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Why do beauty brands resist diversifying their shade ranges?

Tarte Shape Tape Foundation
Image Credit: PopSugar

For those who do not deep dive into the beauty community across platforms and channels, Tarte’s upcoming Shape Tape Foundation may not have hit your airwaves yet, so let me fill you in:  Shape Tape foundation is coming and will be available in two versions–Matte and Hydrating–with a 15-shade range accompanying each formula.  PopSugar had the exclusive and revealed swatches yesterday (shown above are swatches of the Hydrating range; the Matte range is almost as dismal), which only reinforced the absurdity of their ranges.

Based on the actual shades available, the swatches look like they’re veering lighter than they actually will be (on the whole), either because they need to dry down (more opaque foundations really do tend to darken as they dry down, especially more matte finishes) or that the lighting itself is washing everything out a bit.  It doesn’t actually matter since the difference between oh, I don’t know, 12-13 of the shades is minor and then boom! here are two dark shades for everyone not fair to medium.  The Shape Tape Concealer has 15 shades, and it’s common for concealer ranges to have less shades than foundation, so it really did come as a shock that Tarte didn’t have at least 20 shades, if not 25 to 30 shades.  Their own Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Full Coverage has 23 shades and their Rainforest of the Sea has 21 shades (and I know this had recent shade additions–it didn’t start that way).

Just perusing Sephora’s foundations sorted by bestselling (the default sort, actually), one might argue there is a trend of better, stronger, more extended and inclusive shade ranges.  Only one in the top 10 bestselling foundations on Sephora has less than 24 shades.  Of course, the number of shades is one way to see how inclusive a foundation shade range is but too often the jumps between medium, medium-dark, dark, deep, and deepest can be startling whereas the jumps in fair to light to light-medium are smoother.

  1. Fenty Pro Filt’r (40 shades)
  2. Make Up For Ever Ultra HD (40 shades)
  3. NARS Natural Radiant Longwear (33 shades)
  4. IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Butter CC+ Cream (7 shades)
  5. Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk (24 shades)
  6. Kat Von D Lock-It (30 shades)
  7. Estee Lauder Double Wear (36 shades)
  8. bareMinerals Original (30 shades)
  9. Too Faced Born This Way (24 shades)
  10. Lancome Teint Idole (40 shades)

Fenty was by no means the first brand to roll out a shade- and undertone-rich line of base product, but they’re the brand that made it a focal point, a selling point, and they’re the brand that set fire to a conversation about diversity in beauty–from things like foundation and concealer to marketing campaigns to actual color offerings.  People of color do not come in just one or two shades; they come in a full spectrum of shades and undertones from light and olive to deep and cool.  Fenty didn’t just offer 40 shades but 40 shades that tried to hit on the full spectrum of our community and paid attention to undertones in a way that many brands have not.

Here’s an example of a brand listening to customers, listening to the community, and taking care to respond:  NARS just launched their Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation, which includes 33 shades with several shades on the medium-dark to deep range so the jumps are smoother throughout.  Not only that, but they further extended their Radiant Creamy Concealer range simultaneously, which is up to 22 shades.

THAT’s what Tarte could have done.  They could have offered a solid 25-30 shade range with five shades on the very fair to fair end, five to 10 on the light to medium end, five to 10 on the medium to tan range, and five on the deeper side of the spectrum. This would at least provide some semblance of balance in their offerings without it being glaringly obvious who they are selling to.  Tarte could have then extended their concealer range with new shades, maybe five or so, and really soared on the popularity of their concealer into record-breaking foundation sales. Why would the sales not follow?  Shape Tape is one of the most popular concealers, and the upcoming Shape Tape foundation is no doubt a highly anticipated offering, so the absolutely dismal shade offering when more and more brands have been ramping up their shade offerings and dropping fuller, more fleshed out shade ranges from the get-go, why doesn’t Tarte follow suit?

Some of the questions that floated around my mind last night as I thought about the state of the community and the need for greater and continued diversity in it were:

  1. Do we just call out brands when their shade ranges are disappointing? How can we actually effect real change and not just give lip service to diversity?  Is there a better way to educate brands so that they’ll actually listen?  But maybe we want to know what brands really don’t care and don’t want to listen because after so many launches and so many of the same comments, they have to be actively ignoring the feedback, right?
  2. Do we stop buying from brands that aren’t diverse or don’t seem to care or listen? But then if a brand releases a dismal range and we stop buying, will we buy when they listen? Will it be too late?  Is there a clock of how long a brand has to respond?
  3. Should we let brands get away with rhetoric of “but we’ll be adding more shades in the future”? Is it not reasonable to expect a solid shade range to begin with and then even more shades in the future?  What does “future” mean?  It seems like the go-to answer for brands but does it really mean something? Is it a real promise?
  4. Why is there an argument that brands that don’t make inclusive shade ranges don’t do it because it’s expensive and not profitable?  Why does this argument persist? What is the basis for it?  How many mainstream, popular brands have 20+ shades in their foundations? How many years did brands like MAC, who has long been a leader in celebrating diversity, dominate the market?  How many examples of success do we have to see?  Isn’t it a chicken and an egg problem — nobody’s buying deep shade X because brand A doesn’t have it? I can’t be your customer if you don’t have the shade I need!

Here’s some more food for thought.. here are some of the newest foundation releases and how numerous their shade ranges are (but note, the composition and quality of development in the shades may not be equal).

