Colorism in Makeup

Just this week, Kelly Rowland stated in an interview that she is in the process of developing a cosmetics line for women with darker skin. When I saw the news on Facebook (seriously, I think I’m getting tailored ads/articles on my feed because of this class), I was excited! I know I’ve personally struggled to find a makeup shade that works for my skin tone. When I was younger and just starting to experiment with makeup, I always caked on foundation shades that were far too light for me. I looked like a hot mess. I always thought, if they just had one more shade in between, then it would work for me. At the same time, I remember noticing that finding makeup was even harder for my mother, whose complexion is darker than mine.

I decided to give my mom a call to chat about colorism in the makeup industry. At first, she told me a story about watching my grandmother, who is darker than the both of us, try to find makeup for herself when my mother was growing up. She said that my grandmother also wore foundation shades that were too light for her because the cosmetic lines didn’t carry a shade dark enough for her. When my mother was little, she just thought it was weird and a little funny, not realizing the implications of the situation.

During our conversation, my mom told me finding a makeup shade has gotten a lot easier for her over the years, but she still runs into trouble sometimes. Just this past weekend, she was trying to buy a pressed powder compact in her shade from Clinique, and the store attendant said that the shade she used to get (that perfectly matched her complexion) had been discontinued. Later in the weekend, she went to CVS around the corner from our house in MA and she couldn’t find a shade that matched her own in the brand she liked. It’s not that the store ran out of the shade, they didn’t carry her color at all. When she drove a few towns over into a town that is a little less exclusive in terms of SES, she was able to find her shade. She commented that it’s been frustrating over the years trying to find the makeup she needs, saying  “you know, there’s not just three or four shades of us.”

In reflecting on our brief conversation, I was thinking a lot about access. The intersection of classism is extremely relevant here. The higher ups at CVS probably think that they don’t need to cater to people of color where my parents live because it is located in a relatively well-off suburb of Boston. Because how could they ever get to live in that area, right? So, people like my mom, who do live there, have to drive towns away to get a decent foundation shade. This is frustrating. And it’s really not just about inconvenience, which is an issue in and of itself. But what does this say about who that community values? With so much variety in the lighter shades and not much in darker shades, the answer is clear. Lighter complected people can be different and their differences are celebrated in makeup and in life. But darker complected people continue to be grouped together; in this case, they’re grouped into the same three or four shades.

On the other side of the class/access issue is the fact that specialty brands that have a wider variety of shades or that specifically cater to women of color tend to be more expensive, according to my mother. When I told my mom about the Kelly Rowland makeup line, she was thrilled and said that Black owned makeup lines tend to have more variety. That makes a lot of sense to me, but I wonder how expensive the line will be and where it will be sold. Will my mom have to drive a few towns away to get it? And what about women of color who don’t live close to a major urban center? Access could still be an issue for them.




3 thoughts on “Colorism in Makeup

  1. “That makes a lot of sense to me, but I wonder how expensive the line will be and where it will be sold. Will my mom have to drive a few towns away to get it? And what about women of color who don’t live close to a major urban center? Access could still be an issue for them.”

    Ugh, so frustrating. I’m glad something is being done, but it would be disappointing if the level of access was still not sufficient.


  2. Thanks for sharing your family in this post, Brittany. I really loved “hearing from” your mom. Also so interested/glad/thank you for connecting this issue to access. Intersectionalities certainly run deep.


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