Foundation Shade Diversity in Modern Cosmetics

The diversity of base makeup shades has become a major issues in recent years. But the advent of social media gives those who feel underrepresented a voice because it provides communicative channels between brands and consumers. So, why are so many brands still refusing to diversify shade ranges?

The Evidence

There is a questionable number of examples of cosmetics brands who have released base ranges with little, or zero, shades for darker complexions. Very recent examples include Marc Jacobs, Tarte, and YSL.


PR package showing the Marc Jacobs Remarkable Foundation Shades @mannymua733

When beauty blogger MannyMUA released this photo of the PR box he was sent from Marc Jacobs beauty in 2015, there was backlash online, as only three shades seem engineered for darker complexions.

Tarte Shape Tape Foundation

Tarte Cosmetics, (available in the UK on QVC) caused outrage when it’s highly anticipated launch of the Shape Tape foundation only contained two shades for darker skin tones, out of a total of fifthteen colours. Popular African-American YouTube Jackie Aina released a video demonstrating and berating the lack of options for darker skin-tones, a video which as of the time of writing, has over 3 million views. Tarte has since apologised.

Yves Saint Laurent Beauty created a similar controversy when it posted an Instagram of their new long-wearing foundation in August 2017.

YSL All Hours Foundation Shades

YSL All Hours Foundation Shades @yslbeauty

A screenshot of the original caption posted with the launch photo.

However, brands like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty have thrived in part because of their wide shade-range of foundations, launching with forty colours in 2017. The brand received a lot of positive press, and according to WWD, earned over $72 million in September 2017 alone (the same month it launched). Many of the darker shades have actually sold out. Clearly, diversity and representation sells.


Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Foundation Shade Range @FentyBeauty

Why Is This So Common?

According to the old adage ‘any press is good press,’ provoking outrage may be a specific marketing technique. Alisha Acquaye’s excellent article in Teen Vogue argues that backlash rewards brands with publicity. Subsequently, by promising to ‘do better,’ companies receive positive press if and when they expand their ranges. As Acquaye infers, customers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Either they don’t react to being excluded, or they face the possibility of giving more attention to the brands which have excluded them.

Provoking outrage may actually be the kindest reading of cosmetic companies’ exclusion. The truth may be much more sinister. Make no mistake, brands’ failure to prioritise diversity is a direct message to consumers – we value some customers over others. Guess who those customers are

It’s hard to conjure any sympathy for brands facing backlash. Tarte’s apology was posted on their Instagram story. It said in part ‘We wanted to get the product out as fast as possible, & we made the decision to move forward before all the shades were ready to go.’ Similarly, IT Cosmetics, owned by L’Oreal, apologised for their Bye Bye Foundation shade range, saying ‘Expanding our shade range is a top priority and we are working on it!” It’s simply not good enough that many brands appear to see darker complexions as an afterthought.

IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Foundation @Trendmood1 Instagram

What Can You Do?

Ultimately, buying makeup is a deeply personal experience, and people choose the products they do for a number of different reasons. Buying products from a certain brand does not mean you condone everything that brand does. However, let’s remember that voting with your wallet works.

Buying products from a certain brand tells them that they are doing something right. Cosmetics companies  tend to be receptive on social media, so twitter activism does make a difference! As this month’s theme on i the Stylist is equality, stay tuned for more articles celebrating brands who celebrate diversity.

Post Author: Kate Lipson

Kate Lipson
I'm a recent university graduate living in London, and always spent way too much of my student loan on skincare! I love researching and discovering new makeup, (although I'm usually too lazy to actually wear it), and I'll buy pretty much anything with the word 'hydrating' on it. I've never once managed to successfully apply false lashes, nor worked out the purpose of a fan brush.

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