The beauty industry is home to so many brilliant, black female-founded beauty brands that have often been overlooked and underrepresented in a market that historically predominantly caters to Caucasian hair and skin types. While progress has been made through the conversation widening around diversity and representation within the industry, there is still much more that needs to be done.
‘There are so many talented women of colour in the beauty industry, but very few are business owners,’ states founder of Nails & Brows Mayfair, Sherille Riley. ‘We are under-represented in entrepreneurship and I would love to see more encouragement for women of colour to become entrepreneurs.’ Sherille herself struggled to get a loan from a bank and in the end had to borrow money from an investor to open Nails & Brows. ‘I do feel that women of colour are at a disadvantage when it comes to money matters.’
And it’s not just investors, many women of colour within the industry have experienced discrimination from estate agents, retailers and manufactures. Riley’s biggest challenge was finding a site. ‘I shared my vision with top commercial real estate agents who would invite me to view various spaces, but after meeting me - every single one turned around and said that the owner of the site would not be interested in a nail salon as a tenant. After bringing my Italian husband along to site visits - I felt and saw a difference in the way my business was being perceived.’
'At the end of the day the colour of my money is the same as everyone else's'
Keisha Lawler, Founder of Trepadora - a brilliant range of curly hair products - reports encounters with white male manufactures who have sought to undermine and belittle her brand. ‘I have felt discriminated against based solely on my colour and gender, but I am a force to be reckoned with and they soon realise that I am not the one to play games with. At the end of the day the colour of my money is the same as everyone else's.’
For founder of Equi Botanics, Ekwy Chukwuji-Nnene, it’s the lack of recognition that’s unjust. ‘I don’t feel recognised for the strides I’ve made in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) with the production of my haircare range which I created because black women’s hair deserves better. Investors tell me that my target market (worth £5 billion) is a niche – it's clearly not.'
The conversation has to continue and the playing field needs to be levelled out. For all of the brilliant black-founded beauty brands found below, the products are inclusive - and deserve fair representation. 'We don't want to be boxed in,' says Lawler, 'we are actively showcasing that we are very much a part of our community and are here to help all. If a brand is inclusive it should not be regulated to a subsection of "Black Beauty", just because the brand owner is black.'
Founder of Soapsmith, Samantha Jameson and founder of Base Plus Yasmin Greenaway second this - 'I don’t believe only black people can make products for black people, and only white people can make products for white people…. but it seems to be the attitude. We need to be actively asking, learning and listening to founders like myself who create the products; broaden your knowledge and better understand the profiles of all ethnicities/races'.
'Evolving the perceptions of the Black Founders ability (or lackthereof) to serve the needs of people outside of their immediate community' is key to promoting independent brands universal appeal and reaching the widest possible market. So, read on to discover some of the best, black female-owned beauty brands and salons that we should learn from, invest in and shop from now, and forever more.
Ejiro Beauty Studio
Nestled between Shoreditch High Street and Hoxton, and only a stones throw from Columbia Road, Ejiro Studio is one of the East ends latest and most notable launches. Opening it's doors in Dec 2021, the slick and stylish studio is founder Ejiro Owusu's second sugaring and brow specialist salon, now expanding their repertoire to include manicures and facials too. Add this salon to your must-try list for friendly and attentive staff, luxurious pampering, and a tranquil playlist covering everything from Leon Bridges to James Blake.
Hero Treatment: Hair removal newbies and seasoned pros alike must try the salons sugaring technique as a natural alternative to painful waxing. The warm, sticky, sugar based paste is applied and flicked off once dried, removing the hair from the root, and making it a longer term option over shaving. Once finished book one of the studios meticulous luxury manicures, £45 (for non members), finished with pomegranate cutile oil and Aesop hand cream.
