{the lessons} Buying Foundation When the Foundation is Judgy

by Rachel on April 16, 2012

I really love make-up and I love trying new brands and products. Every time I hear that a product is a “must-have” or a “cult favorite” or especially the ubiquitous “looks great on everyone,” I’m there. But sometimes I realize, no, it doesn’t look good on everyone, and if it’s a cult favorite, then that cult does not include women of color. 

I have a new post up on Color Me Rouge: Worst make-up lines for women of color. This is a topic that has been on my mind for a long time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been excited to try a new line or product, only to discover that its creators simply aren’t aware that women come in different colors, or, if they do realize this, they have very little knowledge of the nuances of dark skin (and I’m not just speaking of women of African-American descent like myself; women of color come in many colors). It’s hard not to feel judged when I try to buy make-up and the brand won’t let me.

Some beauty companies have embraced the idea of separate but equal. Cover Girl has its “Queen Collection” foundations, with two light shades and ten darker ones. While I really do appreciate that they are trying, the fact remains that their other foundation lines typically have 12-14 shades and contain only 2-3 darker shades. That means that unless I like the formula used in the Queen Collection, I’m out of luck. If I want to buy a Cover Girl foundation that’s more in line with what I’m looking for (oil-free, more coverage, anti-aging, whatever) chances are, I’ll only have two shades to choose from. While I really am happy to see that they are at least aware of the problem — perhaps they discovered it when they hired Queen Latifah and realized she couldn’t even wear all of their lines — the fact is, separate but equal just doesn’t work.

These days, I stick with Make Up Forever HD foundation. It costs an arm and a leg but I guess that’s the price I pay to not feel that sense of Oops, this foundation is judging me for thinking it’s no longer “whites only” that I experience with so many other brands.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Elisabeth April 16, 2012 at 9:48 am

It’s not just a problem for women of color, Rachel! As a woman of “no color” aka VERY fair skin, I can wear almost no drugstore brand foundations without looking like I smeared mud on my face. MAC is particularly bad. I have to stick with Bobbi Brown foundation because that’s one of the few lines I’ve found that’s light enough for me. I agree, though, that there’s definitely room for improvement on the part of makeup companies to better know their customers!


2 Rachel April 16, 2012 at 10:43 am

I agree! I always go straight to the lightest shade of foundation and usually they look very orange or brown on me.

Maybe foundations are bad for everyone?!


3 Dori April 16, 2012 at 1:59 pm

I’m also extremely fair and the best luck I’ve had is with Tarte ReCreate liquid foundation, Also, my company (Hydroxatone) just came out with a BB Cream and the ‘Light’ is actually really perfect for me too… but there’s nothing for Rachel – yet, I hope!


4 Marie April 16, 2012 at 10:44 am

I had a friend from India in high school who used to try on and make fun of my “Ivory” Clinique powder. She was like, “my color would probably be ‘shit brown!'” She never wore makeup and I always just assumed it was because she had amazingly perfect skin (she really did), but maybe she just didn’t really have a choice…?


5 Caitie April 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I read your full post and I am SO SAD about Benefit. They are far and away my favourite brand and it’s really disappointing that they don’t cater to a diverse clientele (and I’m kind of disappointed that *I* didn’t notice this earlier).

That being said, I’m virtually transparent and even the lightest shades of foundation make me look yellow or orange. Good thing I hate the way foundation feels, I guess? It’s one less thing to spend money on.


6 M. April 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm

I feel this way about nude shoes and bras also -those nude shoes are definitely not nude for me, and neither are the bras. It irks me to no end.


7 Dori April 16, 2012 at 2:00 pm

And nude stocking socks! My feet are always a different race than the rest of me.


8 Rachel April 16, 2012 at 2:09 pm

YES! I didn’t get into it in this post because that’s a whole other topic where I can just rant on but…YES!


9 Hannah April 16, 2012 at 3:03 pm

And band-aids. The “nude” or “skin tone” version is for light skinned people. Although I think that a few years ago they started making a darker one? I hadn’t thought of the make up thing (I’m fairly average for a white person), but I had thought of the bra and pantyhose thing before when shopping.


10 K @ The Chic Teach April 17, 2012 at 6:16 am

Hannah, I had this exact thought about bandaids the other day! I work in a very culturally diverse school, and one of my kiddos was wearing a super light bandaid on his super dark skin. I had the thought, “Um, has seriously nobody in the bandaid industry noticed this yet?!”

All in all, it’s pretty ridiculous that our society is so white-centric when really we’re a conglomerate of all skin shades…


11 francine April 16, 2012 at 10:23 pm

yes, THIS. the makeup thing only bothers me a bit (because i almost never wear foundation… which probably started when i couldn’t find any in my dark skin tone), but the nude shoes and bras???!!! kill me now. i just want to have longer looking legs and hardly anyone makes brown platform heels!! so sad :(


12 Megan C. April 16, 2012 at 3:17 pm

It is frustrating that make-up lines don’t realize that one color doesn’t work for all. I’m like Elizabeth…I’m Irish and thus snow white in color with rosy cheeks. My problem is finding foundation that is pale enough. Most look like I have a mask. I’ve had good luck with Bare Essentials (if I blend like crazy) and Urban Decay for their tinted moisturizer if I don’t want full coverage. It is hard to find a perfect match.


13 RAIN April 16, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I don’t think it has anything to do with race or “whites only” at all.

I have super fair white/reddish skin…very sensitive. And when I can’t find a foundation that matches my skin tone at all.

