Have you ever been shopping for makeup and realized you can’t find your shade? If you have, take note of your skin colour. Do the same if you haven’t. Personally as a Black women, my biggest problem when shopping for skin-tinted makeup is finding my shade for an affordable price. The first concealer I got was from Morphe, and it always gave me almost a ghostly cast, so I don’t use tinted skincare products. Black women spent 9-10x more money on beauty/hair products than White women in 2019. So why are products for darker complexions so inaccessible?
Black women have historically been left out of beauty standards since they’ve existed. Although we make up 85% of hair and beauty sales, companies still seem to look at Black women as an afterthought. Beauty standards and racism influence the products beauty brands emerge with, as they exclude an entire demographic of consumers in the process. Many companies neglect women of colour as consumers with the false thought that, “dark shades don’t sell”. When Fenty launched their foundation line in 2017 it was historic because the dark shades were the first to sell out, debunking the myth that darker shades aren’t profitable. When Fenty released this line, Makeup Forever stated that a 40-shade foundation was “nothing new”, and Rihanna commented “lol. Still ashy”. Clapping back in cool Rihanna fashion, she implies that Makeup Forever may have a large shade range, but it was not inclusive. Using Photoshop and light extraction, Fenty’s lightest shade is lighter than MUF’s, and Fenty’s darkest shade is darker than MUF’s. She ate with that one. Rihanna so cordially proves that having an extensive shade range doesn’t make it diverse, especially if most shades are disproportionately light. Although having 40 shades is marketed specifically to reshape a territory dominated by whiteness, it’s about much more than that. Another example is the birth control patch as it only comes in one shade, which is light beige. Of course, this does not encapsulate the shade range of all people who will need to wear birth control patches.
Even when women of colour are included in the options, it’s unequal. I went to my local drug store and examined the product names. The lighter shades are called, “fair, ivory, porcelain, light beige, nude beige, soft tan, etc”. Now, the darker shades are, “toffee, caramel, cappuccino, coconut, mocha, truffle, java”. Shades meant for darker complexions are often named after food or desserts, contributing to the fetishization of Black women. This is extremely dehumanizing, and a Black woman spoke on this inequity saying, “Why are we food?” . Tarte released a foundation line after their Shape Tape concealer broke records, but the darker shades weren’t included in the initial launch. When criticized, a Tarte brand ambassador said, “Additional shades are usually added seasonally, which makes sense because your complexion tends to be paler in the winter and darker in the summer months”. So, women of colour don’t exist in the winter? Shade ranges in skin tone are so important because North Americans place much emphasis on understanding skin tone and what it represents. Shopping for skin-tinted products reinforces the importance placed on skin, and can shape the way one views themself. Some beauty brands try to make these changes in creating an ‘inclusive’ foundation line but don’t realize the potential differences they’re making in people’s lives.
Fenty is not a cheap brand, so now women of colour are forced to spend more money on products to find their right shade. Black women are more likely to be of lower socioeconomic status, and this only extenuates the disparity. Getting a closer look at drugstore products, Maybelline and CoverGirl stand out. CoverGirl carries 8-10 shades in the store, with full collections up to 16, online. The CoverGirl Queen Collection was a shade range catered to darker women but it’s only available online or in specific US stores. Companies releasing darker shades “later”, or as “online-only exclusives” is not rare. It’s clear based on product priorities, that the White beauty ideal is still dominant. Grocery and drugstores may also have “ethnic” haircare or makeup sections, further marginalizing Black women. Like the ethnic section in grocery stores, now a certain population is detached from the rest of the store, cramming cultures into an enclave. Hair is hair and skin is skin, in the same way the term ethnic loses its meaning because everyone has an ethnicity. In this sense, the ethnic section is racialized and perpetuates the legacy of white supremacy and colonialism through food aisles and beauty industry standards. In stores, products clearly catered toward Black populations are also found to be locked up. Meanwhile, the products next to them are free for the taking. This perpetuates a clear disparity between racial stereotypes, and allows shoppers of all races to validate pre-existing notions.
Well, everything is deeper than you think–including the shade range in makeup products. Self-esteem and colourism are not arbitrary in this system, but exuberated. The next time you’re shopping for skin-tinted makeup, think about if you have any trouble finding your shade. Remember, privilege is not always visible to those who have it.
Childs, K. M. (2022). “The Shade of It All”: How Black Women Use Instagram and YouTube to Contest Colorism in the Beauty Industry. Social Media + Society, 8(2). https://doi.org/10.1177/20563051221107634
Hall, A. (2021). Racism in the Beauty Industry. Digital Commons at Sacred Heart University. https://digitalcommons.sacredheart.edu/acadfest/2021/all/10/
Planned Parenthood Toronto. (2020). What is the Birth Control Patch? Canada. https://ppt.on.ca/factsheets/patch/#:~:text=You%20have%20to%20remember%20to,may%20not%20match%20your%20skin.
Shawna, C. (2018). “Dark Shades Don’t Sell”: Race, Gender, and Cosmetic Advertisements in the Mid-Twentieth Century United States. McMaster University. http://hdl.handle.net/11375/22870
Werle, A. (2019). Beyond Light, Medium, and Dark: Diversity and Inclusivity in the Makeup and Beauty Industries. Mahurin Honors College Capstone Experience/Thesis Projects. Paper 831. https://digitalcommons.wku.edu/stu_hon_theses/831