Founded by Yasmin Greenaway, bespoke eco-luxe skincare brand Base Plus was developed as an answer to the often frustrating and overwhelming process of shopping for the right products for specific skincare concerns. In order to challenge the typical 'one size fits all' approach to beauty, a simple skin quiz allows customers to personalise a moisturiser and serum - both made from clean, cruelty-free, vegan, and organic ingredients and in recyclable packaging. We also love that Base Plus go one step further to protect the environment by donating money to the Rainforest Alliance each time someone makes a purchase, allowing you to be kind to your skin and the planet too.
Hero Product: The Good Skin Personalised Serum, £48 - whether dry, oily or combination skin, these powerful serums can tackle uneven skin tone, reduce the appearance of wrinkles and minimise pores.
Formerly a beauty contributor for Stylist Magazine and The Pool, Loretta De Feo created Dizziak after years of frustration trying to find hydrating, hair products that actually worked on her thick, half Nigerian, half Italian hair. 'I would say I have around five different textures to my hair and I found conditioners either too weak or too heavy. I was importing products from the US, which not only took ages to arrive, but cost a lot in shipping and then the results were always just average. I wanted to be able to pick out a contemporary and stylish-looking, deliciously scented product, without harsh chemicals, that really worked, and I wanted to be able to buy it on the high street, the same way most of my friends can.’
The scalp-friendly, PH balanced formulas are packed full of naturally derived moisturising ingredients including quinoa protein and babassu, coconut and argan oils. ‘Anyone can use it, any gender, no matter what their hair type – it’s totally democratic.’
Hero product: Dizziak Deep Conditioner, £22, is loved for its rich, nourishing formula that leaves hair shiny and detangled without weighing it down. Use as a daily/weekly/bi-weekly conditioner or leave on for 5-10 minutes as a repairing treatment mask.
Founder and CEO Nancy Twine traded in her career as a Vice-President on Wall Street to pursue her real-life passion - beauty. From the ripe age of five, Twine learned from her grandmother and mum how to make DIY skincare and haircare recipes – recipes that inspired her to dream up luxury haircare brand, Briogeo. ‘Briogeo takes it back to basics, offering a high-performance, hair care collection that is naturally based, yet performance driven to provide visible results,’ says Twine on her website. Her texture-specific products cater to every need – from repair, to volume, to curl care. And at 31 (at the time), she is the youngest African American woman to launch a line with the popular retailer, Sephora.
Hero product: Hailed as a godsend for dry, damaged hair - Don't Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Mask, £35.99, has garnered so many fans who adore the hydrating, rich formula blended with conditioning rosehip, sweet almond and argan oils as well as strengthening biotin and vitamin B5.
Devastated after losing a patch of hair to a weave-on extension, Ekwy Chukwuji-Nnene decided to take matters into her own hands and extensively research how she can nurture her own and her two daughter’s natural hair. The products on the UK high street did not cater to afro hair needs so Ekwy invested time into mixing and experimenting with different ingredients, using her own hair as a guinea-pig before eventually working with a chemist to perfect the range. ‘My older daughter has what is known as 4c afro hair and when she uses our deep conditioner, it melts her knots, so I knew I was onto something,’ says Ekwy. The high-performing, sell-out products are free from harsh toxins and packed full of active plant ingredients that let curly, kinky, coily and straight hair really thrive and grow. For brilliant afro haircare tips and tricks head over to the IGTV where Ekwy and her daughters share all of their beauty intel.
Hero product: ‘Everyone raves about my Marula oil leave-in conditioner, but for me, the hero product is our ground-breaking Babassu Deep Treatment masque, £19, proven to reverse environmental damage and correct low porosity, while supporting hair with a protein treatment,’ says Ekwy.
Nails & Brows Mayfair
The brains behind super salon Nails & Brows Mayfair, Sherille Riley landed her first dream job in 1997 at Harrods as Junior Therapist where she worked for five and half years, performing facials for luxury brands such as Crème de la Mer and La Prairie. ‘When I look back, I guess being a young woman of colour working for these brands back then was quite unusual, but I am so grateful to these brands for the opportunity.’ With the goal and ambition to launch her own salon, Riley rented the beauty section at Hersheson’s for 10 years working alongside the team there. ‘It was such an incredible journey, I learnt so much about business and eventually felt ready to take the plunge and open my own salon.’ And so, she did, opening its doors in 2014, Nails & Brows is a beautiful, professional, result-driven salon for busy women looking for a last-minute quick fix.
