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The Intersection of Beauty and STEM for Black Women

The Intersection of Beauty and STEM for Black Women

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By Jasmine Johnson

What if I told you that the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) industry and the beauty industry aren’t too different from each other? Both are billion dollar industries, both are on the spectra integral to everyday living, and both deal with a diversity issue towards women of color. While this isn’t a common comparison, these two fields actually have quite a bit in common. 

Just think about it: there’s a lack of shades that are accessible to brown women for foundations, and a lack of brown women in the labs. The limited representation of all women of color in beauty ads and ownership; the gender bias of black and Hispanic women being mistaken for janitors instead of the doctorate bearers they are. You know the look you give another woman when you both realize something on the spot? Women of color in both industries can give you the look that just says, “Girl, you too?” without even actually uttering a word. 

As black women in STEM, most of us know that we make up just two percent of STEM professionals and are familiar with implicit bias stories, but what many ay not know is that the beauty industry is no different.  Black women spend an estimated $7.5 billion annually on beauty products, which is stated to be about 80 percent more on cosmetics and twice as much on skin care as their non-Black counterparts. Unfortunately, the ownership level is disproportionally lower than the black woman consumer buying power. With Black women owning only one percent of beauty supply stores in the US, it’s hard for the representation to be accommodated where Black women aren’t owning the place where they shop.

The first step is noticing the problem — actually turning, “Girl, you too?” into “How can we change this?” There’s always a way to help someone, right? Figuring out a way to develop and grow as women in industries that aren’t too fond of Black women is far from easy. To tackle the problem, we must realize that we can kill two birds with one stone but intersecting both industries. Dismantling the ideas and bias of both industries through a knowledge of self and what Black women want and need with scientific research and analysis. Heck, mixing a job with STEM and beauty is a perfect blend of dismantling the lack of diversity in STEM, while at the same time, creating a solution to a problem — which is one of the primary tenets of science. It may not be the solution to all of the uneven representation, but it’s a start to filling the cracks that need to be filled in these industries.

It’s time for us to take control of our predicaments in both of these industries and there are women of color in STEM who are simultaneously taking the beauty industry under their wings while paving the way for others to succeed in both paths. Check out these Black women in STEM who are doing just that:  

 

Technology

Candace Mitchell, a Georgia Tech alum who obtained a BS in computer science is co-founder and CEO of TECHturized Inc., a tech company dedicated to helping women with kinky textured hair. The first app created under TECHturized is Myavana, a personalized hair care service that recommends products and services based on scientific analysis of consumer’s hair type and texture.  She has gained numerous awards and recognition for her work including the BET Honor’s Next Class STEM award and made the Forbes 30 under 30 list.  

 

Chemistry

Kitiya King, a Spelman Chemistry alumna and owner of Mischo Beauty, always aspired to have a cosmetics line. She created Mischo Beauty an 8-free (which means free of harsh chemicals ie. formaldehyde, DBP, toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene and parabens.) nail company.

Erica Douglas also known as “Sister Scientist” is another woman who intersects the two industries with her expertise and knowledge. A former Director of Research and Development of Namaste Laboratories, which is founded under ORS, she created and founded the mSEED group, a product development company and manufacturing group that helps develop and create new brands. She has a passion for natural hair and products so much that she is able to communicate the technical/scientific language of cosmetic science to the masses for different events through speaking engagements all over the country.

Balanda Atis, L’Oreal Chemist and founder of the Women of Color Lab at L’Oreal, created a wider foundation range for darker skin tones, a common issue that has been troubling in the beauty industry for darker women. Atis saw the lack of foundations and makeup catered to darker skin and took the opportunity to change that. Atis and her team used special probes that measured light absorption to evaluate different women’s skin tones to understand their approach in creating prototype shades. The teams came across different hurdles when creating foundations and then through experimentation they used rarely used pigment, ultramarine blue, that created deep, pure colors without sacrificing texture and vibrancy.

 

These are just a few of the women in the world who are changing the face of the beauty industry by leveraging their STEM expertise. From their examples, we can see that entrepreneurship often produces leadership that can pave the way for young and mature women to see themselves intersecting the two fields of beauty and STEM while simultaneously increasing representation and power within both industries.

Being a woman of color in both industries can be a challenge because of the lack of representation, but when you mix passion with science, the possibilities are endless.


Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
All rights reserved. The content above or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of #VanguardSTEM except for the use of brief quotations, with attribution, and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to #VanguardSTEM, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at hello@vanguardstem.com

 

Comment(1)

  1. Thank you so much for this wonderful article!! My name is Nikisha Horn and I am Head of Research and Development of Namaste Laboratories. I know my fellow cosmetic scientists Balanda Atis and Erica Douglas quite well. Please contact me as I would love to connect and share with you more AA women in STEM.

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