For too long, the skin care industry has been tailored to a predominantly white demographic. Lack of representation in skin care is dangerous, leading to a lack of information about skin concerns and proper care. While the industry is moving forward, Black skin care professionals are advocates for equity.
For National Black Esthetician's Week, a celebration of Black skin care experts, EltaMD sat down with Maisha Pulliam. Pulliam is the owner of Skin by Maisha, a skin care studio in Oakland, California, an accomplished esthetician, a recently published author, and a transformational, accountability coach. She specializes in slowing the signs of aging, addressing skin concerns, and performing relaxing facials for everyone, ensuring women of all colors feel supported and beautiful.
With 21 years of experience as an esthetician, Pulliam has seen it all—every skin type, color, and concern. And she's handled it all with specialized facials, treatments, and product recommendations based on each client's needs.
However, in the early stages of her career, she didn't see the representation that Black women and all women of color deserve. As the owner of an inclusive skin care studio and coach for aspiring estheticians, Pulliam is the example she longed to see in the industry. She has paved the way for future estheticians of color and has been part of the change to spread awareness about the importance of Black skin care, including getting regular facials and spa treatments and wearing sunscreen every day.
In this interview, Pulliam shares her insights regarding representation of Black skin in the skin care industry, as well as the importance of sun safety in the Black community.
1. What Inspired You to Become an Esthetician?
I struggled with acne as a child, so I know personally how it can adversely affect one's self-esteem. Additionally, I know how embarrassing and frustrating troubled skin can be. I was determined to find a solution to my acne, and that quest inspired me to find solutions for others, as well. In short, I found my purpose through skin care.
2. What Is Your Background?
Prior to entering the skin care industry, I worked in corporate customer-related positions. I thrived in any role that involved interacting with people. I love faces and I've always enjoyed helping people, which is why I also had a business as a makeup artist. Still, I didn't enjoy doing makeup as much and while applying my client's makeup, I often gave advice on what I had learned about skin care through my own trial and error. I hadn't had any formal training and intuitively knew it was time to go that route. I was looking for my purpose—what I was put on this earth to do, and who I was put here to be. This was my segue into skin care.
I have been an esthetician for more than 21 years. When I entered the industry, I wanted to learn all I could about acne and discoloration, two of the most common skin ailments. I was on a mission to help everyone obtain clear, healthy skin. I particularly wanted to offer Black women an opportunity to experience spa services, proper skin care, and true self-care in a space that was built with them in mind. Today, that is still my mission. As a Black woman, I have far too often experienced bias in the wellness and self-care industry. Business owners and staff have made me feel unwelcome. So, my goal became to create an environment where all customers feel welcome.
3. What Is Your Professional Focus?
In my experience, having worked with many skin care companies and product lines, all products are not created equal. Most products are angled at a Caucasian customer base. It's important to me that the companies and product lines I work with are reputable, affordable, results-driven, and inclusive enough to address all skin types. It's also important to me that every skin care company I work with values me as a practitioner and provides genuine, intentional support, education, and transparency. Early on, I realized that success in my industry requires continued education—honing and maintaining skills and knowledge—as well as effective skin care products that deliver fast and lasting results.
As a skin care practitioner, I observed that my clients, particularly women, longed for a safe space to share their thoughts, struggles, challenges, dreams, and goals without feeling judged. I naturally have always offered this type of space for my clients. I found purpose not only in skin care but also in encouraging and inspiring women through their self-discovery, healing, and journey to become their best selves. I consider myself a transformational accountability coach. I've seen the results in my clients by offering women the support they need to make the changes they want to see. In my book, Skincare Always: Feel Beautiful in Your Skin, Starting Within, I state the simple truth that "beauty begins within." This is my mantra, and it's my mission to share it with everyone. I help women do the transformational inner work of self-love and self-acceptance that we all want and need.
Another passion of mine is training and coaching estheticians. I want to offer Black estheticians what I didn't have: someone to model and learn from, so they can gain confidence and develop the skills. It's called the "Esti-Growth Coaching Program," and I believe it will make a big difference in our industry. When I was a new esthetician, I struggled to find seasoned estheticians willing to train me. This made my early days frustrating, and I often felt discouraged, feeling as though I wouldn't make it in this industry. I want to make sure I do my part so that other estheticians don't ever feel as unsupported as I did. Above all, I want women to succeed in their careers and thrive.
4. What Does Equal Representation in the Industry Look Like, and Where Is There Room for Improvement?
By interviewing me and writing this article, PCA and EltaMD is proof that the industry is moving in the right direction! As a Black esthetician, I have always tried to be inclusive and in no way wish to exclude anyone—but I don't want to be excluded either! Vocalness about further exclusion has caused me to be incredibly vocal that Black lives matter. I love seeing those who are not Black stepping up in agreement. There is still much room for improvement, such as more representation of Black women in skin care magazine ads, marketing materials, Black-owned skin care lines and spas, educators, and account representatives of color, for starters. With intention, I chose for my business to be the representation I wasn't seeing in this industry. I was fed up with marketing not showcasing women of color in the way we exist in this world as intelligent, professional, loving, and gentle, with an array of beautiful shades. While we continue to wait for these needed changes, I believe that it's our responsibility as successful, black women in this industry to encourage all women of color—no matter what career stage they're in—to see what's possible for them, as well.
