Problematic beauty brands

The following lists serve as a ledger of beauty brand behavior regarding (content warning) racism, anti-blackness, misogyny, homophobia, violent language, questionable practices, and religious and ethnic discrimination. Sources are linked within the text and images retain copyright to their respectful owners.

We consider the first group of brands to be irredeemably blocklisted: brands and their owners who have proven their unforgivable stances on important topics. The brands in the second group have exhibited less extreme or one-off instances of similar behavior. Our goal is to provide sourceable information so you can make informed purchase decisions at your own discretion.


Do not support these brands

Major repeat offenders to avoid.

Jeffree Star Cosmetics

#anti-blackness #misogynior #misogyny #racism

Influencer, entrepreneur, and ex-Atlantic Records recording artist Jeffree Star (legally Jeffrey Lynn Steininger) launched his cosmetic line in 2014. With a steady increase in social media fame since MySpace in the mid-2000s, Star’s YouTube subscriber count tops 11m. His binary-breaking androgynous looks, DGAF attitude, flaunting wealth, and public confidence in his sexuality all create a compelling identity many (often young, white, and queer) look up to.

During a “comedy sketch” with a friend in the MySpace era (pre-2010), Star used disgusting, violent, anti-black language in AAVE.

In various short videos released from the same time period, he used horrifyingly similar, violent language. This content was shared widely across the internet in 2016 as his cosmetics brand and social media presence had skyrocketed.

A few weeks after the old videos resurfaced, he gave a half-hearted apology in summer 2016.

without denouncing his racist views. As more old, problematic content popped up (like dressing up for Halloween with a friend in blackface), he continued to brush it off with apologies on social media saying it was all for shock value.

A very public falling out occurred between Star and his longtime ex-friend and professional collaborator, fellow problematic beauty icon Kat Von D. Kat’s July 2016 post specifically condemned Star’s racism and alleged Star never paid for graphic design work, though the latter was resolved.

In March 2017, Jeffree Star Cosmetics significantly deepened a model’s complexion for a product photoshoot. When Star received criticism for using blackface to sell a product, he defended the “creative choices” of the shoot. Even when choosing a trans woman of color as a model, Star’s actions were undeniably anti-black.

In June 2017, Star called successful black beauty YouTuber Jackie Aina (2m+ subscribers) an “irrelevant rat” after she said she wouldn’t purchase his products because of his anti-black past. (It was later allegedly revealed he privately used racially-charged words to describe Aina.)

Using hateful language specifically toward prominent black women beauty YouTubers was not new for Star:

3 days after the tweets about Aina blew up across the beauty community, Star finally released an apology video explaining away his old, admittedly bad behavior with his own fight with depression, bullying, and anger — that the racial hatred somehow wasn’t about race at all.

Star is known to use misogynist language among his race-fueled behavior. He’s made demonstrably misogynist and lesbophobic comments in music and beauty interviews, not just in the 2000s “comedy videos.”

The following summer, Shane Dawson, one of the most popular accounts on YouTube with 18m subscribers, released a multi-part docuseries on Star. The series attempt to lift the veil and provide a new perspective to all the controversy, though Star is only portrayed in a positive light. It kicked off dramageddon, which led more acquaintances and former friends to confirm and criticize Star’s past and current racism.

To promote his cosmetics brand for a holiday 2018 campaign, Star’s hair was styled in cornrows and box braids, classically Black styles.

Kat Von D

#anti-blackness #antisemitism #antivaxxer

Kat Von D (legally Katherine von Drachenberg) is a white Latina tattoo artist, TV personality, and entrepreneur who rose to massive public popularity by the time her TV show premiered in 2007. Her cosmetics line, a Kendo brand exclusive to Sephora, launched the following year.

The earliest known example linking Kat Von D to antisemitism was found that same year. TMZ reported an autographed photo with nazi wording and iconography that Kat claims she didn’t sign.

