The New Face of Beauty: Embracing LGBTQ+ Inclusivity
Look at any early beauty advertisements from the 20th century, and you'll likely see a white housewife extolling the virtues of some revolutionary new blush or life-changing lipstick. However, what you're far less likely to encounter is representation outside this population—until recently, that is.
Makeup and other beauty trends were the exclusive reserves of women and theatrical male musicians for far too long. Fortunately, today's beauty industry is starting to catch up to the needs of diverse populations, including members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and others (LGBTQ+) community.
Much of this transformation is thanks to trailblazing beauty influencers, including millennials and Gen Z activists who have little time for an industry that lacks inclusivity. Over the past decade, beauty brands have begun to pick up on this shift, creating beauty campaigns showcasing people and products that connect with a wider audience. Likewise, salons and beauty professionals have also shifted toward welcoming a more diverse clientele—and with that, have opened the door to a more inclusive overall industry.
How LGBTQ+ Representation Is Redefining Beauty Norms
Parts of the beauty industry have emerged as a leader in embracing inclusivity and creating a space where anyone and everyone can feel seen. Independent beauty brands have especially quickened the pace to create products and ad campaigns that bring more individuals into the fold than ever before.
Even though the definition of beauty has come a long way, there's still more work to be done. For much of its history, the beauty industry largely portrayed unrealistic beauty standards that served only a small fraction of the population. Now, many industry leaders realize that every person deserves to feel represented by and reflected in beauty brands and trends—regardless of their age, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, or size.
Whether you're a beauty professional or beauty brand enthusiast, this guide provides actionable information on how the beauty industry can keep providing support to the LGBTQ+ community.
6 Ways Beauty Businesses Can Support Inclusivity
Fortunately, the beauty industry can become even more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community by making professionals and consumers alike feel represented, welcomed, and supported. Below, we identify six ways the industry can take a stand and make a difference.
1. Represent LGBTQ+ Communities in Marketing Campaigns
As you consider your marketing campaigns, step outside the normal casting call requirements, and look for models, brand ambassadors, and real-life product users—not just Hollywood LGBTQ+ stars—who look like more of your clients. And make sure representation extends behind the lens as well. LGBTQ+ designers, writers, marketers, and photographers (among many others) can bring valuable perspectives to every aspect of your marketing.
Ensuring representation in marketing may be more than just doing the right thing: It may be one of the most powerful ways of resonating with potential customers. For instance, according to an Ipsos beauty survey, 40% of respondents said "gender" when asked to fill in the blank to this statement: "I feel beautiful when the people with ______ like me are portrayed in a positive way in advertising and media."
2. Break Down Gender Norms
Despite all the progress the beauty industry has made, walk down any body care aisle of your local big-box store, and you'll see products designed according to traditional gender norms. Pink, flowery packaging for women's products and dark, minimalist designs for men's products reinforce the notion that people should be defined (and separated) by their perceived femininity or masculinity.
It's time to break down the stereotypes and sexualization apparent in so many beauty products by creating packaging and marketing materials with a more gender-neutral slant. If you want to appeal to a wider audience, avoid putting your customers in a predetermined box.
3. Pursue Diversity Within LGBTQ+
Although companies embracing and supporting LGBTQ+ customers, clients, and employees are taking steps to be more inclusive, it's crucial to pursue diversity within the LGBTQ+ community.
Hiring and working with BIPOC individuals and other underrepresented groups in the community not only broadens your company's reach and client base but also helps even more people feel acknowledged by the beauty industry. For example, one group often left out is gay women, who are generally unfairly stereotyped as not interested in beauty products. Including lesbians in the beauty conversation will push the needle in the right direction.
Forward-thinking brands can showcase intersectional representation in their marketing. As an example, in 2020, Dove developed a Pride campaign called "Nothing More Beautiful" that highlights Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) LGBTQ+ activists. The film does a masterful job of demonstrating the role of beauty in empowering and celebrating this community.
4. Listen to Clients' Needs
While taking a pro-LGBTQ+ stance, beauty companies can also provide specialized products and services that meet the specific needs of all their potential customers.
For instance, transgender women and feminine-presenting men who want to prepare their faces for makeup find limited product selection. In addition to providing makeup that works well with existing facial hair, makeup brands can work with transgender ambassadors who provide specialized makeup tutorials.
Or, if you work in a spa or salon that regularly provides cosmetology and skin care services, consider offering treatments that can help alleviate some of the dermatologic conditions that transgender individuals face.
