Incredible Black Women Who Shook Up The Beauty Industry



The beauty industry has a long history of underrepresenting the Black community. And while change is rightfully being demanded across the US and around the world, following the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and the many who came before them, now is a time to celebrate and honor the Black women who have changed the landscape of the beauty industry, thus far.

Here we pay tribute to Black pioneers in the beauty industry who have overcome obstacles pre-determined by their skin color and gender, and who demanded space for the Black community. By doing so, they brought representation and diversity to the beauty industry, and for that, we’ll be forever grateful. Get ready for some fierce feminine energy.

1. Josephine Baker

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Her story: Born in Missouri to two entertainers, Josephine became one of the most famous jazz entertainers of all time. At the age of 15, she joined the African American Theatre Troupe and later moved to New York to be a part of the Harlem Renaissance – a social, artistic and intellectual explosion of Black culture centered in Harlem that lasted over 20 years through 1910 and the 1930s – where she was a singer and dancer. After moving to Paris to pursue her career, she shot to fame performing in front of other icons, celebrities, and public figures. During WWII, she became a spy communicating Nazi secrets, which she overheard while performing for Nazi officers. When Josephine returned to the US, she became one of the first African American women to star in a Hollywood picture in the silent film; Siren of the Tropics.

However, Josephine’s legacy goes beyond her incredible jazz talents. When she moved back to the US after living in Paris, she arrived in a country living in segregation. She quickly became one of the few recognized female civil rights activists at the time. During a march, she once said, “You know, friends, that I do not lie to you when I tell you I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.”She continued to actively fight for change until the late 70s. Josephine also adopted 12 children of multiple ethnicities and raised them with different religions to demonstrate how we can all co-exist – she referred to her children as ‘The Rainbow Tribe.’

How she changed the industry: For Black women all over the globe, witnessing Josephine perform was the first time they were being represented and more importantly, celebrated on-screen or in pop culture. She was the very first Black female celebrity and became a fashion and beauty icon known for her finger waves and elegant style.

2. Naomi Campbell 


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How she changed the industry: Naomi epitomizes the word trailblazer. She was one of the first Black women to be crowned a “supermodel” and her reign is far from over. The living legend turned 50 last month and she continues to break boundaries for Black women all over the globe. Back in 1988, she was the first Black woman to appear on the cover of French Vogue. In 1989, she became the first Black model to land the September issue of American Vogue, the most prestigious cover of the year.

However, it wasn’t until 2018 that Naomi secured her first beauty campaign for NARS, which served as a major wake up call for the beauty industry; many people questioned, why had it taken so long to reach that point?

Naomi continues to use her supermodel status to uplift and empower other Black women in the beauty and modeling industry – we highly recommend her No Filter With Naomi YouTube series. Model Adut Akech refers to Naomi as her “fashion mama” due to her loving mentorship, which Naomi also extends to beauty blogger Jackie Aina. Through Naomi’s own YouTube channel, Being Naomi, she celebrates Black beauty and culture while bringing awareness to her experience in the industry as a Black woman. It’s a must-watch for all!

3. Madam C. J. Walker 

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How she changed the industry: Madam C. J. Walker was the first female self-made millionaire and made her fortune with a line of hair care products specifically designed for African American Women in the early 1900s. She was the first person to make hair care products readily available to African American women across the US while simultaneously empowering the Black community.

Her story: Despite the many hardships she experienced in her early years, and in a time where women, in particular Black women, were marginalized especially in the beauty-sphere, she overcame every obstacle with sheer determination and grit. While working as a laundress and supporting her daughter alone, she experienced a hair disorder that caused hair loss. This inspired her to create a range of hair care products specifically designed for Black women.

She was a philanthropist who made it her mission to empower African American women with hair care while uplifting her community; she employed predominantly African American men and women, and become an advocate for Black women’s economic independence. Check out the inspirational recent Netflix miniseries, Self Made: Inspired by the life of Madame C. J. Walker.

4. Rihanna

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How she changed the industry: Since Rihanna exploded onto the scene in 2005, Rihanna’s influence on the beauty industry knows no bounds – let’s also not forget Fenty Beauty launched just three years ago! Whether she’s bringing Black culture to the mainstream as the first woman to wear a durag on the cover of Vogue, which she also includes in her runway shows and social media, or setting new precedents for diversity with her beauty brand, Rihanna has used her influence to demand better representation for Black women in the beauty industry.

Before her coveted Fenty Beauty brand was created, 50-shade foundation lines were unheard of, but since it’s launch with 40 shades, more and more brands are taking note and creating more inclusive collections. Rihanna also uses her voice to constantly speak out on the importance of showing representation for all people of color in the beauty industry.