While a woman should not be judged solely for her partner’s actions, in 2010 Kat was engaged a to a polarizing TV personality and gun manufacturer who collects Nazi memorabilia, loves Trump, and whose ex-wife claims he turned into a different person. Kat never publicly called out his antisemitic behavior.

In 2013 and 2015, her cosmetics line drew attention for inappropriately named lipsticks: “Celebutard” and “Underage Red”. Kat pulled Celebutard at Sephora’s behest and defended Underage Red.

Kat has proven herself an ally in some respects: she very publicly denounced Jeffree Star after excusing him for too long and uninvited a 2017 contest winner to represent her brand after finding out they were a Trump supporter.

Kat is a textbook white feminist who chooses which causes she believes in. Her accountability seems to be very shallow, focused on lifting white women and white Latinas instead of dismantling racism.

Kat Von D Beauty’s Fall 2017 creme contour palette was announced with a promotional image featuring diverse skin tones… but the darkest contour shades were significantly lighter than the darkest model’s skin.

A very outspoken vegan, Kat’s views against animal cruelty are part of her and her brand’s identities. In June 2018, she announced she plans to raise her baby vegan and that she will not vaccinate her child.

September 2018 brought a disturbing social media post from the Kat Von D Beauty account, where a seemingly brown-skinned hand posed with a KVD concealer in front of a cotton field with a caption about “hard work” and the 💪🏽 medium-dark skin-tone muscle emoji. The insensitivity is staggering.

Kylie Cosmetics

#ableism #anti-blackness #appropriation #copyright

Kylie Jenner is a TV personality, model, and entrepreneur who made her fortune appropriating black culture alongside her family. She launched her beauty line, Kylie Cosmetics, in 2015. The brand initially focused on lip products, a logical marketing decision as Kylie rose to mainstream fame the year prior thanks to her augmented pout.

In late 2016, Kylie Cosmetics released a promotional photo bearing a striking resemblance to an earlier artistic image by makeup artist @vladamua. To some, Kylie Cosmetics’ and Vlada’s styles were so intertwined that an image actually made by Vlada was assumed to be a new Kylie promo photo. The artist sued Kylie, Inc. and the case was settled.

Vlada’s original, left; Kylie Cosmetics’ copy, right

Apart from this copyright claim, a clothing line Jenner owns with her sister was also hit with a lawsuit for commercial use of unlicensed photographs.

Topshop introduced Kylie Cosmetics pop-up shops in their stores for the fall/winter 2017 season, and consumers found unsightly, unsanitary conditions for the online-only retailer.

December 2017 also brought Kylie, Inc. a lawsuit for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act — a legal requirement to meet minimum standards for website accessibility.

Kylie Cosmetics released 30 concealer shades in January 2018, featuring 25 shades of fair to medium-tan with peach, pink, and yellow undertones, leaving all the deepest shades to have red undertones. Skin of all shades also pulls all undertones; a common art and beauty misconception is to only use a red undertone for deep skin. Even the shades with descriptions reading “yellow” and “golden” pulled much more peachy-pink when actually swatched.

Jenner’s lip and cheek “nude” shades ignoring darker skin entirely, stealing from indie WoC designers, paired with the massive success of Fenty’s inclusive range of face makeup just a few months prior to the concealer launch, left many black beauty consumers feeling pandered to.

Lime Crime

#antisemitism #appropriation #racism

(This 2015 deep dive from one of my absolute favorite beauty writers covers the whole saga better than I can!)

Doe Deere (legally Xenia Vorotova) grew to massive cult popularity on LiveJournal in the mid-2000s, sewing and selling vintage and Japanese-street-fashion-inspired clothing, and continually reinventing her image. During this time, there was some controversy over her actions involving copying other’s original ideas and reselling items at inflated prices. In October 2008, she launched Lime Crime Makeup with her co-founder husband, Mark Dumbelton.

