Ethnic Skin Care

November 9, 2005

Although the ethnic skin care market is not as saturated as the ethnic hair care market, more players are entering the game to fill the gaps

Skin tone is not a black and white issue when it comes to ethnic consumers. As marketers develop more effective products that are suited to ethnic skin, the category is slowly emerging from the shadow of its sister market, ethnic hair care. No one company currently dominates the ethnic skin care market, prompting innovations from a handful of companies that largely focus on problems associated with African-American skin.

The ethnic skin care market, a $121 million market in 1998, is expected to grow just 2% a year during the next three years to reach $132 million by 2003, according to Business Trends Analysts’ Leading Edge Reports, Commack, NY. Though not as strong as ethnic hair care, the ethnic skin care market is certainly showing signs of future success.

One of the factors influencing this success is African-Americans’ purchasing power, which has been steadily rising in recent years, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. Black purchasing power reached $533 billion in 1999, up 73% from $308 billion in 1990. Industry executives said this trend is expected to continue.

The growth in the ethnic market is surprising, considering only 30 companies market ethnic personal care products. Most are small, family-owned and managed by African-Americans. Several such as BioCosmetics (Black Opal) and Johnson Publishing Co. (Fashion Fair) are ranked among the top 100 black-owned industrial/service businesses by Black Enterprise magazine.

Black ownership is reflected in a recent African Health and Beauty Aid Institute (AHBAI) survey which said 70% of African-Americans would rather buy ethnic personal care products from an African-American-owned company.

Black Opal, a BioCosmetics Research Labs spin-off, was founded eight years ago by Carol Jackson Mouyiaris—an African-American lawyer. Black Opal was specifically launched to address the concerns of African-American skin. The company works closely with Cheryl Burgess, an African-American dermatologist based in Washington, D.C.

“Ms. Burgess is particularly important because African-American consumers look for authenticity,” said Peney Williams, Black Opal marketing director. “Other companies say they are part of the African-American market, but if you look closely, you’ll see that they sell general products.”

The greatest skin concern among African-Americans is hypopigmentation, or uneven skin tone with dark spots. Black Opal products correct skin tone and prevent hypopigmentation, which is primarily attributed to healing acne.

“In the general market, products are geared toward Caucasian skin that gets drier and more wrinkled as it gets older,” said Ms. Williams. “This is not the case for African-American women. As their skin gets older, it gets oilier and more acne-prone. By the time African-American women wrinkle, they have other problems.”

Black Opal’s Blemish line of adult acne products includes astringent, wash, bar soap and a gel that dries out pimples. The products feature salicylic acid, resorcinol, camphor, witch hazel, menthol and rosemary extracts to minimize breakouts, inhibit oil production and freshen and soothe the skin. Recently, the company introduced Sensitive Skin Formula Fade Crème with added botanicals to substitute the popular hydroquinone to lighten skin. Recent studies have pointed to the potential dangers in using hydroquinone, such as irreversible lightening years after application, according to industry experts.

Black Opal’s cosmetic line offers a multitude of skin shades with oil-inhibitors, vitamins and sunscreen. Recently a lip gloss that can be worn alone or over lipstick was launched. It contains sesame oil, aloe and allantoin. Eye Dream, a mascara and eyeliner in one, features a dual-ended wand with no-smudge or flake pearlescent mascara and liquid eyeliner. The mascara and eyeliner is available in four shades.

Excessive oiliness on the face is also a problem common to ethnic skin, according to executives at Interface Cosmetics executives, Long Island City, NY, a three-year old prestige brand targeted at African-Americans.

“Between 85-90% of ethnic consumers have oily T-zones and large pores,” said L.T. Cushon-Dillard, Interface Cosmetics national field sales manager. “Skin Care targets those concerns, with products such as toners to refine pores, cleanse deeply and inhibit oil production.”

Interface’s Skin Care line comes in royal blue plastic bottles in two categories: core and specialty products. The core products address oil/troubled, normal/combination and dry/dehydrated skin. Specialty products focus on tone, texture and blemish control. This spring, the company will introduce an innovative treatment item for T-zone oil control.

