Another beauty giant enters the arena on re-branding skin lighteners

This is the kind of story that wouldn’t even be a part of the discussion in relation to the social justice movement but this is 2020 and everything is magnified. Corporations are so nervous about being the next target of hyper-sensitive protesters that they are going above and beyond in order to prove their level of wokeness.

Beauty conglomerate Estee Lauder has entered the discussion of skin lightening products. As Jazz wrote about in July, these products are a huge source of revenue for beauty companies. We’re talking billions of dollars in skin lightening skincare creams around the world. Mind you, none of the beauty companies intend to do away with these products, they just have to figure out a new way to market them, to re-brand them. The words “lightening” and “brightening” have to be less conspicuous. This is all in the name of cultural sensitivity.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected sales. Women who are not working or working from home are not purchasing cosmetics and skincare products as much as they might under normal circumstances. It’s not a necessity, like groceries or say, rent, if a person is trying to make ends meet. Products sold by upscale brands like Estee Lauder and some of its other lines can easily be substituted for brands sold in drug stores. Budget-conscious consumers have lots of choices available to them.

Estée Lauder Companies owns more than 25 cosmetic, fragrance, and haircare brands. It reported net sales of $2.43 billion in the three months to June 30, a 32% drop from the same period in 2019. The sales slump, caused by stores closing during lockdown, prompted it to shut 15% of its stores for good and cut up to 2,000 jobs.

Criticism has come over something called colorism – promoting products that promise to lighten skin color, with the message being that light skin is more attractive or pleasing than dark skin. Changes made by other companies have moved Estee Lauder to act. The shades of make-up being offered are also under scrutiny.

Susan Akkad, the Estee Lauder senior vice president whose department oversees cultural sensitivity, said in a telephone interview that her team considers several factors when assessing products both new and old. Staff will, among other things, make sure products have appropriate shading. They also will consider local and regional cultural influences, which tend to be intangible and nuanced.

The appraisal will also determine if certain product lines should offer wider ranges of shades or formulas for a more diverse set of shoppers. Darker skin tones have historically been neglected by many big beauty brands, though more products to appeal to these consumers have been introduced in recent years.

“We need to make sure that our communication is positive and sensitive in every part of the world,” Akkad said.

In June, employees of Estee Lauder wrote to Chairman William Lauder to address the company’s relationship with the black community and its own black workers. So, like other companies bending to employee demands, Estee Lauder announced a list of commitments to meet their demands. These included more black hiring, partnering with black community organizations, and donating to black causes. The company is also creating an external advisory board for the company’s efforts to work with more black-owned businesses. The exact products under review remain undisclosed.

Representatives for Estee Lauder declined to say which products have been reviewed so far. The company has used “whitening” on labeling of some items in the past and recently promoted “brightening” for goods such as its CyberWhite HD Advanced Brightening Night Creme.

Voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t enough. Activists demand that companies pay a ransom, so to speak. Either they write some big checks and concentrate on black businesses or they will face boycotts and negative publicity. It is not possible to conduct business as usual in today’s environment, even in the cosmetics and skincare business.

Skin lightening products fall into a general category. I admit I’m no expert. My skin tone is very light and I use products at the lightest end of the color scale. Lightening cremes are sold as overnight cremes, apparently, and are different than, say, concealers. I use concealer to camouflage dark circles under my eyes or random spots from sun damage but that’s the extent of my personal use of products. I am curious about something, though. If companies are concerned about racism in marketing and cultural appropriation, what about bronzer? Just a thought. White women like me use it to warm up our faces. Is that product next on the list to be criticized as cultural appropriation. It’s how crazy some of these arguments have become. We’ll see if changing up words on the packaging and advertising appeases the offended consumers or not.