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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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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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