Complexion Still has Room for Improvement

First and foremost, consistency is really key in determining whether a brand understands the need for diversity or is only doing it because it gets them marketing points. A brand’s product offerings should address the needs of a diverse community across all of its products, not just foundation or concealer (I feel like we’re starting to see improvement in getting deeper bronzers, but it is slow-going).

The bar is pretty low, so something might be better than nothing, but for all those brands who said they were listening (apparently, all of the many suggestions from the last few decades must not be accessible to read or review!)… here are some ways brands can keep improving in the complexion space to start:

Retailers Need to Carry All Shades

If a retailer is going to carry a product range, they should carry all shades when it comes to addressing the needs of different skin tones. In beauty, given that a lot of consumers purchase through places like Sephora and Ulta, retailers often encourage or discourage brands from doing certain things.

It’s one thing for a brand to release 50 shades of lipstick and retailers to carry 20 that they think will resonate (presuming a good variety of shade depths and undertones) but totally appalling when a brand has 30 shades but a retailer elects to only carry 10 of them.

Update @ 6/5/2020 7:15PM PST: Violet Grey has announced, as part of their larger diversity commitments: “In addition, we commit to stocking all color complexion shades from our current brand partners and will focus on securing wider makeup shade ranges moving forward.”

10 of 13 shades of MAC Face & Body carried at Violet Grey

Retailer Violet Grey makes curation a selling feature–but they do it even on foundation, concealer, and other VERY skin-tone dependent product ranges. Curating the types of products (this foundation formula over that one) or perhaps the top red shades in a lipstick formula may be of value… but the curation of skin-tone color products is baffling. In a timeline where many are advocating and pushing brands for greater shade ranges, and then they deliver, this seems like a retailer who is deliberately reducing shade ranges instead.

Violet Grey carries MAC Face & Body… MAC being one of the long-time leaders in inclusive shade ranges.  They carry 10 shades, while the range actually has 13… why are you dropping three shades? What shades did they drop?  N7, N9, and C7 — deeper ones, huh!  Violet Grey carries nine shades in Giorgio Armani’s Power Fabric Foundation (which is listed as a “new arrival” at the time of this post) when it is a 30-shade range; the deepest shade Violet Grey carries is 10, but the line goes all the way to 15.

4 of 15 shades of YSL's Touche Eclat carried at Violet Grey

I think one of the worst instances I’ve seen is that Violet Grey carries five shades (the deepest being 4.0) of YSL’s Touche Eclat Concealer, which is a range that YSL extended (it’s a cult favorite!) to 15 shades (deepest being 9.0).

I know Ulta carries only 40 shades from PUR’s range of 100, which is marginally more understandable.  On the flip side, Physicians Formula has long been known as having very short, limited shade ranges that favor lighter skin tones, but Ulta carries seven shades in their Silk Foundation, but there are actually 12 (which is by no means worthy of applause, of course!).  Ulta carries 14 out of 19 shades in Wet ‘n’ Wild’s Photo Focus Dewy Foundation; the missing shades are primarily in the tan/dark classifications (per the brand).

Update Existing Complexion Ranges, Too

I’m always surprised when a brand releases a new foundation with 30 or more shades but will often keep existing ranges the same. There are some brands that have revisited and extended existing ranges, which is a better approach and is actually acknowledging the need for more shades rather than trying to capitalize on having a “diverse” range for a new launch only.

This is especially true for brands that have struggled to have inclusive shade ranges; it would be so much stronger to take the time to extend the shade ranges of current formulas along with any newly-released ones.


These are purely looking at number of shades offered, but please keep in mind that it is actually possible to offer 40 shades of poorly done depths and undertones, too, so sometimes more isn’t better.

Higher coverage formulas tend to require more shades due to level of opacity amplifying mismatching; sheerer formulas can have smaller shade ranges because they allow the natural color to come through more and so 40 shades may be unnecessary. This is not always true, though, and it really depends on the formula, finish, and how the shade range is distributed.

It’s more important that brands take care in creating a range of depths and undertones and evenly distributes those shades — 30 shades of light and light-medium and 10 shades of deep is still missing the point.

Maybelline Foundations at Ulta

  • Clinique Superpowder (six shades, only up to “Medium”) formulas were quite reduced compared to their liquid foundations (most having 25+ shades); Perfectly Real has 4x Very Fair, 4x Moderately Fair, 2x, Medium, and 1x Deep shades.
  • L’Oreal has 40 shades in Infallible Fresh Wear and 38 shades in True Match, but there are only 12 shades in Infallible Pro-Glow and 15 shades of True Match Lumi (Ulta’s shade match recommendations provide six options for lightest skin tones but only two for deep skin tones).
  • Maybelline finally extended Instant Age Rewind Concealer to 18 shades but their other top selling concealers have 12 shades, while Face Studio Master Concealer has five shades (the deepest being “Medium/Deep”).

