Lupita Can Fix This Major Beauty Industry Problem

My first trip to the cosmetics counter was a rude awakening. I had always found solace in my mother’s makeup bag, so I was excited when I first went to Macy’s to begin my own cosmetics collection. I stopped at Lancôme first, where a makeup artist struggled to find a foundation that matched my complexion. I encountered similar struggles at the Chanel counter and with several other brands, and began to worry — that was, until I found my way to the MAC Cosmetics chair. When their makeup artist applied Studio Fix to my face, I became an instant convert. I purchased foundation, concealer, powder, bronzer, lipstick, and tons of other makeup goodies that afternoon. To this day, I still return to the MAC counter every few months to satiate my cosmetics fix.

As a brown-skinned woman, MAC’s ability to sell products that complement my complexion and meet my skin care needs has always appealed to me. However, most of the faces that peer back at me in MAC’s advertisements look nothing like mine. While Rihanna and RuPaul have lent their faces to the Viva Glam campaign, most of MAC's female models resemble Lorde, the 17-year-old singer that recently signed a deal to distribute makeup products through MAC.

Research commissioned by Essence magazine found that black women spend $7.5 billion on beauty products annually. We also spend twice as much on skin care products than other demographics, and spend 80 percent more on cosmetics. Our needs are profitable for beauty giants — including MAC.

Black women are accustomed to erasure in the fashion and beauty world. On the catwalks, there’s a glaring disparity in the number of black models hired for New York Fashion Week. Only nine percent of all Fall 2014 New York Fashion Week models were black. Supermodel Bethann Hardison petitioned for diversity on the runways, but there’s been little progress. MAC might be able to make a difference.

Black women are putting MAC Cosmetics on alert: We want actress Lupita Nyong’o as a spokesmodel. After all, the Academy Award-winning actress is already a proven fashion force. She’s the face of Miu Miu’s spring 2014 advertising campaign, has appeared in numerous magazine editorials, and generates red carpet buzz with her fashion savviness. Now, the Twitter hashtag #LupitaforMAC is asking MAC Cosmetics to consider incorporating Nyong'o as well.

Journalist Joan Morgan and Dr. Yaba Blay, director of Africana Studies at Drexel University, started the hashtag over the weekend. Multiple tweeters quickly rallied around the cause.

In response, MAC Cosmetics tweeted me:

Yes, I know all about them, which is why I also think multiple shades of black beauty should be a priority for MAC Cosmetics — especially when black women support their company.

Research commissioned by Essence magazine found that black women spend $7.5 billion on beauty products annually. We also spend twice as much on skin care products than other demographics, and spend 80 percent more on cosmetics. Our needs are profitable for beauty giants — including MAC.

In 2009, Essence also coordinated several Smart Beauty panels to discuss black women’s involvement in the beauty industry. Leading beauty experts concluded that black women are hungry for quality products that reflect our personal style and offer ingredients that are sensitive to our skin needs.

Makeup artist Sam Fine was on that panel, and said that black women are often dissatisfied because we have a more difficult time finding foundation shades that match and are beneficial to our skin.

"What keeps us buying is the hope that this product will do what it’s supposed to do,” said Fine. [We also] seek affirmation of their beauty from spokespersons or models of color in ad campaigns for beauty products.”

Nyong’o could fill that need. Especially since she's already spoken to it.

Of course, Nyong'o comes from a long line of trailblazers. In her groundbreaking book, Beauty of Color , supermodel Iman recounted how she started creating her own foundations.

"I was frustrated from the day I arrived in America for a fashion shoot, when makeup artists would ask me if I brought my own foundation, and they weren't asking the Caucasian models. When I started there was nothing available for women with dark skin," she wrote.

Available products, like Polished Ambers, did nothing to enhance her complexion for the cameras.

"It was the worst makeup I have ever tried. I don't know how it survived a couple of years. It had colors that weren't even good on Caucasians, and they made it a little darker."

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

That was in 1976. Iman launched her own successful cosmetics line in 1994, and hers became one of the few lines to cater to women of color. Iman should be celebrated for its innovative approach to tackling one of the glaring issues in the beauty industry. But that doesn't change the fact that even in 2014, black women still struggle to find cosmetics lines that consider our needs.

Karim Orange, owner of cosmetics brand Better Organic Choice, wrote about her experiences shopping for foundation at Duane Reade in an op-ed for the Huffington Post.

I recently visited a Duane Reade in the heart of New York City and found that L'Oreal had 16 shades for lighter-skinned Caucasian women and only seven shades for women of color. (I'm including Asian and Latino women, along with African-American women). Revlon Color Stay had 22 shades of lighter foundation but only six shades for women of color. Neutrogena and Almay offered none.

Fashion blogger Sade Strehlke encountered a similar issue while shopping for BB Cream. She couldn’t find a brand whose BB cream matched her complexion. Shades were either too light or too dark, and often gave her an “ashy” look. She concluded that “mainstream products are just not made for people with darker skin.”

That shouldn’t be the accepted reality. MAC and other cosmetics powerhouses should celebrate the beauty of blackness — especially when they depend on black female consumers to meet their numbers quarter after quarter.

Creating a line in Nyong’o’s honor will signal to black female consumers that we are not voiceless commodities in a billion-dollar industry that profits on our beauty desires. Our input should matter, and so would Nyong’o’s.