Disappearing Acts, a cream that fades dark spots with botanicals, will be introduced this month. Eye Must, a skin lightener, brightens the area around the eyes. There is also the new fall color cosmetics collection, Temptation.

“First a woman must care for her complexion, then makeup application is easy. Interface is a start-to-finish program. The biggest concern is not finding the correct undertones that match skin tones exactly,” said Ms. Cushon-Dillard. “But our 18 foundation shades span from honey to licorice.”

Ethnic makeup must also contain high levels of pigment since ethnic skin’s high melanin content absorbs color, according to Ms. Cushon-Dillard. Interface’s main customer base is African-American, followed by Puerto Rican and Spanish women. Even Caucasian consumers with tans are looking for products with more color, she said.

Next year, executives at Interface Cosmetics predict 25-30% growth in sales. Predictions for 2000 were 25% gains, though the company has already reached the 40% mark.

“America is changing,” explained Ms. Cushon-Dillard. “In the next decade, the majority will be people of color due to demographics. This is a huge opportunity for our company and we soon plan to open 30 stores a year.”

Curing Ashy Skin
Another major problem for African-American skin is extreme dryness, causing ashy skin due to cold weather. Dark skin is less tolerant of the cold weather and therefore more susceptible to damage, according to BeautiControl executives, a skin care company that was recently acquired by the Tupperware Corporation.

“Black consumers must be careful in their choices because their skin can be easily discolored or aggravated,” said Gary Jones, vice president of product development, BeautiControl. “Skin Equations, a sensitive skin line for all skin tones, is hypoallergenic, preservative-, oil-, lanolin-, fragrance-, dye- and colorant-free.”

Skin Equations also contains the five-botanical Protective Services primer, which heals the skin and treats irritation, chapping and rashes. The line includes Gentle Wash, Calming Rinse milk and Relaxing Moisture gel.

BeautiControl also developed Skin Hydrator, which reduces ashy appearance. The company shied away from lanolin and mineral oil, which can aggravate dark skin. Other skin problems also include sun-sensitivity, scarring and hypo- and hyper-pigmentation, which can be helped with Beauti-Control’s Tone Corrector, an all-natural fading product that evens out skin tone. In November, BeautiControl plans to launch Demarkable, a skin product specifically made to reduce scarring caused by acne or other damage.

“More companies in the cosmetic community have recognized the needs and concerns of black consumers,” noted Mr. Jones. “When BeautiControl designs skin care, it keeps in mind all skin ethnicities. But it’s more difficult in cosmetics; there are generally 34 African-American skin variations as opposed to 10 in Caucasian skin.”

BeautiControl offers three types of foundation—cream, liquid and wet/dry—in 10 shades for darker skin in addition to a variety of blushes, eye shadows and lipstick for darker skin.

Black Opal offers a line of extra-moisturizing cocoa butter products, Black Opal Cocoa Butter Extreme Team, which includes cream, spray lotion, soap, concentrated wax with natural butters, emollients and vitamins to moisturize dry, ashy skin.

An Asian Influence
According to Business Trends Analysts, the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. is Asian-American, followed by Hispanic American, American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, African-American and lastly Caucasian. Ironically, there are few products out there that cater to the Asian consumer. But more will be on the way, shortly.

Coty Inc.’s Lancaster Group bought Yue-Sai cosmetics and skin care in 1996. The line remains Coty’s only ethnic-specific product line and is solely sold in China. U.S. distribution is tentatively planned for spring 2002, according to company executives.

“When Coty allied with Yue-Sai, the company was looking to create a presence in the Chinese marketplace and also secure a leading brand,” said Arthur Gallego, director of corporate communications and public relations, Coty Inc. Lancaster. “Both goals were accomplished by partnering with Yue-Sai. The line has an enormous presence in China as the leading brand sold in department stores.”

Coty executives insist that ethnic consumers represent an unlimited opportunity for the company. China especially, is a market where many companies have tried to tailor products in the past decade to not only increase sales but build their portfolios. Research undertaken for ethnic products can be beneficial for other lines in this ever-burgeoning market, according to Mr. Gallego.

“The market for African-American products continues to grow steadily,” said Mr. Gallego. “The Latin and Asian skin care markets, while not the size of the African-American market, will continue to evolve as well. But it is important to recognize certain skin care items remain universal.”

