It’s 2018. Why Is It Still A Struggle to Find Foundation For Dark Skin?

You know that feeling when it’s 2:13 AM and your growling stomach forces you out of bed and into the kitchen for a snack, but upon opening the fridge, you realize that there’s really nothing inside that could satiate your appetite? You close the fridge, then open it up again in the hopes of seeing a juicy burger and fries magically appear. Guess what? Still nothing! That disappointment, my friends, is exactly what I, a dark skin beauty junkie, feel when I walk into makeup stores like Sephora or Ulta, with my fingers crossed that I’ll finally find my perfect foundation match.

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I’ve spent a lot of time making things work when it comes to my foundation routine, like mixing two, sometimes three different foundations to match my dry, neutral-toned skin. My deep complexion (think somewhere between Kelly Rowland and Issa Rae) and that of several other black women with complexions deeper than mine have long been absent from beauty campaigns, launches and store shelves. I turned to YouTube for help from dark-skinned beauty gurus like Jackie Aina, StylesByFash, Tiarra Monet, Patricia Bright and more, which left me frustrated, as I tried so desperately to make the shades my favorite influencers were wearing work for my skin tone. My dresser became filled with foundation bottles from high-end to drugstore, matte to dewy, powders to liquids—you name it, I’ve tried it.

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Of course, many black women let out a huge sigh of relief in September 2017 when Rihanna unleashed her Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r foundation in a whopping 40 shades. She set the bar extremely high for subsequent beauty launches, starting a trend in the industry aptly dubbed The Fenty Effect. Still, cult-favorite brands like IT Cosmetics, Tarte, and recently, BeautyBlender faced backlash this year for releasing a gamut of light-tan shades, and only a few dark shades.

So what’s the problem? Why are dark skin faces still an “afterthought” in beauty? When will it stop? I don’t have all the answers, Sway, but I polled seven black influencers to hear their thoughts and share their personal journey to finding the right foundation.


Monica Veloz (@monicastylemuse)

Monica Veloz

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Why do you think finding dark foundations shades is still a struggle?

I can’t even tell you why it’s still an issue. It doesn’t even make sense. I think at this point, brands don’t realize that the black dollar is so powerful. We will spend! That was proven with Fenty Beauty, it was proven with Black Panther. We will spend if you give us a space, if you make us feel like you thought about us, if you make us feel like we were on the top of your list. The second we feel like we were an afterthought, we will not support the brand.

As a black beauty influencer, in what ways do you feel like your beauty is being ignored?

It came to a point where I started to see a blueprint of who beauty companies wanted to represent their products and I’m like, why wouldn’t you showcase a black girl with full lips before you showcase someone else with lip fillers? I’m black, I don’t see brands reposting my lips. Because there was a point where black women were told their lips were too big, and now it’s a trend. I don’t want to be a trend. Black women—black people—are not a trend. It’s unfortunate that as a beauty blogger who has been in this space for a while, I still struggle finding my shade. I wonder, “Hmm, are they gonna repost me?” It’s not only about dark shades, give me a gradient, I need you to focus on undertones. I know it’s hard but again, if Fenty Beauty did it, everyone else can do it, especially if you’ve been in the game for a while.

I don’t want to be a trend. Black women—black people—are not a trend.

Talk a little about your personal journey to finding the right shade match.

I’ve struggled with acne, hyper-pigmentation, and eczema all my life, so I always reached for darker shades. I never knew about undertones, I never really cared I just needed something that would cover my face, even if it meant going darker. Now I’m like “Monica, you’ve been looking crazy for the last couple of years girl what you doing?” Now I’m learning undertones. My scars are going away. I’m struggling boo and I truly can’t find a shade that’s perfect. I’ve been buying foundations left and right. Sometimes I look at myself like, ‘Oh, I look popping,’ and then three hours later the foundation oxides and I look a mess.

Favorite foundation: LA Colors Liquid Makeup in Cappuccino

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Jessie Woo (@jessiewoo)

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Jessie Woo

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Can you remember the first foundation you ever wore?

My first foundation was actually a powder. I want to say I was like 12 years old, and it was the Iman Cosmetics Sheer Bronzing Powder. I found it in my mom’s makeup bag, and she’s not really a makeup person, but she would wear it to weddings and special occasions. I remember I would sneak into her bag and bring the powder to school and wear it. It made my face all one color, it was so smooth and made me look and feel good—I’ll never forget that feeling. Then, I graduated high school and started using MAC products, which has been my go-to ever since.

