5 Drivers of Multicultural Skin Care

December 5, 2016 | Contact Author | By: Elle Morris, Consultant, The Clientist
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Culture, age and other factors may impact the skin care decisions women make throughout their lives.

Abstract: Nine North American women discuss the cultural, generational, sociological and other aspects impacting their routines.

North American women are a blended palette of races, cultures and traditions. Beauty regimens in the region are as diverse as the women themselves, with skin tone, cultural heritage, socioeconomics and age all part of the equation.

1. It’s All about Tone

Women with fair skin are often hyper-conscious about aging. The more fair the skin tone, the more conscious they seem to be. Women with highly fair skin often see no benefit in tanning, so they seek products that prevent sunburn and hydrate skin.

As a fair-skinned Latina myself, protecting my alabaster-skinned Cuban grandmother’s European heritage was important to my maternal family and sunscreen was heavily endorsed from a young age. Conversely, my Latina friends with darker skin tones didn’t become concerned with anti-aging regimens or sun-damage until they were at least 40.

“As a very fair-skinned Latina who easily burns and attracts freckles/brown spots, first, I stay away from the sun. I wear sunscreen religiously—even if it’s cloudy out. I definitely invest time in moisturizer and I have a regimen for cleaning my face, which includes the use of a cleansing device. I also love to get facials. I wish I could get them monthly.” -Ivette, Cuban woman, 40

“As a very fair-skinned Latina who easily burns and attracts freckles/brown spots, first, I stay away from the sun."

Many African American women with dark skin tones never worry about anti-aging regimens because their skin seems to hardly wrinkle. They tend to focus on a healthy diet and natural lifestyle to promote healthy skin.

“My secret is simple: low stress, plenty of rest and lots of water. I don't buy any anti-aging products. I cleanse and moisturize.” - Cee, African American woman, 35

2. The Beauty-Culture Intersection

Cultural heritage and socioeconomics also play a part in determining skin care and beauty regimens. In Asia, fair skin is seen as beautiful because it indicates that a woman is affluent or educated enough to avoid working outdoors. In North America, tan skin is typically seen as beautiful because it indicates that a woman has enough time, and consequently money, for sunbathing.

Latinas, however, differ based on their heritage. With a wide-variety of skin tones, beauty regimens are determined by how a Latina self identifies. For instance, my Cuban mother and grandmother insisted on starting me on a skin care regimen at age 13 and made me promise to always take my makeup off before bed, no matter how tired I was. 

Those lessons stuck with me. Even in college, after a night out, I would always be the only one in the bathroom washing my face and removing makeup.

"I do moisturize, am all about the sunblock and will splurge on eye cream, because that is where I see most AA women age..."

Most African American women were not taught to embrace any specific skin care regimen; they were taught to focus on a healthy diet and natural lifestyle to promote healthy skin.

“I don't buy any anti-aging nor did any of the older females in my family! Black don't crack!” - Zee, African American woman, 26

“For some reason, I feel like the anti-aging products would kill my skin’s mojo—LOL! I do moisturize, am all about the sunblock and will splurge on eye cream, because that is where I see most AA women age (plus, I fly, have insane work hours and go out a lot, soooo...). Water is critical. I have tried powdered collagen and will do under chin exercises to keep my face taunt :-).” - Jetta, African American woman, gen Xer

3. Diverse Regimens

The skin care and beauty regimens of many Caucasian women depend on their socioeconomic status and heritage. More affluent families tend to begin skin care regimens young to combat aging. However, many are also sun worshipers who prefer a tan.

My own paternal family members enjoyed summering at Cape Cod and sunbathing daily. Because of the lessons ingrained in me by my Cuban grandmother, I noticed the effects of the sun on their skin and always embraced sunscreen during visits. 

“Wash, exfoliate a few times a week, serum, moisturizer with SPF a must during day (at night sculpting cream), eye cream."

Many less-affluent white women do not adopt skin care regimens until they see their own skin begin to age like the other women in their family. The magic age for when women begin to notice these crows-feet eye wrinkles, large pores, neck and chest wrinkles, sunspots, etc., is about 30 years old.

