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Ethnic Skin Care: An Opportunity for Personal Connection

By: Elle Morris
Posted: December 6, 2010, from the December 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

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What’s the relevance of kitchen logic, or folk medicine, to this consumer? According to research by Packaged Facts, ethnic consumers—especially Latinos and African-Americans—are more concerned with natural and organic positioning than other ethnic groups, more often looking for ingredients they trust to be natural and effective. With that in mind, brands leveraging ingredients that have historically resonated with ethnic consumers—many associated with generations of home remedies—are often more successful. Ingredients such as cocoa butter, shea butter, olive oil, eggs and emu oil are trusted sources for moisturizing and protecting the skin.

There is a great deal of natural ingredient positioning in mass products, and natural ingredietns are well-represented in the prestige channels, as well. Prestige ethnic skin care brands such as Clear Essence, Nyraju and Rx for Brown Skin by Dr. Susan Taylor tend to offer a natural positioning with organic or natural ingredients that address similar issues of hyperpigmentation. These brands also leverage the appeal of a specialist, employing a physician as a spokesperson or using medicinal packaging to convey the brand’s positioning.

Brand Growth Tied to Ability to Relate to Ethnic Consumers

There are prestige brands that are dedicated exclusively to darker-skinned consumers. However, the offerings are fractional compared to their those targeted to Caucasian consumers. Prestige brands such IMAN Cosmetics, Sleek MakeUP, Fashion Fair and, most recently launching in the U.K., K By Beverley Knight have been able to achieve a loyal following of ethnic consumers while also experiencing success globally. And the success of these brands appears to be directly related to their ability to provide options to these consumers, by both accounting for the wide variety of skin tones and for the unique needs of skin with varying degrees of pigmentation.

As these brands gain more market share, other more well-known prestige brands have suffered, losing more than 20% of the market share in the past decade. However, notable global prestige brands have recently begun to embrace the needs of ethnic consumers. Estée Lauder expanded its portfolio to include more ethnic prestige brands, leveraging a combination of brand recognition with the individual attention of the beauty counter as a competitive edge. But are there other channels this consumer shops for her beauty needs? Traditionally, ethnic consumers have relied on niche brands and custom ingredients to fulfill their specific and often varied skin care needs, and these are brands that often have a limited presence at brick-and-mortar stores. Although the space devoted to ethnic skin care products in mass retail doors is increasing, ethnic consumers still exhibit preferences toward purchasing at beauty supply stores, barber shops and beauty salons that carry products recommended by advisors they trust. Not only has this preference made it difficult for new products in the market to gain traction, it also created a highly competitive prestige market with thousands of brands offering similar claims and competing for market share with just a few enjoying most of the success.

What role do in-home consultant brands play with this consumer? Ethnic consumers have targeted needs and tend to trust the advice of those who know them personally. Therefore, direct skin care sales from companies such as Avon and Mary Kay continue to gain in popularity with this segment, especially in Latin America and within both African-American and Hispanic populations in the U.S. Mary Kay distributed its first Spanish catalog more than 20 years ago, and now nearly 18% of U.S. Mary Kay beauty consultants are Hispanic, and 10% of all direct sellers in the U.S. are African-American, a number that continues to expand with shifts in population and the appeal of individualized attention from a trusted source.

Moving Ahead Into the Ethnic Market