Deere, Russian Jewish by descent, dressed up as Adolf Hitler for “typical bad taste” shock factor on Halloween, exactly one year before Lime Crime launches as a makeup brand. Not until 2015 did she apologize for her “extremely poor taste” which she reiterated in 2018 as a “coping mechanism.”

Customers who purchased from Lime Crime Makeup and Deere’s prior fashion endeavors reported shockingly poor customer service and seriously inappropriate letters.

This November 2009 LiveJournal post rounds up and reposts several different sources of critical product reviews, experiences, Internet-sleuthing of Deere’s “mean girl” behavior, and cease-and-desists being sent to critical reviewers.

The most prolific beauty blogger of the late 2000s gave a middling-to-negative review of Lime Crime products. Deere retaliated by emailing Lime Crime customers to request they send emails to the bloggers’s personal address, singing the praises of Lime Crime makeup.

In 2012, Lime Crime released the China Doll eyeshadow palette. Regardless of previous drama, there were incredibly valid critiques of the palette’s concept, naming, and promotional photos being cultural appropriative. Deere personally responded to the criticisms: her non-apology says getting upset over cultural appropriation is “kind of silly.”

Lime Crime touted itself as a vegan and cruelty-free company as early as 2010 even though they continually used animal products as ingredients.

In May 2014, legally one-upping her previous cease-and-desists, Deere sued a critical blogger for $250,000 in lost sales.

In February 2015, Lime Crime announced a security breach from the previous year. The site’s SSL certificate was outdated by six months and hackers were able to steal months of sensitive customer information. Lime Crime discovered the breach in October 2014. They chose to inappropriately convey this serious announcement via Instagram, while some customers grappled with the severity of spending $20 on lipstick and having their credit scores ruined. A class action law suit was settled two years later.

After years of customer complaints regarding safety, the FDA sent Lime Crime a warning letter in July 2015 regarding unsafe ingredients in their lip products. When customers demanded answers to questions about the ingredients, they found their profiles blocked by the company account.

Formulation issues had not ended by 2016. The combination of the ingredients, packaging, and instructions in their Superfoil eyeshadows led to rust and mold.

Even in 2017, there was controversy over repackaging cheap Chinese products for much higher costs and extremely poor taste social media posts.

Deere stepped down from her CEO role in 2017 as long-time consultant Kim Walls stepped in as Global Brand Manager. Walls’ open conversations regarding the company’s past aided Lime Crime in becoming a more mainstream beauty brand sold at popular retailers like Urban Outfitters, Revolve, Bloomingdale’s, and Ulta.

The company was sold to new owners in 2018 and has a new CEO committed to keeping positive momentum going, while not ignoring the past. Deere is no longer involved with day-to-day operations or majority ownership, but she and her co-founder husband still sit on the board of directors.

Medusa’s Makeup

#antisemitism #white-supremacy

Medusa’s Makeup is a vegan, cruelty-free cosmetics company and subscription box founded in Chicago, IL. The website does not include any mention of its owners, Lora Chasteen and Pier Novikov.

They started the company in 2006, but they’ve been in business together since at least 1998 according to old interviews from major Chicago publications.

They try to keep their past hidden, but word quietly gets around on social media via Facebook and Reddit, with no public acknowledgement from the company whatsoever.

Novikov’s views are made clear in the Chicago music scene and have spread to Washington state. Pier Novikov, also known as Pier Zambrano or his DJ moniker Subtropical, appeared in the anti-racist action Chicago antifa blog. The post details, with photos, his sketchy white supremacist tattoos, known associates, and antisemitic and racist social media postings.

While the publicly available information about Novikov’s hatred is only limited to that post, the information contained in it and the lack of any statement from Medusa’s Makeup denouncing those views are enough reasons to shun the brand.