I’ve noticed that a lot of the brands carried at Sephora have 20+ shades in a range, and the majority seem to be consistent across their ranges–not always the same but often reflective of coverage-level (so tinted moisturizers or sheer formulas have less than medium-to-full coverage formulas).

Travel-Sizes in More Shades

It’s always funny when a brand with 40 shades proceeds to offer travel-sizes or sample-sizes of two or three shades. Oh, that’s useful!

Recently, I saw that Tarte offered their Shape Tape in travel-size… across 30 shades, which is the full extend of the full-size range (though this isn’t the case with some of the other travel-sized complexion products, like Babassu Foundcealer, which offers six shades in travel-size–at least they were evenly split across depths–vs. 30 shades in the full-size range).  I’ve also seen NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer and Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizers offered in mini-sizes in the same shade range as full-size.

Here are a few that are missing the point:

  • Benefit Hello Happy Foundation offers one, lonely mini in their lightest shade 1, at Sephora.
  • Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk offers minis at Sephora, stops at 7.5 whereas full-range has 15 as the deepest shade.
  • Urban Decay Stay Naked Concealer offers three shades in travel-size through their site in 20CP, 40NN, and 50CP — but the depths go all the way up to 90.

Improve Descriptions

Brands could help their customers so much more by providing specific descriptions of each shade by depth (lightest to deepest), undertone (not just warm vs. cool but is it pink, yellow, olive, neutral, red, peach, etc.), and strength of that undertone (“warm yellow” or “neutral, leaning warm” or “very pink”).  I have reached out to brands for specific shade descriptions and received the answer, “We don’t have any,” and surely, when the brand created and developed the shades, there was something written down with respect to what each shade was supposed to be…. no? There should be!

Stop Calling Shades Nude

Seriously, let’s leave “Nude” as a single shade name in 2020–why is any single foundation or concealer shade being called nude?   This is such an easy thing for consumers to do; as I mentioned previously, nude is a concept, not a color, so it as a shade name or a description doesn’t do an apt job of describing the depth or undertone of a product.  There are far too many brands who market certain types of products, say a range of lipsticks, and convey that they kind of understand that nude isn’t one color but then will have a shade called Nude something rather in their foundation range.

Maybe Try Numbers

Typically numbers go from low to high and represent light to deep in depth, and there are some brands who have flipped that and made the lowest numbered shade correspond with their deepest offering, so it doesn’t seem like the perfect solution but by and large, a lot of readers find a numbering system to offer greater insight in how shades are arranged in depth and enables brands to add-in undertone information pretty readily while side-stepping a naming minefield otherwise.  I mean, hey — MAC’s system still remains a way a lot of people identify their coloring!


  • Pick a numerical range: 10 to 100 or 1 to 40 or 100 to 1000
  • Create an undertone system:  use letters to convey undertone value, e.g. Y for Yellow or W for Warm (which is not quite an undertone; brands could be way more specific on what they’re trying to sell you given they created it!)

It’s probably a good call to leave room between shades so that shade extensions can be made as necessary, so 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. allows for 12, 26, 34 as necessary.  It’ll also save brands from the pitfalls of imbalance in the types of words they use for lighter vs. deeper shades as readers have pointed out… some really have no desire to be referred to as various foods.

Re-Think Fair

As a final note, I’ll say that we need to re-think the usage of fairest (and fair) when we really mean lightest. Fairest/fair has connotations linked to being beautiful (“who’s the fairest of them all?”) and justness, so being tied to very light skin gives us reason to scrutinize its usage more.

Today, I expect that we will update and rollout adjusted skin tone names to reflect that here on Temptalia such that Fairest is now Lightest and other adjustments were made to reflect that. Numbers still need descriptions, so using 1 for deepest or lightest would still require a description (like lightest, medium, deepest) to convey where that number was on the scale, so the step forward today is in adjusting the descriptors.

I want to thank readers who mentioned it on my editorial earlier this week (and also on social media), and I also want to thank my Discord readers who let me bounce naming ideas off of them to try and find a substitute for “fairest” and “fair” — because we already use “light.”

I’d also love to hear from readers and the larger community as to where you’d like to see additional improvement when it comes to complexion product offerings!


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Cameron Avatar

I’d like to see these things as far as undertone goes:

Better ways of determining undertone for those of us who are not Caucasian. I am biracial (Asian/white) and the undertone stuff I’ve seen on various websites does not work for me. I have yellow undertones but I am not warm, and the assumption always seems to be that all Asians are warm.

Decouple warm/cool from pink/yellow, and add more undertones. If I’m a cool yellow, couldn’t someone be a warm pink? What about olive? Peach?

