Meet the skincare guru creating hit beauty products for Black celebrities

Dermatologist Naana Boakye has formulated Black-owned skincare product lines for celebrities like John Legend, tennis player Naomi Osaka, and basketball star Dwyane Wade

Dermatologist Naana Boakye is now the medical director of Los Angeles-based A-Frame Brands; a holding company founded in 2019 to develop skin-care brands led by celebrities. Picture by Elianel Clinton

Dermatologist Naana Boakye gave a Zoom talk during the Covid-19 pandemic that would catapult her career.

Martin Ekechukwu, chief strategy officer at Los Angeles-based A-Frame Brands, a holding company founded in 2019 to develop skin-care brands led by celebrities, was in the audience. He felt Boakye’s expertise and background would would make her a perfect fit.

Now the medical director at A-Frame Brands, Boakye has since formulated three Black celebrity-owned skin-care product lines that entered the market in the past two years.

Loved01 (pronounced Loved One), from singer John Legend and released in February, is a moisturiser meant to hydrate melanin-rich skin.

Loved01 (pronounced Loved One), from singer John Legend launched in February targetting melanin-rich skin
Basketball star Dwyane Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union released Proudly skin and hair care products for babies of colour in April 2022

Proudly, from basketball star Dwyane Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union, was released in April 2022 and offers skincare and hair care for babies of colour. It prioritises the use of plant-based, moisture-rich ingredients.

Kinlò – a word derived from the Japanese and Haitian words for gold – is from tennis phenomenon Naomi Osaka. It’s a sun protection line aimed at people of colour, debunking the myth that skin with more melanin doesn’t need protection from ultraviolet rays. It was released in September 2021.

“She’s an expert, and really well-regarded in her practice,” said Ari Bloom, co-founder and chief executive officer at A-Frame Brands, in an emailed statement about his company’s choice to work with Boakye.

“She is personally and professionally dedicated to solving the problems that matter most. This matters, not only to the A-Frame team, but has been fundamental in the doctor’s partnership with talent partners like the Wades, Naomi and John.” A-Frame is a co-owner and equity partner in each brand with the respective co-founding celebrities.

But formulating Black celebrity-owned skin-care products for A-Frame Brands is just one of the hats Boakye wears. She also runs a solo practice in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, where she provides a full spectrum of skin-related medical treatments. And she is developing her own skin-care line, she says, to come out in early 2024.

Boakye became intrigued with dermatology at age 14, after her mother came down with severe acne and Boakye accompanied her to the doctor’s office.

Both of her parents are physicians who trained in Ghana and moved with their children to the US for residencies. Her cousin and mentor, Dr. Andrew Alexis, is a renowned dermatologist. He’s currently vice-chair for diversity and inclusion at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York and a former director at the Skin of Colour Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, one of the first US clinics that specialised in dermatological care for people of colour.

“In 2050, 47 per cent of the population is going to be non-Hispanic White,” says Boakye, referencing US population projections. “We need more dermatologists of colour to basically treat all of this blended community.” Just 3 per cent of dermatologists in the US are Black, and only 4 per cent identify as Hispanic.

Dermatologist formulated

Boakye’s distinct approach to designing a skin-care line, she says, is a bit like making a recipe. “I feel like I’m cooking when I’m making these products,” says Boakye, who loves to cook.

After spending more than 15 years treating more than 18,000 patients as a board-certified dermatologist, she takes an ingredient-picking approach.

“I think about some of the common conditions that we see in our practice. I think about ingredients that we put in our skin that are harmful,” she says. “We don’t want a lot of products with fragrance or any allergens that can further irritate.” Such knowledge and concern, she adds, set A-Frame Brands apart from others.

“You could actually just pay – after you do patch testing – to get that stamp of ‘dermatologist approved,’ but it doesn’t mean that it was actually formulated by a dermatologist,” she says. Or, “You could do it my way: We’re actually picking each ingredient as if we’re cooking or coming up with a recipe. That’s the difference.”

With each skin-care brand, the celebrity starts with a list of what they wish the product to address. Boakye then works with that brand’s product development team on a weekly basis to talk about new products they’re thinking of launching – and the science behind each.

Take Osaka’s Kinlò Golden Rays Tinted Sunscreen SPF 50. The three-in-one product serves as foundation, sunscreen and moisturiser, with light, medium and deep brown tints. All of the line’s formulations stick with three core ingredients: jojoba oil, sunflower seed oil and green tea.

The acidity of skin types is also critical in formulating lines, Boakye says, because high acidity can lead to infection

“The ultraviolet light from the sun just depletes your skin, and I wanted ingredients that could hydrate. So that’s why I wanted to use jojoba oil, which doesn’t cause any acne. Sunflower seed oil has great ammonia properties,” says Boakye.