Why do you think brands are a hard time creating inclusive foundation shade ranges?

I think it’s more of an undertone problem. Rihanna kind of helped out with that with her Fenty Beauty launch, even though you really have to work to find your shade. I thought I was a 460 and I’m actually a 440, but once you find your shade you’re good. She had the idea right, which is that all shades can have three different undertones. A lot of these makeup companies that have been out for so long still don’t get that idea, so it makes it so hard for us to find our shades. Recently, I’ve been doing more television and I usually do my own makeup, but lately I’ve been having to let that go and it’s been a horrible experience for me because even black makeup artists can’t match me correctly and I’m like ‘Sister, what the hell?!?’ I don’t want to be on television and my face looks one color while my neck and arms look another. I want to be able to trust these makeup artists to match me correctly and trust these brands to create colors that work for dark skin tones—it’s 2018 and we’re still having this problem.

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I think us black women need to keep being vocal and continue to let these brands know that we’re here and you need to start catering to our black asses too.

On one hand, Fenty Beauty set the standard for foundation launches, but it seems like brands coming out with poor foundation collections is the newest trend.

Oh, it’s definitely a trend. I think brands just sit there and say, “Hey, they want dark shades? Here you go,” without really putting in any effort. We have to make them care. However, I am optimistic about where the beauty industry is heading for sure. I think us black women need to keep being vocal, keep using our social media to express our thoughts and continue to let these brands know that we’re here and you need to start catering to our black asses too.

Favorite foundation: MAC Studio Fix Foundation in NW50

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Ofunne Amaka (@cocoaswatches)

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Ofunne Amaka

Why do you think brands can’t seem to get these foundation launches right?

I think that in the past a lot of the shade ranges, traditionally, haven’t been as expansive and they’re not always accurate or accessible. I’m not sure where the disconnect is happening, but retailers don’t sell deep shades in-store. When brands come out with 30, 40-shade foundation ranges, the customer may not know they exist because it’s not in store. So, they’re forced to go online and make guesses, which isn’t a great experience. I don’t think the decision to exclude darker shades has ever been logical. I think brands try to make it a demographic argument or say that blacks don’t buy it but clearly, if you do it right, it works.

Accessibility needs to be a part of this conversation.

When did you start to feel confident in your skin?

I don’t think I became confident until I really started [the app] Cocoa Swatches. Before, there weren’t many shades with different undertones. You look at pictures of older black celebrities and of course their fashion is popping but their face looks crazy; their face looks ashy, they have the wrong eyebrow color, it just doesn’t look natural. I’m sure it wasn’t personal preference, but rather the makeup artist didn’t have any colors available for them. Accessibility needs to be a part of this conversation.

Favorite foundation: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r foundation in 450

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Tiara Willis (@makeupforwoc)

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Tiara Willis

What was your first memory of foundation?

The first foundation I ever tried was Maybelline Fit Me – it was too dark. I’ve always wanted to wear makeup since I was 11 years old, I wanted to be super glam and wear mascara and eyeshadow. I would save all the money I got from relatives and I would go online and secretly buy all this makeup, but my mom wouldn’t let me wear it until eighth grade. Growing up, I used to watch all these YouTubers use all these different brands and I would go to the store and try to buy it, but they didn’t have my shade so it was a bummer because I looked up to the these girls on YouTube and wanted to buy the products they recommended so I could fit in and wear makeup like any other girl.

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How can we buy something and prove to you that we have market value if you don’t create shades for us to buy?

You launched your platform, MakeupForWOC, to help fellow women of color find makeup that suits their skin, and you’re very vocal on social media about brands who have missed the mark. How does it feel seeing all the new launches with poor shade ranges/undertones/etc.?

It’s pretty frustrating, because my job is to review products and that’s what my audience wants to see. It’s annoying because people will ask me to review a popular foundation but I can’t be a part of that moment because the brand didn’t create a shade for me.

Now, more brands are trying to keep up because Fenty Beauty raised that standard, not only in product development but in social media marketing as well. Brands have started to use models of different shades on their pages more often than they did before.

Why do you think dark skin people are still such struggling to find shades?

It’s mostly about money—market value and the audience of people with darker skin tones—as well as wanting to reach [launch] deadlines and making sacrifices for that.

When you walk into these beauty corporations, you’ll most likely see a white-dominated office space so, because there aren’t a lot of black voices at the table, there isn’t anyone to say, “Hey, this launch is not okay,'”or “You need to do something different because these shades are not diversified.” They’re not able to hear different voices.