In addition to travel sizes, can we please be able to samples from companies in all shades? I remember emailing Tarte asking them if I could order a sample shade and they told me I had to go to a store to get it. If stores aren’t even carrying all shades, how is this going to work for people?

polishedhippy Avatar

I am white, but my parents have much deeper skin tones and my dad (of Jewish ancestry) has an olive complexion. As a result, I have yellow/green undertones but am really pale. The warm/cool spectrum often doesn’t work for me because warm means peach for a lot of brands,which looks orange on me, especially if foundation oxidizes. I have the best luck with foundations intended for the Asian market. I second your call for a distinction between yellow and “warm” undertones for foundation.

Alice Avatar

I am Asian, and I have never found a single warm tone foundation that works for me. It is usually way too orange, and I am not light at all, more like a medium. Neutral usually works for me though, but not perfect.

And I agree with your Christine, company should have a bigger shade range in general. I could see it costing the company more money to have a bigger inventory at first, but they should be able to mitigate that with good inventory monitoring.

Thu Avatar

Chiming in to agree with you, especially on the samples thing–those of us who are still trying to be careful about COVID-19 mayyyyybe don’t want to have to mess with testers in stores at this time, but I also don’t want to spend $30+ per bottle to find my shade, considering how many companies’ names are so vague.

kjh Avatar

A few brands will provide a sample set. That’s how I found Koh Gen Do. But the idea that the darkest shade on their ‘cool’ side is light medium is absurd. I know what you guys mean about warm vs yellow….from the opposite end… When trying to shade match, the problem is always to yellow, not too warm. They are not the same. I aged into red undertones, which is definitely ‘warmer’ than pink. It’s much more difficult to match and it’s not me being more critical or demanding. The cos have developed product from arbitrary ideas, such as that dark tones are all warm, and pinks don’t range beyond light. Everyone knows that’s BS. But there has been slight improvement. 10 years ago, if you said ‘cool olive,’ they’d say ‘no such thing’ rather than ‘we have nothing that will match that.’ At least there’s recognition of the issue now.

polishedhippy Avatar

The fair thing has always bothered me – I think it is because it is trying to coddle people who think the word pale, which is an accurate term for those skin tones, is a negative description. There is so much stigma at the extremes of the color spectrum. A lot of brands will make a distinction between light and fair, but I think the word pale needs to be used if they have a wider range and want to make that distinction. We need to stop associating the extreme ends of the complexion spectrum with negative things. It is okay to be pale. It is okay to be Black with a deep complexion. People shouldn’t feel the need to change their complexion or use fuzzy terms to fit in. I am tired of hearing terms that support colorism.

Emily Avatar

Someone on another discussion board brought up that “pale” is actually a descriptor of when someone looks lighter than they usually do, and is usually associated with illness or emotional distress. People with skin of any color can look pale relative to their normal skin tone. I think Christine’s use of “lightest” or “very light” is probably the best solution.

Maggie Avatar

Agreed with Emily. I would only use the word “pale” to describe a person if they look lighter than they do normally. Examples: “She ‘paled’ when she heard the devastating news.” Another example: “You’re looking a little ‘pale.’ Are you alright?”

I personally like Christine’s numbering system idea for foundation. “Lightest or very light” also seems to work.

Beth Avatar

It is funny that I have never thought of myself as fair. I have always thought of myself as the palest of the pale. I didn’t realize that people consider that a bad thing :). Although I have had many instances of people telling me to go out in the sun more or “jokingly” asking if I am about to pass out.

Brian Avatar

I’m fine with getting rid of “fair” as a descriptor but as someone who fits that category I am not into replacing it with the word pale. As someone else pointed out, unlike what you’re saying, it actually isn’t accurate. I also am used to seeing pale used interchangeably with pasty to be rude about people with very light skin(often but not always from orange people who think there’s something wrong with being light and fake tan and think everyone should). So no thank you to the word pale, its not any better than the word fair.

Ana Maria Avatar

Yet another very well expressed and documented point of view! I highly appreciate your language and objectivity.

My opinion on this subject is very controversial, but I think that always multiple viewpoints need to be heard so I’ll take the risk.
I believe that every private company has the right to select it’s costumers directly and indirectly (by the range of products they offer). I believe that every person has the right to select the brand they do business with and support monetarily or otherwise. I believe that every potential or current costumer has the right to approach the brand to request additional variants or products (e.g. requesting your favorite yogurt brand to add a cucumber flavor, or your local grocery store to carry the mango yogurt, not just the vanilla and strawberries); but in the end it’s up to the private manufacturer or retailer to decide if they take action or not.

