Why Hong Kong’s beauty industry needs to be more inclusive of diversity

If your complexion is much fairer or darker than the average Hongkonger, specific make-up products will be hard to find. The cosmetics industry needs to step up its game in terms of diversity and inclusion

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 June, 2018, 9:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 7:21pm

In 2013, Christian Louboutin launched a collection of nude patent shoes that were available in five hues to accommodate the different shades of nude on women of various skin types. In 2017 it was expanded to seven shades. Here in Hong Kong those hues are more difficult to find, and it’s not just for shoes, either.

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“Stockings! Where are the nude stockings?” Asks Joanne Lam, a trainee lawyer whose tan speaks of weekend hikes and holidays by the pool. “And don’t get me started on nude underwear. It’d be nice to find something that is actually nude for me.”

But one can argue that what a beauty brand carries is determined by a city’s demographic, and its dominant population. In Hong Kong, that would be ethnically Chinese people, whose beauty ideals still adhere strongly to the notion that fairer skin is more beautiful.

Ryuko Lau, senior artist at MAC Cosmetics, explains that while MAC foundations have anywhere between nine and 53 shades, depending on the product, many of those are “‘in-between shades”, with minor differences meant for professional use.

“In Asian markets, we have selected the most common shades that would suit the majority of our customers,” Lau says.

This is why you’ll often find only part of a product’s range at any MAC store in Hong Kong. In fact, that is common practice for many brands, including those known for inclusive shade ranges such as Nars and Estee Lauder. Thankfully, we’re seeing the beginning of a shift towards greater inclusion.

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“When I first came to Hong Kong about two years ago, I wasn’t able to find a single thing that worked for me,” says Toni van der Berg, an English teacher from South Africa, who describes her skin tone as medium-dark. “Recently, I found a Revlon face-powder in my shade in Watsons! There’s definitely more of a market for fairer skin tones.”

Even some professionals agree there’s not enough shade inclusivity here.

“I think our beauty industry does not provide enough cosmetics for people with darker skin tones,” says Connie Chow, a local editorial and commercial make-up artist. “In my experience, there are only a few European and American brands that have darker colours in their foundations.”

Even so, others in the city believe where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“I think if you know where to look, you can find anything you want in Hong Kong,” says Irene Pyne, head writer at idNerd Studios.

Being quite fair herself, Pyne admits she rarely has trouble finding her shade in Hong Kong at both high-end and drug store levels.

However, any time you go into Sasa, Bonjour or Colormix, its clientele is mostly Hong Kong Chinese or mainland Chinese people, who tend to have an easier time finding something that works for them. But if van der Berg is right and drug stores are starting to stock more shades, perhaps an evolution in affordable make-up in Hong Kong is on its way.

Hopefully, as international brands take the lead, Asian brands in Hong Kong’s beauty industry will continue to become more shade-inclusive, too. In fact, both Dior and CoverGirl announced last month they’re releasing lines of foundation that carry 40 shades each. While it’s good to see both high-end and chemist brands take that leap, we’ll still have to wait and see how many of those 40 shades will actually reach Hong Kong.

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Yes, we know make-up is just make-up. It’s not as important as the environment or human rights. However this is about Hong Kong’s stance in recognising its own diversity, and its responsibility to be less discriminatory towards minorities.

  Hong Kong is home to a range of ethnicities. Any “World City” worthy of its title should take into account all its people, and not just the majority.  

Many people who are not ethnically Chinese were born and raised here. Shouldn’t they be able to just go out and buy the make-up or fashion that suits their colour just as easily as a fair-skinned ethnically Chinese person? Things can be bought online, but why can’t everyone swatch and test until they find what works best for them if that is what they like to do?

Also, as Hong Kong’s culture shifts towards a more active lifestyle, many are spending more time outdoors. Yet, it’s not uncommon for those with a more tanned complexion to hear at a make-up counter: “This product will lighten up your face and make you seem less dark.” It’s as if being tanned is undesirable.

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It’s time we accepted that there is more than one way to be beautiful in Hong Kong, and that it may include celebrating our diversity. When we are more inclusive, we’re able to recognise more kinds of beauty.

Put very simply, by Pyne, “it’s 2018. We ain’t got time for exclusion.”