What Beauty Brands Can Learn From Jaclyn Hill’s Bronzer Controversy
Jaclyn Cosmetics, the makeup brand from influencer Jaclyn Hill, has a history of embattled product launches. When it kicked off two years ago, complaints poured in from customers that it’s lipsticks were hairy and lumpy. Recently, it received criticism that its Sun Kissed Cream Bronzer range is far too narrow.
In what could’ve been an attempt to get ahead of controversy, Hill acknowledged the lack of inclusivity in a video announcing her brand’s limited-edition Haute Tropics collection, explaining, “When it comes to creating something that really deserves a very big and broad shade range, it is really difficult for me. I feel like this is something a lot of people might not talk about, but I feel like it should be difficult for everybody because, when it comes to shades that I can’t wear, like once I get into like the darker shades or the super, super, super fair shades, I kinda just like don’t know, so I have to rely on testing. I have to rely on giving it to other people with different skin tones.” Hill also notes the bronzer array ifs increasing coming next year, and she’s open to feedback from people “who may be deeper in skin.”
Hill’s damage control didn’t sit well with many beauty consumers. A Reddit user wrote, “Her excuse is that she doesn’t know how to formulate shades for deeper or fair skin tones. then don’t sell bronzers or consult a team that can formulate more shades????” Another Reddit user wrote. “im so confused as to why she KNEW her line would only accommodate like 2 skin tones and still decided to put it out.” On Instagram, a commenter adds, “She has unlimited resources and investors and no one thought about hiring a POC consultant to assist in creating an inclusive shade range for this launch? HOW?”
People also took issue with an image Jaclyn Cosmetics posted on its Instagram Stories showing its bronzer swatched on three skin tones. The shades appear noticeably ashy and gray on the darkest skin tone. “Why even put that picture out there for the ad?? Not a good look,” a Reddit user wrote. “So hot its ash,” a different one weighed in. In response to the critiques, Jaclyn Cosmetics put out a statement revealing a partnership with diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm Change Cadet “to look at all areas of opportunity within our business and to address our process going forward.”
Makeup artist and strategic brand consultant Melissa Hibbért says it’s inexcusable for a cosmetics brand to release a shade range that excludes a broad swath of consumers in this day and age. “In a time where diversity and inclusion is no longer just a topic, but a demand, the very idea that someone with such a following and influence would launch a product that clearly misses the mark in delivering deeper shade range is outrageous and, frankly, dismissive,” she asserts. “There are no excuses and, even if there were, consumers are tired of them.”
Hibbért has firsthand knowledge of developing bronzers. Last year, Thrive Causemetics hired her to help expand its bronzer assortment. “During my competitive testing, I discovered how underrepresented the bronzer category is in reaching deeper skin tones,” she says. “Foundation is a start, but consumers also enjoy other complexion products like blush, concealer, tinted moisturizers and, of course, bronzers. The key to offering these diverse products is to ensure they not only have range, but, also, when it comes to deeper skin tones, the products have enough pigment and the right texture. Diverse products mean nothing if they are not developed to meet the needs of every shade of woman—from fair to deep.”
Cosmetic chemist Paula Hayes, who launched the brand Hue Noir aimed at women of color in 2009, says it can take a while for a brand to properly release diverse shade ranges. Hue Noir’s 25-shade foundation lineup took twice as long as she expected to develop. “I spent a great deal of time gathering data, researching the colors and developing the formulas,” says Hayes. “We took thousands of skin tone readings to get a diverse pool of data. Then, we needed the time to develop out the product and the shade range.”
She continues, “The calculations and formulations were not straightforward. Sometimes, it took creative problem-solving and novel approaches to get the colors where we needed them to me. And, when we were done with that, we had to figure out whether our products could maintain their characteristics when it was time to scale them into production.”
Hayes developed her brand’s foundations more than a decade ago. The beauty industry has changed substantially since then. Makeup artist AJ Crimson, founder of an eponymous cosmetics brand, says, “In 2021, it’s not hard because most of the brands that you’re hearing about are just picking up the shades from development that smaller brands like myself have put the effort in and put the work in to get to those colors. All they’re doing is copying and engineering it backward…If their departments can actually color match, then it can work.”
Despite the advances, Hayes emphasizes it takes patience, feedback, adjustment and money to create an inclusive selection. She empathizes with Jaclyn Cosmetics’ situation. She says, “Time and financial constraints are legitimate issues most brands face.” Crimson recognizes cost might be a deterrent for certain brands, especially considering not every shade is going to sell equally well. He shares shades in the middle of AJ Crimson Beauty Beauty’s foundation range sell best. Crimson says, “Imagine if you have to create, at minimum, 3,000 units of every shade that you offer and you’re coming in and you’re trying to offer the same 40 shades as everybody else, that’s super costly, and you’re going to be sitting on thousands of shades on the lighter end and thousands of shades on the deeper ends.”