Concerns for Asian women include color cosmetic ranges and the constitution of skin formulations.

“Colors that flatter Caucasian women often do not flatter Asian women, so color stories are critical,” said Mr. Gallego. “Asian skin also differs from Caucasian. Foundations tend to be too oily for Asian skin.”

The alliance was mutually beneficial to Coty and Yue-Sai. Coty offered Yue-Sai marketing, technology, research, development and manufacturing resources, while Yue-Sai offered Coty a strong leadership position in an enormous market with an established, credible brand name.

Zhen Inc., St. Francis, MN, is a cosmetic and skin care brand that caters to Asian men and women with yellow skin tones.

“The ethnic mix in the U.S. is changing,” said Susan Yee, Zhen Inc. president. “There are many more mixed ethnic races than Caucasian and their needs are not the same. The ethnic skin care market will continue to grow as the population becomes more diverse every year. Focusing on our customers’ wants and needs is a natural way to retain customer loyalty.”

A frequent complaint heard in the marketplace is skin sensitivity to general products, according to Zhen executives. Many women experience allergic reactions. Dark skin is also a problem with Asian consumers.

“One of the most recent items we have added to our product line is Lightening creme. We find that Asian women in particular are interested in this type of treatment,” said Ms. Yee.

But despite the need for yellow-based products, Ms. Yee insisted that her customers are looking for what all customers want—a product that works.

On the Equator
The Caribbean population has a wealth of skin tones. Sacha, a Trinidad-based cosmetics company founded in 1979, addresses the various skin tone needs found on the equator and around the world. Sacha is best known for handling the makeup for Miss Universe and Miss USA.

“All women today share one major cosmetics problem: they are ethnically diverse and have yellow skin undertones,” said Kama Maharaj, founder and chief executive officer, Sacha Cosmetics Inc. “Other cosmetic lines have pink undertones that do not match women’s skin.”

But it is not just women of ethnicity who have the yellow undertones. One industry observer blamed deteriorating environmental factors for the change to Causcasians’ yellow-toned skin. Mr. Maharaj said as many as 95% of Caucasians have yellow-toned skin as a result of the eroding ozone layer.

“The enormous numbers of women with yellow skin were not present 25 years ago. Pink undertones are nearly non-existent today,” he said. “Last year, the Miss USA pageant did not have one person without yellow undertones.”

Mr. Maharaj said ethnic skin care is a booming category because Hispanic and African-American women use four times more personal care products than Caucasian women. Caribbean women too generally wear more makeup than other women around the world because the Caribbean is viewed as a fashion mecca, according to Mr. Maharaj.

Sacha’s newest product, Camouflage makeup, has eight shades that match any skin tone and cover dark marks, according to company executives. Camouflage makeup is also rub-, smudge- and water-proof.

“Dark spots, which are found on all ethnic women, are easier to conceal than lighten. Women are more educated and aware that they need problem solvers. A South African study concluded that hydroquinone continues to work 10 years after a person stops using it, causing tremendous skin damage,” said Mr. Maharaj.

As a group, African-American women in particular are younger than average, according to Business Trends Analysts. After this year, as Caucasian baby boomers age beyond the years when makeup is most heavily used, most African-American women will still be in their makeup primes. Main-stream cosmetic manufacturers may again turn to the ethnic segment to make up for declines in mainstream cosmetic use, according to BTA data.

“Color cosmetics are very easy sellers in the ethnic category,” noted Mr. Maharaj. “And staying with the right base is everything.”

En-Lightening Ideas
Clear Essence is a brand for dark skin with three lines: men’s, corrective and maintenance. The potential sales volume of ethnic cosmetics and skin care, according to Clear Essence research, is millions of dollars.

“The ethnic category is a new, continuously growing category with largely untapped potential,” said Jim Millington, national sales director, Clear Essence Cosmetics USA Inc., Ontario, CA. “Many large chains in the U.S lack that segment of business.”

The most frequent skin complaints heard by Clear Essence executives are hyperpigmentation, dryness and ashy skin, blemishes and dark spots and razor bumps.

