Aanika Patel & The Search for Diversity in the Makeup Industry

Last month, I was in Miami visiting my college roommate and Slay co-founder Kelly Bonilla. Like the good Floridian she is, she immediately took me to Publix to stock up on snacks for the weekend. I was running low on foundation and was heading on a long work trip after visiting Miami. I took a detour from picking up an essential crate of kombucha to stock up on my go-to drugstore foundation—Loreal Infallible Pro-Glow Foundation. The line comes in 13 shades. The store carried only the seven lightest.

Women of color have long faced this frustration. Makeup brands—from drugstore to high-end— have historically created limited shade ranges and retailers have limited supplying the full extent of lines at their stores. While Publix is not a drugstore where you would expect to see the volume of products you would at a CVS or Walgreens, my encounter is representative of what women of color ask themselves when trying to buy beauty products—who makes my shade and where can I find it?

For many years, women of color turned to high-end brands such as MAC which carried over 40 different shades and a variety of foundation formulas that met their skin needs. These kinds of brands were rare and didn’t always meet the coverage, color, and skin care needs of women of color.

In recent years, high-end makeup brands have launched foundations with a wide range of shades. The kicker, many of them are led by minorities. Both Huda Beauty, founded by middle eastern makeup artist Huda Kattan, and Fenty Beauty, founded by Trinidadian pop icon Rihanna, both launched foundations in the past year with an equal distribution of 40 shades from across the spectrum of skin color and a marketing campaign that highlighted those very faces. Both lines sold out almost every shade within weeks of launch, dispelling the idea that sales considerations limit creating a shade range inclusive of deeper shades. Meanwhile Tarte’s launch of its highly anticipated Shape Tape Foundation released with only 15 shades and was met with criticism and an eventual apology from Tarte for launching a line with so few shade ranges. The verdict is clear, thebeauty brands must become more diverse.

image2.png

While high-end brands primarily found at brick and mortar locations or retailers such as Sephora and Ulta, drug-store brands still dominate the beauty industry. Drug stores which carry products such as the Loreal True Match which boasts over 45 shades, don’t stock their shelves with every shade. My trip to Publix, but also traditional drug stores in my own hometown of Richardson, TX or other cities from Harrisburg, PA to Redondo Beach, CA where I have scrambled to replenish foundation on work trips, has led me to be met with towers of makeup ranging from light to beige instead of the light to dark chocolate I know exists.

Here, the issue is not that beauty brands don’t create these products— drug stores just don’t always supply them. If you can’t afford $30+ for just over 1 oz. of product, you are limited to paying for a significantly more expensive product or trying to find- and sometimes pay a premium to- a retailer that carries your product. For example, the Loreal True Match pre-tax is as low at $7.95 at my drugstore but costs $10.95 online before shipping. As expected, online retailers or the brand website will more often carry the full range but have additional shipping costs or are more expensive than a local drugstore. 

The beauty industry led by minority women has made significant strides in creating more inclusive brands from creating wider and nuanced shade ranges to marketing campaigns that highlight a variety of skin tones. The next step is to learn from the success of those brands by highlighting the shades at the other end of the spectrum as prominently as the “ivories” and medium beige” shades and ensure that retailers are filling shelf space consistent with the vision that created the product. Drugstore and high-end makeup brands and retailers have a responsibility to ensure that products from inception to sale are inclusive and representative of that vision. I for one am looking forward to finding my perfect match no matter where I go to buy makeup.