From my point of view the issue is the lack of representation.
If 30% of your population is vegan, and you don’t have either 30% vegan products on the shelves of grocery stores or 30% of your grocery stores vegan orientated, it doesn’t make sense. Why did society allow this?
A store in a small tropical city where everybody is tanned, doesn’t need to carry light shades. But if a big retailer in the middle of New York or London doesn’t have shades reflecting the diversity of the population, that tells you something is wrong.

I don’t think that necessarily all brands should carry all types of products and all possible shades; if they decide to carry 2 shades and 5 products, it’s their choice and it will reflect in profits. But I do believe that society should create the proper environment that you either have accurate representation of the diversity within most brands (all segments of population have the economic means to `influence` brands to decide it’s profitable to expand ranges) or accurate representation across brands (all segments of population have the economic and logistical means to start and grow a brand that satisfies the needs of that specific population).

The issue is not that people can’t find a match in all of the +100 brands available. It’s that 30% of the population can’t find a match in 30% of the brands available. That’s why my opinion is that we should spend less effort in complaining not all brands carry the all the shades; we should focus on supporting the brands that do right (both with our money and actions, like promoting them to our friends), we should focus on helping people from segments not well represented to build and grow new businesses, on helping people gaining the financial security needed to `vote with their money`.

kjh Avatar

My thought process is dialectical much of the time. I think something, and then consider the opposite. After the idea of being the darkest shade in KGD ‘cool,’ at ~nw15-20, I wound up thinking well, the co is Japanese. They may see no profitability in making darker shades, and that’s their right, as a private co. You can’t please everybody all the time. What is your first concern? Ingredients? CF? Vegan? Diverse shades? Support social issues? Good skincare included? People make decisions on many continua (continuums?) Business tries to find the need and fill it. Everyone who wishes it should have representation. But no co will ever be all things to all people, even in concept/ethos.

Alisha Avatar

I’ve always referred to myself as very light then I started seeing ‘fair’ shades more and was like what is this? I don’t know if pale is a term that is acceptable, but I refer to my skin that way with moreso negative connotations. I live in the desert SW and have been asked/tested for if I have anemia multiple times (in the summer) because of my paleness. Even as a very light skinned person, I have noticed certain brands not offering anything past medium like Clinique. Then when they do, sometimes it seems like they don’t try very hard because the tones do not appear to be realistic and can be ashy or too orange or warm (plus oxidation). Of course they aren’t going to sell. So then they can say they did their inclusivity due diligence???

Ana Maria Avatar

I’m light medium with a warm yellow undertone. Due to my natural “yellowness” many people assume that I’m sick. I have been multiples times been suggested tests for anemia and liver damage.
Given say, even if theoretically I’m one of the most well catered skin tones, it’s hard to find a yellow enough shade that doesn’t make me look even more sick. But my privilege is that I can enter Ulta or Sephora, and within those 20 brands available, I might find a good enough tone; it might take me a while, but I will find something good enough. Very light or very dark complexions don’t have the `luxury` of trying 20 brands for perfect undertone; some barely have 2-3 options for the shade only, with whatever undertones brands decide to go with (usually cool pinks for very light, warm yellows/reds for very dark/deep).

JS Avatar

How much do you think the lack of shade offerings on sites like Violet Grey might be due to low customer demand? I am thinking about the market research that goes into other retail markets about products are offered and in what quantity and so I wondered if perhaps these smaller sites are not stocking shades that they didn’t think they have an audience for based on site metrics? Nowadays with the media attention squarely focused on providing shades for the widest variety of skintones it seems like a strange decision, but for a smaller website like VG, do you think this might have figured into their reasoning? With outside pressure, I think they will likely change their practices, but I’m curious about your thoughts.

Ana Maria Avatar

I’m wondering if this could be also an issue with the actual manufacturing company?
Meaning, let’s say, the brand has 40 shades, but makes 100K units/shade for the most common skin tones, but 10K or 5K units/shade for the end of the spectrum. When they distribute to large retailers (Sephora, Ulta) they sell larger quantities with a better color representation (lets say they buy collectively 80K units per common shade and 5-10K units per `uncommon` shade), selling all the `uncommon` shades; so smaller retailers end up picking the units larger retailers didn’t sell-out, with the most `demanded` shades being available just because the brand manufactured more of them.

Beth Avatar

I have a somewhat different perspective being lighter than even the lightest offering in many lines. It has not been until the last couple of years that I have found concealer and foundation light enough for my tone. At least I don’t have to struggle to find less pigmented cheek colors, though (said tongue in cheek).

I have never, ever received a sample of a complexion product that I have been able to use.