“Some of the largest complaints are dark spots from pregnancy, blemishes, hyperpigmentation, ashy skin, and discoloration due to oiliness and breakouts,” said Richard Tostado, customer service representative for Clear Essence Cosmetics USA.

Recent additions to the line include Complexion body wash and body spray. The wash contains bilberry, orange and lemon extracts, sugarcane and sugar maple to scrub away dirt and oil. The body spray reduces minor skin discoloration with natural ingredients. Another new product, Skin Lightening Serum, contains a concentrated natural extract to fade dark spots. Advanced Complex Fade cream uses 2% hydroquinone to do the same.

The new Skin Beautifying Milk (Maxi-tone) contains hydroquinone to break down discoloration and peel away dead skin cells. It can be used as to even skin tone and moisturize daily.

Sonya Dakar, Los Angeles, CA, a global color line for Caucasians, Asians, Africans and Hispanics, focuses on correctable skin conditions, especially discoloration and scarring. The company introduces an average of one product every two months.

“Leading fashion designers say that the secret to success is perfect skin, so if a person has lines or scars, they lose something,” said Sonya Dakar, founder and creator of Sonya Dakar Cosmetics.

The latest product, Complexion Corrector, is a lightener that can be worn both day and night. The product features a vegetable base with natural extracts such as mushroom, wheat, grass, chamomile and lactic extracts instead of hydroquinone.

“There is a missing ‘something’ in conventional fade creams—products that fade skin faster without burning,” said Ms. Dakar. “Most have side effects. It is like taking one step forward and one step back.”

The company helps clients find alternative ways to solve skin problems. The largest shortcoming in the ethnic market, according to Ms. Dakar, is the lack of efficacious products. Often professionals are aware of the market, yet come up short with effective supplies. That makes it difficult for consumers to find the right products for their skin.

“In the ethnic skin category, the most sensitive skin exists—it is No. 1 in sensitivity,” said Ms. Dakar. “And with ethnic skin, the biggest challenge is avoiding scars or marks from things such as acne and chicken pox that last for life. Pigment is so hyper-sensitive.”

Ingredients that work best include omega 3 oils, seaweed, algae proteins, sunscreen and aromatherapy, according to Ms. Dakar. But ethnic consumers must avoid glycolic acid and hydroxy peels entirely. Ms. Dakar noted that they scar dark skin, worsening hyperpigmentation. Titanium dioxide too, an ingredient widely used in mass market cosmetics, makes dark skin ashy, according to BTA.

“The challenge is to take care of skin, fade the dark spots and heal it without scarring,” Ms. Dakar said.

Sonya Dakar’s Bright Eyes, a light gel-lotion, contains an orange-colored base to lighten and brighten the eye area. It uses extracts of olive seeds to heal and build the molecules around the eye which tend to darken with age in the absence of oil glands and collagen around the eye. Youth—a line to give healed skin a boost—maintains healthy skin and combats aging. Youth collects moisture in the skin and continues to restore moisture throughout the day. It makes skin healthy, firm, tight and moisturized, according to company executives.

Men Are a New Focus
The men’s ethnic skin care segment is on the rise as better skin care products become available, said executives at Carson Products Inc., a Savannah-based company that was recently acquired by L’Oréal.

“The men’s ethnic shaving category is trending up in the area of aftershave treatment and moisturizing products,” said Ralph Hargrett, group director, men’s brands, Carson Inc. “But the biggest challenges we face are awareness, education and trial.”

African-American men, according to BTA, are more likely to use antiseptics, cleansers, toners, masks, bars, creams, lotions and scrubs. Hispanic men are more likely to use astringents, cleansers, toners, masks, lotions and scrubs and are less likely to use bars and creams. Regardless of what they prefer, men present opportunities for ethnic skin care marketers.

“For African-American men, the largest complaints are razor bumps, which form when hair is shaved and follicles are pushed back into the skin, causing bubbly, infected irritations,” said Clear Essence’s Mr. Tostado.

Clear Essence’s toner and astringent remove dirt and oil that can clog the skin. Alpha Hydroxy revitalizes razor bump skin with a new layer in Clear Essence’s Complexion Soap. The soap also contains octyl-methoxycinnamate, a sunscreen agent.

