Over the years, K-Beauty, AKA Korean Beauty, has skyrocketed in popularity around the world. From skin hydration, luminosity, brightening, smoothing, and more, K-Beauty products have been revolutionary for all different skin types.
Known for utilizing creams rather than powders, K-Beauty is dedicated to developing products that will truly absorb into the skin.
They focus on natural sources, rather than artificial ingredients. Ingredients like snail mucin, licorice root, green tea leaves, fermented rice water, and more have been used for their holistic benefits.
Their makeup foundations specifically focus on cushion compacts and SPF 35 sunscreens that emphasize adequate blending and skin protection.
While K-Beauty continues to be the pinnacle of beauty care for many, their products weren’t made with everyone in mind.
Most K-Beauty brands don’t offer shades for those with darker skin tones. With Korean beauty standards that are inclined to lighter skin, Black people are often left out of the Korean Beauty industry completely.
Fortunately, one woman is working hard to bridge that gap. Her name is Grace Okafor. Okafor is the founder of the first and only Black-owned K-Beauty brand made by a Black woman for Black women: Dr. Gio Cosmetics.
How Dr. Gio Cosmetics Began
After moving to Korea for work, Okafor realized that she could never find any foundation in her shade, and she wasn’t the only one.
She joined an online community of Black women living in Korea and discovered that they all had the combined struggle of finding foundations in darker tones without having to order them from abroad.
That’s when Okafor knew she had to do something.
“I came to Korea in 2015, so before coming, I looked up a lot of videos to know what Black people are going through, what I should expect, etc. So, there were a lot of videos about coming to Korea. They said, ‘Make sure you come with a lot of cosmetics,’ because Korea did not have cosmetics made for people with darker skin tones. I did not know anyone who lived in Korea, so I said, ‘OK, let me get some of my cosmetics and stuff,’” Okafor explained.
However, she soon realized that there were more obstacles when it came to using beauty products from outside Korea.
She shared, “I thought I could easily go back to Nigeria, but I have not been able to go to Nigeria since I came to Korea. When I arrived in 2015, I saw that it’s not a small issue. It’s something big. You know, Korea has the world’s biggest beauty industry in the world, but they don’t have anything for Black people.”
After speaking with her online community, Okafor felt as if it was her calling to change the K-Beauty industry.
“My first intention of coming to Korea was to bridge the gap between Korea and Africa and the beauty industry. That’s why I created Dr. Gio, to make K-Beauty inclusive, to make people who love K-Beauty have access to products that have been made for us.”
How Dr. Gio Combines K-Beauty with African Culture
While Dr. Gio has only just introduced a few products to get started so far, Okafor has many ideas on the horizon. One of those ideas is incorporating her Nigerian culture in the Korean culture of the K-Beauty brand, specifically with unique and nutrient-rich ingredients native to Nigeria and some that are native to Korea.
“I said, ‘Let’s start with the name and then through the names we can let people know where I’m coming from, what Africa is about.’ A lot of African Americans say they don’t really get taught about the African culture in American schools.”
The Dr. Gio Ultra 7 Brightening Foundation Cushion is available in six flattering shades for darker skin tones and will be adding even more in the future.
Each one is inspired and named after Nigerian tribes. For example, the color Aisha is inspired by the Hausa Tribe, while the additional colors are named after other tribes and even people in Okafor’s life.
In the future, Okafor is hoping to incorporate even more cultural info about each project. “We want to include it so when you buy something, you actually know what you bought, what it stands for. We provide everything in addition to the ingredients. We hope to add more cultural ingredients from Africa.”
Ingredients Make Dr. Gio’s Foundation Great for All Skin Types
Okafor stays true to the wonder of K-Beauty when it comes to the powerhouse natural products her cushion foundations are packed with.
Each foundation includes SPF 50 PA+++ (sun protection), hyaluronic acid (moisture retention), collagen (skin elasticity), shea butter (softens skin), niacinamide (skin brightening and exfoliating), tea tree oil (skin soothing), adenosine (anti-aging), vitamin C (antioxidant and minimizes pores) and Centella Asiatica (anti-inflammatory hydration).
Each weighs 0.45 oz., and they are best for moisturizing, brightening, and anti-aging. For those with oily skin, it may be helpful to add a translucent powder.
One of the best features of this foundation is that it’s actually developed to work with face masks, specifically to accommodate pandemic requirements without getting foundation all over the mask.
“We have skin-care infused cosmetics, so you don’t need to worry about breaking out. So, we have certain ingredients like tea tree, etc. In Korea, everything is about natural ingredients, and they try as much as they can to incorporate nature into the beauty industry,” Okafor explains.
A Peek at How Dr. Gio Hopes to Expand
While Dr. Gio is already off to an impressive start, there are many developments to come. Okafor wants customers to be patient as more shades are being developed to cover as many skin tones as possible.
She’s also hoping that her leadership in K-Beauty inclusivity will encourage other brands to do the same.
“I believe in K-Beauty. I’m paving a way that tomorrow you might begin to see a lot of shades for Black people and dark skin tones. Once big companies see what I’m doing, I’m not sure, but I might be the one holding the light for them, which is good, which is actually what I want,” Okafor says.
She realizes that large K-Beauty companies have the means to truly develop and expand their color offerings to a broad amount of audiences, something that it’s difficult for smaller and newer companies like hers to do.
“With what I’m doing today, they can create a line that is for us. They have the facilities, they have the research, the everything. So, now they can understand that we need this and create something for us, which will make it widespread and accessible to more people. I think in, give or take, the next two or three years, K-Beauty for Black people will be huge.”
Dr. Gio is looking to expand shades soon, so fans can keep an eye out for new options to come. The Dr. GIO Ultra 7 Brightening Foundation Cushions are around $35 USD not including shipping costs.
BGN is certainly excited to see how Dr. Gio impacts the K-Beauty industry, hopeful catalyzing more an array of new options and products.
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Danielle Broadway is an English Literature MA student at California State University, Long Beach. She has been published in Black Girl Nerds, LA Weekly and Medium, is a writer for CSULB’s the Daily49er, is a managing editor for Watermark, her school’s academic literary journal and is an assistant editor at Angels Flight • literary west. She’s an activist and educator that is inspired by her family to make social change both in the classroom and beyond.