BLACK WOMEN IN THE PURSUIT OF EUROCENTRIC BEAUTY ARE HURTING THEMSELVES
An old childhood friend was recently diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer. The last time I saw her more than twenty years ago, her beautiful dark skin was flawless. More than two months ago, I came across her photo on Facebook; it left me flabbergasted. Her face, neck, upper torso, and legs were of different shades.
It is traumatizing and demoralizing each time a Black woman decides to lighten their skin to live up to a skewed and racist ideal of beauty. This self-destruction society has been promoting is one of the many reasons why I decided to start a skincare line that caters to Black and Brown Women. The purpose behind Aging Beautified is to empower Black women and Women of Color to embrace their natural beauty and to develop that iron-clad confidence to avoid giving in to peer pressure to be perfect (to look White).
Confidence is one of the most desirable traits one can possess. Historically, philosophers argued confidence was an innate trait. But we are not born with confidence. Confidence is something we achieve through perseverance. The more we work to accept ourselves, the more confident we become.
Confidence is a work in progress. This work starts from infancy until the day we cease to exist. Those of us who are self-confident, self-assured are willing to acknowledge our capability to do something and then proceed to do these things.
Europeans convinced Black women that they are not enough from the moment they come into this world. First, society told us our buttocks were too big. An African woman by the name of Sara Baartman was kidnapped and shipped to England. Due to the European objectification of buttocks, the English stripped Ms. Baartman of her humanity and womanhood. They forced her to stand half-naked in a cage as a freak attraction show. So, Europeans started to strip Black women of their identities and dignity for centuries. The objectification of Black women persists in the mainstream culture today.
As Black women, our bodies are naturally curvy; Europeans saw our curves as unattractive until White women like the Kardashians found a way to monetize our curves. Europeans ridiculed our thick lips for centuries until White women found a way to turn big lips into a money-making magnet. Europeans have always regarded Black natural hair as unkempt; therefore, unprofessional. This society found our hair so unacceptable they constantly penalize us in the workplace. Two years ago, New York finally enacted legislation that explicitly prohibits discrimination based on hair texture in the workplace. Black people do not even have the right to be human without the protection of the law. Yet, the beauty industry continues to subjugate Black women by encouraging them to forsake their Africanism in favor of whiteness while exploiting them economically.
Ironically, White women have found ways to monetize Black features; Black women have yet to learn how to accept and use their natural beauty to their advantage. While White women are tanning to gain some darker shades, Black women are killing themselves slowly with skin-lightening products that are causing permanent damages to their health.
Unlike Europe and Asia, the cosmetic industry in the United States is shockingly unregulated. The FDA oversees cosmetics, but unlike drugs (which need approval before they can place them on the market), cosmetics do not. Many cosmetic companies are left free to use ingredients in their products that are causing health complications.
One of the most harmful ingredients in skin-lightening products in the United States is Hydroquinone. The EU banned Hydroquinone in skincare products. Yet, you can find hydroquinone in skincare products sold in the United States in concentrations of 2% or greater.
Some dermatologists have claimed that concentrations of 2% to 4% of Hydroquinone are not dangerous, but this ingredient is often combined with other harmful synthetic ingredients, making it more potent.
There are two types of hydroquinone: hydroquinone can be sold with mercury or free of mercury. However, consumers have no way of knowing what types of hydroquinone being used in a product. Moreover, cosmetic labels are often deceptive; consequently, it is easy to mislead consumers.
Hydroquinone has the potential of removing the top layer of the skin (the epidermis). The removal of the skin’s protective layer increases the risk of skin cancer and fatal liver and kidney damage.
There are approved non-harmful skin-whitening products in the market, but they tend to be expensive. The low price of those harmful products forces many consumers to shop for the cheaper brands.
The Black skin is sensitive and tends to bruise easily. Dark-skinned individuals are more likely to develop hyperpigmentation, dark spots caused by photo ageing, and acne scarring. Many skin brightening products are marketed to treat these skin conditions. However, these products are likely to lead to long-term health issues and infertility. So, their risk tends to outweigh the benefits of these products.
While these skin conditions can lead to body image issues, the way they promote these harmful skincare products to Black consumers has impacted their mental health, self-love, and self-confidence. Skin whitening is inherently racist and colorist because they reinforce the notion that Blackness can never be attractive.
We ought to be more concerned with the type of message those skin whitening agents are sending to our young girls and boys. Our youths are being told they are not worthy of being seen unless they look a certain way. This message is inherently racist and patently false. It is demoralizing and damaging to our mental health.
The color of your skin should not define you. Yet, it is the first thing the world sees when we step outside our home. Black consumers, especially Black women must find a way to deprogram their minds and stop celebrate whiteness.