Favorite foundation: Maybelline SuperStay Foundation 340

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Armanda Tounghui (@glowprincess)

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Armanda Tounghui

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Can you recall a moment when you felt like your beauty wasn’t seen?

When I started wearing makeup, the only brand out here with dark shades was Maybelline and they didn’t even have like deep dark shades. I was using their darkest foundation, Mocha, which was still kind of light for me. I felt like it was crazy that I had to work around the foundation shades that they offered and had to use extra stuff to make the color darker. I have a lot of friends with lighter skin than me and their makeup would always come out looking flawless because they could always find their perfect shades and I used to wonder why I had to do so much work for my makeup to match.

You can tell the difference between the companies who actually want to cater to us and those who are just throwing shades out just so they can say they’re “diverse.”

Do you think we’re wasting our time calling out beauty brands for their lack of inclusivity?

Yes and no. I feel like the only reason companies have tried to put out deeper shades is because us black women have been vocal. You can tell the difference between the companies who actually want to cater to us and those who are just throwing shades out just so they can say they’re “diverse.” How are you diverse but your concealer shades don’t cater to dark skin tones or your powders are so light? Don’t half-ass it, that’s how we can pick out the frauds.

A lot of companies are just creating shades just to create it. I feel ever since Rihanna came out with Fenty Beauty, makeup companies feel like they have to create darker colors, but they’re not really focusing on the formulas or the different types of dark skin out here the way Rihanna did.

Favorite foundation: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r in 450

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Cydnee Black (@cydbee)

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Cydnee Black

How easy or difficult has it been for you to find that perfect shade?

History has proven that when black people support something, that becomes the new trend.

It’s been a journey because I try so many different brands and trying to find my shade in every brand has been a real struggle. When I was working with Ipsy, I was the darkest influencer on the roster so when companies would gift us things, they wouldn’t even have a shade that came close to mine so I wouldn’t even be able to use anything that they sent out. Then I started doing YouTube. When I started my channel, it was dedicated to women with deeper skin tones who wanted to see what makeup would look like on them and then I started seeing more people that look like me on YouTube and felt like my beauty was being seen.

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There are still brands that come out with lackluster foundation ranges despite all the uproar–where do we go from here?

We’re giving them too much attention. We can’t just sit around and wait for people to include us, we have to include ourselves. We need to support the brands that are already supporting us and making products for us because history has proven that when black people support something, that becomes the new trend. Brands are gonna catch on seeing every single black girl buying Fenty Beauty—that’s the new wave.

Favorite foundation: YSL 24-HR in Espresso

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Shanygne Maurice (@yagirltoomuch)

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Shanygne Maurice

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You run a series on your YouTube channel called “Foundation Hunt.” What has your hunt been like?

It’s been three years since I’ve been doing my foundation hunts—I think the first one I did was Maybelline and they had about 30 shades, which wasn’t bad—but the hunt has still been a struggle because I get requests to do videos on launches like Beauty Blender and I don’t actually have a shade. I found a great match in Cover FX’s Power Play but I still have to mix foundations. It is frustrating because you don’t mix the same color every time, especially if i’m mixing a foundation to calm down the undertone of another. I’ll try to tone down a red foundation but it may not mix good on Tuesday and then it’ll good look when I do it on Thursday.

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Was there a time you felt like your beauty wasn’t represented?

Honestly, the latest Beauty Blender launch wasn’t a hit. We’re living in a year where most brands are coming out with 30 or more foundation shades and for the most part, the ranges haven’t been amazing but at least there was an effort like Nars, Bobbi Brown, Cover FX. Then, Beauty Blender hyped up their shade range and comes out with 30 shades, and some of the darker shades were legit orange. What really disappointed me was the way that they responded to it because sometimes it’s not what a brand does, it’s how they respond to it, and I didn’t like the fact that they just wouldn’t take ownership.

I feel like black women need to keep talking because foundation isn’t the only product we’re left out of.

Why is it important for black women to continue to speak up?

I think some people forget that it doesn’t just stop at foundation. It was easy for you to release a foundation range, but what does your bronzer collection look like? What about your contouring powders and creams? That’s why I feel like black women need to keep talking because foundation isn’t the only product we’re left out of. I feel like we need to keep talking so brands realize that, across the board, if you claim that you’re inclusive, you have to be inclusive everywhere. Keep that same energy across the board. For every product that you’re about to release, you should be asking yourself, ‘Can this vary in skin tone?’ If it can’t, don’t put it out yet.

Favorite foundation: Cover FX N110

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