When Ozohu Adoh was suffering from a dry and uneven skin tone, she searched endlessly for a product that would assuage her skin. Her search was fruitless, as were her multiple misdiagnoses, so Adoh decided to take matters into her own hands. She created the first-ever luxury skincare brand for women of color: Epara.
Epara founder Ozohu Adoh. Image courtesy of Epara.
The lack of products designed for women of color, let alone by women of color, is nothing new to the skincare industry. In 1982, Alice Walker coined the term “colorism” to define “the prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” That is to say, colorism is the preference for a person with a lighter skin tone than one with darker skin. In the words of Lupita Nyongo’o, colorism is the “daughter of racism.”
One of the most apparent archetypes of colorism in our society can be found in the skincare industry. It works passively in the absence of products for people of color, and actively in the promotion of skin-lightening products containing hazardous chemicals like mercury and hydroquinone. This promotes the notion that white skin, or at-least ‘white-er’ skin, is more beautiful than dark skin. This notion directly contributes to racist perceptions surrounding beauty, value, and worth. Needless to say, brands like Epara are brands we root for.
Epara is composed of luxury products designed by a woman of color, for women of color. With all-natural, non-toxic ingredients gathered directly from African communities, the skincare line is filled with sustainable intentions to nourish and protect black skin in more ways than one.
Epara Hydrating Serum. Image courtesy of Epara.
When Adoh decided to create her own product, she turned to her African ancestry for inspiration:
“I honed into African botanicals as a woman of African descent. I recalled what our forebears always said about these plants, oils, and butters.”
Adoh investigated the scientific underpinnings of the African ingredients such as Neroli oil from Egypt, Shea Butter from Ghana, and Frankincense oil from the Boswellia Carterii tree found in North-East Africa. These euphonious raw ingredients fuse with Adoh’s passion to remedy skin concerns specific to women of color, such as hyperpigmentation and drying.
The name “Epara” arises from Adoh’s vision to create a brand that “evokes the feeling or experience of being wrapped in luxury.” In the Nigerian dialect of Ebira, Epara means “to cocoon” oneself; an invitation to wrap oneself in the honest ingredients of Adoh’s products.
The Epara skincare line is not only to the brim with organic and lush products, but also created with conscious intention. The Intense Hydrating Mask is a creamy blend of natural oils and licorice root extract to combat hyperpigmentation and deeply nourish the skin. Accompanied by the refreshing Facial Moisturizer’s botanical brighteners, dry skin doesn’t stand a chance.
Epara Intense Hydrating Mask. Image courtesy of Epara.
All of the raw ingredients are sourced ethically, and this mindful purchasing directly benefits the communities that they are harvested from. Sourcing her ingredients honorably and “in a sustainable manner” has always been a priority for Adoh:
“As a consumer of luxury beauty, I chose to present to the market something I would be proud to use myself. We work with sources who purchase directly from co-ops and farmers. Since most of our ingredients are from Africa, the key makers are usually women and this forms a source of sustainable income for their needs.”
Her relationship to these communities continues to strengthen as Epara grows. For the past few years she has used vetted suppliers, but is now beginning to work directly with manufacturers in Nigeria for some new products to be released later this year.
Building the brand has certainly been no simple feat. Adoh was shocked by “how serious brands never quite considered the potential buying power of women of color.” When she did launch her brand it was considered “very interesting”, as opposed to essential, and she still struggles to attract venture capital investors. Nevertheless, Adoh persists: “This certainly has not stopped me from forging ahead.”
Epara luxury skincare range. Image courtesy of Epara.
Adoh is right, the market is there. African-Americans spent an average of $465 million on skincare in 2017; and according to a Nielsen report, “they buy more hand lotion, body lotion and all-purpose skin creams than the general population: 54 percent to 40 percent, respectively.”
Regardless, women of color are not largely considered in research, product development, or advertising of skincare products while eurocentric figures continue to dominate the scene.
The absence of research is apparent in the lack of product development, or at least safe products, for women of color. Makeup brands like Tarte and It have faced social reckoning for their lack of foundation swatches for women of color, and about one in twelve products marketed towards women of color are highly hazardous. Although the percentage of models of color on the runway are up to 32.5%, many models of color have spoken out about having to bring their own makeup and hair supplies; as well as artists having no idea how to work with black skin or hair.
If we have the means to shop ethically, we need to invest in brands like Epara. Brands that act with awareness, do the research, and exemplify authentic representation. Not only do these investments support ethically sourced products, local communities, and human rights; but also elevate and encourage creators like Adoh who showcase the possibilities of mindful consumerism. Essentially: give a damn and give consciously.
Check out Epara’s full range on their website.
Written by Kate Liverman