OPINION: Beauty that’s more than skin deep

Tisha Thompson works on plans for LYS Beauty, the cosmetics line she launched in 2019. It became the first Black-owned cosmetics brand to receive Sephora's Clean at Sephora seal. (Courtesy of LYS Beauty)

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Tisha Thompson works on plans for LYS Beauty, the cosmetics line she launched in 2019. It became the first Black-owned cosmetics brand to receive Sephora's Clean at Sephora seal. (Courtesy of LYS Beauty)

With two parents serving in the military, Tisha Thompson was accustomed to moving around. In each new place — Germany, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia — she learned to start over and meet new friends.

The experience helped her develop an outgoing personality, but it wasn’t always easy. She struggled with her hair, problematic skin and being plus-size in a society hyper-focused on thinness. She often felt like she did not fit in. “It is hard especially if you don’t look like what the beauty industry tells us is beautiful,” said Thompson during our recent conversation.

Makeup offered solace, not in a way that hid who she was, but in a way that allowed her to fully discover who she wanted to be.

After working more than 15 years in the beauty industry, during which she developed a bestselling foundation for Atlanta-based Pur Cosmetics, Thompson founded the brand LYS (Love Yourself), a line of cosmetics with a full range of color shades, a green seal of approval and an invitation to women to show their most authentic selves.

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LYS is the first Black-owned cosmetics brand to earn the Clean at Sephora seal, a designation reserved for products that eliminate a broad range of unwanted ingredients, including phthalates, formaldehydes, triclosan, and coal tar. And with shades that complement the range of skin tones among women of color, the brand is at the intersection of two of the fastest-growing segments of the beauty industry.

Consumers are increasingly interested in cosmetics that avoid certain chemicals and that are sustainable. When shopping for beauty and personal care products, 40% of consumers said they look for products that use natural ingredients. Almost 18% said they look for products that respect the environment, according to a 2021 survey from NielsenIQ.

Clean consumers account for about 24% of U.S. adults and tend to be mid- to high-income earners, multicultural, college educated and under age 35, though in 2020, the largest increase in clean households was among those between the ages of 55 and 64.

More than half of the beauty and personal care products now on the market are paraben free, and sales are on the rise for products that eliminate sulfates, phthalates and other ingredients. Industry experts say clean cosmetics are soon expected to be the norm.

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Black and Hispanic women are driving sales of beauty and personal care products, outspending other racial or ethnic groups in the category. Hispanic consumers spent 13% more than the average consumer on beauty and personal care items in 2020.

But despite their above-average spending, the unique needs of Black and Hispanic women have often been an afterthought for the major beauty brands.

Testing panels for products may not include a representative sample of women of color. Or brands develop a formula for products, then work to create shades that work for darker skin tones.

BIPOC-owned beauty brands have offered more products that speak to the unique needs of consumers of color. More of those consumers are looking for products that “enhance their natural beauty rather than mask it,” according to another NielsenIQ study.

In her many years in the industry, Thompson noted that the majority of beauty industry owners did not look like her. When her father died unexpectedly in 2019 at age 59, Thompson used her inheritance to strike out on her own.

caption arrowCaption
Tisha Thompson launched LYS Beauty after working 15 years in the beauty industry. After her father unexpectedly died at age 59, Thompson decided to live authentically. Her line of cosmetics is designed for women of color who seek products free of unwanted ingredients. (Courtesy of Marcus Ezell)

Credit: Marcus Ezell

Tisha Thompson launched LYS Beauty after working 15 years in the beauty industry. After her father unexpectedly died at age 59, Thompson decided to live authentically. Her line of cosmetics is designed for women of color who seek products free of unwanted ingredients. (Courtesy of Marcus Ezell)

Credit: Marcus Ezell

caption arrowCaption
Tisha Thompson launched LYS Beauty after working 15 years in the beauty industry. After her father unexpectedly died at age 59, Thompson decided to live authentically. Her line of cosmetics is designed for women of color who seek products free of unwanted ingredients. (Courtesy of Marcus Ezell)

Credit: Marcus Ezell

Credit: Marcus Ezell

She wanted her cosmetics to meet the new standards for clean, be as sustainable as possible and affordable (all products under $30). She also prioritized the skin concerns of Black women — hyperpigmentation rather than fine lines and wrinkles — when developing her formulations.

Companies like Sephora and Ulta are giving clean makeup and BIPOC brands a boost with their own certifications for clean products and special in-store displays that advertise brands owned by people of color. In 2018, Sephora launched its Clean at Sephora program, which eliminates dozens of chemical ingredients.

Ulta launched its Conscious Beauty program in 2020, certifying brands in five areas: clean ingredients, cruelty-free testing, vegan formulations, sustainable packaging and positive impact.

Both retailers have also made the 15 Percent Pledge, committing to dedicate 15% of their annual spend on Black-owned businesses.

Thompson said while it is great to see more retailers supporting Black-owned brands, she hopes her business won’t always be defined by being Black-owned.

“In 10 years, it would be nice to think that LYS is just a beauty brand,” she said. “It is great to see retailers and other communities, not only Black communities, that are investing in brands and helping with the (equity) conversation.”

When all women see themselves represented, when all women feel part of the conversation, when all women have a choice — the beauty industry will prove itself to be more than skin deep.

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.

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