Colorism In The Cosmetics Industry

You know that feeling of excitement when you’re going to McDonald’s for ice cream and as you’re pulling up the worker says that the machine doesn’t work? Well, that feeling of disappointment is what I always feel walking into a makeup store. Growing up, going to Sephora, Claire’s, or my local CVS was always an interesting experience, to say the least. 

As a darker-skinned girl, it was always so difficult to find a company with a foundation or concealer that matches my skin tone. Even if there even were any darker shades, there was never a transition from the lighter shades to the two darker shades they had. And while all my friends were doing swatches on their faces and having fun, I was most likely in the mascara aisle feeling alienated and discouraged. 

Black people already face enough discrimination in our lives and it is extremely disappointing that this racism continues in the cosmetics industry. Many makeup brands love to claim that they are inclusive of all skin tones but they always fail to mention that that only applies to light skin tones.

As you can see in the attached tweet, Tarte is just one of the many makeup brands that will have at most three foundation shades for darker-skinned people while people with lighter skin tones get eight new shades. How is it that brands understand different complexions among white people, but when it comes to Black people we’re all supposed to fit under the two shades they provide us with? Though Tarte eventually improved their shade range, having a wide range of shades should be a priority at the first release of a product, instead of an afterthought.

Yves Saint Laurent (YSL) was also under a lot of fire in 2017 after posting an Instagram picture with the original caption saying “…available in 22 shades light to dark, to suit all skin tones.” To claim that they have foundation shades for all skin tones is ridiculous if they came out with only one darker shade and 21 different variations of the color tan.  

After doing some digging into YSL’s social media, I found a more recent post from June (during the Black Lives Matter protests) where they state that discrimination has no justification. As I was scrolling through the replies to this hypocritical tweet, I found a reply that really resonated with me. 

A Twitter user shared her story about the time the company didn’t provide shades that matched her skin tone either. YSL is just one of the many companies that used the movement as a way to cover up the fact that they care about people of color when in reality, they never did. We don’t want to see your tone-deaf tweets, we want to be able to walk into your store knowing that you will have a range of foundation shades that suits all skin tones. 

When other companies have been confronted about their lack of darker foundation shades, they blame it on the fact that they do not have the correct undertones for darker shades. This lousy excuse does not justify their lack of inclusivity. If the companies were really trying to maximize the amount of money they could make, they would learn to create shades for all skin tones.

Although I am happy that brands like Fenty Beauty and Morphe are inclusive of all skin tones, they shouldn’t receive praise and popularity for something that should be the norm. It’s not normal to have to actively search for brands that will cater to our skin tones. Black people, and other dark-skinned people of color, deserve better. 

On another note, we also need to talk about the strange names that darker shades get. A pattern that I have noticed is that lighter shades are given very angelic names like cloud and swan, while darker shades are named after foods like cocoa and coffee. The Sephora product below provides a good example.

In a Cosmopolitan article on this topic, beauty writer Keeks Reid states “If the dark shades are going to be fetishized and made into a hot drink/pudding, the lighter shades should get the same treatment too.” The way we name foundation shades should be the same for everyone. 

Makeup brands need to do better. Not supplying shades for darker-skinned people is inexcusable and highly disappointing. Creating more shades only brings benefits to a company as it broadens the number of people who are able to use their products. There is no justification for their blatant disregard of us. 

Speaking about our experiences is just the beginning. To ensure that changes are made, we need to keep calling on beauty brands to make sure their shade ranges are inclusive from the time of release. I would also like to see beauty gurus on social media using their platform to amplify our voices so we can hopefully see change. 

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