Where Are All The Brown Hands?

Jessica DeFino
8 min readMay 13, 2020

“Where Are All The Brown Hands?” was the inaugural article from The Unpublishable, a bi-monthly, beauty-critical newsletter covering what the beauty industry won’t tell you — from a reporter on a mission to reform it. Subscribe now!

Instagram / Essie

Once a month, I find myself asking the same question: Where are all the brown hands?

It shouldn’t be that hard to answer; they shouldn’t be this hard to find. There are more than 13 billion individual, non-Caucasian hands on the planet at any given moment (give or take a couple hundred million). Still, every time I comb through the Instagram content of the biggest nail care brands in the business, attempting to find images for a monthly nail art column, I wonder. Where are they?

They’re not on social media, not really. Just look to the feeds of Deborah Lippmann, O.P.I., Essie — overwhelmingly white, all posts considered. One needs to scroll through 16 rows, or 48 pictures, on China Glaze’s Instagram to find a hand of color at the time of writing (February 2020). It takes six rows for JINsoon and Orly. In the case of AILA Cosmetics, I lost count. The last irrefutably-brown fingers on the brand’s Instagram page are from 2017, three years and hundreds of posts ago.

The glare from these bright white grids seems especially intense since most other fashion and beauty markets have gotten the memo about inclusivity by now, if only in the “it’s good for sales” sense. “Nail is a little slower to catch up,” Morgan Murayama, the marketing manager at Orly, tells me in a phone interview. That’s one way to phrase what is, essentially, the exclusion of Black and Brown women from a category they helped create: nail art, acrylics, embellishment.


As reported by Refinery29, “The origins are separated from the Black women who routinely wore them more than a generation ago, despite being ridiculed and considered ‘ghetto’ for their manicures.” In 1966, African-American model Donyae Coles covered Twen Magazine wearing pointed acrylics; Diana Ross kept the trend going in the 1970s; Florence Griffith-Joyner, or “Flo Jo,” a nail tech turned record-setting runner, donned bedazzled…

Jessica DeFino

Jessica DeFino is a beauty reporter covering natural, holistic, sustainable skincare. Her work has been published in The New York Times, Vogue, Allure, & more.