Celebrating Black History Month: A discussion with Camille Smith on the Black experience and Black representation in skincare and beauty.

Camille Smith is a chemical engineer, activist, host of The Being Black Podcast, and acclaimed content creator. She also hosts an annual Gala, called the Engineering Gala, to provide Black undergraduate and graduate engineering students scholarships.








Reference Lab

FEB 4, 2022



01What does Black History Month mean to you?

“Black History in the simplest word is resilience. Black History Month in general has always been big in my household - Learning about Black people in history, like leaders, musicians, and artists. I wanted that to translate into my content, so February is the biggest month for me personally, because I’m consistently putting out content dedicated to the Black community. It’s a great time to bring awareness to Black brands, creators, and change makers.” 

02What inspired The Being Black Podcast?

“I started it around the time of the 2020 protests stemming from the unfortunate deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It initially started as an outlet for myself as a passion project, but as I started to become more intentional about it, I began having legitimate conversations in the Black community that a lot of people weren’t having at the time. Ultimately, it serves two purposes: One, to give Black people a safe space to talk about how being Black affects them and, two, to give non-Black people space to hear those things and, in turn, become better allies to the Black community.”

03What sparked your interest in the beauty and skincare industry?

“My interest in beauty and skincare started when I was younger because I had eczema since I was a baby. I was interested in why my skin did what it did and why other people’s skin didn’t do what mine did. My education and profession have helped inform the scientific side of those interests and it’s inspired my content to hopefully help people understand more things about skincare and make more informed decisions.”

04 What has your experience been in feeling represented in the skincare and beauty industries as a Black woman throughout your life?

“As a  little girl entering into the beauty industry, I didn’t feel represented at all. Everyone in middle school loves to test makeup out, but I could never find shades that matched me or they didn’t have the correct undertones. In general there wasn’t  a lot of thought given to Black women in the makeup industry. That extended to skincare too. The most common example I can think of is sunscreen - because almost all sunscreens growing up had whitecasts - I used to hate sunscreen growing up so much.”

“It was frustrating when you have such an interest in an area like beauty and skincare, but you don't see people who look like you… it’s very off putting and disheartening. In chemical engineering, I learned about formulations and as a content creator, I’m able to now be that representation and help show that this area may not have been created for us, but it is still ours. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done and having just one Black model for a brand is not okay. There needs to be consistent representation in skin tones, hair textures, etc. I do think overall we’ve made progress, but that doesn't mean we have to stop - we should keep going until everyone feels genuinely included in the space.”

05Can you think of any pivotal moments where you saw real progress or change in terms of Black representation in the skincare and beauty industries?

“When I was a kid, I walked into Sephora with my older sister who loves makeup and I saw a Black woman on a billboard next to the makeup for the first time. Even though that feels small, that was a big moment looking back. That’s really when makeup brands started releasing more than 4 shades for darker skinned people.”

“Recently, I also had the opportunity to be a part of Paula’s Choice 'On the Rise' program, in which the brand supports and works with 10 Black content creators during a year-long program. Seeing brands take that step to give exposure to Black content creators and to pay us for the content we’re creating is huge. I hope other brands begin to make programs like that for Black content creators and to pay us the same, because there’s a huge pay gap between Black content creators and non-Black content creators.

06Were you aware of the lack of Black representation in medical education and research growing up and how it impacts patient outcomes?

“Yes, I was only made aware because my dermatologist growing up, who is a white male and has a dual MD PhD, took the extra initiative during his PhD to learn more about how common skin conditions look on Black skin, which wasn’t required, but was an elective of some sort. So of course I benefited from that because he was able to diagnose my eczema very easily. In contrast, other doctors who hadn’t taken that extra initiative to study darker skin tones in school had thought it was something completely different. He took the extra initiative, but other people weren’t required to do that and weren’t able to diagnose me properly.

Read more here about Black representation in dermatology, skincare, and longevity.

07What advice would you give to skincare and beauty brands making an effort to ensure diversity & inclusion?

“I wish more brands would actually talk to Black people within their space and compensate them for their time and consultation. So often, organizations will tokenize Black people in a space without actually thinking to compensate them. This is a very important thing to invest in from a monetary standpoint and for inclusion in general.”

08Is there anything else you’d like our audience to know about the Black experience?

 

“Black people are not a monolith. A lot of the time, people will generalize and categorize us as a community because it’s easier. As a group we’re so diverse, but we have that shared experience of being Black. Acknowledging our diversity, and empowering us is so important. Encourage us and listen to us if we are saying that we’re being forgotten in certain areas. There's no amount of education on Black culture that will outdo a Black person’s experience.”