A recent study on beauty and body image concerns among African American women found that body image and beauty among Black women can truly be truly understood within a framework of interlocking systems of “isms” (e.g. racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism). According to Black feminist theory, the devaluation of Black women, not just in the U.S., but globally, is rooted in the institution of slavery. Our bodies have never been treated with respect. During slavery, Black women were violated repeatedly for profit and pleasure. Fast forward to the 21st century, Black women’s bodies and beauty are still being violated for profit. Black beauty has largely being devalued and rejected by mainstream culture, even when white women have found ways to monetize our features.
The skin conditions plaguing Black consumers affect our confidence; however, various natural ingredients can be used to address skin conditions such as hyperpigmentation, skin discoloration, acne scars, dark spots, etc…
The following is a list of carrier oils and extracts one can use to address these conditions safely and naturally.
Evening primrose oil
Evening primrose oil is effective in reducing hyper-pigmentation resulted from hormonal imbalance. Evening primrose oil contains gamma-linolic acid (GLA), which is known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient.
Carrot Seed oil
The carrot seed oil contains beta carotene, bisabolene, vitamin A ( retinol) and Vitamin E. This oil repairs sun spots tightens and rejuvenates the skin. It also can even out the skin tone while balancing the moisture in the skin.
Sea Buckthorn oil
The sea buckthorn oil is rich in vitamin C and Vitamin A. It is also rich in Omega 7. This carrier oil contains about 70% linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acids. Linoleic acid is known for clearing dark spots caused by overexposure to the sun. It is great for even out the skin.
Castor oil in my culture is recommended for just about any ailment. It helps reduce hyper-pigmentation without comprising the skin’s integrity. Castor oil is rich in linoleic, oleic, ricinoleic and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Castor oil is a great source of Vitamins E and A.
Rosehip Seed oil
The rosehip seed oil contains an ingredient called trans-retinoic acid. Rosehip seed oil helps with dark spots. Studies have found out can trans-retinoic acid can be effective in treating hyperpigmentation disorders. It helps reduce the appearance of hyper-pigmentation due to acne scars.
Tamanu oil contains three types of lipids, fatty acid, terpenoids, lactone, sterols. The active ingredients that are responsible for combating hyper-pigmentation are terpenoids.
Tomato seed oil
Tomato seed oil is very useful in fighting hyper-pigmentation. It contains lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, antioxidants as well as different forms of Vitamin E.
Tomato Seed oil is also loaded with minerals and vitamins such as copper, zinc, iron, manganese, and omega 3, 6 and 9.
Pomegranate seed oil
The pomegranate seed oil contains ellagic acid, punicalagin, punicic acid, and punicosides. These ingredients help reduce the appearance of hyperpigmentation. Licorice extract is also a calming ingredient that can help soothe stressed skin.
Licorice extract is from the licorice plant known as Glycyrrhiza. It can inhibit the production of an enzyme needed to produce melanin, the cell that is responsible for your skin pigment. IT helps remove excess melanin and also helps to fight anti-inflammatory.
There are also essential oils that can help combat hyper-pigmentation, dark spots. Essential oils are potent, and as such, they cannot be applied to the skin directly.You have to dilute essential oils in carrier oils before applying it to the skin. Essential oils also contain dermal limits; this means the recommended usage limit for facial oil on the facial area should be 1% of the total carrier oil use. For example, take 300 grams of carrier oil to add 1% essential oil to it.
These essential oils include:
Lemon essential oil
Lemon oil can help reduce dark spots on the kin. It is also very useful for exfoliating skin and normalizing skin tone and texture. Unfortunately, the lemon essential oil is photosensitive. It is best to use it at night before bed.
Sandalwood essential oil
The sandalwood essential oil has several skin benefits. It helps guard against skin cancer and helps fight bacteria
Frankincense is known for its great antiseptic. It helps combat skin damage caused by the sun. Frankincense oil is a great scar treatment.
Tea Tree essential oil
The tea tree essential oil has great medicinal properties. It helps fight bacteria and inflammation which can lead to hyperpigmentation.
Tangerine essential oil
The tangerine oil has a lot of antioxidants that help promote smoother and more even-toned skin.
Ylang Ylang essential oil
This oil has the potential to inhibit skin pigmentation.
In conclusion, do not destroy who you are in the pursuit of beauty. Beauty is a matter of perspective. We need to deemphasize Eurocentric beauty while promoting our physical features. There is no need to adapt to the European standards of beauty. There isn’t anything you can do that will change how society sees you as a Black woman unless and until you change the way you see society.
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Awad, G. H., Norwood, C., Taylor, D. S., Martinez, M., McClain, S., Jones, B., Holman, A., & Chapman-Hilliard, C. (2015). Beauty and Body Image Concerns Among African American College Women. Journal of Black Psychology, 41(6), 540–564. https://doi.org/10.1177/0095798414550864
Perkins KR. The Influence of Television Images on Black Females’ Self-Perceptions of Physical Attractiveness. Journal of Black Psychology. 1996;22(4):453-469. doi:10.1177/00957984960224004