Black Opal distributes Shaving Survival System in the growing men’s category. The products contain advanced treatment to prevent razor bumps, a chronic condition that affects more than 65% of African-American men, according to company executives.

Carson, whose large share in the ethnic personal care market is primarily driven by hair care, has traditionally played a small role in U.S. ethnic skin care. The company does market a Nu-Me skin care line in South Africa, which may be launched in the U.S., according to Business Trends Analysts.

Carson focuses on men’s skin care problems with the Magic Shave line, a line of shaving and depilatory products designed specifically for African-American men. Carson executives agree that the No. 1 complaint in the men’s shaving category is razor bumps, followed by dry skin due to wind, sun and exercise.

The company launched two new products: Magic Conditioning aftershave cleanser and Magic Moisturizing aftershave lotion. These products support Magic’s depilatory line with a maintenance line, moving the brand into the skin care category, according to company executives.

“The launch allowed Magic to enhance the efficacy of its hair removal products,” said Mr. Hargrett. “These two products benefit the consumer by providing products that can be used in their daily regimen of cleansing, moisturizing and treating razor bumps. The new products keep consumers in the Magic franchise and expand the consumer base since both can be used with depilatory razors.”

The Latin Boom
The recent Latin music boom has created greater awareness of Latin American wants and needs in the U.S. Even in the skin care category, the market is beginning to recognize the different skin care needs, tastes and wants of this segment, noted Elizabeth Bartolo, founder and chief executive officer, Ella Cosmetics, a company founded last February.

“Products are developed by corporate America—a white man who looks at statistics,” explained Ms. Bartolo. “He sees $3 million in potential sales and a need to fill the market. But he is targeting numbers, not people.”

The two major concerns of women with Latino skin are hyperpigmentation (sun or age spots) and oily skin, according to Ms. Bartolo. Foundation is Ella’s No. 1 seller, especially a multi-purpose foundation that can be a wet sheer translucent or a dry cover-up. This is because foundation is lacking in the market for Latinos.

“Foundation is typically created for Anglo, pale and pink skin,” said Ms. Bartolo. “When applied to olive skin, it makes it too pink or pale. It covers up the natural luster of Hispanic skin.”

Ella’s foundations are yellow-based, lipsticks are blue-based and several foundations are green-based to neutralize skin redness. Names of Ella products are also Spanish-based, such as Jalepeño and Mambi lipsticks.

“Ella reaches out to consumers with comedic Spanish names based on nationality. It pays homage to who they are and where they are from,” said Ms. Bartolo.

Ms. Bartolo is not the only pioneer in the skin care market who sees a gap between skin shades and needs in the ethnic market.

“Before, African-Americans had the easiest time finding cosmetics,” said Jabu Dayton, director of new business development, Real Cosmetics, New York City. “The whole Asian population is now finding a place in the ethnic market. The same is true for Latinos.”

Real Cosmetics was founded earlier this year by Lubna Khalid, a Pakistan-American model, out of her frustration with the lack of cosmetics for her skin and the absence of positive images of women of color. The company also moved from San Francisco to New York to claim a bigger stake in the ethnic market.

“We found that foundations are a primary problem for women,” Ms. Dayton explained. “Often lines only cater to women of color by adding one or two colors based on a pink base. This is not helpful for yellow-based skin. Most women have to combine two or more shades every morning, a very time-consuming ritual. They end up applying colors that are lighter than their skin, giving them a mask-like appearance.”

Foundation is the most critical product in ethnic color cosmetics and creates a firm customer base, according to Real Cosmetics executives. Real Cos-metics is only sold online at realcosmetics.com. Though this presents a challenge of matching the right shades to skin, the company has customer representatives to help determine a person’s skin shade. Samples are sent out and, if the consumer is unhappy, she can return it at no cost.

“The Asian and Latino market is growing faster—not only in terms of numbers in the U.S., but where they are moving,” Ms. Dayton noted. “Ethnic women no longer live in cities. Now they live in the suburbs and are looking for skin care and are unable to find it.”

This month, Real Cosmetics will introduce new lipstick and foundation shades. All lipsticks are named after women of color and foundations are named after international cities. For example, a lipstick is named Aurora and a foundation is called Havana.