“But then, we also need antioxidants because the sun – again, it’s just depleting our skin of all our antioxidants – so green tea is a fantastic antioxidant that helps keep our skin healthy.” The sunscreen is reef safe and resists water for up to 80 minutes.

Legend’s products are free from parabens, gluten, mineral oil and silicones. Not all of these ingredients are harmful, she says, but eliminating them caters to the wants of the community. The Loved01 body moisturiser has a butter-like consistency and is light and lasting. It also contains sea buckthorn oil, a plant found in Southeast Asia that is antioxidant-rich and known to hydrate the skin.

“With the Wades, when they had Kaavia in 2018 [Dwayne Wade’s fourth biological child and Gabrielle Union’s first] she had a lot of skin issues and they couldn't find a baby product line,” says Boakye.

The acidity of skin types is also critical in formulating lines, Boakye says, because high acidity can lead to infection. “This is where being a dermatologist and giving that information to the product development team is really important,” Boakye says. “So – for all the lines, but even with John’s line, just making sure that skin barrier is healthy – I’m always, like: ‘What’s the pH? Do we have XYZ in here just to make sure we’re moisturised and the pH is solid?’”

From physician to formulator

Boakye points back to her time of residency at SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn, New York, as a defining moment in her career after graduation from Temple University Medical School in 2008.

“It’s a very diverse population, and that’s how I became interested in skin of colour – because I was treating people that look like me,” she says. She worked in both Medicaid clinics and clinics that took insurance.

From there, she completed a year-long cosmetic fellowship and worked in several group practices in Millburn and Hackensack, both in northern New Jersey. “I knew coming out of my fellowship that I did want to start my own practice, just because my dad being a gynaecologist always had his own practice in the Bronx – and I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps. But I needed to learn the business.”

Four years later, she opened her practice, Bergen Dermatology – named after the county where her office is located.

“I call my practice the model UN,” says Boakye. She says her experience visiting Ghana exposed her to multiple cultures and people, just as her practice comprises a diverse population with all skin tones.

Boakye takes what she calls a “lifestyle dermatology” approach with her patients, addressing their need to maintain skin health by paying attention to nutrition, sleep and exercise. Her patients inspired her first attempt at formulating a skin-care line.

From 2015 to 2016, Boakye says she saw a lot of contact dermatitis – patients coming in with what she says were weird rashes that developed from exposure to allergens. “I would patch test them. ‘Oh, you know what? You’re allergic to this ingredient, this ingredient, this ingredient.’ And they would say, ‘Well, what moisturiser should I use, Dr. B?’ And I was just not happy with some of the current formulations on the market.”

After discussing the issue with her sisters in their mother’s kitchen, she began wishing that the shea butter they had all grown up using in Ghana were available for her patients. The thick, raw texture of Ghanaian shea butter would make it difficult to apply, however; it would have to be melted down.

So the sisters created their own concoction of shea butter with a variety of ingredients and eventually took it to a lab for production: It included unrefined organic coconut oil, olive oil and sustainably sourced palm oil from their father’s farm in Ghana – all rich, natural ingredients to help moisturise the skin.

The sisters now co-own Karité, which offers a body cream, a hand cream and a lip balm that sell in the US market and are accessible on the brand’s online shop, as well as such marketplaces as Detox Market and

On their site, they explain that their formulation differs from other shea butters on the market, “which often have low concentrations of highly processed and refined shea butter, as well as skin-damaging chemicals and synthetic ingredients.”

The celebrity factor

Designing skin-care lines for celebrities brings lots of attention that can translate into sales, but Boakye says fame won’t go to her head. Formulating skin-care products is something she enjoys doing on the side, she says, while it teaches her more about ingredients.

Seeing the products come to life – from conceptualising to ordering supplies, receiving them and running the product – could take up to 12 months.

Still, does the world need one more celebrity skin-care line or yet another tinted sunscreen for Black skin? (Others in the market for skin of colour include Ilia Beauty and BareMinerals).

“What are the ingredients there? What are they solving – why did they come out with this? I think as long as there’s a reason for this brand, then it makes sense,” Boakye responds.

It doesn’t mean throwing out your old Oil of Olay products. Boakye says she still keeps the brand in her bathroom, among others. It’s about using a little bit of everything, not just what she produces.

As for the challenge of being a dermatologist for celebrities, Boakye says it’s mostly about scheduling – which her team handles.

“They’ve all been phenomenal. They’re really into it,” she says. “They obviously lean on me for the science because they don’t have that background, but one of the advantages is they have the platform. They have all the eyeballs.”