Finally, with every Fenty campaign, runway show or social media page, Rihanna guarantees all women are being represented, respected, and celebrated. She’s a modern-day hero who also uses her voice to speak up, and right now, she’s asking you to “pull up” for her community.

5. Funmi Fetto

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How she changed the industry: Former Beauty Director at Glamour UK and contributing Beauty Editor at British Vogue, Funmi Fetto single-handedly started a beauty revolution with her book, Palette, a beauty bible for women of color. She also continues to share her beauty insights with her content contributions to Vogue, which are often specifically focused on beauty tips and advice for women of color.

Her story: With a journalism career spanning nearly 20 years, Funmi Fetto has been a successful beauty writer for major publications including Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Glamour UK, and The Guardian. Her first book, Palette, brings together hair, makeup, and skincare advice for people of color that she has learned from the best in the beauty industry and her personal trials with thousands of products. While the book was undoubtedly a labor of love and a timepiece of Funmi’s impressive career, it was also born out of necessity. Funmi recalled that men and women were constantly asking her for beauty guidance due to the lack of information for women of color in the mainstream beauty space. Eventually, she decided to fill that void, creating the ultimate guidebook for the Black community.

Editor of British Vogue, Edward Enniful, says of the book, “’This ground-breaking, first-of-its-kind book is not only destined to become the beauty bible for women of color everywhere, it is also a significant, relevant and influential voice in the conversation around inclusivity. Essential reading.” #Facts

6. Halima Aden

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Her story: Halima was born in a refugee camp in Kenya in 1997, where she lived until her family was granted permission to move to the U.S. when she was seven years old. Her list of record-breaking achievements includes being the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, the first hijab-wearing model to grace the cover of Vogue Arabia, and to be featured in Sports Illustrated, in which she wore a burkini. Halima is also an official UNICEF Ambassador.

Halima told The Guardian, “I want my sister, my little nieces, even my nephews to see representations of somebody who wears a hijab in modern ways, in such a way that they can relate to.” And she’s doing exactly that. She’s gracefully and powerfully breaking boundaries and providing representation for Muslim women worldwide – a true force to be reckoned with.

How she changed the industry: Halima’s presence in the industry brought a new meaning to the term diversity as it was the first time a hijab-wearing model ever appeared in the modeling industry. Halima redefines traditional beauty standards and provides visibility for an underrepresented demographic, and in turn, opens the door for other hijab-wearing women.

7. Pat McGrath 

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How she changed the industry: Pat McGrath is so legendary she has been crowned “The Mother of Makeup” by the high fashion elite, and even Vogue Editor, Anna Wintour, named her “the most influential makeup artist in the world.” So remarkable is her contribution to the world of fashion and beauty that Queen Elizabeth II made her a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her services to the fashion and beauty industry.

Her story: From mixing pigments in her home with her mother, Pat McGrath went on to become one of the most well-respected, highly sought-after MUAs in the world, carving out space for herself in an industry and a place where there was little to no visibility before. With a career in the industry spanning over 20 years, she has created some of the most iconic, breathtaking makeup looks, and her artistic flair birthed many of your favorite trends, from glitter lips to her signature glowing skin. She paved the path for Black women in the beauty industry and used her presence to launch her hugely successful, eponymous makeup line Pat McGrath Labs. The makeup line is a treasure-chest of incredible pigments and formulas for all skin tones that make sure no one is left behind.

8. Lisa Price

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How she changed the industry: Lisa Price was one of the first African-American women to own a brand with a flagship store, and by doing so, brought natural hair into the forefront of the beauty space.

Her story: Founder of natural haircare line, Carol’s Daughter, Lisa Price is an icon in the natural hair world. She started the brand – named after her mother – from her kitchen back in 1993. Her handmade haircare line was initially sold at flea markets but went on to become one of the first brands owned by an African American woman to have a flagship store, as well as primary shelf space in major department stores.

She brought the Natural Haircare Movement into the mainstream beauty sphere, empowering and enabling her community to find formulas and ingredients that cater to their curls. On their website, it also has a curl guide and curl glossary to further educate the curl community. The story of Carol’s Daughter was even exhibited in The National Museum for African American History and Culture.

9. Sharon Chuter

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Her story: Sharon Chuter was no stranger to the beauty industry when she started her own beauty brand, Uoma, in 2019, having previously worked with brands like Revlon, L’Oreal, and Benefit Cosmetics. During her time in the industry, Sharon realized that it’s not just the amount of foundation your brand carries that makes a beauty company inclusive, but understanding people’s unique needs and ensuring they are represented.