As well as providing an array of expert services (I can testify that ‘the Audrey brow’ is a brilliant option for fuller-looking, lifted brows – I’m obsessed) - Riley also launched Beauty Edit Mayfair, a standout range of brow enhancing products.
Hero product: Brow Setter, £25, is a clear gel that holds the brows in place. Unlike other formulas out there, it doesn’t dry hard or crispy – instead, it’s conditioning with vitamins B5 and E as well as castor oil.
Keisha Lawler’s passion for beauty began after working at a beauty counter during the school holidays in Jamaica. ‘I loved making other women feel good about themselves.’ After moving to the UK, Lawler continued to pursue her love for beauty and worked as a receptionist at Toni and Guy. ‘Up until this point I had been permanently straightening my hair, so I was oblivious to the struggle that people with curly hair had and how difficult it was to find products.’ Lawler eventually grew tired of having to travel to her closest black-owned beauty salon to spend the day getting her hair relaxed and scalp burnt, so decided to see what her natural hair could look like. ‘The only place to buy products for curly hair was Boots, which at the time had two options – both were underwhelming. So, I decided to visit a top salon to see if they could help me to only be told that the stylist had no idea how to work with my texture, so I had to stand up, remove the gown and leave.’ Angry and humiliated, this experience ignited a spark in Lawler to educate herself on all things curly hair and to create an online community and store to help guide other women.
‘After many years of helping these imported US brands grow here in the UK, it dawned on me that I could actually create my own range, right here at home. I wanted a brand where I had full input in the sourcing of ingredients, messaging and manufacturing methods – which is how my vegan registered hair care range, Trepadora was born.’ Supercharged by rainforest butters, oils and extracts, the beautifully scented products strengthen and enhance curls.
Hero product: Babassu Quench Leave in Curl Primer, £19 , is raved about for curls that tend to knot and tangle. A blend of oils provide incredible slip and bind moisture to the cuticles.
Founder of Soapsmith, Samantha Jameson was just 24 when she set up her first business supplying goods to events company. Although successful, her real passion lied in scent. ‘Smell has always been my strongest sense, and my connection to places, people and time comes through smell – it’s the thing that transports me to the various chapters of my life. I always thought, if only I could bottle and share these memories with the world.’ So, she sold her business and used the funds to turn her passion into Soapsmith, a scent centric personal care business that uses high quality, natural ingredients. The luxury products are wrapped up in beautiful, vibrant packaging that span from lotions, to soaps, to bath soaks, and are stocked at iconic London retailers including Selfridges, Liberty and Fortnum & Mason.
Hero product: For Sam, it has to be the Hackney Hand and Body Lotion, £18. 'I really enjoyed creating this scent, and developing a lotion that was soft, nourishing but non-sticky and greasy. Hackney Marshes scent is a unique blend of Sandalwood, Bergamot, Rosemary and a hint of Geranium. I just love it, the consistency and the fact that multiple people ask me what the scent is when they catch a whiff of it!'
The launch of Fenty Beauty in 2017 was a game changing moment for the beauty industry. ‘It was the blueprint for highlighting the global lack of diversity in beauty,’ says Keisha Lawler on the brand. Music star, fashion designer and beauty icon, Rihanna launched her make-up line ‘so that people everywhere would be included,’ creating extensive shade ranges and formulas that work on every skin type - including the legendary 40-strong Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation (that’s now been expanded to 50). All of a sudden, other beauty brands took note, extending their shade ranges to become more diverse, which is now known as ‘the Fenty effect’.
Not only does Rihanna take into consideration every single consumer, but she’s also created a line of expertly formulated products that are affordable and do really work.
