Ezinne Iroanya is the founder and CEO of SKNMUSE, a skin and body care brand that prioritizes “elevating the beauty experience for Black Women,” while utilizing clean ingredients as well as clean beauty practices adopted from West Africa. In such a short amount of time, SKNMUSE has been able to garner praise and accolades from beauty publications and platforms like Elle USA to Vogue, and even recognition from the celebrity likes of Issa Rae and Beyoncé.
Photograph by Taizja Marie Tate
We got the chance to sit down with Ezinne and learn more about the inspiration behind SKNMUSE, its sustainable beauty practices and what makes her brand worth adding to your daily beauty routine.
Jadriena Solomon: SKNMUSE is described as “a premium beauty brand dedicated to elevating the beauty experience for Black women.” Why did you feel THAT there was a need to improve the self-care experience for the average Black woman? And what things did you feel were missing or are missing from the average Black woman’s self-care experience?
Ezinne Iroanya: I’ve actually worked in the luxury beauty space for about a decade. I used to work for Dior, Lancome and Nordstrom Beauty and as much as I loved it, I realized that they weren’t fully catering to the experience of a Black woman – in the essence of the formulation, in the way that they catered to us. Sometimes you’d go behind the counter and there’d be only one girl who knew how to deal with your skin type or match your skin. And it’s like, if that girl’s not there then your experience is definitely not going to be equivalent to everyone else's.
[I began to realize that] even though I’ve been in this space for over a decade, this space still doesn’t accommodate me fully… Black women for the longest time have normalized managing things, we’ve normalized mixing foundations, we’ve normalized inconvenience. And for beauty that is culture for us, for beauty that we spend twice as much as every other demographic, for beauty that is usually the average Black girl’s first introduction to self-care, it should serve us better. And that was why I decided we needed to bridge this gap in this space. You shouldn’t have to go to four different places so that you can get everything that you need for your beauty or your self-care routine. If there’s a CVS you want to walk into, then there should be everything that you need. If there’s Bloomingdales or Bergdorf that you want to walk into, then there should be everything that you need in one space.
JS: Do you currently see the beauty landscape trying to be more inclusive and accommodate Black women or do you more so see it present with smaller beauty brands?
EI: I see it more with our community. I think that we are doing the work to be more – and inclusive is the word, not diverse – because it’s one thing to make a range of foundations, or when you wait for Fenty to come out – yes you’re becoming diverse but are you becoming inclusive? Inclusivity to me means – from the formulation, you think about us. Inclusivity to me means the executive board has people like us. Because in order for you to be inclusive you have to have us in the decision making room.
And just to scratch the surface, you hear things like the 15% pledge, and that’s beautiful. But imagine if we all had an equal playing field when it comes to venture backing, and decision making and shelf space… I think that the people who are working on inclusivity in the beauty industry are people who look like me. Black and Brown women who have experienced a disconnect and are trying to fix it.
JS: Your brand vows to “provide a long-lasting, culturally authentic, high-end experience” with your products. It incorporates pure ingredients like shea sourced from West-Africa “to leave you feeling soft like shea and smooth like cocoa.” Why was it important for you to create a line formulated with clean ingredients, and one that shares “clean beauty practices”?
EI: For clean beauty – it’s so interesting how when the West coins a term it becomes this big trend. Clean beauty is a norm for people who look like us. I used to have psoriasis and my grandmother, who was a holistic healer, would make a mixture for me from shea butter. My mom also owned a beauty salon. So I grew up around beauty, and I grew up around clean beauty as a norm. When it comes to clean beauty practices, you look around at the average home of a Black woman and you’ll notice that she practices it like it’s nothing. We use things like turmeric, aloe vera, shea butter – from our hair to our fragrances. That’s something that we’ve always been used to, and it was very important when we made this luxury line to not stray away from who we’re making it for. We have to be very authentic. We say ‘we’re an authentic representation of Blackness in luxury.’ That’s our message that we are trying to hone into.
Every product that we have has a five ingredient checkmark. So we try not to use anything over five ingredients and check mark every single one with questions like ‘why is this in here? What is it doing for the consumer? Does it need to be here? Can the product stand without this?’ And that’s how we finalize everything. We believe in taking from the earth only what we need. Waste is not something that we highlight at all.
JS: SKNMUSE sources 70% of their ingredients from small businesses and maintains a refill program. If customers turn in their jar/container, it will be refilled with any product of their choice at a discounted rate of 10%. If they turn in five jars, they will receive a free product. How long ago did you develop this concept of a refill program?
EI: It was always there [since we launched]. I remember when I was a child at my mom’s hair salon, people would come and take stuff for their hair and she would always encourage them to bring their tubs back so she could refill it for them. So when developing this, we wanted to see how we could encourage this same culture at a grand scale. So in the beginning, it only applied to people in the Los Angeles area. And we had a text line, where you could send a message to and someone would come to your house and refill your jar and give you a ten percent discount. As it grew, our customers outside of Los Angeles started asking about it and that’s when we implemented the five jar refills.
As we grow and scale, we’ve realized that we have to manage this better so we’re actually testing out, at a store in Brooklyn, a refill station for the body oils. So we can see how viable it is in some stores, so I’m definitely excited about that. It helps us keep costs down, we’re able to reuse jars, and if we can’t reuse them we’ve been working on some initiatives to start doing gifting for some groups in Los Angeles. We’re trying to have zero waste as much as possible.
JS: Your brand has so many accolades like being a chosen favorite of Issa Rae, Beyoncé, and having received a top 10 rating from Elle USA for your cuticle oil. How does it feel being a smaller, up and coming brand and having received so much recognition thus far?
EI: It’s like a badge of honor. It feels warm, and it feels warm because we get recognition from people who look like us. I remember when we saw Issa say that we were one of her favorites, we cried. It’s just special that the message that we’ve worked on and are trying to put out there is being received and people are enjoying it.
JS: If a new customer came to your site and wanted to purchase one product that absolutely embodies the entire essence and quality of what SKNMUSE is, what product would you recommend to them and why?
EI: I would say our “Duet Set,” because you get body butter and body oil at a discounted rate. You get to experience the texture – the body butter melts right in your skin. And the body oil gives you this glow that looks like you came out of a bronzer but it’s just oil. And the scent as well, it’s really invigorating. I would say the “Duet Set” is a really good introduction to what we stand for, and you can even get it in three different scents. We have Egyptian Honey, Cacao or Madagascar Vanilla.