So far as which retailers carry how much of a brand’s products, I don’t see why there would be a limit to what can be ordered online. I know many people hate online ordering of complexion products, but I am about an hour and a half drive from any store that carries any high end beauty (Sephora, ulta, or department stores). I am used to ordering online and it is not so bad as long as returns are easy. The one thing I do think we absolutely need is a universal naming/numbering system. I doubt other brands want to reference Mac, but their color system is so well know. I have seen many people posting questions to other brands online asking what shade to purchase and referencing Mac systems. The other brands don’t seem to publicly complain and I would guess (hope) they are just happy to make the sale. It is very helpful to me as I usually scroll through the answers find someone with my Mac number and I order that shade.

So far as why don’t the brick and mortar stores always carry all shades in a range, I can actually understand that. There are many areas of the country that don’t have a lot of diversity. This holds across all communities. So, if a Sephora in a largely Black, Hispanic, or Asian neighborhood doesn’t carry all of the lighter tones in a range I can understand that from a business model point of view. Same thing in the areas of the country not fortunate enough to have a large population of people of color. If the vast majority of brick and mortar customers are White due to the geographic area you are located (many areas like this still do exist) it would not make much sense to carry an entire range. However, I would hope that the store would at least have samples of all shades and aid with ordering the product for the customer.

For the shade ‘nude’ I have always thought that was absurd as I am usually several shades lighter than whatever company is labeling something ‘nude’.

Ana Maria Avatar

Given that in this day and age we still fail to have a universal system for clothes and shoes sizing across brands (I mean length is a mathematical measure… how hard is to use same inches/cm for a size?), unfortunately an universal foundation shade naming system is even more utopian.

Beth Avatar

This is another pet peeve of mine. I don’t understand why we lack a universal sizing system for clothes. My husband’s jeans come in waist diameter by inseam length. Shirts have neck diameter to indicate size. I order his clothes online and they always fit. I can never figure out what size to order for myself. How come women’s clothes can’t have the same clear, non-judgmental sizing??

Catherine Avatar

I believe this in large part due to “vanity sizing.” There are other factors at play, I’m sure, but this is a big one. It sounds counterintuitive – like consumers who don’t automatically know what size of clothing means lower sales. But clothing manufacturers lean into the psychology of women’s body image. So for example, a woman is shopping for black dress pants and finds two different pairs that fit and meet their standard. They are essentially the same measurements. One pair is labeled size 8. The other pair is labeled size 10 or 12. Theoretically, the consumer is happier to buy the size 8, and might even pay more to buy the size 8. (Of course, not all women will react this way.)
There was a point in time where I was anywhere from a size 0 to 7 in pants, depending on the manufacturer. And I have to admit, I did prefer it when the pants I bought had a lower number on the size tag. I was probably really more of a size 3 or 4, perhaps?, but if there was heavy vanity sizing, those measurements were labeled size 0 and in other brands, labeled higher (where size 0 really is XS for the really skinny people who need clothes, too).
This is a loaded situation and shouldn’t be this way, but it is.

Beth Avatar

Size inclusivity is something else that has long bothered me. When I was an adolescent in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I would teeter between “normal” sizes and “plus” sizes. The stores that all the other girls shopped in sometimes had my size (the largest they carried), but usually not. Many times, that largest size wouldn’t even fit properly. But the “plus” stores smallest sizes were out of proportion and they didn’t carry the trendy clothes that I saw all the other girls wearing. At least today, there are some companies marketing size inclusivity. Good American has used size inclusivity as their main justification for establishing themselves. And they have also recognized that “plus” size clothing is in different proportions to not plus size clothing. Everything they carry, they carry in all available sizes and I appreciate that. There are other companies out there aiming to do the same thing, but I feel as though they all prey on women’s insecurities. Even Good American has somewhat skewed sizing that subtly indicates that if your pants are a smaller number on the tag then you feel better about yourself.

The other issue is the models in the pictures online (where I do most of my shopping), but also the mannequins in store all tend to have the same basic shape. More brands seem to be using larger models, but they all still have the same basic hourglass proportions. Women come in all shapes and sizes and those of us who don’t have hourglass shapes might appreciate seeing more diverse models (pear shape, apple shape, etc although these terms can be insulting as well).

As I get older, I am starting to realize that until women (and men also to a certain degree) work on improving our self esteem internally then marketing firms will continue to exploit our sensitivities. Things are much better now than they were when I was a kid, though.

TropicalCowgirl Avatar

I’d like to add colors to clothing. I prefer for skin tone jewel or darker boned neutrals. I hate when I find a beautiful outfit that is in pastel. I can’t personally wear them against my skin color. Back in the 80s and 90s there was no color of the year and it wasn’t that hard to find clothes that worked.

As for jeans, I’ve found a few brands that do use measurements and offer free adjustments. I do recognize that it is a little harder for women than men, even women vs girls, because let’s face it, we all vary in SHAPE vs men.

