More than skin deep: Meet a Johnson & Johnson employee who’s committed to creating more inclusive skincare products for women of color
Ever felt like you couldn’t find makeup or skincare solutions meant for you? Amrika Ganness has. So she and her fellow colleagues of color at Neutrogena® turned that all-too-common experience into a one-of-a-kind talent search: the Black Innovators in Skin Health QuickFire Challenge.
Black women spend nine times more on beauty and haircare than their white peers in the U.S., but there’s historically been a scarcity in skincare products designed to meet the unique needs of the Black community, not to mention a dearth of expertise in treating skin of color.
Johnson & Johnson Innovation and Neutrogena®—a Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health brand—resolved to do something to help change such truths through its Black Innovators in Skin Health QuickFire Challenge. The goal: find and support U.S.-based Black innovators with the best idea, technology or solution aimed at improving skincare for people of color—particularly acne and post-acne scarring, hyperpigmentation, scalp care and sun protection.
The awardees, who will be named this spring, will receive mentorship from the Johnson & Johnson family of companies, access to the global Johnson & Johnson Innovation-JLABS network and up to $50,000 in grant funding.
We asked the project’s champion, Amrika Ganness, Director, Strategy and Management Support, Consumer Health North America, to share her passion for the initiative and why ideas like hers are crucial to helping address some of the many healthcare inequities that exist in this country.
Amrika Ganness: “I’m a woman of color who’s Indian, who was born in Trinidad, and who grew up in Canada before moving to the United States.
When I was growing up, I was in a pretty diverse, but predominantly white, school. There was a yearly fashion show that always reflected Western clothing.
One year, three other friends and I, who are nonwhite, went to the principal with the idea of having a multicultural fashion show. And we made it happen. We didn’t just show mainstream fashions. We incorporated multicultural dances and singing, and had a wedding scene with traditional Indian and Western bridal fashion. There was a martial arts performance, and classical and Latin dance. It was the first time we’d had a fashion show for all students by all students, representing the entire population of Asian, Black, Indian and white students—everyone together.
I remember going from store to store asking them to sponsor the show. In the end, we raised $2,000 in ticket sales for SickKids, Canada’s largest children’s health center. So I guess I’ve always been enthusiastic and inspired by bringing purpose into my day-to-day.
After college, I worked as a brand manager for the Aveeno® face and haircare lines in Canada, and in 2011, I moved to the United States to work on the company’s Neutrogena® and Clean & Clear® brands. Personally, when it comes to makeup, finding foundation that fits my skin tone has always been a challenge. When I looked at our product line, there wasn’t a shade for me, so I made it my mission to try and expand the range of the brand.
It felt like a small thing at the time. I just thought: If not me, then who?
This year, Neutrogena is launching more than two dozen new shades of makeup. That’s exciting for me, but it also makes sense for the business.
I feel I have a responsibility as a woman of color who works in skin health to contribute to helping resolve racial disparities that exist in my industry in a meaningful way.
An Idea Inspired by a Social Movement: The Black Innovators in Skin Health QuickFire Challenge
Last summer, I was working from home when the social justice movement was becoming more mainstream. Everyone was trying to figure out: What do we do? As a brand? As humans?
I’ve always been fascinated by the work that Johnson & Johnson-JLABS does. They are experts in actively engaging with entrepreneurs wherever great ideas emerge around the globe. Their resident companies receive a range of support to help bring their innovations to market, from access to state-of-the-art infrastructure at 13 JLABS sites globally to mentorship from both internal and external partners.
I thought: We should team up with JLABS to help fund Black innovators!
Concurrently, my colleagues Brittany Bourassa, Brand Manager, Neutrogena Makeup, and Jennifer Paxton, Brand Manager, Neutrogena Acne, were bringing their own insights to the table about disparities in Black communities, including statistics about inequities in the dermatological field. For instance, just 3% of all dermatologists in the United States are Black. Black people make up around 13% of the U.S. population, so this means they’re technically underrepresented in this medical specialty. It was then that I realized that we also needed to educate our teams on these issues. It was the right time.
I was so excited that I texted my boss with the idea. She was immediately on board, and set up a meeting with JLABS. And then she let me take the reins. I wound up partnering with Neutrogena colleagues and several JLABS employees to produce three webinars. I credit them with developing and bringing the webinars and ultimate challenge to life.
‘Medical Education: The Future of Inclusive Dermatology’ featured Black medical leaders discussing potential solutions for the lack of racial representation in medical education materials and the field in general. ‘Misconceptions About Melanin: Skin Treatments, Sun Care and Cancer Prevention in the Black Community’ was a discussion with dermatologists about the common misconceptions about darker skin and the newest innovations in sun protection and skin cancer prevention.
The last one, ‘The Business of Black Beauty: Consumer Needs, Investments and Resilience,’ had top entrepreneurs and investors highlighting the disparities and challenges of Black-owned businesses and ways to successfully build and market beauty products to consumers. It was moderated by actress Kerry Washington, who is a brand ambassador for Neutrogena. I think she’s such a role model and leader on the issue of racial inequities.
In October 2020, the Black Innovators in Skin Health QuickFire Challenge officially kicked off, with applications due in January 2021 from Black entrepreneurs in the U.S. who have potential solutions for improving the skin and scalp health of Black people around the world. A review team is now sifting through the nearly 100 ideas submitted from more than 20 states. This spring, finalists will have the chance to pitch their concepts live before a group of experts who will select the ultimate awardee or awardees.
I feel I have a responsibility as a woman of color who works in skin health to contribute to helping resolve racial disparities that exist in my industry in a meaningful way. I would like to be known as someone who elevated the voices that are less heard and for being someone who didn’t take good as good enough.”
Stay tuned for an update to this story, when we’ll announce the awardees of the Black Innovators in Skin Health QuickFire Challenge and share more about their potentially groundbreaking healthcare solutions for Black skin.