5. Address Barriers to Self-Expression
Big brands in the beauty industry hold sway regarding public opinion, discriminatory practices, and even the shaping of regulations and laws. By uniting behind the LGBTQ+ community as allies, brands can use their power and influence to remove self-expression barriers and help ensure LGBTQ+ individuals can follow the beauty protocols that help them feel most like themselves.
Consider making it part of your company's mission to advocate for continued change—including social acceptance, cultural inclusivity, and equality under the law—and support the LGBTQ+ community's freedom of expression. Providing education and mentorship opportunities to staff and the surrounding community positions your brand as an inclusivity leader that truly cares.
6. Go Beyond Pride
While beauty companies are often excited to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month, true inclusivity goes well beyond short-term celebrations and rainbow-adorned product placements. The serious issues LGBTQ+ people face—like hate crimes, persecution, and discrimination—deserve more consideration than many brands are willing to put in.
By supporting LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, speaking out against harmful legislation, and taking a stand 365 days a year (in addition to during Pride events), you can cement your brand as a true ally.
Importance of Creating Inclusive Work Environments
With 75% of LGBTQ+ employees experiencing negative work interactions related to their identity, creating safe, inclusive work environments means going above and beyond what it takes to comply with legal requirements.
It's not enough to have a no-tolerance policy for gender and sex discrimination: beauty companies must create workplaces that ensure LGBTQ+ employees feel safe and valued. Here are a few ideas for creating inclusive work environments.
Provide Training for Employees
If employees haven't worked or interacted with LGBTQ+ individuals, there's a higher likelihood of unintentionally saying the wrong thing or offending coworkers. By attending inclusivity training, staff can learn how to create a welcoming environment. Some of the topics commonly covered in LGBTQ+ inclusivity training include:
Make Restrooms Non-Gender-Specific
Rather than assigning specific genders to bathrooms, opt instead to make them open to everyone, regardless of their gender identity. In addition to helping prevent the formation of lines (if you can only use one bathroom, you have fewer options), gender-neutral bathrooms signal to staff that you want them to feel comfortable at their workplace.
Use Gender-Neutral Language
When reviewing company policies and HR manuals, look for any outdated gender-specific language. Many of these documents default to using "he" or "she" to speak about the proverbial employee. However, not everyone identifies within this gender binary. They/them is a common option that provides a more inclusive tone for everyone.
You can also take it one step further and request that everyone add their preferred pronouns to their company email signatures, name tags, and other public-facing materials. This self-identification leads to fewer assumptions and helps get everyone in the habit of stating their pronouns.
Commit to Diverse Hiring Practices
After conducting a diversity hiring audit on your current staff, consider how you want to improve diversity moving forward. Many companies decide to focus on one metric for improvement, such as sourcing more LGBTQ+ candidates. If you don't know where to start, consult an LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce or similar organization to connect you with qualified beauty professionals seeking employment.
Create LGBTQ+-Inclusive Policies
As you develop and revise company policies and practices, create LGBTQ+-specific inclusions, such as inclusive health insurance that covers gender reassignment surgeries and equal benefits for same-sex partners. Also, look at your parental leave and adoption policies to ensure they are inclusive of all types of families.
Additionally, now's the time to make sure sexual orientation and gender identity are included in your written anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
How to Create Inclusive Environments for LGBTQ+ Clients
Given that not all beauty businesses are LGBTQ+ welcoming, clients can understandably feel hesitant to try out a new salon if they don't know where it stands on inclusivity practices. If you own or work for a beauty business or brand, follow these steps to ensure LGBTQ+ clients know you're there to help them achieve their unique beauty goals.
Listen to Your Clients
Some of your most valuable inclusivity insights will come from the clients themselves. First, listen to how your clients describe their identity, gender, and relationships. This type of compassionate, active listening will help you avoid making inaccurate assumptions. However, keep in mind that some of your LGBTQ+ clients may refer to themselves using traditionally derogatory words—which doesn't make it okay for you to use the terminology.
Some beauty professionals may feel nervous working with LGBTQ+ clients simply because they haven't learned about inclusive terminology and sensitivities that help clients feel comfortable and respected. So, in addition to working with an inclusivity trainer, take the time to educate yourself on inclusive and gender-neutral language.
For example, rather than addressing a new client as "Mr." or "Mrs." along with their last name, call them by their first name until you know their preferred pronouns. Use "partner" instead of "boyfriend/girlfriend" and learn which offensive terms to avoid—like "homosexual" (use "gay" or "lesbian" instead).
Ditch Gendered Pricing
Hair salons and barbershops often display separate prices for men’s and women’s haircuts, but this pricing structure leaves out those who identify as non-binary and can be awkward for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Instead, consider basing your hair cut prices on length, style, structure, or other non-gender-associated aspects of the cut.
