Like it or not there are undertones of unconscious bias within the beauty industry and it needs to be tackled in the classroom, so everyone feels welcome in the treatment room.
2020 will be remembered for two things – Covid-19 and #blacklivesmatter. During the pandemic, the beauty industry stood together, united and fought for treatments and services to be resumed. The government listened, the nation applauded, and therapists finally got the recognition they deserved. Now beauty must do the same for the second struggle the nation face – a lack of diversity and inclusivity. Except this battle hasn’t come from nowhere like Corona, it’s been bubbling away in the background for an eternity and it needs to be addressed. For beauty therapists, this means a more well-rounded, enriched education from the get-go.
“I feel that students are coming out of college and NVQ beauty therapy qualifications, especially level 2 and 3, without being fully equipped or having relevant knowledge of how to treat a wide spectrum of ethnicities,” says Dija Ayodele, aesthetician and founder of The Black Skin Directory who is calling for the education system to have a shake-up when it comes to educating therapists on different skin tones. “What we find is that the general public tell us stories of going to clinics where the therapist ‘wasn’t too sure’ how to treat their skin or ‘hadn’t treated black skin before’ and in this day and age, we simply shouldn’t be having that.”
It’s something Dr Lauren Hamilton, cosmetic doctor and founder of aesthetics and wellness clinic, Victor & Garth, has experienced first-hand. “I remember booking in for a laser treatment and being turned away before I even stepped in the clinic as they couldn’t treat my skin type. And of all the clinics I’ve visited, 99% have marketing materials filled with pages of Caucasian women or men. There is no diversity and that’s a shame as young black and Asian women do not feel like these treatments are for them as they aren’t represented fairly – it’s symbolic annihilation.”
Ateh Jewel, beauty journalist, diversity advocate and someone who admits to having more horror stories than she cares to remember in a treatment room, says that women of colour are forced to become their own experts. “When you have darker skin you always end up being your own hairdresser or make-up artist because people aren’t trained properly and that’s really sad and needs to be addressed. How can you call yourself a beauty expert if you have that segregation or lack of education?”
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN?
This is more than just boycotting brands about a lack of foundation shades - although that is still a crucial area that needs to be addressed - this is about teaching those in the beauty industry about darker skin characteristics, the physiology of skin and the cultural aspects that come into question. “Common complaints from women of colour include post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation, keloid scarring, dermatosis papulose nigra (DPN) and pseudofolliculitis which are all common in darker skin tones,” continues Dija. “Therapists should know this as a basis, so they’re not fazed by it and are able to interact and advise the client properly. There’s a definite lack of confidence from therapists because they’re not taught about darker skin and therefore can’t communicate effectively.”
Lessons around suncare and SPF should also be statutory, with students leaving college well-versed in the differences between black and white skin and how to spot abnormalities. “My moles are dark and they look very different,” explains Ateh. “It’s worrying because a growing number of people with darker skin tones are dying from skin cancer because people aren’t checking them and there’s a lack of awareness.” Even if a mole turns out to be malignant, if a therapist sees something suspicious on a client’s skin, they should feel confident referring them to a GP rather than staying quiet because they’re apprehensive, unsure or simply uneducated on the matter.
As well as what to look for, therapists need to listen to what clients are saying and learn about formulas and how they act on the skin. “Radiance is really important to me, brightening - not lightening, so therapists need to be really educated on ingredients and textures too. For example, thick textures cause me to break out whereas it won’t on an English rose or Celtic skin. I want the same anti-ageing effects – less fine lines, dehydration etc but not from a heavy cream,” continues Ateh.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE INDUSTRY?
For a start, a more well-rounded education will produce a higher standard of therapist that can treat a wide range of clients. Dija also believes that learning about darker skin tones further cements a student’s commitment and passion for the industry, plus it means more opportunities both in the UK and abroad – “our therapists could become the flag bearers for the British education system,” she says.
Then there’s the money side of things. Trend reporters, Mintel have shown that black consumers spend eight times more on hair and beauty than their white counterparts so if they have faith in their beauty therapists and hairdressers, the industry will become even more affluent. There will also be less complaints as no-one will have to be turned away due to a lack of knowledge and practical training.
However the main benefit to all of this is that beauty will become an all-inclusive industry that stops forcing WOC to live by unattainable beauty ideals which can understandably have an impact on mental health and selfworth. “People don’t think I’m worth it or good enough. I’m not the default setting, I’m in the minority, I have less status. Our society reflects our values and if I’m not valued then I’m not at the centre of anything, including the curriculum,” says Ateh.
HOW CAN IT CHANGE?
The beauty industry is in the perfect position to change the narrative and it needs to come from the bottom up. “I think the onus should be on course developers and those in leadership to ensure the depth and breadth of the curriculum is challenged,” says Dr Lauren. “If those setting it are not experienced in treating darker skin, they cannot impart their knowledge. For too long, practitioners have had to seek out their own learning opportunities to gain confidence in treating darker skin tones.”
This information should be provided as standard going forward. The last thing an industry known for its caring, nurturing and positive vibes wants is for darker skinned consumers believing – or accepting - that they can’t experience the same treatments as their Caucasian peers. “Currently it seems BAME founders are spearheading this but everyone can play a role and advocate the need for wider representation,” continues Dr Lauren. “Our field could pave the way for other sectors by being the first to truly champion diversity and inclusivity.”
Words by: Becci Vallis
Thank you to contributors:
- BABTAC Member -Dija Ayodele, aesthetician and founder of The Black Skin Directory
- Ateh Jewel, beauty journalist & diversity advocate
- Dr Lauren Hamilton, cosmetic doctor and founder of aesthetics and wellness clinic, Victor & Garth
At BABTAC and our sister company, CIBTAC, we are looking at what action we can take to make a difference. In the long term we would like to cover how to treat skin of colour as part of the standard learning for all CIBTAC qualifications. In the shorter term we are hoping to offer a high quality, fit for purpose course focusing on just skin of colour for therapists that have already qualified and want to add to their existing knowledge. This will help therapists feel confident to offer their treatments to everyone which, as already mentioned, makes good business sense as well as being the right thing to do. Watch this space!