Collected receipts

Isolated incidents, questionable behavior, repeated patterns, cleared up scandals…

3CE

#anti-blackness

In July 2018, a black k-beauty YouTuber reported a “blackface manicure” by one of Korea’s most popular and affordable cosmetic companies, 3CE. 3CE is the beauty brand of Stylenanda, a major Asian fast fashion retailer founded by Korean woman entrepreneur Kim So Hee.

Two months after Stylenanda et all was acquired by L’Oréal, the promotional image was found via Instagram Sponsored stories. The post features the same hand displayed twice, one unsuccessfully altered darker as retouchers uniformly darkened the palms.

Almay

#erasure #white-standards

Until a rebrand in 2018, drugstore mainstay brand Almay never had face product shades deeper than tan and thus never advertised to women of color. In 2016, with their history of ignoring non-white skin tones, Almay referred to their “American look” white models as “Simply American.” When questioned, Almay responded that the white models were an expression of the “pure beauty” in every woman.

Beautyblender

#anti-blackness

The brand behind of the original beauty sponge is owned by Portuguese-Mexican-Irish American founder and CEO, makeup artist Rea Ann Silva. In 2018, they launched their first cosmetic product, a foundation “boasting” 32 shades, although 66% of them were variations of fair/light.

BECCA Cosmetics

#anti-blackness

In August 2018, popular prestige skin-focused cosmetics brand BECCA released a promotional photo of their newest foundation. It was immediately clear to their audience that the image was digitally edited. At least 2 of the arms were altered to look darker, apparent by the uniform coloring of the palms. Not only is it dishonest to fake product colors, but this act was essentially digital blackface. Two days later, they re-shot the image using 4 different people in an apology post.

Ben Nye

#anti-blackness

Ben Nye Professional Makeup is the most popular special effects and stage makeup brand for professionals and everyday consumers. In 2015, they released a deep brown creme base shade called “Minstrel Brown.” The names of the other shades coincided with fantasy characters (Witch Green, Vampire Pale, Ghoul Grey, etc.), but minstrelsy is abhorrent racist history, not fantasy. Ben Nye silently pulled the shade so now “Werewolf Brown” is the only deep brown shade, never releasing a statement.

Benefit Cosmetics

#anti-blackness

Benefit Cosmetics, owned by powerhouse conglomerate LVMH, is a popular prestige beauty brand sold worldwide. In summer 2017, Benefit collaborated with five major beauty YouTubers to re-release brand favorites using photos of the YouTubers on new limited packaging. Benefit’s complexion products have historically excluded darker shades, so it was not a surprise when all five chosen influencers were white or Latina (one with a history of extremely problematic behavior).

black|Up Cosmetics

#anti-blackness #erasure

black|Up Paris is a makeup brand made for tan to dark skin tones, the first luxury line target to black consumers. The African makeup artist founder Fabrice Mahabo was pushed out by a white man starting in 2010. When questioned, Sephora deleted customer Facebook comments instead of addressing the claims. Investigate write-ups detail the secretive erasure.

Bond No. 9

#anti-blackness #racism

New York luxury fragrance brand Bond No. 9’s French-Lebanese founder and president, Laurice Rahmé, was sued by two former employees in 2012 for racial discrimination. Rahmé is alleged to have called Black people “thieves” and alerted security with a code word when dark-skinned customers came into the store. The Latina former employee said she was not allowed to serve white customers because of her complexion. When the two employees brought up their issues to Rahmé, Rahmé fired them and accused them of stealing. The suit was eventually dropped.

Carol’s Daughter

#anti-blackness

Carol’s Daughter is a hair + bodycare company founded in 1993 by its president, Lisa Price, a black woman who started mixing products to gift to her friends and family from her Brooklyn, NY kitchen. The company’s excellent products for natural hair were a huge hit; the brand even received funding from Will + Jada Pinkett Smith and Jay-Z.

All of a sudden, after 18 years of success, the messaging specifically for black women was replaced with advertising toward “polyethnic” women in 2011. This coincided with formulation changes and Price noting that marketing to “black Women with natural hair alone can be limiting.” Price’s inspiring story often leads people to believe Carol’s Daughter is a black-owned company, but Price only has a minority stake in the company.