5. What Do People of Color Need to Know About Their Skin?
It's a misconception that skin care products are formulated based on ethnicity. The reality is that skin care products are formulated according to skin type and skin condition, which is why I encourage women to know and really understand their skin type. I have worked with so many clients who have used products because they were told they were for Black skin. These products were overstimulating the skin, causing irritation and discoloration because the formulation was not ideal for their skin type. To protect the skin, people of color should wear SPF daily and seek professional advice from an esthetician. These steps can save them a lot of time and money. Estheticians are trained to assess the individual, choosing the most ideal products, treatments, and solutions to gain healthy skin. Using the correct products really matters; people underestimate how much a trained professional can help them with their unique issues. Find an esthetician you can trust—someone who will work with you to identify your specific concerns and help find solutions.
6. How Do Common Conditions Manifest Differently on Skin of Color?
Skin of color has a higher trans-epidermal water loss, which makes it more sensitive. It's also thicker and more prone to hyperpigmentation if overstimulated. To a degree, I also believe skin is skin. I've worked with couperose skin, melasma, eczema, rosacea, acne, keratosis pilaris, and more, and it pretty much shows up similarly across the board. I treat the skin based on the condition, skin type, and tolerance level. Some other things may vary—for example, a rash, sunburn, or rosacea won't always show up as red or as raised red bumps on darker skin. Instead, the skin may appear scaly or have dry patches and discoloration.
7. How Will Equal Representation Lead to Better Skin Health for People of Color?
Early on when I was training as a new esthetician, I never saw instructors that were people of color. I accepted this as what was normal for the industry, but I'll be honest that I pondered how I could change that narrative. One day, I took a class with an instructor named Nina (I don't recall her last name), a woman of color based in the Los Angeles area. That day changed my life because I was able to see my future self also training estheticians. Nina inspired me to see that I could help women of color gain quality, healthy skin. I believe that more representation of Black estheticians will grow the confidence of prospective clients of color to make skin care a priority. I have actually seen a shift in women of color taking better care of their skin over these past 21 years I've been practicing. When I first entered this industry, Black women weren't getting facials as they are today. I was definitely one of the skin care professionals encouraging women of color to make skin care a priority, and today I see the change I am proud to say I was part of.
8. How Does Equal Representation Serve the Greater Good?
In this industry, we often say that not all skin care products are created equal, and they aren't. However, all people are created equal. There shouldn't be a division amongst estheticians or instructors based on color. We should all have access to the same opportunities, which will undoubtedly serve the greater good for all.
9. What Role Does Sun Safety Play Here?
All women, regardless of their ethnicity, need to wear sunscreen every day. It's a misconception that "Black don't crack." Skin of color ages at a slower rate for many biological reasons; nonetheless, it [still] ages and sun damage is a primary reason. Sun protection is key in preserving the skin and slowing down the process of aging.
10. For Those New to Skin Care, What Advice Would You Offer?
- Find a mentor who is willing to support, train, and coach you.
- Never stop studying everything you can about skin care. There is so much to learn, so just know you will never know it all, but knowing a lot is enough!
- Above all things, always know that wherever you are in your career and journey in life, you are enough.
- I believe in you Esti angel. xoxo
11. What Exciting Things Are You Currently Working On?
I recently wrote my first book, Skincare Always: Feel Beautiful In Your Skin, Starting Within, which was released in December 2021, and my book launch event will be in April 2022. This has been one of my greatest accomplishments, and not just because I've added author to my title, but also because I was able to pour my heart, knowledge, and experience into something that I could share with the whole world.
I'm also launching my new coaching programs: The Esti-Growth Coaching Program and my Personal Transformation Program. I've decided to tap into another one of my gifts, esthetician coaching and transformational coaching. As an esthetician, I have touched not only many faces, but also lives with my advice and encouragement. Because of that, I've decided to create coaching programs that support women on a larger scale.
Lastly, I'm expanding my business and hiring estheticians to join our team at Skin by Maisha. This has been my dream since the beginning, to have a home where estheticians can learn, thrive, and share their love of skin care.
Protecting the Skin You're In
As Pulliam said, the skin care industry still has a long way to go in terms of representation and equality. Supporting Black-owned skin care businesses, spotlighting Black skin to increase awareness, and making skin care accessible to all people of color is key to moving the industry forward.
One of the challenges of Black skin care is the inability to find sun safety products that complement skin of color. Members of the Black community have been vocal about the need for sun protection products that don't leave a white cast or are made with tints that work for all skin tones. For instance, the EltaMD UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ doesn't leave a white cast, and the EltaMD UV Glow Tinted Broad Spectrum SPF 36 has a subtle tint to neutralize your skin. It's formulated with niacinamide, which is perfect for anyone looking to even out skin tone, and it brightens skin for a dewy, hydrated glow.
Those looking for an anti-aging hero may consider the EltaMD UV Restore Broad-Spectrum SPF 40. It's suitable for all skin types, especially those who may have neglected their sun care in the past. It contains antioxidants to help combat free radicals known for causing sun damage and ginger root to help minimize the appearance of dark spots and discoloration.
The bottom line? Representation matters. Black skin care professionals like Pulliam play important roles in moving the skin care industry forward, toward inclusivity and equity, but brands need to commit to spotlighting and uplifting Black skin. Everyone deserves to have the tools to care for their skin—and love it, too.