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5 Lit AF Beauty Brands To Add To Your Black History Month Shopping List

With a market so saturated and so many lists, here's a short one of tried-and-true standouts.

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I've been a fan of black-owned beauty brands since the days when Ebony Fashion Fair was the only cosmetics company that truly catered to us (shout-out to my Granny) and when shea butter concoctions were sold on fold-out tables or in narrow shops on the streets of Harlem (1990s B.G. or Before Gentrification). Although several of the major black beauty-product pioneers have either passed away (S.I.P) or sold their shares to larger corporations, there are hundreds of independent black-owned or black-founded beauty lines and brands on the market today.

I have a thing for trying new beauty products, especially cosmetics and haircare lines launched by black women. The larger the beauty supply store or product section, the wider the selection---and the more euphoric the feeling of buying something just to see if it's better than the last 10 products I bought last month. I'd always follow all the "top" or "best" beauty product lists and clutter my bathroom and bedroom with dozens of products I probably didn't need or didn't really like. The market is super-saturated to the point where I've had to force myself to purge cabinet-fulls of half-used jars and bottles and bring an accountability partner with me on shopping trips for grooming necessities.

If you find yourself pacing the aisles of your local beauty supply this month, or you've gotten tired of falling down the rabbit-hole of YouTube reviews and "best" lists, here are a select few of my fave black-owned beauty brands you might want to consider spending your hard-earned coins on for Black History Month:

True Hair Care: Moisture Rich

Image via True Hair Care

Launched by hair extension vet and serial entrepreneur Karen Mitchell, this line features a product collection with the central ingredient being moisture-inducing keratin. Mitchell has more than a decade of experience in the hair industry---both as a licensed cosmetologist and entrepreneur--- with an extension line worn by celebs including Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Winnie Harlow, and Lizzo, to name a few.

TV star Angela Simmons posted a video last year swooning about the True Hair Care detangling spray being a go-to product she uses to keep her hair in top shape under her weaves. My favorite is the Argan Oil Hair Mask, which has revived my tresses after years of color-abuse. I've used it while my TWA grows out after my 6th---yes 6th---big chop. My mom, who has a relaxed taper cut, and Granny (same) even use the products--having swiped them from my beauty cabinet, and I ain't even mad.

$22

The Shana Cole Collection

Image via The Shana Cole Collection

Jamaican-born and Bronx-bred Sushana Cole launched this line to provide a diversity of hues for black women in the U.S., Caribbean, and beyond. Getting the entrepreneurial bug as a child growing up in Kingston, Cole expanded her brand into a successful retail shop and used her products on the likes of celebrities including entertainment host Khadine "Miss Kitty" Hylton and dancehall artist Ce'cile.

What I love about this collection is that you can buy her beauty products---along with other beauty staples including lashes---via her company's app, a convenient and innovative way to purchase and keep up-to-date with new offerings. My fave--the Boss Chick Liquid Matte Lipstick--is smudge-proof and actually lives up to the brand's 15-hour wear time guarantee, lasting through a day of Sunday brunching and Monday lunching. I've even replaced the queen of reds, MAC's Ruby Woo, with this lipstick on several occasions. It goes on creamy but then dries matte but not crusty and it gives that precision hue to a pout that's sure to be noticed.

$18

BLK + GRN Marketplace

Image via BLK + GRN

OK, technically this isn't a product line but it's literally a modern mecca of black-owned product lines that include non-toxic and natural ingredients. Founded by Dr. Kristian Henderson, this marketplace features product lines made by artisans and carefully curated by black female health experts. You can shop by category and find goodies for your hair, nails, skin, and body that are plant-based and free of toxic additives. You can shop products formulated for children, and if you're a new mommy, there's something for you as well. Brands including Movita, founded by Tonya Lewis Lee---the wife of my favorite director, Spike--- and Kreyol Essence (a product fave that is great not only for your hair but for a few drops in a hot bath) founded by a proud Haitian woman named Yve-Car Momperousse.

The founder actually bootstrapped this platform on her own and has a vested interest in providing a responsible and vetted space for black female entrepreneurs to showcase and sell their green products. And she has receipts: She's worked as a health administrator and professor and her company runs with the adage, "We're Black, yes, but we live green." The company's Website goes beyond just selling products and invests in their customers' overall well-being, providing blog content on topics including how to "detox your skincare routine" and a podcast that includes interviews with beauty artisans.

$26

Walker & Co.

Image via The Form Collection

Tristan Walker, the mastermind behind this company, is an intriguingly smart innovator. I interviewed him in 2015 about his transition from working for tech powerhouse Foursquare to launching products that solved problems and "delivered the best product experience," and I've been following them ever since. I loved how invested, informed, and passionate he was about his vision and how that would manifest in the products he'd launch via Walker & Co. Many might be familiar with Bevel, a men's grooming system that combines products and tools that have been used by celebrities including Steve Harvey, Shaquille O'Neal, Nas, and T.D. Jakes.

But the company also has something for the ladies by way of The Form Collection, which includes serums, creams, conditioners, shampoos, a polisher, a pomade, and a gel. It even has a 3-in-1 leave-in lotion called the Multitask. The latter has a "coconut-derived silicon replacement," coconut, argan, avocado and grapeseed oils. Their products are also free of preservatives including alcohol, mineral oil, and parabens. The products have been used by stars including Yara Shahidi, and I like that the brand offers a 30-day, money-back trial.

If you like the products, you can also set up Auto-Ship and re-up. (So sis, you can forgo that umpteenth time of getting in the shower, ready to get your co-wash on, and forgetting you used the last dollop of conditioner a week ago.) The nozzle on the Clarify Detoxing Shampoo is a nice touch and saves me the added cost of something I've been doing for years: buying separate bottles to dispense my fave products in because I wanted to really get the product into the nooks and crannies.

$22

Mielle Organics

Image via Mielle Organics

This brand offers hair and skin products, but beyond that, I especially love the glow-up of its founder Monique Rodriguez. She was a registered nurse when she decided to step into the haircare game and, since 2015, her products have been available in more than 80 countries. Early enthusiasts included reality TV stars Rasheeda Frost, Draya, and Yandy Smith, and today, singer Sammie raves about it as a unisex product he's added to his regimen. The brand was inspired by Rodriguez's own journey to restore her natural hair after years of color and heat damage, and she used her background in science to experiment with formulas in order to come up with just the right mix.

Her brand is another I've followed since its inception---both from a business and product standpoint---and I fell in love with Mielle's Honey & Ginger Styling Gel which has helped ween me---somewhat---off of the usual brown or "green" (won't drop the names here, but you know what I'm talking about) gels. I'd gotten tired of mixing oil with the usuals that would dry out my 3c/4a curls. (I don't care how much they say those popularly-talked-about gels are non-flaking and moisturizing. I can never go without adding some sort of oil to those gels.) This alternative definitely fits the bill for days when I want to slick my thick curls up into a sleek ponytail or, when my hair is short, create waves for a short chic 'do.

$13

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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