A fast-changing world: How inclusive beauty is re-shaping the industry

A fast-changing world: How inclusive beauty is re-shaping the industry

Inclusive beauty refers to beauty which caters to all, regardless of gender, age, skin tone, skin type, religion, or race.

Everything from beauty product formulations (e.g. halal-certified ingredients) and make-up tools designed for individuals with motor disabilities to the models featured in advertising and the brands carried in retail stores contribute to make beauty more accessible.


What is driving the rise of inclusive beauty?

A pivotal moment was the 2017 launch of Fenty Beauty, a cosmetics brand from Rihanna. Fenty launched with a then unprecedented 40 foundation shades, enabling a wide range of skin tones to find the right shade. Fenty subsequently went beyond foundation by releasing a liquid concealer in 50 shades. The brand answered a widespread consumer need for individuals who don’t normally see themselves in beauty products or advertising. Fenty’s success sparked a shift – helping make-up brands realise that diversity should be a priority rather than an afterthought.


In 2020, the Black Lives Matter protests saw a broader shift towards social purpose and inclusion. The protests not only heightened awareness of racial inequalities but also placed pressure on beauty and personal care companies to widen non-Eurocentric perceptions of beauty. Other trends – such as growing support for LGBT individuals, evolving gender norms, and the body positivity movement – have also changed the landscape.

As a result, inclusive beauty has gathered traction. Beauty brands which don’t promote inclusivity risk losing out on a new generation of consumers – especially as a growing crop of direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands emerge to fill the gaps.


Beauty for different skin tones

Foundation shades are important – but beauty for different skin tones goes beyond that. For example, darker skin reacts differently to skin conditions such as acne and eczema and is more susceptible to hyperpigmentation because of higher amounts of melanin. But traditionally, many products have been tested on lighter skin tones, ignoring their efficacy for people with different skin tones. More diversity within dermatology would help – in the US, it’s estimated that only 3% of dermatologists are Black (in a country where African-Americans make up 15% of the population).

However, since Fenty’s launch and the BLM protests, there has been progress:

  • Mainstream brands like CoverGirl and Maybelline also boast 40 foundation shades and more diverse model casting.
  • Major US retailers like Sephora, Macy’s, and Bluemercury committed to the 15 Percent Pledge — a promise to commit 15% of shelf space to Black-owned businesses. In 2021, Ulta Beauty promised to double the number of Black-owned brands carried by the retailer.
  • Glossier and L’Oréal have provided grants to Black-owned businesses and Sephora’s 2022 accelerator programme – designed to incubate upcoming brands – focused solely on founders of colour. (However, Glossier’s grants prompted a group of former staffers to come forward with stories of workplace racism.)

In haircare, the industry has moved away from the term ‘ethnic hair’ – with its connotations of Otherness – towards the term ‘textured hair’, to capture a wider spectrum of hair types. The industry is widening its product offerings for textured hair including:

  • In 2020, Drunk Elephant and Function of Beauty launched co-wash products for curly and textured hair. (Co-washing refers to using conditioner rather than shampoo to wash hair to avoid drying it out.)
  • In 2021, Procter & Gamble partnered with Walmart to launch the brand Nou, which caters for different curl patterns and provides information to consumers on hair porosity through scanning a QR code. Kérastase and Living Proof also introduced products catering to a range of curl patterns from waves to coils.
  • In 2022, Walmart increased its investment in textured hair care in by launching Madam by Madam C.J Walker, following the popular 2020 Netflix series Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker.


Gender neutral beauty

When Rihanna launched Fenty Skin in 2020, she tweeted, “Whoever told you skincare has a gender LIED to you!” As with the Fenty launch three years earlier, she was onto something.

With younger consumers embracing the idea that gender is a spectrum, gender-neutral make-up lines are gaining prominence. It’s estimated that over 50% of Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – shop outside their gender in beauty categories, prompting some in the industry to think beyond the gender binary. This is a big shift: traditionally, most skin care and beauty has been targeted towards feminine-presenting women. Now, there are more gender non-conforming ad campaigns and gender-neutral products aimed at a more broadly defined beauty customer.

Take the brand Fluide. While many brands feign inclusivity during Pride Month, few are committed to gender inclusivity to the extent Fluide is. The brand’s stated mission is to amplify queer and gender-expansive identities, and it does this by celebrating non-conformity through its products and messaging. It’s not just about rainbow-hued products which are great for creating bold and experimental make-up looks – the brand also donates a proportion of its profits to LGBT support organisations.



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A post shared by We Are Fluide (@fluidebeauty)

Other examples include:

  • In 2018, ASOS dropped the word ‘beauty’ from its cosmetics line, renaming it as Face + Body to make its offerings more gender neutral.
  • Aesop, Ursa Major,and Non Gender Specific have ditched gendered marketing, opting to package and sell unisex products that focus on specific skin concerns or conditions instead.
  • The skincare brand Good Light launched in 2021 using the tagline, ‘Beauty beyond the binary’.
  • High-end brands including MAC Cosmetics, Tom Ford, Gucci, and Marc Jacobs have launched gender-neutral lines across make-up, fragrance, and clothing.

