I teach a body toning class and a Tai Chi Chuan class in Brooklyn. Most of my students are women who are more than 40 years old, and most of them are white. One day, I took my shea butter to class. We had been talking about the various products we used on our faces. The ladies had declared flatly that the skin of older Black women was naturally beautiful, that it was not ravaged by time the way white skin was. “It has to do with that melanin you have in your skin,” one asserted. I’m no scientific expert on skin, but I found it hard to disagree, based simply on what I’ve seen. All the older Black women I know have naturally smooth, wrinkle-free skin. On the other hand, I see wrinkles on white women barely into their 50s and sometimes even on those in their 30s and 40s.
Still, Black women do need help with their skin, I assured my students. The dollar figures bear me out. Blacks spend more on personal care products that any other ethnic group in this country. So I told my students about my help: sweaty cardio exercise at least three times a week; drinking lots of water; thinking pleasant thoughts; cleansing my face with rose water (an ayurvedic practice); homemade oatmeal-and-honey facials; and shea butter. Most of them had heard of shea butter, of course. It’s in many of the products they use. Two of them were even familiar with 100 percent pure, unrefined shea butter. “It smells awful,” one said. “I know, but the smell fades away quickly,” I replied. That doesn’t stop me from mixing it with a few drops of my favorite essential oil when I use it as a body cream—not when I use it on my face, I added. I told them about all the traditional applications of 100 percent natural, unrefined shea butter. (I can’t speak for the refined product). Some of them tried it on their face and hands, and a few of them even asked me to buy some for them.
Black communities around the world have been making and using their own beauty and hair care products for millennia. (Remember “sweet” Vaseline and coconut oil?) But, as we point out in this month’s Industry Focus, it’s the household-name corporations that profit the most in the Black beauty and hair care market. That’s changing, Cheryl Wadlington writes. Today there are new, Black household names in the beauty and fashion markets, not to mention the African product, shea, that’s all the rage in the global cosmetics industry.
Each of the names on TNJ’s 2005 “25 Influential Black Women in Business” list represents an individual who brings her special beauty to the Black community and wider American society. Typically, this annual list comprises names that don’t necessarily roll off our tongues or conjure up limelight images. Influence often walks unseen and unheard, an understated revolution whose turbulence we feel only after it has passed. The women on the TNJ list influence not only their industries and professions, they also impact their civic communities. And each year, the privilege of recognizing them and being in their presence at our Awards Luncheon grows sweeter.
By Rosalind McLymont