Sebastian Avatar

Cool-toned skin at the palest and deepest ends of the spectrum often have a blue undertone – this is very noticeable in dark-skinned black people but is also visible when surface redness in pale people has a purplish/mauve tone to it. I have very light skin which is neutral to cool – honestly nearer cool but with a blue/grey undertone rather than pink, so beige tones work better than pink tones when it comes to foundation. For this reason I have a lot more success with Asian bb creams which often have a grey cast.

Neese Avatar

Again, thank you for your attention to this, Christine. I hope your voice is heard
by the retailers and cosmetics manufacturers. I’m old enough to remember the
“Flesh” crayon, “Nude” and “Suntan” stockings! I’m a very pale olive with more yellow in my neck. I’ve often wondered what they meant by “fair”. I know it’s been easier for me to find matches for my skin tone, but I’m trying to spend my money on products that are more inclusive.

Camille Avatar

Very, very impressed with what you’re doing on the issue of racial fairness in beauty. As a WOC I agree fundamentally with the points you are making. I hate not finding deeper shades that I know exist!

Louise Sharpy Avatar

I love that you typed this and have called brands out. Why is it that everyone still buys from these companies that don’t have a fair shade range ?? They get PR but hey, still talk about and use their shade. But then complain they don’t have enough. We ALL NEED TO STOP BUYING FROM THEM. I wanted to start a channel doing this type. But ……ha

Genevieve Avatar

Thank you Christine on this thoughtful post. I think I also touched upon this whole issue of foundation and shade range on a similar kind of post last week as well.
Even though I am ‘porcelain, with pink undertones’ I have also had enormous trouble finding the exact porcelain shade – not ‘fair’, not ‘light’ as these were still too dark for me. Next problem was the undertone – most brands do not, even in this day and age. mention undertones (certainly for most Australian brands) and finding that info is quite tricky. Again, most of the ‘fairest and lightest’ foundations has yellow undertones.
I do think the way that each brand has its own numerical and naming system is just confusing and wish there was a standardized rating system for foundation. L’Oreal’s True Match has a numerical and letter system – and I think that is the easiest to use.
I think that you have also raised the whole issue of catering for diverse skin tones in a very logical and persuasive manner. If brands acknowledge there are 15 shades of ‘fair’, then they also have to acknowledge that there are more than 15 shades of ‘medium’ and 15 shades of ‘deep’ They can only really do this by sampling as many and varied skintones as possible.
And yes, I have come across retailers that only sell a fraction of the shade range available….how annoying and frustrating that is. If a retailer is only selling 15 out of 30 shades, how then are customers, who wear shades outside of those on the shelf, going to find their correct foundation?

Ceilidh Avatar

I’m very pale and often foundations are either too dark or the single shade light enough is the wrong undertone. I hate how the lightest shade is often cool toned and I cant find anything nuetral.

STILL, I feel like I have an easier time finding something close enough for me than a person of color might. Undertones aren’t as important when they’re slightly different shades of off-white. You can throw on a bit of bronzer and blend down the neck. I feel that the deeper you get, the more important undertones get. That brands have so many light and light medium tones compared to darker shades is crazy to me. I’m pandered to and barely need it. All I have to do is tan and suddenly I have a smorgasbord of options. Yet there are people who need it and they’re barely given a few token shades.

dia Avatar

Would CMYK color codes work? It’s a preexisting system that could be applied across all brands.
There’s got to be a standard that each batch is applied to, that way when I buy batch X of color Y tomorrow, it doesn’t look totally different from batch W of color Y I bought last year. How do the brands communicate this to themselves? How do they measure color to maintain consistency?
Why not just use those measurements to describe the product? Maybe I’m just a numbers nerd, but i think it’s more accurate and less emotionally charged than words. Just tell me i’m something like 05-20-35 then I’ll know that your shade 20-10-30 is too green and 00-40-25 is too red.

Christine Avatar

If people could memorize the system, sure, but I definitely think having to hold the numbers + understand them would make it a harder system to convert to. I could see if the industry moved heavier into a number based system, or even something like Light 1.0, Light 2.0, Medium 1.0, etc. with more emphasis on descriptions and numbers that maybe something like that could work — or if it was pushed alongside more readily understood nomenclature!

JS Avatar

Burberry’s new liquid matte foundation had a huge range of shades and they tried to label them in clearer ways with four main groupings: fair (whatever you think of that as a category), light, medium and dark and then a series of other qualifiers- cool, neutral, warm and numbers. The thing is, without good swatches and/or shots of models with comparable skin tones, number systems like this are incredibly hard to understand because of the fine-tuning. Are you a 40 Light Cool, 30 Light Warm or 40 Light Neutral? No one wants to spend $200 on 3 shades of foundation just to find one shade to try and you don’t get blister packs by mail if you don’t live near a counter. The technology is here to be more precise which is incredible, but now it’s a question of how to convey that to customers on the internet.

