For too long now, the beauty industry has underserved and overlooked women of colour. From models noting that makeup artists are unprepared, with base shades too light for their skin, to lack of representation in campaigns and magazine editorials, women who don’t fit industry "standards" are often an afterthought.
Enter EPARA. Meaning "to cocoon" in the Nigerian dialect of Ebira, this new skincare brand is the first luxury range aimed at women of colour. For founder Ozohu Adoh this is more than just a series of new products: EPARA began in a very personal way. Suffering with skin sensitivity, an uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation, she found nothing out there that worked for her – so she did it herself. “At the time I was combining butters and oils at home for my own use. Someone saw me and said my skin looked nice, and I just said, 'Oh it’s nothing' but she wanted to try the formula. About six weeks later she called me and said, 'That stuff you gave me is really good.' So all my friends started asking me for it, but I just kept it all in nondescript jars. Then I thought more seriously about commercialising it.”
What began as rudimentary but effective mixtures in Adoh’s kitchen is now the base of her newly launched 10-piece skincare range. Targeting two main skin issues faced by women of colour – pigmentation and dehydration – Adoh was clear about her vision from the start. “Everyone has an overproduction of melanin at some point, whether due to sun damage, hormones, stress, periods, or trauma to the skin. For women of colour, it takes a longer time to recede. On white skin, scars turn red then white then fade away, but for black skin they stay for a long time,” she explains. “The other issue is dryness. Cleansers currently on the market strip away grease because they’re made for women prone to greasiness. That takes too much away from dry skin, leaving the skin to react by overproducing oil – by 12pm you’re shiny but you still feel a tightness in your skin.”
Partnering with product developer Vanessa Crawley, the result is a meeting of innovative lab work and organic ingredients. While the range is between 95-100% natural, and free from synthetics, mineral oils and harsh chemicals, there’s future-thinking science behind the brand. “Throughout the range there’s a hyperpigmentation active that works on a different pathway. Generally, if you’re trying to even out the pigment of the skin, you’d inhibit an enzyme called tyrosinase that leads to the production of melanin,” Crawley explains. “EPARA prohibits the enzyme just in the areas that need it, rather than across all of the skin, so it evens out skin tone.” Conducting clinical trials with 120 women between 20 and 59 years old, 83% said the overall appearance of skin had improved over 28 days.
Alongside this technology, Adoh’s dedication to African-sourced botanicals, essential oils and plant extracts is testament to her brand direction. “Originally, I was using a lot of oils and butters from Africa, so a key brief for Vanessa was to keep using those ingredients,” she says. Her journey began in 2015, and part of the process was the thorough research into these natural elements. Supporting local communities and using fair trade practices, everything from the antioxidant Moringa Oil and fine line-reducing Frankincense Oil to the brightening Licorice Root Extract is used. The products also smell natural – a refreshing change from the artificial scents of some brands – with Sandalwood Oil and Ylang Ylang Oil adding to the luxury of EPARA.
Makeup artist Kay Montano has been working with the brand, too. Creating the makeup for the campaign shoot, she explains her support for EPARA: “These are the kind of products I’ve always wanted. I look for products that work, but that aren’t chemical, yet I don’t want something all-natural that doesn’t work. Skin is the body’s largest organ, and we rarely think about the fact it’s ingesting everything we put on it, but you can trace these ingredients to their effects perfectly.” Her favourite? “The serum passed my rub test: the minute you put makeup on after a serum, it creates a film and begins to pill. I tried this one and there was no gathering of product. This one is like a moisturiser in its own right.”
This is Adoh’s first foray into skincare and beauty. She earned her MBA at Oxford University before working in finance, strategy and business development in the oil and gas industries. “There have been so many hurdles!” she jokes. “It’s been an excruciating journey, but also so exciting and rewarding.” What’s next for EPARA? “We’ll certainly expand the range in the future. We’re always going to be innovative – that’s the ethos of the brand. We’re always looking for what’s new, and we’ll keep pushing that.” Having no experience in the world of skincare, this is an inspiring story, but what makes this launch such a thrilling one is Adoh’s belief in her product, and her resolve to cater to the overlooked needs of women of colour.
EPARA is available exclusively at Harrods from April 2017.