Unless you’ve been quarantining with no access to wifi, you’ll have learned that Fenty Skin has arrived, to much critical acclaim. Much more than a celebrity brand, Fenty Skin is gender-inclusive, clean, cruelty-free, vegan, environmentally friendly, and driven by a message that celebrates diversity, authenticity and heritage. If the success of Fenty Beauty is anything to go by, the rest of the skincare industry should be very worried indeed.
Rihanna entered the beauty industry with Fenty Beauty back in 2017, becoming an instant global success thanks to its brilliantly marketed 40-shade foundation range and inclusive messaging. “Fenty Beauty’s tagline, ‘Beauty for All’, is a strong social statement that’s underpinned by product innovation,” Victoria Buchanan, senior future analyst at strategic foresight consultancy, The Future Laboratory, tells Vogue. “Launching with a full foundation range catering to all skin tones is testament to this.”
Reportedly racking up $100m in its first month of sales, competitors, who had previously overlooked an entire demographic of women with darker skin tones, quickly and mostly unsuccessfully scrambled to create the broadest foundation shade ranges possible, or alternatively rushed to point out their existing darker tones (only to highlight that they had been insufficiently marketed).
With that, the ‘Fenty effect’ was born. Today, Fenty Beauty is worth $600m, was heralded as one of the 25 best inventions of 2017 by Time magazine, and also won an award for Services to Diversity at the 2018 Vogue Beauty Awards. Will Fenty Skin disrupt the skincare industry in the same way?
The genius behind Fenty Skin is that it speaks to the individual, no matter your gender or skin tone, your religious beliefs or sexual preference and does so in a non-prescriptive way, all the while harnessing the power of a celebrity who’s known for her alternative take on beauty and unapologetic attitude to life.
The brand launched with three multitasking two-in-ones: a make-up-removing cleanser, toning serum, and a moisturiser-sunscreen that uses clean, vegan and cruelty-free ingredients including Barbados cherry and baobab, which nod to the singer’s Barbadian heritage. “It taps into some of the more fun skincare trends we’ve seen coming out of Korea and plays into the trend for clean ingredients,” says Buchanan.
It was this sense of carefree ease that was integral to Rihanna when formulating the products, having been overwhelmed by the various options available when she was growing up (with one in particular discolouring her skin). “Fenty Skin is everything I wish I had back then,” Rihanna says in an official press release. “I wanted it to feel approachable, easy, and to take the pressure off choosing a routine, so I created one for everyone.”
One of the key factors in Fenty Skin’s success is its ability to navigate inclusivity through a holistic, authentic and non-performative manner, both in terms of its products and campaign messaging—unprecedented for what will surely become a major skincare brand.
For example, the moisturiser-SPF—it’s a perfect two-in-one way of encouraging people of all skin tones to include sunscreen in their daily routines. Growing up, the importance of wearing SPF was never really pressed upon me, and I don’t have any memories of seeing people like me in global campaigns that motivated me to do so. This might have something to do with the misconception that Black people never get sunburned. Of course we do, and it can be painful. Furthermore, when darker skin tones are exposed to too much sunlight, it becomes sensitive to hyperpigmentation and signs of ageing.
Black people have long since been left out of the skincare conversation. If something is not designed for you, you won’t likely be attracted to purchase it. But when you see a global skincare campaign featuring a plethora of skin tones, represented by the likes of hijab-wearing model Halima Aden or alternative beauty icon Jazzelle Zanaughtti (@uglyworldwide on Instagram), it’s undoubtedly going to appeal. “As a Black woman, brands like Fenty Skin speak to me on a more meaningful level than a generic skincare brand,” says HR executive Camille Wilson. “Finally, I feel seen.”
Another key factor is that the brand is also gender-inclusive. It’s not that common to see a skincare brand featuring male, female and non-binary ambassadors. And yet, here you have Zanaughtti, who identifies as non-binary, and rapper Lil Nas X, who identifies as queer. But this isn’t tokenism — far from it. All of these individuals represent an unbridled authenticity and unabashed self-love.
Clean skin, clean planet
“At a time when there are so many beauty brands on the market, it’s important to see representation for all,” gender non-conforming skinfluencer Zain Shah tells Vogue. “Queer people who challenge gender stereotypes are not given enough exposure. [So] I really do care how the products are marketed.”
This is something that resonates with professional athlete Diogo Antunes. “[Some] heterosexual men have this phobia of having their masculinity challenged, but it’s quite refreshing to see people [like Lil Nas X] in campaigns like this. Grooming is a big part of the wellness boom for men, so this will do leaps to change perceptions.”
Where Fenty Skin also shines is in its eco-conscious approach to both product and packaging. Not only does it care for your skin, it also cares for the planet. “I wanted the packaging to be beautiful, but also functional with an Earth-conscious approach,” Rihanna says on the Fenty Skin website. “We eliminated boxes where we could, we have refill systems, and we use recycled materials where possible. Nobody is perfect, but I believe we can try our best to do right and we’ll keep evolving as we go.”
Of course, none of this is new. Clean, cruelty-free and environmentally friendly skincare brands existed before, so did brands that targeted men, as did those that catered to darker skin tones. But no brand has included all of these groups in such an authentic way so that everybody feels seen, no matter who they are. “[Fenty Skin] is a cultural force,” says Buchanan. “It encapsulates an individual attitude and authenticity that leverages Rihanna’s star power as well as micro-communities on social media.”
Once again, Rihanna has redefined the rules and shaken up an industry that has previously felt exclusive. On a personal note, what excites me about Fenty Skin is not just the products, but also the movement it has created. There is so much value in visibility. To know that I am spending my hard-earned money on a brand I truly believe in and on products that are making a difference to my Black skin is more than most of us could ask for.