Francesca Avatar

That would be very useful! There are also a lot of application for smartphon that are able, from a photo to detect CMYK of your skin. That means that, if you have a good lighting photo of yourself, you could potential find the perfect match for you, even without try the tester (and in this period everyone should avoid try tester). Maybe a solution could be that every brand, togheter with their own classification system (for the old customer accustomed to that system) are forced to use also CMYK? It’s exactly the same that occurs for the size: the product size is alway expressed both in US/angloxasson reference system, both in the international one

Nancy T Avatar

Definitely seems like some heavy lifting yet remains for the beauty industry to do. Granted, it has come a very long way since when I was first began using any sort of foundation. We now have Fenty covering the human skin depth spectrum from palest to deepest, and Pur has 100 whopping shades. But undertones still need to get better. Heck, I’m a medium with olive undertones and peachy overtones, very hard to match! One wouldn’t think so though, right? I wouldn’t! Yet, it’s one of many, many more unique shade/undertone/overtone combos out here.
The shade labeling I prefer is definitely numeric. I love MAC’s system because it’s so easy to understand once one wraps their head around the NC (not cool) NW (not warm) thing. Fenty and Lancome both use numeric, but I’d love to see a letter that ACCURATELY describes shades tones, undertone, and if necessary, overtone.
Oh, and yeah, please kick “Nude” to the curb as a shade name for any complexion products!

Ryou Avatar

Thank you for this post, Christine!

I’d also love to see brands be more inclusive of undertones as well, especially in the darker shades!

“Neutral” is such a useless descriptor when it can mean olive or peach — Which are NOT next to each other on the color wheel.

Francesca Avatar

Consider that here we are, if possible, many many steps behind US. Until 4-5 years ago, existed more or less only 4-5shades (if we were lucky) of foundation, one, maximum two, of concealer. That basically meant that 85% of the population wore foundation which not match their complexion at all. In the last years, the situation slightly improved, since most of the brands and retailers are offering much more variety, almost in the shade range that ‘it’s supposed to represent the majority of the population’. Of course if you are outside this not-very-clear category, you are still going to struggle a lot. Even big retailers like Sephora, which sell brands well known for their inclusivity (Fenty, Huda, etc..), propose a reduced range of shades for deep skin tone or Asian complexions (just for making some examples). Maybe if you are luckly, it’s possible to find online or in big stores a couple of deep tone shades of foundation (which of course are not enough at all to suit the large variety of skin tones which fall under the label ‘deep’, the same for an Asian complexion). But if you go into medium – small stores, I’m pretty sure you won’t find nothing at all.
It’s sad, but I’m confident that discussions like this, occurring inside beauty communities, could help to change the global sensibility about this matter (so compliment Christine to propose oftbe similar contents in a word-wide blog like this, it’s very often). However, as usual, US beauty communities are many many step above also in this sense than our local ones, where the word inclusivity is unknown to the most, not to mention the meanings hidden between terms like ‘nude’ and ‘fair’ . However, I’m still guessing why these situations occurred. Put for a moment aside moral issues and racism, let’s speak merely about money: if you limit the shade range to only light complexions, half (if not more) of the population (that means hslf or more of potential customers) won’t buy a foundation from you and will go to an other retailer or brand instead. So, it is not at least money worth for a retailer to enrich its shade range? You will enlarge your potential customers. And don’t tell me that ” these shades do not sell enough “. You can easily find anywhere product meant for a very strict sector of customers, like neon eyeshadows and blue lipsticks. You want to let me think me that these kind of products sell more than amount they would potentiall gain if they start to enlarge the selection of shades of foundation and concealers? There are more potential buyers for a green lipstick that for a foundation for a deep skin tone? I’m not a marketing expert, but it’s Nonsense for me.

Sal Avatar

It seems like it would be incredibly environmentally irresponsible for every store to carry every shade of every brand. Not to mention I think physically impossible. Space just wouldn’t allow it. There would be so much thrown out product I feel because certain areas just dont have the populations to warrant it.

Also this would make newer brands impossible to break through in the market as many times new and up and coming brands will have a test and will get an end cap or something like it in a store. A store won’t commit to sticking a full brand and their entire range. They will just say no.

Christine Avatar

Surely if brands and retailers can push thousands of new, limited edition products each year, they can find a way to make their full shade ranges accessible, and given how much waste there is in the industry, I really don’t think it’s the environmental impact is a point of consideration. If someone wants to launch a brand, it takes money, and if they don’t want to make their products accessible to the full spectrum of customers out there, then that brand has made it abundantly clear what their focus is on (and what it isn’t on).