Sharon revealed that Uoma was born out of her frustration for the lack of representation of Black women, and so she decided to change that. “I am a proud, Black, Nigerian woman, and I’ve always felt excluded from the beauty conversation,” Sharon told Refinery29. “Uoma was born out of my personal experiences and frustrations in the beauty industry.” True to her word, Sharon’s makeup line, Uoma, which means beautiful in Igbo (one of the main languages spoken in Nigeria), celebrates self-expression, inclusivity, and African culture in a major way. The brand is truly empowering for all women, just as Sharon knew it had to be.

Sharon has since been labeled one of the most forward-thinking executives in the beauty industry by WWD. Finally, her latest initiative could have an even bigger impact on the fashion and beauty industry than her contribution so far, as she asks beauty brands to Pull Up For Change – check out the powerful movement here. In just a few days already, the movement, which fights for economic opportunities for Black people, has had a huge response, with global beauty brands promising to do better.

10. Lupita Nyong’o

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How she changed the industry: Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o is a true beauty chameleon who showcases her traditional Kenyan heritage in her beauty looks with pride, always putting her own spin on the look. Lupita and her go-to hairstylist, Vernon François, continually create show-stopping looks that do not conform to Eurocentric beauty standards. Her presence as a Black woman with a deep complexion and celebration of her heritage both on screens and red carpets, and in magazines, serves as a potent reminder to other women that they are beautiful just the way they are.

At an Essence Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon, Lupita made a powerful speech, “I want to take this opportunity to talk about beauty, Black beauty, dark beauty. I received a letter from a girl and I’d like to share just a small part of it with you: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.”

In April 2014, Lupita was crowned People’s Most Beautiful woman of the year, and later became the face of Lancome, making her the first African American woman to do so. Lupita is aware of the powerful message seeing her face in beauty magazines has, and in 2017, she used her Instagram to call out Grazia UK for editing her hair. She said, “I am disappointed that @graziauk invited me to be on their cover and then edited out and smoothed my hair to fit their notion of what beautiful hair looks like. Had I been consulted, I would have explained that I cannot support or condone the omission of what is my native heritage with the intention that they appreciate that there is still a very long way to go to combat the unconscious prejudice against Black women’s complexion, hair style and texture.”

11. Elaine Welteroth

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How she changed the industry: Author and NY Times bestseller, Elaine Welteroth has broken down countless barriers for her community, making space to ensure Black women are being heard and represented in the fashion and beauty industry.

Her story: As Elaine poignantly says herself, “Sometimes just being yourself is the radical act. When you occupy space in systems that weren’t built for you, your authenticity is your activism.”

Elaine broke new ground when she became the Editor-in-Chief of Teen Vogue; the youngest person and second African American to hold that title in Condé Nast’s history. Many credit Elaine for transforming Teen Vogue into a socially conscious publication that inspires the younger generations, while she’s also applauded for using the platform to highlight cultural appropriation and social justice issues. She has since moved on to write a best-selling novel, titled #MoreThanEnough: Claiming Space For Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), part-manifesto, part-memoir, in which she encourages women everywhere to be unapologetic of the space they obtain. Earlier this year, she won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Biography/Autobiography, for her book.

Elaine is also a judge on the new Project Runway, and she made it her mission for the show to reflect the world around her by increasing the conversation on diversity and inclusion.

12. Alek Wek


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How she changed the beauty industry: Since 1995, supermodel Alek Wek has been changing the perception of beauty in the industry. Just one of her industry firsts includes being the first Black model to appear on the cover of Elle magazine in their November 1997 issue. For Black women like Alek, who at the time rarely saw their image in magazines, seeing themselves represented in the fashion and beauty industry helped them feel appreciated and acknowledged for the first time.

In fact, Lupita Nyong’o was one of those women who looked up to Alek as a role model. Lupita said of Alek, “A celebrated model, she was dark as night, she was on all of the runways and in every magazine and everyone was talking about how beautiful she was… My complexion had always been an obstacle to overcome… When I saw Alek, I inadvertently saw a reflection of myself. Now, I had a spring in my step because I felt more seen, more appreciated.”

Her story: Alek was born in Sudan but fled from conflict to the UK at the age of 14. She grew up in London and was quickly scouted to become a model. She’s now a globally recognized supermodel who uses her platform and voice to uplift her community and support Sudanese refugees. Her book, Alek: From Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel, tells her story and the obstacles she overcame and is truly inspiring.

We’ll be continuing to use our platform to celebrate the Black community and we also encourage you to educate yourself about how to be a better ally (check out these inspiring women you can learn from). It’s also important to support Black-owned beauty brands, sign petitions, and donate wherever possible.