Once these signs of aging appear, these women are eager for products that will help slow or even prevent the process.

“Wash, exfoliate a few times a week, serum, moisturizer with SPF a must during day (at night sculpting cream), eye cream. And I never forget to do all this on my neck—nothing like a wrinkly neck to give away your age.” -Beth, Caucasian woman, 35 

“Cleanse with a sonic brush, then SKII facial treatment essence, then Neutrogena water boost hydrogel, then Aveeno SPF 55 with vitamin C powder boosted in. At night, remove makeup/cleanse with Olay cleansing wipes and Neutrogena rapid wrinkle repair with retinol (can’t do retin A since I’m pregnant—normally would be prescription retin A). Facials twice a year.” -Ashley, Caucasian woman, 30

4. Generational Variations

Age plays an important role in skin care regimens for two reasons. First, women who were not taught specific skin care maintenance often wait until problems arise before they begin trying to correct the issues.

For example, many of my dark-skinned Latina friends loved tanning and never took measures to protect their skin. Today, many complain of dark spots or a few wrinkles, and they’re just now working to correct those issues.

“As a brown person, I'm all about trying to figure out what to do about the sagging, not the wrinkles. Wrinkles aren't bugging me too much yet, but the English bulldog jowls are a pain in my ass. Also, the dark spots bug me. I’m not very disciplined about using a separate product for them, but when I see ‘brightening’ claims or other such code words for helping me with the freckles and brown spots, I get very interested.” -Rebecca, Puerto Rican woman, 50

5. Cultural Crossover

Also, because of the immense access to information via technology, many women, especially millennials and gen X, are no longer relying on only their cultural heritage and family to teach them about skin care.

For example, we’re seeing more affluent white women adopting skin care secrets from other cultures, such as Korean multi-step regimens. And younger generations of cultures that originally had little to no skin care regimens, such as African American women, have begun to change their culture’s traditions by adopting new routines.

Overall, technology has had a hand in creating vast cultural shifts that embrace natural beauty over standard beauty ideals. All-natural products and home remedies are gaining popularity to promote a total wellness lifestyle.

“So I think there's a ton of interest in beauty/skin care in general among the millennial generation, but it’s sort of split between two segments. There’s the Kardashian group with their perfectly spackled pores, overdrawn lips and flawless eyebrows; and then there’s another group that still cares very much about beauty, but definitely takes the less-is-more approach (see: Into the Gloss/Glossier). I fall mostly into the latter group—but make no mistake, that group still wants to look amazing—they may just want to age a little more gracefully than the other group.” -Betsy, Caucasian woman, 26 

"There’s the Kardashian group with their perfectly spackled pores, overdrawn lips and flawless eyebrows; and then there’s another group that still cares very much about beauty, but definitely takes the less-is-more approach."

“I use the CA product line ... cleanser, toner, vitamin C serum and rebalance moisturizer. I also drink warm water with lemon and organic apple cider vinegar.” - Dee, African American woman, 25

As North America becomes increasingly diverse and evolving technology continues to facilitate the distribution of information from cultures around the world, North American beauty routines will become even more individualized.

A Blended Future

With factors such as skin tone and cultural heritage becoming intertwined, brands must actively strive to stay ahead of trends, with a wide-range of products and colors to match any skin tone or skin care need.

From fair-skinned Latinas to African American women seeking their first skin care regimen to Caucasian women looking for a natural way to combat inherent neck wrinkles, brands that embrace a blended, multicultural view of beauty will be poised for success with the diverse women of North America.

Elle Morris is a branding and design consultant specializing in relationship building between brands and consumers, as The Clientist. The fair-skinned, redheaded Ms. Elenita (Elle) Morris has spent the last two decades in design leadership positions at global brand design firms Elmwood and LPK where she oversaw global beauty brand restages of Pantene Relaxed & Natural, Olay and Fashion Fair cosmetics. She draws from her Cuban-American heritage and extensive global travels to help clients understand how beauty and the mindsets of women vary greatly across cultures. Follow Elle at https://twitter.com/ElleMorrisCinci.