Coloured Raine

#anti-blackness #misogynoir

Coloured Raine is a company that claims to “encourage self expression and diversity,” owned by black woman founder and CEO Loraine R. Dowdy. In July 2016, Dowdy doubled down on “all lives matter” rhetoric on Instagram because of discriminatory treatment of her non-black husband and mixed-race son.

There is an issue with colorism and skin tone representation across their lipstick product photos (gifs below to demonstrate).

Color swatches are shown via custom photography on lighter skinned women.

But representations on darker skinned women are just the same image, Photoshopped per color.

Colourpop

#anti-blackness

Super popular budget brand Colourpop is known for a non-stop release cycle. In 2016, they launched highlight and contour sticks in a decent shade range, but the lightest shades got names like “Gummy Bear” and “Castle” while the deepest shades were “Yikes” and “Typo”. They quickly renamed the shades after the public calling out, but never issued a statement.

Latina beauty YouTuber Kathleen Lights was caught saying the n-word in September 2017 and her collaboration line with Colourpop was publicly released that December. However, an earlier collaboration between the two was supposed to launch in October, but Colourpop covered it up (literally, with stickers) and released the items as a standalone product (potentially to avoid immediate blowback).

Guerlain

#anti-blackness #racism

The fourth-generation owner and master perfumer of luxury French fragrance, cosmetics, and skincare house Guerlain was fined in 2012 for a horribly racist statement on TV that the court deemed “dated and disagreeable.” Guerlain sold the family company to LVMH 16 years prior and left the company around the time of the remarks.

Hourglass Cosmetics

#racism #erasure #white-standards

Hourglass Cosmetics is a vegan luxury brand founded by CEO Carisa Janes in 2004. In 2015, three women of color ex-employees in London sued Hourglass for £38k for instances of racial, gender, and religious discrimination. They alleged they were told to “look more Western”, heard insensitive language from CEO Janes, could only publish articles under pen names when white employees could use their legal names, and that they were wrongfully dismissed. Janes denied all allegations and Hourglass won the suit.

Huda Beauty

#anti-blackness #homophobic

Huda Kattan, a Muslim Iraqi-American based in Dubai, is one of the most popular worldwide influencers on Instagram (earning $18k per sponsored post). Kattan worked as a celebrity makeup artist and blogger before launching her beauty line in 2013.

Instagram is an important platform for any modern beauty company, especially one whose founder and CEO earned her fame from it. However, black beauty enthusiasts know Huda Beauty has a history of not posting dark-skinned women often or favorably, and refusing to post male makeup artists. The brand’s foundation range was inclusive of many skin tones, but in a “post-Fenty” world, many saw it as pandering.

In April 2018, the Huda Beauty blog posted an article on the “real issue” of how to use DIY ingredients, chemical exfoliants, and weight loss to lighten the skin color of the vagina and vulva.

Later the year, Huda Beauty released a new product with a kitschy name and photo campaign with striking similarity to the much smaller black-owned brand Beauty Bakerie.

Huda Beauty’s Easy Bake Loose Powder, left; Beauty Bakerie’s Flour Setting Powder + Cake Mix Foundation, right

Illamasqua

#anti-blackness

European artistry cosmetics brand Illamasqua created a tone-deaf campaign in 2012 featuring a white model in blackface. They pulled the image after initial criticism, then reposted it to defend themselves.

Shortly after Trump’s inauguration in 2017, the brand posted an admirable anti-fascist pledge — It appears as though five years later, they pick and choose their virtue battles.

IT Cosmetics

#anti-blackness

IT Cosmetics is a beauty brand known for its skincare-ingredient-infused face makeup. The brand was sold to L’Oréal in 2016 for $1.2 billion. Jamie Kerns Lima, a white woman, is the company’s founder and CEO — the only woman CEO out of any L’Oréal brand in its 100+ year history.

