For Millions of Black Women, a Lack of Options for Makeup is an Everyday Battle

Ify Yvonne

Ify Yvonne walked into a Walmart in Canton, Ohio, searching for Maybelline’s Fit Me face foundation, in hopes of adding to her ever-growing makeup collection. The 26-year-old beauty and lifestyle blogger purchased the product in three different variations in anticipation of finding her perfect shade.

None of them matched.

With one too dark, one too light and the third in the wrong tone, Yvonne returned the products with dissatisfaction.

“It was frustrating because I wanted to try all these drugstore foundations that I see other YouTube gurus reviewing and talking about,” Yvonne says. “I wanted to try it out myself because the foundations I had were higher-end so they’re more expensive.”

Yvonne identifies with her Nigerian ethnicity and describes her skin tone as warm, which makes finding the right drugstore brand a tricky process. Makeup brands with only “cool” undertones make her skin appear gray and ashy.

“They weren’t working for me,” Yvonne says of the Maybelline Fit Me foundation. “I just stopped looking for it.”

Yvonne’s story is not uncommon.

The absence of face foundation options for women of color on drugstore shelves is not just an inconvenience, but a rarely discussed type of skin color stratification known as “colorism.”

Related to racism yet distinct, colorism is a type of discrimination based on skin tone and phenotype rather than racial category, according to Margaret Hunter, interim associate provost at Mills College in Oakland, California, and author of “The Persistent Problem of Colorism.”

“Akin to the long-time shading of Band-Aids to match the flesh color for white and not for anyone else or to call crayons ‘skin color’ when they’re really only the skin color of certain parts of the population,” Hunter says. “It’s definitely in relation to a broader pattern of privileging light skin as more beautiful.”

The average woman spends roughly $144 annually on beauty products, according The Beauty Company, a strategy firm specializing in research, product and brand strategy.

Some of the top-selling beauty brands of 2013 included L’oreal, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson and Coty, according to Women’s Wear Daily’s “The 2013 Beauty Inc Top 100,” a list comprised of the most lucrative beauty brands. These four companies are the parents of popular drugstore makeup brands Maybelline New York, CoverGirl, Neutrogena and Rimmel, respectively.

We at Glammonitor took a look at one liquid foundation from each of these prominent drugstore brands in order to catch a glimpse of the palette options for women with darker skin tones.

Maybelline Dream Wonder Foundation, CoverGirl Clean Liquid Makeup and Neutrogena Healthy Skin Liquid Makeup are each available in 12 shades and share similar color ranges. Rimmel Match Perfect Foundation is available in eight shades.

Choosing the correct foundation is a balancing act. The goal is to choose the right complexion shade while selecting the share in the correct undertone, as well.

One common way to determine undertone is by studying the appearance of veins, according to Beautylish, a company that refers various beauty brands and advice. If veins appear blue, the undertone is cool, if they appear slightly green or olive, the undertone is warm. Neutral undertones are a mixture of cool and warm.

Women with light or ivory-colored skin, generally fit into a cool undertone shade set. Women with olive or honey complexions typically fall into the neutral category. The deeper the complexion, the more likely the undertone is warm.

Rimmel and Neutrogena’s shade palettes resemble each other the most out of the four brands selected and are suitable for women with cool undertones, the most common undertone for caucasian women. One of the darkest shades on the Rimmel pallette, “Sand,” may fit a darker complexion, however, the undertone is cool so it may have a chalky effect on the skin. The last color on the Neutrogena palette, “Tan,” is closer to a neutral undertone.

Both Maybelline and CoverGirl’s shades offer colors in a neutral-to-warm undertone, however the lighter shades in the palette are primarily neutral. CoverGirl’s deepest shade in the set, “Tawny,” is more neutral-to-cool than warm, which may leave skin appearing flaky or ashy. Overall, the palette offers three neutral-to-warm undertone shades for darker complexions.

Maybelline’s palette caters most out of the four shades selected to women of color, offering the most options in a neutral-to-warm undertone, catering to both women with olive and honey skin in about four out of 12 shades. The two darkest shades in the set, “Honey Beige,” and “Coconut” are neutral-to-warm, offering women with a darker complexion a warmer undertone.

According to beauty expert and beauty advisor to Miss Malaysia Sharifah Juliana, foundation options for women of color are highly underrepresented.

“I think it’s difficult for them, especially drugstore brands because [they] cater to the masses,” she says. “To find affordable makeup for women of color, it’s definitely an issue.”

Not only do the brands lack a reasonable amount of shades for women of color, the small selection offers a minimal amount of options within the right undertone, or the underlying color that lies beneath the skin. Undertones can generally be cool, warm or neutral.  ‘

“A lot of times when you buy your drugstore brands, for example, for darker skin, it’s really tough,” Juliana says. “Most of the time they come out chalky because the undertones are not correct.”

Colorism is visible in additional branches of society as well, acting as a roadblock to social advancement for people of color in areas like education and employment. This type of discrimination occurs both inter- and intra-racially, relating specifically to the positive or negative social implications that come from the lightness or darkness of a person’s skin, according to The Intraracial Colorism Project, Inc., an organization committed to researching and studying the effects of colorism.

According to Hunter, education is the most vital factor in social mobility. People enduring this type of discrimination lose out on proper preparation for future employment and ultimately income opportunities, as well as training for skill-based opportunities.

These social boundaries in correlation with skin tone leave lasting effects. Those experiencing colorism withstand wounds to their self-esteem, often affecting personal and cultural identity.

“There’s a lot of pain for women of color who experience colorism,” Hunter said. “I think arguably everyone is experiencing it in a sense that they’re either benefitting from it or suffering because of it and aware of it happening around them.”

Specialty makeup brands like IMAN or specific lines like CoverGirl’s Queen Collection cater to women of color’s cosmetic needs by providing a wide variety of darker shades in multiple undertones. However, these brands are often more expensive and available at select locations or online-only.

IMAN’s Second to None Liquid Makeup retails online for $16. Neutrogena’s Healthy Skin Liquid foundation costs $12.49.

“It doesn’t fix the problem,” Hunter said of the specialty brands. “The beauty industry is deeply implicated in the perpetuation of colorism because most models and actors that are women of color are lighter skin than dark or have more Anglo features than African or indigenous. Even if you launch a line of makeup that caters to women of color it’s likely you are still reinforcing ideas of colorism by having models be on the lighter spectrum of women of color.”

Although the social impressions resulting from colorism are macroscopic, Yvonne is hopeful that the beauty industry is taking strides toward more accommodating foundations for women of color.

“I feel like I can see [the accommodations] just a little bit,” Yvonne says. “Since this is a whole world of social media and YouTube, I feel like a lot of these drugstore brands are trying to compete with the higher end products.”

Recently, Yvonne found a foundation from the new line of Maybelline Fit Me, different from the line she purchased from in 2013 and returned. Titled “Matte + Poreless,” the new line of Fit Me offered the beauty blogger a shade in the correct undertone.

“The Matte + Poreless had a wider range of dark skin foundations so that’s why I actually bought it,” Yvonne says. “I noticed that it was different than the regular ‘Fit Me.’”