Reflecting on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: AAPI Beauty Brands
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, otherwise known as AAPI Heritage Month, is a commemorative month in May that celebrates and recognizes the culture and crucial contributions of individuals and groups of Asian and Pacific Islander descent to the United States. Honoring cultures from the entire Asian continent and Pacific Islands and the more than 25.6 million Americans who identify as AAPI has extended to all areas, including the beauty industry (1). The beauty industry in the United States and other countries in the West have greatly benefited and been influenced by the practices, ingredients, and ideas that have come from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. It's not just about honoring the past. Check out this list of some incredible AAPI beauty brands you should support all year round.
- Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a commemorative month in May that celebrates the culture and crucial contributions of individuals and groups of Asian and Pacific Islander descent to the United States.
- Asian and Pacific Islander beauty practices have been capitalized on by the U.S. beauty industry heavily – as seen through beauty products such as sheet masks and essences that have origins in South Korea.
- Some AAPI beauty brands that deserve recognition this AAPI Heritage Month include Glow Recipe, Tatcha, Hanalei, Live Tinted, and more.
What is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month?
The month of May is a time to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage. It’s a time to commemorate, honor, and appreciate AAPI culture and trailblazers in the community. While AAPI is a broad term, it refers to the entirety of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands, which include:
- Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands)
- Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia)
- Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island) (2)
AAPI Heritage Month, like other commemorative months such as Black History Month, originated in Congress. On October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution that was proposed by Representative Frank Horton of New York to proclaim a week in May as AAPI Heritage Week. A proclamation was then issued in 1979. In the next decade, annual proclamations for AAPI Heritage Week were passed until 1990 when Congress expanded the observance of APPI Heritage Week over the month, which was made an official change in 1992 (2).
The month of May was designated as AAPI Heritage Month as a way to commemorate both the immigration of the first Japanese-American citizens to the United States on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, which served as a nod to the Chinese immigrants that were integral to the completion of the railroad (2).
Beyond these contributions, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have significantly contributed to numerous aspects and areas of American culture and society, including science and medicine, literature and art, sports and recreation, government and politics, activism and law, and even beauty and technology (3).
How has the AAPI community influenced the beauty industry?
The contributions the AAPI community has made to the beauty industry span way beyond AAPI beauty brands. In fact, the AAPI community has been one of the strongest, if not the strongest, influences on western beauty.
Asian and Pacific Islander beauty practices have been capitalized on by the U.S. beauty industry heavily – as seen through some of your favorite beauty products, such as sheet masks and essences that have origins in South Korea to gua sha stones and jade rollers that have ancient ties to China. Plus, you can’t forget rice water from Japan or the nutrient and antioxidant-packed oils that stem from Pacific Islander beauty practices.
Sadly, over the years, a lot of brands have taken AAPI-originated innovations and tools, ancient practices, and traditional ingredients and marketed them for millions of dollars of profit without giving credit to the communities they originated from, ultimately leading to erasure and appropriation.
This is especially true when it comes to K-Beauty, or Korean beauty, products, and J-Beauty, or Japanese beauty, products that have exploded in popularity more recently. These products and healing practices have often been whitewashed and diminished as “fads” or “trends” despite the fact that AAPI individuals have been following these practices for centuries.
The AAPI community has made enormous impacts on the beauty industry in the U.S., setting a higher standard for innovation in products and packaging and introducing new, beneficial formulas and cutting-edge ingredients. In fact, new ingredients are often used first in AAPI beauty brands first before coming to the West, including green tea.
Just a few common examples of these tools, practices, and ingredients include:
- Gua sha
- Sheet masks
- BB/CC cream
- Longer skincare rituals
- Double seruming and double-cleansing
- Acid layering
- Carrot seed oil
- Green tea
- Snail mucin
- Coconut oil
- Aloe vera
- Pearl extract
AAPI Beauty Brands to Check Out
Keeping in mind that non-AAPI beauty brands are capitalizing on traditional beauty practices, it’s become more and more imperative to buy from AAPI brands that maintain the authenticity, integrity, and culture behind their community’s innovations. Some AAPI beauty brands that you should check out include:
1. Glow Recipe
Founded by Korean Americans Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, this AAPI beauty brand uses natural, high-quality ingredients in its cruelty-free products.
Founded by Korean-American Charlotte Cho; Cho’s beauty brand emphasizes quality and sustainable products that have heavy influences from Korean manufacturers. It’s also cruelty-free!
Amy Liu, a Chinese-American from California, founded this vegan and cruelty-free brand that is designed to be clean, safe, and effective.
4. Journ Beauty
Founded by Pakistani-American Sara Shah, this brand has vegan and cruelty-free products that are designed to treat skin concerns such as dark circles, hyperpigmentation, and acne scarring.
Chinese-Americans Laura Schubert and Lillian Tung founded this beauty brand that produces effective, vegan, and cruelty-free products that are inclusive to all and ideal for sensitive skin.
6. Peach & Lily
This K-Beauty, cruelty-free brand was founded by Alicia Yoon and strives to make skincare accessible, effective, and easy to use, especially for those who are looking for skin-healing products.
7. Live Tinted
Live Tinted was founded by Deepica Mutyala, a South Asian influencer that wanted to create vegan-friendly products that celebrated a diverse beauty community.
This cruelty-free friend was founded by Priscilla Tsai, a Taiwanese-American that emphasizes easy-to-use products for all skin moods.
Cruelty-free Hawaiian skincare and beauty products that are created to be paraben-free and utilize restorative Hawaiian ingredients and botanicals; founded by Alice Kim and Viraphanh “Vira” Sananikone.
Native Hawaiian Chelsa Davis founded AO Organics Hawai’i to produce natural and organic skincare with clean, ethically sourced, and high-quality ingredients. The brand is coral reef safe and cruelty-free.
This company was founded by Rooshy Roy, a first-generation Indian-American that aimed to capture the spirit of traditional Indian beauty (4).
12. Bili Beauty
This cruelty-free brand was founded by Sarah Sophy Thomas, an Indian-American that wanted to create products for various skin colors, as she felt discouraged by the lack of Indian representation in the beauty industry.
KimChi is a Korean-American drag queen, artist, entrepreneur, and entertainment personality that turned her love of makeup into a cruelty-free makeup brand. This month, KimChi has partnered with the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum to donate 10 percent of sales to the cause.
Taiwanese-American Vicky Tsai founded Tatcha after eagerly studying the natural Japanese ingredients and skincare rituals that transformed her skin. Today, Tatcha formulas are crafted at the Tatcha Institute in Tokyo where leading scientists prioritize both innovation and tradition.
15. Katini Skin
Katini Skin is a vegan and cruelty-free brand founded by Japanese-American Katini Yamaoka that emphasizes a deep respect for ancient traditions and native ingredients through the skincare products
Written by Selena Ponton