At a September 2017 beauty industry award ceremony for women executives, Lima waxed lyrical about the need for diverse representation in the beauty industry. The inspirational speech went viral as Lima talked about her brand’s success coming from representing “women of all shapes, sizes, skin tones, and skin issues.” However, IT Cosmetics is known in the space for having a pitiful shade range for people of color (the darkest shade in the image below was released earlier that year, well after the initial six shades).

MAC Cosmetics

#appropriation #racism

MAC is one of the most popular prestige cosmetic brands in the world. Founded in 1984, they’ve always been known for quality products and extensive shade ranges.

Their “Style Warrior” summer 2008 seasonal collection used stereotypes from different cultures and tied them together with animal print packaging and “exotic” shade names like “Tribalist, Mercenary, Brave New Bronze”.

2010’s collaboration with high-fashion house Rodarte was Mexican themed, which in itself poses no issue… until they named their nail polishes after a notorious factory town where children and young women are assaulted and murdered.

The 2016 Coachella-inspired “Vibe Tribe” collection toyed with Navajo-inspired patterns in its packaging and its “Tribe” name, yet MAC claims “it was not inspired by Native American cultures.”

Madam C.J. Walker

#anti-blackness

Madam C.J. Walker’s eponymous haircare brand has an incredibly history. The first American self-made female millionaire was born in the late 1800s to slaves in Louisiana. She was orphaned and widowed before building a new life for herself and her daughter. Walker started her own company formulating and selling hair products, building a factory, salon, and school to support her business. By her death in 1919, 40k black women had been trained as Walker saleswomen.

The brand remained stagnant in family control throughout the mid-1900s, was sold in 1985, and then publicly revived in 2016 by the same parent company that reformulated Shea Moisture products to serve a “wider audience.” Products and messaging that were once expressly for black women, by black women, have now been reformulated for “all backgrounds and textures of hair.”

Revlon

#anti-blackness #antisemitism #racism

Lorenzo Delpani served as CEO of drugstore mega-brand Revlon from November 2013 to February 2016. In January 2015, a former top scientist sued the company after his dismissal. Delpani’s disgusting comments were noted in the suit, claiming “Jews stick together,” that he “could smell a black person when he entered a room,” and that Americans (Delpani is Italian-born) were “small-minded” and “dirty.” The case was “amicably resolved” in March 2015. Delpani denied any allegations and continued to serve as CEO for another 11 months, winning industry marketing awards.

Shea Moisture

#anti-blackness #racism

Shea Moisture was founded in 1991, inspired by founder’s grandmother, a woman in Sierra Leone who started selling beauty products in the early 1900s. Since its founding, the brand was a hair and skin staple for black women with kinky and coily hair.

After selling the company to an investment firm co-founded by Mitt Romney, it began a slow and steady stream of re-formulating and advertising to white white women and light-skinned WoC instead of the black women who made the brand as successful as it was.

Tarte Cosmetics

#anti-blackness

Tarte is a cruelty-free makeup and skincare company founded by Maureen Kelly, a white woman who dropped out of her Ph.D program at Columbia to start her cosmetics empire.

On MLK Day 2018, Tarte released a limited foundation range where only two shades suited dark skin tones, in stark contrast to 12 beige shades. This foundation was a follow-up product to their iconic Shape Tape concealer (one is sold every 26 seconds), which also has very few options for deep complexions. Tarte apologized and eventually expanded the range, but not before consumer trust was eroded.

YSL

#anti-blackness

The cosmetics branch of French fashion house Yves Saint Laurent is owned by L’Oréal. In 2017, they claimed to have released shades for “all skin tones” with 22 shades “from light to dark” — that were actually 21 variations of beige and one deep shade.

A few months later, they tried to learn from their mistake by including a dark-skinned arm in their new concealer swatches, even though the limited range of shades contained no color close to matching the model’s skin tone.