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Skin of Color in the United States

By: Daphne kasriel-Alexander, Euromonitor International
Posted: March 3, 2011, from the March 2011 issue of GCI Magazine.

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Eva Mendes, another current U.S. beauty and a style icon, declared in a recent interview with W magazine, “I have Cuban parents, but for me, I am the new American girl. It’s not only Drew Barrymore and the blond Midwestern girl. This [pointing to her face] is also what we look like now.”

Clearly, the ethnic tapestry of the U.S. population has had an impact on the country’s beauty ideal, and the landscape of beauty products and services currently available help U.S. women and men come closer to it.

A Broadening Beauty Ideal

Harvard Business School history professor Geoffrey Jones offers some interesting insights into the realm of consumers and beauty in his book Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry (Oxford University Press USA, 2010). This work traces how successive generations of entrepreneurs built brands that shaped perceptions of beauty. They democratized access to beauty products—once the privilege of elites—while also defining the ethnic borders of beauty, resulting in a homogenization of beauty ideals. “Beauty became associated with Western countries and white people, while the beauty industry turned these underlying trends into brands—creating aspirations that drove their appeal,” said Jones.

What’s different about today, explained Jones, is that globalization is transforming the beauty industry, with brands being forced to respond to a far greater diversity of cultures and lifestyles as new markets open up worldwide.

In America, ethnic niche consumption and marketing are well developed. Specialty foodstuffs for Hispanics and Asian-Americans are common and easily found. And in the beauty realm, physiological differences between Caucasians and other ethnic groups have created a huge market for specialized skin and hair care products. According to Lola Maja, a U.K. makeup artist, “In America, brand name cosmetics have now realized what we’ve known for a long time; that there is big business in cosmetics for skin tones of color.”

Age-related Aspects