Gendered pricing unfairly charges women more for cuts, even if they are looking for a traditionally masculine style. It also puts LGBTQ+ individuals in uncomfortable positions having to answer invasive questions about their gender just so they can be charged correctly. Offering gender-neutral hair consultations and prices that focus solely on the hair—not the gender of the person “wearing” it—puts the emphasis where it belongs.
Review Existing Forms
If you use an intake form for new clients, carefully read it over to make certain the language used throughout is inclusive. Chances are if you pulled a generic form off the internet, it provides binary gender options or other outdated materials. And if you're short on space, rather than listing out every option, provide a box that clients can fill out with their personal preferences. You can also include a question on preferred pronouns.
Check Marketing Materials
It's important that LGBTQ+ individuals see themselves in your marketing materials, as this can help them identify you as an inclusive beauty business. Carefully review your website, advertising, social media accounts, blog, and any printed materials to ensure you represent a spectrum of genders, ethnicities, and races.
Participate in Local Pride Events
Many local Pride events allow local businesses to get involved, either by sponsoring a parade float or setting up an informational table. You could even offer free beauty tutorials or makeovers. If there's a Pride event in your city, reach out to the organizers and learn how you can be a part of it. Your participation will signal to current and future clients alike that you strive to be inclusive.
Add Easily Identifiable Inclusivity Markers
Within the LGBTQ+ world, rainbows demonstrate inclusivity. While less well known, there is also a transgender flag consisting of five horizontal stripes in light blue, light pink, and white. By adding these to your storefront, website, and social media accounts, prospective clients can easily identify you as an LGBTQ+ welcoming business.
Put Policies on Display
Your non-discrimination, equality, and diversity statements should be in an area where all staff and clients can see them, whether at your salon's reception desk or in the front window. You should also post it on the website and in your marketing materials. Stating that you are committed to providing equal services and care to everyone who walks through the door—regardless of age, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or religion—lets potential and current clients know exactly where you stand.
Top Beauty Companies for Inclusivity
If working for and supporting beauty brands that champion inclusivity is important to you, many companies have stepped up to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community by offering products and services that help LGBTQ+ individuals feel supported and welcomed. These are some of the top beauty companies that are championing inclusivity.
This progressive beauty brand works diligently to ensure every person, regardless of identity or expression, sees themselves in product campaigns and advertising materials. In addition to using inclusive marketing, Milk Makeup also created the Pride Pack, which includes an equality tattoo stamp and lip gloss with glitter. For Pride month, Milk donates 50% of the purchase price to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center.
We Are Fluide
With a mission of providing beauty products for all gender expressions and skin shades, We Are Fluide has committed to being an inclusive beauty brand. Aside from offering various Pride products, the company donates 5% of its profits each year to nonprofits and advocacy groups fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and equal access.
Known for its prolific shaving razors, Harry's is on a mission to ensure everyone gets the shaving products they need, regardless of gender expression. As part of Pride Month, the company created a campaign featuring Jonathan Van Ness, Dr. Ranj Singh, Joel Kim Booster, and others who identify as LGBTQ+. The group also created a Shave with Pride grooming set designed by Craig & Karl that features bold rainbow patterns, with 100% of profits donated to LGBTQ+ causes.
Rated as one of the best places to work for LGBTQ Equality and given a 100% on the corporate equality index by the HRC, Sephora is a great option for makeup enthusiasts seeking an inclusive place to work and shop. To support transgender customers, Sephora also created a series of Classes for Confidence called Bold Beauty for the Transgender Community. These online and in-person classes teach those who are transitioning how to apply their makeup expertly.
Created as a gender-free makeup brand, Jecca Blac started when founder Jessica Blacker heard from clients that they didn't feel seen or catered to by traditional beauty brands. Praised by LGBTQ+ communities and allies alike, Jecca Blac provides makeup lessons for trans women and specialized products that cater to their needs, such as beard blenders. The company also donates a portion of proceeds to LGBTQ+ nonprofits and advocacy groups fighting for equality.
As one of the first major beauty brands to take an inclusive stance in both their services and hiring practices, MAC Cosmetics continues to be a leader in the fight for more LGBTQ+-friendly beauty brands. Starting in the 1990s, MAC hired RuPaul as a face of a campaign—a bold move that prompted a backlash, but the company didn't back down. MAC Cosmetics also created the Viva Glam product line that donates 100% of the sales price to supporting equal rights for all. Since 1994, MAC has raised more than $500 million for the cause.