Hero product: Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb, £17, is one of the best glosses in the business - the lacquer shine, non-sticky formula, XL wand and peach-vanilla scent - it's everything and more that you could want from a lip gloss.
Pat McGrath Labs
Hailed as one of the world’s most influential make-up artists, Pat McGrath, otherwise known as ‘the mother of make-up’, launched her eponymous beauty brand back in 2016. ‘I created the brand selfishly for myself,’ McGrath told me at the launch of her new sublime concealer earlier this year in Paris. ‘The pigments are saturated, they glide, and they work differently to most. You used to have to have mad skills to work an eyeshadow or lipstick, but these products make it easy.’ Gold 001 was the first product to launch and it sold out in a matter of seconds, crashing the website. ‘I was obsessed with gold, but it was so difficult to work with which is why I created Gold 001. We had the pigment, a spatula and liquid so that when we created a gold eye, we’re making it wet and packing the eyeshadow on for an exquisite result.’ Since Gold 001, Pat McGrath has released an impressive collection of lipsticks, glosses, eyeshadow palettes, as well as foundation and base products – that cater to everyone.
Hero product: Mothership VII: Divine Rose Eye Shadow Palette, £115, is one of the latest arrivals that houses 10 breathtakingly beautiful, highly pigmented shadows in rosy, golden and peach tones, that stars nonother than Naomi Campbell as the face.
‘Epara is a brand born out of a need to provide luxury skincare products to women with dark skin tones. The skin issues women have present differently in Women of Colour,’ says Founder and CEO, Ozohu Adoh on the website. The luxury line of scientifically proven products, derived from the rich soils of Africa, aim to repair, pamper, hydrate and moisturise skin. Adoh struggled to deal with a dry, uneven skin condition and could not find a single product to treat her concerns. This inspired her to develop her own. Epara means ‘to cocoon oneself’ in the Nigerian dialect of Ebira, which is exactly what the products do – they’re rich, deeply nourishing and address dryness and pigmentation caused by the sun, free radicals and pollution.says Founder and CEO, Ozohu Adoh on the website. The luxury line of scientifically proven products, derived from the rich soils of Africa, aim to repair, pamper, hydrate and moisturise skin. Adoh struggled to deal with a dry, uneven skin condition and could not find a single product to treat her concerns. This inspired her to develop her own. Epara means ‘to cocoon oneself’ in the Nigerian dialect of Ebira, which is exactly what the products do – they’re rich, deeply nourishing and address dryness and pigmentation caused by the sun, free radicals and pollution.
Hero product:Brightening Night Balm, £100, is full of naturally-derived skin brightening actives that target imperfections, even skin tone and reduce hyper-pigmentation. Triple tick!
Created by two best friends, Abi and Liha, LIHA Beauty is a collection of chic, minimalist skincare products that combine natural African roots with a quintessentially British attitude. ‘In the Yoruba (Nigerian) tradition, making beautifying oils, soaps and lotions from the nuts, tree bark and plants that grew in abundance was a skill that was traditionally learned by all young women,’ says Liha on their website. ‘My mother is an English aromatherapist, so I naturally started to blend the two disciplines together.’ The natural, organic and vegan products, that have major shelfie appeal, range from beautifully scented soaps and shea butter to cosy candles and skin-loving oils.
Hero product: LIHA Idan Oil, £39, blended with coconut oil and tuberose flower, is a multi-tasking wonder that can be used as a soothing facial oil, a hydrating hair mask or even as an all over body treatment. Customers love the scent so much that some have even used it as a solid perfume. Dreamy!
If you saw Nylah's Naturals founder Kameese pitching on Dragon's Den this year, you will have fallen in love with the brand like we did. Initially formulated and handmade by Kameese to care for her young daughter's afro hair, the brand is now an award winning name in black haircare, with a particular emphasis on all products being plant derived and paraben free. The brands ethos 'Heritage, Hair and Science' aims to celebrate the unique beauty of afro hair with a range of products formulated by trichologists and cosmetic scientists to specifically tackle the issues experienced by those with curly and coily natural hair.
