Spreading Clean Beauty

Illuminate not lighten: Inclusive beauty quantified with a chromameter

According to the recent Mintel Thailand Consumer Report, 44% of Thai consumers are looking for products that address skin dullness. Consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and look for products with greater emphasis on skin health and luminosity, as opposed to superficial claims about ‘lightening’ or ‘whitening’. They expect these claims to be supported by substantive evidence, such as chromameter readings.

Currently, the industry is observing a significant shift in the Asian market. Although the trend for fairer complexions has a long history in Asia, many highlight that this tendency relates to the dominance of the European beauty market. Previously, the cosmetics industry has failed to produce inclusive campaigns, prompting many Asian women to reach for products with ‘lightening’ or ‘whitening’ claims to create a complexion more akin to their Caucasian counterparts. 

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However, these attitudes are shifting. Instead of looking for whitening products, Asian women are turning to products that support skin health, radiance, and evenness in tone. With growing concern around environmental stress caused by pollution or sun damage, more consumers are looking for products that nourish and protect. For instance, the same Mintel report showed that 46% of Thai consumers think that sun exposure is the most important factor in determining the appearance of facial skin.

It’s clear that the industry needs to move with the times. Here, we discuss redefining whitening or lightening, to shift focus to luminosity and the management of hyperpigmentation.

Combating colorism

Of course, Asia is a crucial market for the beauty industry, with tremendous buying power. However, this market is undergoing a substantial cultural shift. In contrast to the historic popularity of whitening products, now, Asian women are embracing their skin. Inclusivity has radically changed the conversation, with social media movements like #UnfairAndLovely looking to combat ‘colorism’ in South Asia. This movement is gaining significant traction, with YouTube personalities like 18-year-old Aranya Johar leading the resistance against colorism. To date, her ‘Brown Girl’s Guide to Beauty’ has garnered over 2.9 million views.

This movement is reflected in consumer purchasing patterns and industry approaches. From Jan 2014 to Sept 2018, the claims ‘whitening’ and ‘fair skin’ saw a significant dip in usage within facial skin care product launches (What’s next for skin whitening in Asia, Mintel, 2018) . However, other claims made in this time frame, such as ‘brightening’, ‘radiance’, the improvement of ‘dull skin’, ‘even complexion’, and ‘glow’ have stayed consistent or shown a slight increase. Subsequently, cosmetics companies need to respond to consumer’s shifting priorities and in a sense, redefine lightening. We’ll elaborate on this concept below.

Pigmentation and the assessment of skin health

In fact, pigmentation and skin color can play an important role in assessing dermal health, and thus, responding to consumer’s growing concerns. For example, hyperpigmentation is often a sign of sun damage or inflammation. To introduce this notion, we’ll begin with some foundational concepts. 

The main source of color in human skin derives from the presence of melanin-bearing organelles, or melanosomes, in the epidermis. Many people are aware of the role melanin plays in skin tone and tanning; to explain the process more technically, tanning occurs when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays. Melanosomes synthesized by melanocytes are acquired by keratinocytes, which compose the skin’s most significant cell type. These melanosomes are then transported within the keratinocytes to the epidermal surface. 

These melanin-bearing cells, and the pigmentation they produce, are a useful arbiter for assessing cutaneous phenotype, that is, how the environment impacts someone’s skin health. Melanin and the evenness of skin pigmentation can indicate circulation health, skin resilience, susceptibility to photoaging, and risk of skin cancer. A manifestation of such inconsistencies in the skin’s pigmentation is blemishes like age spots. These marks are linked to the overproduction or accumulation of melanin, creating dull, contrasting patches on the skin.

Therefore, luminous skin is a key arbiter of skin health. However, often, the evaluation of skin tone and luminosity is often subjective; but, with colorimetric devices like a chromameter, we can compute skin luminosity. With this quantifiable information, dermatologists can measure the skin’s response to a product.

Rehashing the lightening market

As melanin plays an important role in even skin pigmentation and luminosity – and therefore overall dermal health – this has an important relationship to consumers’ shifting priorities. Although discussions of pigmentation may hark back to claims made by lightening products, the beauty industry needs to shift the conversation away from colorism and into a more contemporary moment, emphasizing evenness and luminosity. The industry has to educate consumers about the benefits of products that support long-term, biologically-driven skin health and protection, as opposed to instant whitening results.

For instance, in Asia, products designed to give skin an instantly whitened finish are fairly common. However, as we’ve stressed, the conversation, and indeed consumer priorities, are changing. Consumers want healthy, luminous skin. In South Korea, tone-up cream was introduced to offer both instant luminosity and long-term efficacy, which is supported by well-established or well-known ingredients such as niacinamide or vitamin C. These products prioritize a biological over a cosmetic approach, promoting long-term luminosity as opposed to a makeup-like instant whitening effect.  

As such, the wider industry should take inspiration from K-beauty trends to create hybrid products that connect even pigmentation and melanin health with skin nourishment and protection. Products should support luminosity from within, acting on skin biology to create glow.

The role of the chromameter in measuring skin health

Skin luminosity is determined by internal and external factors. Natural melanin levels, age, and genetic makeup will impact radiance, while cosmetics, pollution, and diet can affect the skin’s luminosity. Therefore, these hybrid products introduced above need to support long term skin renewal through hydration and nourishment. Ultimately, well-hydrated, well-exfoliated skin is key to enhanced luminosity. 

Whereas previously the measurement of skin luminosity has been superficial or subjective, there is scope to quantify the efficacy of various actives using scientific tools. For instance, the chromameter, mentioned earlier, has been widely used in the numerous dermatological and medical contexts. For instance, a recent study used the chromameter to measure the blanching effect of topical corticosteroids, or steroid creams, on the skin. By measuring L* (luminance) and a* (color hues ranging from green to red) this group of dermatologists could rank the steroid creams in order of potency far more accurately than a simple visual grading. 

Using tools like the chromameter, the industry can measure the efficacy of hydrating, exfoliating, and pigment-evening actives in a meaningful way, accurately assessing how they promote skin health and boost luminosity. From here, they can deliver on the newly discerning consumer’s expectations.

Light, luminous and scientifically proven

Asia is a crucial market for the beauty industry. Attitudes in this key market are changing; instead of looking for ‘colorist’ whitening or lightening products, Asian women want products that protect their skin’s natural luminosity, evenness, and support dermal health. However, pigmentation plays an important role in skin health. Thus, the cosmetic industry needs to take this scientific reality on board to create hybrid products that even skin tone and boost radiance. The efficacy of said actives, or combinations of actives, can be measured using tools like the chromameter.

At Provital, we’ve taken these facts on board with the development of our active DARKOUT™. This ingredient decreases melanin synthesis by reducing tyrosinase activity while inhibiting the expression of tyrosinase itself. In addition, it is an especially potent active for anti-photoaging products due to its antioxidant activity and collagen-boosting properties. The active is also enhanced by the African botanical Hypoxis rooperi, which has numerous soothing and skin-tone unifying properties. Check out our catalog to learn more about this innovative active.

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