With a mission of empowering everyone with the confidence needed to express their true selves, Illamasqua takes an anti-conformist attitude at every step of the way. In addition to providing an inclusive workspace that welcomes individuals of all gender expressions, the company regularly highlights LGBTQ+ models. It offers makeup and other products to meet the needs of all colors and genders.
LGBTQ+-Owned Beauty Companies Leading the Way
Some of the best-loved brands in the beauty business today were founded by members of the LBGTQ+ community. Recognizing the need for products that serve all individuals, regardless of their gender identity, and understanding firsthand the struggle to feel included, these LGBTQ+ powerhouses changed the game.
Alder New York
Founded in 2016 as a woman- and queer-owned beauty brand, Alder New York focuses on providing personal care essentials comprised of vegan, high-performance formulas and clean products. The company also prides itself on creating products that work for every client, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or age.
Kiss My Face
Husbands Bob Macleod and Steve Byckiewicz founded Kiss My Face in the 1980s on their 200-acre farm in the heart of the Hudson River Valley. Kiss My Face has continued as an iconic brand for nearly four decades. While the company started out making large soap bars, it has diversified over the years. Kiss My Face now makes body wash, shampoo, sunscreen, lotion, facial care, toothpaste, and a whole line of products developed for children.
Founded by Gloria Noto, a queer-identifying woman, Noto Botanics prides itself on providing vegan, gender-fluid beauty products that work for every customer, including a giveback product known as Agender Oil. Noto Botanics sells cleansers, scrubs, serums, moisturizers, oils, and various types of makeup. A portion of all proceeds goes to support organizations such as the LGBTQ Youth Center and Planned Parenthood, and they've raised more than $25,000 to date.
Founded by three queer-identifying individuals—a makeup artist, wellness expert, and dermatologist—more than a decade ago, this clean cosmetics brand seeks to meet the needs of everyone who encounters their products. Plant-based and cruelty-free, some of the products you can find from W3ll People include skincare, makeup, serums, and a wide variety of makeup brushes. A portion of each sale goes towards nonprofits and initiatives that empower LGBTQ+ communities.
Beauty Industry LGBTQ+ Resources
LGBTQ+ Beauty Icons Who Shaped the Industry
This roundup of iconic LGBTQ+ beauty mammoths, provided by Escentual, celebrates the critical work each has done to make the industry more inclusive—and beautiful.
The History of Glitter and Gay Culture
This insightful Byrdie article looks at how beauty products such as glitter, glitter body spray, and glitter makeup are a core part of expressing the joy and beauty of gay culture.
This popular transgender beauty and fashion blogger currently has more than 2.1 million followers and regularly shares her favorite beauty tips and product finds on Instagram.
If you're looking for inclusive makeup guides, check out Nikkie Tutorials. This popular transgender YouTuber currently has nearly 14 million subscribers and posts all kinds of vlogs about beauty and self-care.
Deon identifies as a Black beauty influencer, cosmetics pro, and personal care expert. You can find his regularly posted beauty tutorials for BIPOC individuals on Instagram and YouTube.
Self-styled as a "queer Jew fairy in stiletto nails," Matt Bernstein uses makeup to highlight the plight of LGBTQ communities and draw attention to ways of making the world more empathetic and inclusive. He has nearly 700,000 Instagram followers.
Advocating for makeup as a "one size fits all" art form, this Instagrammer has more than four million followers tuning into makeup tutorials. They also host a podcast and maintain channels on TikTok and Snapchat.
National LGBT Chamber of Commerce
If you're looking to find a certified LGBTQ+ beauty business, the NGLCC provides a list of members and affiliate chambers near you. The organization also hosts events to help prospective members learn how to be more inclusive and diversify their staff by connecting them with LGBTQ+ professionals looking for work.
What You Should Know: The EEOC and Protections for LGBTQ+ Workers
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lays out the laws that protect LGBTQ+ workers and shares what you can do if you've been discriminated against in your place of work.
Corporate Equality Index 2021
The Human Rights Campaign compiles this yearly benchmarking tool to help LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies learn about the most inclusive places to work and patronize. Professionals and clients alike can use it to inform their decision-making processes.
Strands for Trans
The trans community has struggled with gendered haircare services. This organization encourages and supports trans-friendly barbershops and hair salons with resources for beauty professionals and a map of trans-friendly shops and salons for the LGBTQ+ community.
This advocacy organization’s mission is to “empower hair stylists and barbers to give people haircuts that help them look the way they feel.” Dresscode Project helps to educate salons and barbershop on how to be safe spaces for LGBTQ+ clients and offers an online directory of gender-affirming shops and salons.