To honor Black History Month, we’ve put together a list of nine Black-owned vegan-friendly, cruelty-free beauty brands to support — in February and every other month. But first, let’s take a look at the history of the beauty industry, as well as the pioneering role of Black women in building a market that is now worth nearly $50 billion in the U.S. alone.
How Beauty Has Changed Throughout History
We’ve been painting our faces for thousands of years. In 4,000 BC, in Ancient Egypt, both men and women lined their eyes with kohl to create a dramatic, cat-eye look. Thousands of years later, in Elizabethan England, people would frequently powder their faces and rouge their cheeks. And in 18th-century France, both genders of the upper classes would draw on beauty marks.
It was around the late 19th century and early 20th century that beauty became more firmly gendered, and men wearing makeup became more taboo. By the time the roaring ‘20s arrived, the now predominantly woman-focused beauty industry had really started to pick up.
Today, the U.S. is home to the world’s largest beauty market, and it’s becoming ever more focused on inclusivity and diversity. But as the story so often goes, the unsung pioneers of this enormous industry — who paved the way for the progress today — were Black women.
The Pioneering Role of Black Women in Beauty
More than 140 years ago, in Massac County, Illinois, Annie Turnbo Malone was born. In stark contrast to the lives of her parents, who were formerly enslaved, she grew up to be educated (although she eventually had to leave school due to illness) and passionate about science, business, and product development. She became a beauty inventor and pioneer, which was not an easy feat for a Black woman in a racially segregated, patriarchal society that, just decades earlier, had enslaved her own parents.
Against the odds, Malone eventually became one of the first Black women to gain millionaire status. In 1900, she invented her first signature product, a scalp treatment called Wonderful Hair Grower. One product grew into multiple hair and beauty offerings, and The Poro Company was born. She used her money and influence to educate others, too, starting a group of cosmetology schools called Poro Colleges (by the 1950s, there were 32 in operation).
To this day, Malone’s legacy lives on. She inspired Madam C.J. Walker, another Black hair and extremely successful beauty entrepreneur. Walker’s story is more well known than Malone’s now (especially since it was televised by Netflix with Self Made, starring Octavia Spencer).
But they weren’t the only Black women to pioneer the beauty industry. Their contemporary, Nobia Franklin, born in Texas, founded the Franklin School of Beauty Culture in Houston in 1916, after a successful home-grown salon venture. The school remains open to this day.
‘They’re Not Supposed to be Entrepreneurs’
Malone, Walker, and Franklin prospered in a system that was built against them, paving the way for the many Black women entrepreneurs thriving in the beauty industry today. “Black women were challenging racism and sexism,” Bernadette Pruitt, a historian at Sam Houston State University, told Chron. “They’re not supposed to be entrepreneurs, they’re not supposed to be creating businesses, and they’re certainly not supposed to create businesses that are still open 100 years later.”
Things changed throughout the 20th century, but not enough. Whitewashing was still the standard in beauty, and Black women were still battling against the norm. In 2019, beauty journalist Funmi Fetto wrote an article for the Guardian called The beauty industry is still failing black women. She wrote of her experiences growing up in Britain, but across the pond, many Black women faced the same plight.
“I loved magazines,” she wrote, “but I always skipped the beauty pages. The voices behind them didn’t speak to me. The faces on the pages didn’t look like me. The products weren’t geared towards me. I had no place there.”
As Fetto’s article states, in terms of full diversity in the beauty industry, we’re not there yet by any means. But progress is being made. There is more pressure on mainstream brands to offer foundations, creams, and concealers for every skin tone. And when those brands don’t do that, Black women are more empowered than ever to start their own beauty brands and pick up the slack, offering products designed specifically for people of all shades.
On that front here’s a list of some of the most noteworthy Black-owned beauty brands on the market right now. Plus, they’re all vegan-friendly and cruelty-free. The list is far from exhaustive, so we encourage you to seek out new faves both in your area and online.
Klur Beauty, founded by makeup artist and esthetician Lesley Thornton, offers cruelty-free, sustainable, science-backed vegan skincare. Its 8 products are minimalist at heart, designed to be used in a sparing, yet considered, way.
Protect your skin from pollution with Symmetry Fluid, a nutrient-rich concentrate designed to establish a “harmonious” barrier between the skin and urban pollution. Or use Elements of Comfort if your skin is in need of nourishment. The botanical oil delivers “reparative nutrients to parched areas,” helping to restore moisture and radiance.
Thornton is passionate about the less-is-more approach to skincare, and she’s also careful about sustainability. She thoughtfully chooses which ingredients to use; she doesn’t just pick something to put in her products because it sounds good. She told Vogue: “Rare and exotic ingredients don’t necessarily make better products. If it’s not accessible and it doesn’t give back, we’re not using it in our products.”
Thornton is also passionate about more Black representation in the beauty industry. She said: “For the most part, the mainstream beauty industry hasn’t offered quality products to Black consumers. My goal with Klur has always been to build something better. I see Klur as my own table in the industry, and everyone is invited to take a seat.”
After a few kitchen experiments, Lisa Price founded natural beauty brand Carol’s Daughter in 1993. (The name was inspired by her own mother, Carol — her main source of encouragement.)
Price started out selling her homemade products at flea markets and festivals, before opening a boutique, and then eventually (helped along by an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, a deal with Target, and a partnership with L’Oréal) she became the president of a multi-million dollar company.
In 2017, Carol’s Daughter was recognized for its pioneering role in natural hair care for Black women, and was featured in an exhibit in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
All Carol’s Daughter products are created with natural ingredients (read about those here) and are renowned in their industry for their quality and consistency. Some products are made with beeswax and honey, but all are cruelty-free.
