, to celebrities sparking conversation about it, to again some companies going out of their way to offer all-inclusive beauty products, there are signs that the issue of colorism and it’s deeply intertwined relative, racism, are no longer acceptable. There’s a long way to go still, but the fight for true equality for all has begun.


Frisby, Cynthia. (2019). Black and Beautiful: A Content Analysis and Study of Colorism and Strides toward Inclusivity in the Cosmetic Industry. Advances in Journalism and Communication. 07. 35-54. 10.4236/ajc.2019.72003.

Danziger, Pamela N. “6 Trends Shaping The Future Of The $532B Beauty Business.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 1 Sept. 2019, http://www.forbes.com/sites/pamdanziger/2019/09/01/6-trends-shaping-the-future-of-the-532b-beauty-business/?sh=5895ee40588d.

Hunter, Margaret L. Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone. Routledge, 2007.

“How Skin Whitening Reveals the Depth of the Beauty Industry's Colourism.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 30 June 2020, http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/jun/30/how-skin-whitening-reveals-the-depth-of-the-beauty-industrys-colourism.

Ramirez, Rachel. “Beauty Companies Are Changing Skin-Whitening Products. But the Damage of Colorism Runs Deeper.” Vox, Vox, 30 June 2020, http://www.vox.com/first-person/2020/6/30/21308257/skin-lightening-colorism-whitening-bleaching.

Ronald Hall Professor of Social Work. “Women of Color Spend More than $8 Billion on Bleaching Creams Worldwide Every Year.” The Conversation, 19 Feb. 2021, theconversation.com/women-of-color-spend-more-than-8-billion-on-bleaching-creams-worldwide-every-year-153178.

Voxdotcom, director. Why the Market for Skin Whitening Is Growing. YouTube, YouTube, 4 Jan. 2018,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cjzvvgmg1NU&t=48s.
Winker, Katelyn, and read more by by Katelyn Winker. “The Rise of Inclusivity in Beauty: Digital Beauty HQ.” Digital Beauty, 11 Sept. 2019, digitalbeauty.com/inclusivity-in-beauty/.
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