In the hair category, there is a similar push toward gender inclusivity, as the idea that short hair is for men whilst long hair is for women continues to erode. In 2021, Queer Eye beauty guru Jonathan Van Ness launched his 10 product, gender-neutral hair care line, JVN Hair, which includes an oil that can either be used on the beard or hair lengths.

That said, genderless products and marketing in beauty isn’t entirely new. Are you old enough to remember the stir caused by Calvin Klein’s unisex fragrance, CK One, when it launched in 1994?


Beauty for people with disabilities

Whilst beauty inclusivity has come a long way in terms of skin tones and gender, there remains a gap when it comes to creating products for people with disabilities. One billion people worldwide have a disability, yet product development for consumers with disabilities remains niche in the personal care category. Over half of adults in the US agree that the beauty industry should be more inclusive and over four in ten UK adults agree that beauty brands ignore people with disabilities.

From adapting product design for different hand grips to making products more readable for the visually impaired, there are ways that beauty brands can become more inclusive. Examples include:

    • Kohl Kreatives Plus create make-up brushes for people with motor disabilities or visual impairments. As well as their ergonomic function, the products are vegan and made from sustainable materials.
    • Olay introduced the Easy Open Lid to improve the accessibility of its moisturisers. Featuring a wing cap, an extra-grip raised lid and braille text, the lid was developed in collaboration with consumers with a range of disabilities, such as limb differences, chronic issues, and visual impairments. Olay chose not to patent the product, to allow competitors to use the design too.
    • L’Occitane has included braille on some of its packaging since 1997 and now includes the lettering on 70% of its products.
    • In 2018, P&G’s Herbal Essences launched a new bottle design for its Bio: Renew range with tactile printing on the back. Instead of using braille, which some visually impaired people can’t read, the brand uses a simple system of circles and lines to distinguish between shampoo and conditioner. The conditioner has two rows of raised circles on the back while the shampoo has four raised straight lines. Herbal Essences subsequently offered their visually-impaired customers quick and direct support through Be My Eyes, a video calling service to answer haircare questions.



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Beauty across the generations

Traditionally, the beauty industry has tended to focus on adults aged 18 to 35 – but there is significant opportunity in age groups beyond that.

Older consumers

More brands are looking to cater to older consumers, such as Gen Xers or baby boomers. For example, perimenopausal concerns have seen increasing attention in skincare, including:

  • Pause Well-Aging produces menopausal skincare products that address concerns such as hot flashes, night sweats, and skin elasticity.
  • State of Menopause produces products that target menopausal concerns, from cooling spray to hand and joint cream.

In 2020, Ilia Beauty launched a marketing campaign featuring women between the ages of 20 and 70. Other companies are catering to aging adults by making their product packaging and design easier to use, with larger fonts, pumps, and ridged tops.



Babies and children

At the other end of the spectrum, beauty brands are also looking to babies and children to maximise opportunities, with examples like:

  • Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company, which started in baby care and raised more than $412M in its debut.
  • Baby care brand Mini Bloom, which launched in 2020.
  • Chantecaille, which launched its Bébé range in 2017.

Up-market skincare brands such as Pai Skincare, Dr Barbara Sturm and others have also expanded into children’s and baby skincare products.

Clearly, parents who purchase skincare products for their children are very concerned with safety as well as efficacy – which is why, for companies entering this category, ingredient transparency is key.


Gen Z or teenagers

Gen Z-focused brands such as UK-based Plenaire and Bubble have seen increasing traction. Meanwhile, traditional category leaders like Chanel, YSL, and others are revamping their products and marketing strategies to appeal to a younger audience.

Social media is a key channel for teenagers to discover products in line with their needs — what might be called ‘edutainment’ for beauty and skincare products, led by so-called ‘skinfluencers’. TikTok is a massive brand opportunity, reshaping consumer preferences and driving viral sales. Two thirds of TikTok’s one billion users are Gen Z – their number 1 skincare demand is clean beauty, so they research product ingredients, care about sustainability, and expect brands to be transparent.


Male beauty

In the last few decades, male grooming has expanded beyond the basics (face washes and moisturisers etc) to include eye creams, sunscreen, face masks, make-up and more.

South Korea has been a trendsetter in this category, with South Korean men accounting for a fifth of global spend on men’s skincare in 2018 — a trend often attributed to the popularity of K-pop idols.

China’s male grooming market is growing at 13% per year or double the global average. Its male skincare market was more than twice the size of South Korea’s and more than three times the size of the US market in 2021.

In Asia, men’s skincare and makeup has been a rising trend for years, with the West catching up only recently. Many of today’s brands, such as Stryx, Shakeup Cosmetics, and War Paint, are employing D2C distribution to attract a new generation of male consumers.



The future

Inclusive beauty is here to stay. In the near term, as the inclusive beauty and clean beauty movements intersect, expect to see more emphasis on ingredient transparency. As the global beauty landscape becomes more connected and accessible, expect to see more brands looking to Asia for inspiration – especially in male personal care.

For any brand which takes a stand on socio-political issues, it’s important that communication between the consumer and the brand is a two-way process, and that you involve the community you are catering to. Brands should listen to their audiences in different markets around the world and respond accordingly.

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If you’re planning an international digital marketing campaign in 2022, Oban can help. Get in touch to find out more.

Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion. Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.

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