Foundation Shade Ranges: Exploring Systematic Racism in the Fashion Industry

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Until recently, most makeup brands have not extended their shade range to suit darker skin tones. Makeup giants have taken the time to perfect every shade and hue of beige, yet this effort has been near non-existent for darker tones. The conversation around diversity in makeup has grown over recent years, but where is this change happening, and is it quick enough?

The lack of availability of foundation shades has been a well-documented issue amongst people of colour who do not fit into the outdated ‘one size fits all’ model perpetuated by the beauty industry. Positively, In the past couple of years we have witnessed this begin to shift. Inclusivity is now at the forefront of the conversation rather than the afterthought it had always been. Whilst there is still much more to do, providing one token dark shade amongst 11 other beige shades is finally no longer acceptable.

Rihanna’s Fenty cosmetics is often credited as the catalyst for this change. Fenty beauty launched in 2017 and introduced the Pro Filt’r foundation with an impressive 40 shades. Whilst not the first to create an extensive shade range, Fenty beauty stood out as a brand with a clear goal of diversity.  They sought to become inclusive in every product, beyond foundation and into lipsticks, eyeshadow, highlighter and more. Fenty provided women of all shades to fill their makeup bag with products that actually suit the hues and undertones of their skin.

credit: Fenty Beauty

Certainly, brands such as Make up for Ever and MAC have always had a wide variety of shades, but these were often studio lines and there was only a few. Here, Fenty was able to permanently change the makeup game. Fenty set a precedent for other makeup brands, forcing a 40-shade range to become the norm. Luxury brands have since revamped their foundation offerings like Estee Lauder who now provide the iconic Double Wear foundation in a huge 56 shades with African-American Anok Yai the face of the campaign. High street brands have attempted to follow suit such as the iconic Maybelline Age Rewind concealer whose shade range has doubled.

credit: Global Cosmetics News

There have been clear advances in the makeup industry for women of colour, but there are still many improvements that must be made. Whilst Fenty has hugely impacted the makeup world it is simply not affordable for many, particularly students. If you look in Boots and Superdrug to provide an affordable foundation as a person of colour you will still probably leave empty-handed. To observe the strides being made in luxury makeup yet still be greeted by the 12 shades of beige in drugstore is hugely disappointing. Of course, these brands are only given so much shelf space and will put out the shades that they think will sell best. But, the huge demand for brands like Fenty and the speed at which the dark shades sell out shows that the customer base is there, eager to snap up a spectrum of shades. The myth that darker shades don’t sell has been debunked and is not an excuse for inequality in beauty.

Ultimately, there have been important developments in the beauty industry in the last few years. But it is time for these changes to become more visible in high-street stores. Accessibility of suitable products is a huge issue for people of colour and this must be improved.