Hero Product: Super Seed Oil, £16, a blend of cold-Pressed botanical oils loaded with magnesium, proteins, carotene’s and Vitamin A, B, D, E to strengthen hair fibers and restore dry and damaged hair.
The Wig Bar London
The Wig Bar London launched in 2019, initially providing wig revamp services, but has now extended to a full product range of wigs and wash day kits. Created with sustainability in mind, the new sets extend the life of wigs and encourage a ‘buy-less-wear-more’ approach to this area of the beauty industry. Founder Yomi Onashile champions three mantras for the brand 'Beauty is for all' and must be sustainable and cost effective, 'Your time is precious' and your wig should be quick and easy to wear and 'Accessibility is key' as the brand ships to you, worldwide, to fit in with your schedule. 'Our main goal is to protect the hair investments of every wig & hair extension wearer so they feel empowered in the knowledge that they can get the very best out of their wigs & hair extensions long term, regardless of where they purchased their hair from. We believe beauty is for all, so cultivating sustainable habits whilst helping our customers feel confident and beautiful is a win-win for us'.
Hero Product: The Wash Day Tool Kit, £90, a detangling brush and comb, a wet brush, thermal conditioning bag, microfibre towel and satin bag, everything you need to keep hair in it's very best condition.
Bea Skin Care
Bea Skincare are cosmeceutical company created by Skin Specialist & Medical Aesthetician Bianca Estelle, who grew up unsatisfied with the skincare options for black women, and created two lines specifically targeted towards catering to darker skin tones. The Bea Skin Care Luminescence range and the Master Antioxidant Range, both contain active ingredients like Kojic Acid, Mandelic Acid, Lactic Acid, plus Glutathione to tackle issues such as hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone, to help you discover your best skin yet.
Hero Product: The Bea Skin Care 8-week at-home pigmentation treatment, prescribed and monitored by a Skin Specialist from the brand’s Skin Clinic. Prices are available on request.
Created during lockdown in 2020, Ava Estell is formulated with darker skin tones and specific skin concerns like hyperpigmentation in mind. The family run business aims to fill the gap in the lack of accessible products made for people of colour, and is ideal for anyone looking for natural formulas to manage of dark spots, psoriasis, blemishes and more, with quality Cocoa and Shea butters direct from Ghana.
Hero Product: The Body Restore Kit, £49.99, the brands bestselling set, includes the Activating Body Scrub & Magix Cream that work together to treat imbalance in pigmentation.
The Wash Day Co.
Born out of a love and appreciation for all things afro and curly hair (while also wanting to take the stress out of the time consuming process that can be 'wash day'), The Wash Day Co aims to empower women with healthy hair without the fuss. 15 years of hair care research went into the small batch brand created by founder Betse, resulting in a carefully curated wash day kit of a shampoo, conditioner, brush and organza scrunchie that are all you need to care for your crowning glory.
Hero Product: They're all heroes! But start with the Big For Your Roots Shampoo, £18, packed with superfood antioxidants, aloe vera and flaxseed and black cumin oils to nourish curls and maintain scalp health.
Black-Owned Beauty Brands
1. Dizziak Deep Conditioner, £22
2. Don't Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Mask, £35.99
3. Equi Botanics Babassu Deep Treatment Masque, £19
4. Beauty Edit Mayfair Brow Setter, £25
5. Trepadora Babassu Quench Leave in Curl Primer, £19
6. Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer, £17
7. Pat McGrath Labs Mothership VII: Divine Rose Eye Shadow Palette, £115
8. Epara Brightening Night Balm, £100
9. LIHA Beauty Idan Oil, £39
10. Soapsmith Hackney Hand And Body Lotion, £18
11. Nylah's Naturals, Super Seed Oil, £16
12. The Wig Bar London, Wash Day Tool Kit, £90
13. Ava Estell, Body Restore Combo, £49.99
14. The Wash Day Co. Big For Your Boots Shampoo, £18