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Controversy Persists Over Lack of Shade Options for Darker Skin Tones…Why it Matters

Michelle Green
By: Senior Editor & Skincare Expert  |  Michelle Green

If you have a light complexion, the makeup aisle at the drugstore is your oyster. You have a wide variety of choices, and it’s not difficult to find the shade or color palette that matches you the best. Unfortunately, women everywhere with darker skin tones don’t have as many options. And it’s a problem.

The fact that the cosmetics industry continues to ignore darker-complected customers is sending ripple effects throughout the fashion and beauty industry, global economy, and society as a whole. I

f you don’t have a darker skin tone and you don’t think their struggle to find the shades that make them feel beautiful matters, we strongly encourage you to keep reading.

Because it does matter – and everyone needs to understand why.

Catering to Women of Color Is Just Good Business – but Bad Business Is Still in Charge

For too long, the word “nude” has described a color that just isn’t accurate for most women.

If you’re familiar with this controversy, here’s a statistic you’ve probably already heard (but still bears repeating): African-American women spend $7.5 Billion dollars a year on makeup and beauty products. But that number only elucidates a fraction of the true context. Here’s what that number fails to calculate:

  • The report is talking about the United States – it doesn’t provide global data for the cosmetics industry as a whole.
  • The report doesn’t talk about Latin women, or Indian women, or any other women of color who may not be of African-American descent, but still have problems finding their perfect shade.
  • The report was produced in 2009. We’re pretty sure that number is a lot higher by now.
  • There are millions of melanin girls out there who would gladly wear more makeup (and pay a pretty penny for it), but the lack of choice makes shopping too much of a hassle.

If you are a business-savvy person, the vastness of this untapped market should have you seeing dollar signs.

Unfortunately, many companies aren’t aware of how many tens of billions in revenue they’re missing out on by refusing to update their business model.

Should we, as consumers, be pressuring major cosmetic corporations to reinvent their business model? Or should we let them fail, creating a void for better businesses to thrive in?

And for how much longer will women of color have to search for products they can use?

During the early days of beauty, fashion, and cosmetic marketing, a major corporation would reach out and tell their customers what was and wasn’t beautiful. If they wanted to be beautiful too, then they had to buy that new product!

The rise of social media has completely flipped the script on this process. The majority of makeup consumers these days are telling companies like Lancome, L’Oreal, and IT Cosmetics: “This product is what makes me feel beautiful. If you can sell me your version of it, I’ll gladly pay up!”

Unfortunately, most makeup companies are so tone deaf that it takes backlash and social media outrage before they make any real progress. And even then, that progress is still mostly lackluster.

This leaves room for small businesses to enter the market – which is a good thing if you want capitalism to function the way it’s supposed to.

Small makeup companies who are catering to women of color are thriving these days because they’re selling a product that people actually want to buy. The beauty industry is a sink or swim battleground, and the businesses that provide a wide range of darker shades for women have been doing a lot of swimming lately.

But adding more variety to the color palette isn’t all about dollars and cents. Providing women of color a greater variety of higher-quality makeup choices can have societal benefits which many people may overlook.

The Lack of Shade Options for Darker Skin Tones and It’s Societal Externalities

Women of all colors need viable options for their skin care and self-expression.

There’s a centuries-old torture technique called “Death By A Thousand Cuts”. It’s literally all there in the name: you cut someone’s skin so many hundreds of times until the pain and trauma causes them to slowly bleed to death.

For women of color, being ignored and under-served due to their minority status is the psychological equivalent of this torture. One of the many, many cuts they experience each day is the lack of choice and quality of makeup options which match their skin tone.

It isn’t just the glaring lack of options that’s troubling. It’s the abundance of “beauty” products out there which promise to lighten or bleach a person’s dark skin into a socially acceptable shade.

The biggest example of this problem is in India where a fairer, lighter skin tone is still strongly associated with high status and income.

While there has been a backlash against these outdated beliefs in recent years, it’s important to note that this isn’t just a problem in India. In the US, cosmetic companies have landed in some hot water after getting caught photoshopping high-profile celebrities like Beyonce to have a dramatically lighter skin tone.

The incident in question involved a L’Oreal ad staring Queen B.

Some people may scoff at the notion that the under-representation of people of color in the cosmetics industry is causing any sort of societal mental health pandemic. The most cynical critics may even point out that the cosmetics industry is designed to make women feel bad about their looks so that they buy beauty products in order to fix themselves. But there are economic costs to this lack of confidence, too.

The majority of people running the cosmetics industry are older, fair-complected people who have outdated views about what makes their customers feel beautiful.

On top of that, the science and manufacturing practices of the makeup industry haven’t evolved that much over the past few decades. Focusing more attention on people of color, making them feel beautiful, and designing products which are capable of that could revolutionize the industry.

This would require putting more people of color into the business, and women especially. The diversity shift will likely help shrink the employment and pay gaps which exist in these communities. Best of all, their expertise and input can produce wide-ranging benefits across the entire cosmetics industry – even for customers who are on the lighter side of the spectrum.

Why Shade Options Should Matter to Everyone
(Yes, Even If You’re Pale)

If you have a fairer complexion, odds are you found your perfect shade years ago. You don’t have any first-hand experience with the struggle. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about it.

The world is growing more diverse by the day; odds are good that there is at least one person in your life who wears makeup and has a darker complexion than you. If you care about that person, you should care about their struggle.

Not being able to find good makeup may seem inconsequential. But put yourself in their shoes for a minute. How would you feel if your only foundation options were low-quality products that didn’t match you at all? Or if you were constantly spammed with advertisements for products that promise to change your skin color? That feeling would suck.

Recognizing that disparity is the first step towards becoming an ally for the cause.

Even if your social circle is depressingly monochromatic, you should still care about the cosmetic industry’s indifference toward people with darker skin tones.

We can use a brief history lesson to explain why.

Back in the 1950s and 60s when NASA was scrambling to put US astronauts on the moon, their research and development efforts created an avalanche of spinoff products that we still use to this day. That innovation is responsible for things like velcro, baby formula, higher food safety standards, dustbusters, and more. It’s even responsible for your cell phone’s ability to snap a selfie. NASA’s efforts to get the first man on the moon resulted in a cornucopia of technological benefits that improved society as a whole.

Nothing is impossible, especially when there is money to be made from it.

Now imagine what would happen in the cosmetics industry if they tried to accomplish the similarly “impossible” task of creating premium quality makeup for women of color.

The research, innovation, and knowledge gained could revolutionize the way we produce makeup for women of all skin tones. From that, new makeup techniques will emerge which can make anyone look and feel more beautiful than they already do (we’re looking at you, contouring).

As they say, “a rising tide lifts all ships”.

There isn’t a single downside to offering more, better shade options so that everyone can feel beautiful. With any luck, it’ll only be a short time before the cosmetic industry gets on board and develops a catalog of shades that make everyone look and feel their best.

Michelle Green
Senior Editor & Skincare Expert
Michelle Green is a well-established aesthetician with over 20 years experience in skincare. She has researched over 5,000 products over the past decade, striving to help her readers fine-tune their skincare routine so they can get the results they want.

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