“There are more products geared toward the Latin-American consumer lately, but what makes all of us different is skin tone, not skin type which remains the same: oily, dry or normal,” said Susan Van Brackle, who founded Miksu Cosmetics in 1998 with her husband, Michael Van Brackle.

Miksu cosmetics combine musical packaging, colors and sounds, such as nail polish and lipstick under categories of R&B (red and brown) and Hip Hop (wines), which give customers easy navigation to desired colors. Recent additions to Miksu include Keep It Real Liquid to Powder foundation and skin care products such as makeup remover, cleanser, mattifier and a treatment kit for lips. The company will soon launch cleanser, toner, moisturizer, bath and body products, body art and fragrance. Keep It Real foundation comes in 12 shades ranging from Baby Baby (alabaster) to Nubian (dark) for various undertones. The foundations are also drier because most of Miksu’s clients have oily skin, and contain horsetail, lady’s mantle, milk thistle, gingko biloba, vitamin E and kaolin clay.

“Miksu offers multiple-use products that work well on consumers in the ethnic category,” said Ms. Van Brackle. “For example, Collage powder, a translucent pressed powder, acts as a bronzer for pale skin and a matte for darker skin. Balancing and protecting skin tone is a concern across the board. Asian skin is as photosensitive as African-American skin.”

In the skin tone balancing category, Ms. Van Brackle will soon add a line that encourages gradual lightening without the use of hydroquinone, which can cause serious skin damage, according to Ms. Van Brackle. Miksu is sold in small boutiques and salons in the U.S., Mexico, on the internet and by catalog.

Some Fall Short
Several mainstream marketers have tried to grab a spot in the ethnic market in the past decade with little success. Some industry observers blame their failure on the lack of preparation and staff knowledge about the market. Others point to lower margins in the ethnic market and the impatience of shareholders.

Belleza Latina, a subsidiary of Scott’s Liquid Gold, was founded in 1998 as product line specifically designed for Hispanic women. The products featured Spanish and English names. After placing Belleza Latina in Hispanic stores, Neoteric Cosmetics decided to pull the line.

“The brand had a very narrow focus–Hispanics who were not in the U.S. for a number of generations,” explained Jeff Hinkle, vice president of Neoteric Cosmetics, Denver, CO. “Despite information gathered from focus groups in Miami and Los Angeles, Neoteric decided to back off after the first round of marketing. Our returns did not justify continuing the brand.”

Neoteric research found that Hispanic women are very brand loyal, which can hurt emerging brands. For example, Central American women who immigrated to the U.S. were happy to see products such as Pond’s cold cream, that are available in their native countries. They continue to use these products in the U.S. today.

“We had great expectations for the line. The purchases were not strong, even though we think we did everything right,” said Mr. Hinkle.

Isabel Valdes, author of “Marketing to American Latinos, Part I: A guide to the in-culture approach,” said Latino immigrants represent a strong business potential, citing studies that say Hispanic households grew 30% between 1990 and 2000. She noted the importance of focusing marketing to Hispanic mothers.

“The family-centric Hispanic culture mandates that U.S. marketers include Latino mothers in their communication to be successful,” said Ms. Valdes.

Maybelline also dropped its ethnic line, Shades of You. The company has incorporated darker shades into the main product lines to match ethnic skin tones, according to Maybelline executives. Many of the Shades of You shades were added to Maybelline’s main line, with colors ranging from ivory to cocoa.

Although skin care brands have stumbled, hair care sales remain strong and some executives said hair care demand might give skin care a lift. Several companies have intuitively followed this track, particularly in hair care acquisitions, which could easily translate to skin care in the future.

“Major companies are purchasing ethnic hair care brands,” said Black Opal’s Ms. Williams. “This is exciting—as more products move into the segment, more attention will be paid to the skin category.”

But it is still important to remember that skin is skin no matter what the color. Though certain skin conditions exist, the key to great looking skin is maintenance across all categories.

“The biggest secret, then, is how to maintain skin,” explained Ms. Dakar. “But like anything else in life, we follow guidelines such as exercise and watering plants for maintainence. The key is to both enjoy and maintain.”

And if companies are sincere about solving ethnic-specific skin care problems, the ethnic skin care market will soon emerge as a strong category.