7 Best Mainstream Beauty Brands For Women Of Colour
If there’s one reason customization is gaining ground in the beauty world, it might be that the industry has long overlooked the needs of women of color. Few brands carry enough shades on the deeper end, and those that do aren’t necessarily diverse when it comes to undertone. These women have more choices now, as beauty brands recognize the value, both monetary and otherwise, in serving women of color. (It likely helps that beauty bloggers like Jackie Aina regularly call out brands for failing to create products with women of color in mind.) And with the advent of beauty startups like MatchCo, which scans your skin and whips up a batch of foundation personalized to your skin tone, women are no longer at the mercy of makeup brands.
But customization doesn’t come cheap—one bottle of MatchCo’s foundation will set you back $49—and many women want to test out a product before making a purchase. For women of color, the hassle of buying a product that might not pair with their skin tone, even one that is customized, is too real. Below, we’ve compiled a list of makeup brands that, slowly but surely, are doing right by women of color—and can be found at the drugstores Sephora or Ulta.
The drugstore historically hasn’t offered women of color much selection, but that is slowly changing. Maybelline is one brand that has recently attempted to correct that oversight: In May, Maybelline added 16 new shades to one of its most popular foundations, the Fit Me! Matte + Poreless Foundation. That followed an expansion of its Super Stay Better Skin Foundation line last fall (albeit only by four shades). Even Maybelline’s lipstick lineup offers a variety of “nude” shades. Here’s hoping Maybelline’s next move is to upgrade its paltry shade range for concealers and powders.
Inclusivity is pretty much this brand’s raison d’être. Iman Cosmetics is a step up from drugstore—both in terms of price and range—despite being carried by the likes of Walgreens. The brainchild of supermodel Iman, the brand foregoes diversity across its lighter shades in favor of focusing on darker skin tones. Iman was founded way back in 1994 and aimed to serve not just black women, but all women with melanin. “The mission statement has not changed,” Iman told the New York Times a few years back. “It was for women of skin of color and addressing skin tone.”
With the exception of brands like Iman, the shade and product range of drugstore brands pales, quite literally, in comparison to that of high-end brands. A cursory glance at Sephora will tell you that a brand like Laura Mercier carries 20 shades in most of its foundation lines—including its new launch from earlier this month, the Flawless Fusion Ultra-Longwear Foundation—which offers a variety of textures and finishes. Earlier this year, Laura Mercier came out with a medium to dark version of its cult favorite translucent setting powder.
In 2014, Lancome was lauded for appointing Lupita Nyong’o its first black ambassadress and, the following year, for making her the face of a new campaign—and shade expansion—for their Teint Idole Ultra Long Wear Foundation. That was actually the result of a wide-ranging effort by parent company L’Oreal to make its brands—which include Maybelline and NYX—more inclusive, as Fast Company wrote in 2015. L’Oréal’s Women of Color Lab was created specifically to make products for darker skin tones; Balanda Atis, who heads up the lab, was also responsible for Maybelline’s increased diversity in shade range.
Like Lancome, Cover FX has an impressive shade range, boasting 40 shades, split up by undertone, across three foundation lines with varied formulation. But Cover FX doesn’t stop there: The brand also offers 25 colors of its Custom Cover Drops—pure pigment that customers can combine with other foundations, moisturizers, and primers, to whip up exactly the color and coverage they want.
Barely a year after launching her eponymous brand, Bobbi Brown released a set of yellow-toned foundation sticks. It was her first face product and a unique one at that, given its emphasis on yellow undertones rather than pink undertones. The foundation stick is now available in 31 shades, and a number of other Bobbi Brown foundations come in almost as many shades. In its lipstick range, Bobbi Brown gives women of color nude options that won’t wash them out, while many of its blushes are dark enough to show up on deeper skin.
MAC is particularly popular among women of color because it’s one of the few brands that has long catered to a spectrum of skin tones. (I can attest to this as an Indian American woman—MAC’s concealer was the first that didn’t make my skin look ashy.) MAC categorizes its face products by both undertone—neutral warm vs. neutral cool—and skin color, which is why you’ll find that fans of the brand have vastly different undertones and melanin levels. Plus, MAC’s range of products—be it for eyes, lips, or face—is hard to beat. Its classic bullet lipstick boasts 230 shades, which doesn’t even account for the countless other lip products carried by the brand; MAC sells 18 foundations, one of which is available in 48 shades, and its powder blush comes in 42 colors. It’s hard not to be inclusive when you sell enough lipsticks to fill a 7-drawer PR package.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.
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