Brands that need to build up capital do so by launching other products first, and then building up the resources to invest in developing base products. Similarly, retailers will test a brand out and they don’t need to sell all products – they could easily start with non-complexion products and see how the brand does with their customers before purchasing additional products. We have seen this with brands like NABLA and Zoeva at Ulta.

I just don’t see this in the industry – I don’t see new brands launching with 5 shades of foundation. That’s not the norm.

Here are some newer brands and stats:

Lawless – 20 shades @ Sephora
Kosas – 15 shades (concealer) @ Sephora
Juvia’s Place – 42 shades @ Ulta
Dose of Colors – 42 shades @ Ulta
Florence by Mills – 20 shades @ Ulta
Beauty Bakerie – 30 shades @ Ulta
Zoeva – 44 shades @ Ulta
UOMA – 51 shades @ Ulta
Smith & Cult – 42 shades @ Ulta

And for full clarity – all of what I pulled out in my post reflected online availability.

Jamie Avatar

Hey, I’m not sure if this would be difficult for you, but one thing that would be really helpful would be to post swatches of the products you review on other skintones. I find my biggest issue in deciding if I want to try a product is that all of the swatches I can find when googling are on people much lighter than I am. For me, you are a good reference great reviews on product formulations, but it is hard to tell whether or not a product would run ashy on me. I know brands are much better about swatching, but those pics are much less true to color than the swatches are here. Just a suggestion.

Christine Avatar

Hi Jamie!

Thank you for the suggestion! Unfortunately, Temptalia is really just me (it’s me in the photos, I write everything, I take the photos, I edit them, etc.) and a full-time developer but I don’t have the resources to hire on someone at this time. I’ve spent the last couple of years working to minimize and reduce expenses to ensure that I’ll still be able to keep everything going for as long as possible based on the paths I’ve seen ahead.

Have you tried looking on Instagram or YouTube? I find that most creators are one of those two platforms; almost all the bloggers I knew have quit or reduced to barely any posts within the last several years, so it can be really bleak looking for swatches on google these days.

Here are some Black creators I follow that have more swatches/reviews that overlaps with some of the brands I cover! (she tends to post swatches via stories when she gets PR) (she does some swatching, along with a lot of reviews with product applied!) (more high-end/luxury, a lot applied)

I also saw this account as a suggestion recently!

Marni Avatar

This article is so well written. I can see you put a lot of time in both researching and suggestions for improvements. It certainly increased my awareness of the lack of choices some women experience. I’ve been aware that brands have increased their lines to include deeper colors. I think the success of Fenty Beauty brought about an awareness of the lack of choices in other brands, and they began to rectify their gaps.. However, if retailers do not carry the entire line, then it is all for naught. My skin color is one that ‘nude’ is usually the color choice I reached for. You are so on point that ‘nude’ is not an appropriate, nor very descriptive, color name. i’ll look further in the future. Thank you. Well done!

Angela Avatar

I would also like to see companies START with the deepest shades and move to the lightest ones, instead of always doing it the other way. So, when we see a shade chart of list of foundations, the FIRST one is the darkest and the LAST one is the lightest. Just for sh*&(s and giggles.

TropicalCowgirl Avatar

Fair is such a loaded word. I’ve used it just because that was a standard for a long time. If some was called fair, it meant avoid. I never honestly thought of the other connotations until someone pointed it out last week.

Considering most of my makeup pals in life have a wide range of darker skin colors or medium, the struggle is real regarding foundation and face makeup. I feel lucky because I have green/blue veins so neutrals work decent for me in a Med dark shade. Not many choices there though.

My friend who is darker is neutral in her shade range. In one discussion after sending your article last week, she thought it would be cool to have foundation by the shade with a set of pigments to adjust. She gets space is limited but said stores may offer samples of all colors and then offer free shipping.

One thing that she pointed out that makes me kind of envious, the darker the skin, the less wrinkles most of the time. She has beautiful smooth skin and I look way older than her…she’s got 4 years on me. She also mentioned a comment from that article about sunscreen. It’s not easy to find sunscreen if you’re darker. That needs to change too.

Cameron Avatar

US sunscreens need to catch up in general. I haven’t seen any chemical sunscreens that are of US origin. Those tend not to leave a white cast. Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence is sold on Amazon and doesn’t leave a white cast.

Shawn Avatar

Thank you, Christine, for another wonderful editorial. I agree with you and others that numbers are logical and universal. I’ll never forget when Colourpop actually named 2 shades of dark-toned foundation Typo and Yikes. What were they thinking?! That’s one time I’m glad there weren’t 50 shades to choose from. The only time I found a number system frustrating was with Inglot’s AMC powders, they’re not in a sequential listing.

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