TikTok influencer Mikayla Nogueira brought up cost issues in defense of Jaclyn Cosmetics’ bronzer offering. “It’s important to understand budgeting when it comes to creating and developing products,” she wrote. “Jaclyn Cosmetics is a newer and smaller brand compared to brands that have fully established themselves. Smaller brands typically cannot afford to have massive shade ranges. As they grow and their budget grows, they extend the ranges. In the meantime, I think she did a great job of getting the best range she could with the budget she has to work with. In the future, she mentioned she will be extending the ranges.”
Nogueira’s defense was meet with fury. People underscored indie beauty brands have managed to put out inclusive lines. Beauty journalist Kirbie Johnson, co-host of the podcast Gloss Angeles, pointed out brands “can do small ranges with a great assortment of shades.” Apologizing for her defense of Jaclyn Cosmetics, Nogueira recognized that point. She wrote, “I also thought about the new [Anastasia Beverly Hills] cream bronzer line which has only two additional shades but even still the shade lineup is far more inclusive overall.”
“If you’re going to sell a diverse product or sell a product as diverse, you have to put the time into understanding each person that you are looking to speak to.”
Nowhere near as sizable as Fenty Beauty’s 50-shade foundation spread, AJ Crimson Beauty’s foundation range has 12 shades, but Crimson says a brand can “get it done” with an offering like his as long as there’s consumer education involved “on what their needs are and what they should be doing or how to properly apply their makeup.”
If Jaclyn Hill widens its Sun Kissed Cream Bronzer range as planned, it has to be cautious doing so. Hibbert says, “To expand their offering after the release feels very disingenuous—almost like an afterthought. It is not a good strategy to play the wait-and-see game with consumers who have a $1.4 trillion dollar buying power. While they wait, consumers are spending their dollars elsewhere.” The Selig Center for Economic Growth estimates Black buying power in the United States at $1.4 trillion in 2019.
Hibbert and Crimson stress brands have to be purposeful in their efforts to be inclusive. Crimson says, “What you can’t do is create this idea and this false identity of inclusion, which I’ve seen multiple times over the last six or seven years, where we’re just going to put this dark skin and woman’s face up here, and we’re going to say that we’re for everybody, but, then, the color stops at my skin tone.” He continues, “If you’re going to sell a diverse product or sell a product as diverse, you have to put the time into understanding each person that you are looking to speak to. And that goes beyond just putting that type of person in your visuals. The product has to work authentically for that person that you want to speak to or don’t show it on that individual.”
It’s not just shade inclusivity that’s critical. Hibbért explains people of color in the C-suite and actively involved in shaping products are musts. “If the team is not diverse, you are bound to have blind spots in both product development and the marketing of those products,” she says. She advises founders to “build a brand with representation that reflects the consumer base and that includes the intentional hiring of women of color within the organization—or higher a consultant to play a key role with the brand.”
She continues, “It starts from the top down, it not only has to be a directive from leadership but diversity and inclusion must be intrinsically a part of the fabric of the brand. Otherwise, these controversies will persist. Inclusive leadership is vital and organizational education around diversity and inclusion should be ongoing, this is the only way to be a change-maker in the business of beauty.”
- Jaclyn Cosmetics, the brand from influencer Jaclyn Hill, has a history of problematic product launches. It started out two years ago with lipsticks that were slammed for being hairy and lumpy. With the recent launch of its limited-edition Haute Tropics collection, consumers are criticizing its Sun Kissed Cream Bronzer range for being too narrow.
- Makeup artist and strategic brand consultant Melissa Hibbért emphasizes brands today have to think beyond foundation when it comes to offering diverse shade ranges. She says, "The key to offering these diverse products is to ensure they not only have range, but, also, when it comes to deeper skin tones, the products have enough pigment and the right texture."
- Cost can be an issue for indie beauty brands trying to develop products with broad shade ranges, but they “can do small ranges with a great assortment of shades," as beauty journalist Kirbie Johnson points out.
- Paula Hayes, cosmetic chemist and founder of the makeup brand Hue Noir, notes it can take longer for brands to get a diverse shade range right. She says, “I spent a great deal of time gathering data, researching the colors and developing the formulas."
- Hibbert stresses people of color have to be involved in the process of making products to ensure they're inclusive. She says, "If the team is not diverse, you are bound to have blind spots in both product development and the marketing."