The Lip Bar
She may have been turned down on Shark Tank, but The Lip Bar founder Melissa Butler was not deterred. In spite of the rejection, she built a hugely successful vegan and cruelty-free makeup brand, which is now available in 500 Target stores and counting.
Butler started creating lipsticks because she was frustrated with the beauty industry’s lack of diversity. None of the shades she could find matched her complexion and how she wanted to look.
Now, she’s helping women everywhere, regardless of color, find their perfect shade of lipstick. But it’s become so much more than that. The brand sells a wide range of makeup products, from foundation to brow gel and mascara. And all of it, without exception, is designed with inclusivity at heart.
In 2017, Rihanna put down her mic and took the beauty world by storm with the launch of Fenty Beauty. The brand is known for its wide range of shades for every skin tone imaginable. It was hailed by many beauty magazines as setting a new standard for the industry. Time Magazine even named it as one of the best inventions of the year.
Now, the vegan-friendly, cruelty-free brand is still constantly innovating and putting out game-changing new products. This year, it launched a new vegan silky foundation that is resistant to humidity and sweat, a key selling point for those who live in places with warm climates all year round. Harper’s Bazaar Arabia noted of the new launch: “It has a dreamy undetectable finish that blends and builds like a seamlessly instantly evening out skin without clogging pores, settling into fine lines or looking cakey.
Fenty rightfully gets a lot of praise and attention, but it’s not the only beauty brand to offer tens of shades to cater to every skin tone. UOMA Beauty offers its Say What?! Foundation (which is weightless, long-lasting, and matte) in 51 shades.
Founded by Nigerian-born Sharon Chuter, this innovative line has been created with quality, inclusivity, and representation in mind. Her efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, as she was listed by WWD as one of the 50 “most forward-thinking executives shaping the future of the beauty industry.”
Chuter says in a statement on the brand’s website: “I could never understand why we live in an age of prescriptive beauty, a monolithic existence where individuality and uniqueness has been left by the wayside, and instead a singular idea of what beauty should look like is the status quo.”
She adds: “The world is beautiful because we are all different and colorful in our unique way, and this is why Uoma Beauty exists. To celebrate uniqueness, to bring people from all ethnicities, gender, sexual orientation, sizes, and of all ages together in a colorful celebration and co-existence.”
The brand is not fully vegan (so make sure you scan ingredient lists before purchasing), but it is 100 percent cruelty-free.
Juvia’s Place is a tribute to Africa, the “birthplace of all beauty.” With its vibrant, deep, rich color palettes, it’s all about paying homage to the continent’s ancient royalty.
The vegan brand’s foundations and concealers are inclusive, available in up to 40 shades, and many are sweat-proof and water-proof too. But it’s the eyeshadow palettes where this brand really shines. The packaging is a tribute to the kings and queens of Africa, and the colors are varied, deep, and bright.
When Nigerian-born Chichi Eburu founded Juvia’s Place, she wanted everything to represent her home continent and its rich history. In particular, the word Nubian is used across multiple palettes. It’s intentional, explains Eburu. “The word Nubian, for Black people, is often synonymous with Black royalty and embracing Blackness and culture,” she told Indigo Blue Style. “It means Black beauty. Black power. Black everything. Black girl magic!”
Harvard Business School graduates KJ Miller and Amanda E. Johnson founded Mented Cosmetics for one simple reason: They wanted everyone to be able to see themselves in the beauty industry, no matter their skin tone.
Miller told Oprah Mag that the pair had been chatting over a glass of wine, discussing their struggles to find nude lipstick shades, when they came up with the plan for Mented. “We said, ‘how crazy it is that we’re two women with disposable income we want to spend on beauty, but we feel like we can’t find brands that want to celebrate and prioritize us?’,” she recalled.
Now the brand is thriving, and offers multiple makeup products, including foundations and eyeshadow palettes, but it’s still the vegan, cruelty-free lipsticks that truly stand out. All are designed to compliment any skin tone, from the darkest to the lightest. And if you’re not sure what will suit you best, there’s a handy 60-second quiz to help you out.
You can buy Mented Cosmetics straight from the website, and some of its products are on Target shelves too.
Oui The People
Shaving and body care brand Oui The People is on a mission to totally change the language of the beauty industry. Founder Karen Young had had it with the constant barrage of “flawless,” “perfect,” and “anti-aging” rhetoric coming from beauty brands. But she’d also had it with razor burn. So she built a brand that would combat both of these issues in one: Oui The People.
The name, which used to be Oui Shave, is full of intention. She told Beauty Independent last year: “Beauty is so personal and intimate, especially starting off with a razor. It just feels like, when you reach for something, it shouldn’t shun you or make you feel less than. It shouldn’t make you feel like it wasn’t built for you. It should feel like a very welcoming and open experience.”
All of Oui The People’s razors are sustainably made (using stainless steel rather than plastic) and completely gender-neutral. It’s a cruelty-free brand, but not 100-percent vegan, so label reading is a must.
Founded by Cashmere Nicole, celebrity-favorite Beauty Bakerie is all about sweetness and light. But it started with grit and determination.
A then–single mother, Nicole was working as a nurse when she first started developing products. And at 26, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. But rather than letting any of this hold her back, she managed to create a successful, unique, and fun beauty brand. Each of its products are designed around the theme of sugary sweetness (take the Cake Pop Lippies, for example) but the quality is high, and so is the demand.
Now, Beauty Bakerie’s vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics are available at major retailers, including Ulta, in more than 120 countries.
Cashmere told Entrepreneur last year: “All of us contribute to the beauty of the world, and there is no one standard for beauty. Representing that in the brand really gives the customers a sense of home…They feel loved for just who they are.”