I agree though that companies need to think more about ALL the different skin tones that people have so we all can find a matching foundation. I forget what company it was/is….but didn’t one of them come out with one that adapts to your skin tone? Not one that changes color but blends or something?


14 M. April 16, 2012 at 3:44 pm

Well, I sort of think it does have to do with race- many of companies offer dozens of lighter shades, but only one or two darker shades, even though there is just as much (if not more?) variation among the darker shades. So, I’m not trying to take away from the face that you can’t find a colour, but just noting that there are a LOT more options for those with lighter skin than with darker skin.

There are also less overt things that make it clear the company isn’t targeting all colours- like Benefit’s makeup kits that are only offered in colours that would compliment lighter skin tones (e.g. http://www.benefitcosmetics.com/product/view/confessions-of-a-concealaholic), which I would consider buying, if they were anywhere near the right colour for me.

I’m lucky I have great skin now, because honestly, when I did wear more makeup, it was practically impossible to find a shade that matched my mixed-race skin, regardless of how much I was willing to pay.


15 Rachel April 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I agree with M. on a couple of these points. First, that in general, if you have lighter skin, in most cases, you have a better chance of finding a shade that matches your skin tone, just because they offer more variations on the light end of the spectrum. (Look at Cover Girl’s options and you’ll see what I mean: http://www.covergirl.com/beauty-products/face-makeup/foundation-makeup.)

Second, her point about the less-overt ways that companies do this is spot on, and mentions something I mentioned in the post over on Color Me Rouge — both Benefit and YSL have offered a VERY limited range of color in their products and made the choice to make that range span only lighter shades. I understand if a company can only do three in the beginning, but when they choose to make those three shades all shades of beige, I have a problem with that.


16 RAIN April 17, 2012 at 7:47 am

I was thinking about this a lot last night…I still don’t think it’s a racist issue. Or should even be made in to a racist issue.

I don’t think companies would be racist on purpose regarding makeup. And the main reason I think this is they want to make money. I mean the whole purpose of having a business is to make money so why would they shut out a whole demographic of people? It doesn’t make sense to me. I haven’t done the research though and looked through all the makeup color lines so I perhaps I am speaking out of ignorance.

Do I think it’s poor product creation/marketing, etc…you bet I do. Like I said I can’t find a foundation that matches my skin tone…even out of the multitude of choices you say there are. That’s not racism…that’s a flaw with whoever these companies are hiring/employeeing who aren’t making/creating makeup colors for all skin tones.

I do think racism exists…I guess I just hate that you would say “white only”. I would never feel or think that way. And it is disheartening that you would.


17 Dallas April 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I think that it’s not really the place of a person in the racial majority to say that the racial minority should or should not view something as racist.


18 Evelyn N. April 19, 2012 at 12:22 am

yeah you’d think companies want to make money…but then why don’t they make anything for me to buy? I don’t know if it’s racist per se. But it’s on purpose, no doubt. Like you said, how could they ignore the fact that yes brown/black ladies wear makeup too? It >>is<< whites only, pretty much. (but the ladies who talked about being very pale bring up a good point)

i don't even try to wear makeup anymore LOL! i can only walk past 27 shades of beige so many times until i just give up hahah i'm more like hershey's chocolate. it honestly feels like companies refuse to make colors past "toasty" lol and good luck to all my olive toned sisters *smh* i feel like they're left out even more than me!


19 Kristin April 16, 2012 at 10:28 pm

I’m a long time reader, and I think this might be only my 2nd post, and I hesitate to even put it out there… but I just came home from my Mary Kay meeting and was reading through blogs before heading to bed (and to avoid studying for an unrelated test), but this post makes me sad. If it is true that all these companies are not giving real women what they want, that makes me sad, and at the same time fairly happy for Mary Kay. I am a true white girl, red headed and can’t tan to save my life, but I have customers of all races/nationalities who have found a match with Mary Kay foundations. It is truly a personal shopper type thing, we try and try and don’t stop matching until we find one the customer is happy with. If any one would like to discuss, please email me.


20 Felicia April 18, 2012 at 10:52 pm

I think it is a racism thing, but so few people are unaware of what racism is. Even unintentional racism is racism. It is sad when certain people are excluded intentionally or unintentionally. Hopefully it is not always like this for everyone.

I am naturally very tanned and even I have a hard time finding a good foundation. Most are too brown or too yellow/ orange for me.


21 Ally April 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Women have been buying the wrong foundation since it was invented. Even back when men wore make up it never matched their skin tone. I don’t think it was suppose to either. I’ve got TWO different bottles of foundation that I’ll have to mix to match what color I am.

I’m interracial (German/Ecuadorean) and I become very light in the summer and very tan in the summer so I’ve used all sorts of different brands and it doesn’t matter I can’t find anything that matches my skin EVER. I’ll come close – very close, but never perfect. Estee Lauder used to make the exact match a while back BUT my skin would tan or lighten up so I’d feel like I just threw away $40.

I’ve just come used to have two different bottles & adjusting the foundation on either a sponge or brush then applying. Does anyone have experience with a spray foundation? My friend is a make up artist has said she has to make a batch of foundation to spray bc she’s run into the same issue of not being able to do an exact match.

I haven’t been a victim of foundation line. lol


22 Diane April 23, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Two years ago, you and another friend recommended the Make Up Forever HD Foundation — that stuff changed my life! I’m a huge fan, even though it’s $$$ and I go through like three bottles a year.


23 [SMASH] April 23, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I worked at a department store makeup counter after college. We used to lose customers all the time because our range of foundation colors didn’t really encompass all the colors of skin it needed to. Even though I wasn’t making the product, I always felt awful for those who couldn’t find the right shade.


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