  1. Bobbi Brown Skin Long-Wear Weightless (30 shades)
  2. NARS Natural Radiant Longwear (33 shades)
  3. Dior Diorskin Forever Undercover (24 shades)
  4. Hourglass Vanish Seamless Finish (shade extensions, now up to 32 shades)
  5. Huda #FauxFilter (30 shades)

But Tarte’s really not the only brand to launch a base product in the last year with a dismal shade range–brands like Physicians Formula and Almay continue to cater toward lighter audiences, and the new Maybelline Super Stay only has 16 shades (whereas Fit Me now comes in at 32 shades). And sometimes, I wonder, if retailers couldn’t help make diversity a priority.  For example, Milani’s Conceal + Perfect Foundation has 19 shades on their website but Ulta only carries 9 of them.

There are certain brands that seem dedicated to staying under the bar, but I feel like more brands are offering more shades more often.  I’ve seen brands like Chanel and Dior, which were often painfully limited in shades, have significantly improved their offerings in the last few years (and not just because we’re in a post-Fenty world).  I say that noting improvement but not that there isn’t still room for improvement, of course.

I’ve seen too many examples of thriving brands who have worked toward being more inclusive and embracing the richness of the beauty community that I now struggle to understand how brands can release something like this, where when swatched together, it’s just so obvious to so many of us that something is amiss.  I’d like to see more brands make an open and honest commitment to doing better in the future, not just with foundation or concealer, but with their campaigns, social media marketing, shade names, and product offerings as a whole.

I have hope that the progress we’ve seen will only continue, and I know that it is through the power of our words–influencers and customers alike, as social media enables us to be vocal and makes it impossible for brands to bury their heads in the sand–that we can celebrate the brands that get it and try to educate the brands that don’t.  It’s the community coming together that will effect change; it’s that community not being afraid to criticize and openly question brands that will make beauty brands accountable for their actions.

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Dior Holo Pink DiorSkin Nude Air Luminizer

01/10

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Dior Holo Pink (001) Diorskin Nude Air Luminizer

Holo Pink (001)

Dior Holo Pink (001) DiorSkin Nude Air Luminizer ($56.00 for 0.21 oz.) is a light pink with warm, peachy undertones and a metallic sheen. It had a subtle shift from peach to cooler pink, but it seemed more multi-colored in pearl than holographic or duochromatic, particularly compared to Holo Gold. The pigmenation was opaque, while the consistency was smooth, soft, and blendable without being too dry or too dense in the pan, which made it easy to pickup with a brush with precision and control. It delivered a strong, noticeable sheen on the skin, though it did not accentuate my skin’s natural texture. On me, the highlighter stayed on well for eight and a half hours.

Makeup Revolution Liquid Bronze Gold Liquid Highlighter

01/04

Makeup Revolution Liquid Bronze Gold Liquid Highlighter

Makeup Revolution Liquid Bronze Gold Liquid Highlighter

Makeup Revolution Liquid Bronze Gold Liquid Highlighter

Makeup Revolution Liquid Bronze Gold Liquid Highlighter

Liquid Bronze Gold

Makeup Revolution Liquid Bronze Gold Liquid Highlighter ($9.00 for 0.60 oz.) is a light, golden copper with warm undertones and a metallic finish. It had a strong sheen on the skin, which did emphasize my skin’s natural texture slightly at medium or greater coverage. The highlighter had a lightweight, almost water-like texture that spread well over bare skin and diffused easily along the edges for a seamless blend. It had buildable pigmentation from sheer to semi-opaque, and the intensity grew from moderate to metallic. The highlighter lasted well on my cheekbones for eight and a half hours.

Formula Overview

$9.00/0.60 oz. - $15.00 Per Ounce

It's supposed to be a "buildable" liquid highlighter that is available in seven shades. They have a thin consistency that has a little more slip to it than water (almost an oiliness without being a true oil), which helped it spread more evenly on the skin without lifting base products or sheering out too readily. I had no trouble mixing the formula into liquid foundations, primers, or moisturizers or patting onto bare skin (or made-up skin) as a standalone highlighter. The effect of the highlighter was subtle to moderate, depending on application, amount applied, and whether it was layered. Most shades were buildable from semi-sheer to semi-opaque, though I noticed that they looked lighter and more similar applied than they did in the bottles. (Example: Liquid Lustre Gold appears as a darker copper when swatched but looked like a light pink on my cheeks.)

Browse all of our Makeup Revolution Liquid Highlighter swatches.

Ingredients

Isododecane, Mica, Cyclopentasiloxane, Polybutene, Hydrogenated Styrene / Isoprene Copolymer, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Caprylyl Dimethicone Ethoxy Glucoside, Calcium Sodium Borosilicate, Propylparaben, BHT, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Iron Oxides (CI 77491).

B+

Permanent

8.5
Product
9
Pigmentation
8.5
Texture
9
Longevity
5
Application
89%
Total
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Urban Decay x Kristen Leanne Vice Lipsticks

01/06

Urban Decay Bun Bun Vice Lipstick

Urban Decay Bun Bun Vice Lipstick

Urban Decay Bun Bun Vice Lipstick

Urban Decay Bun Bun Vice Lipstick

Urban Decay Bun Bun Vice Lipstick

Urban Decay Bun Bun Vice Lipstick

Bun Bun

Urban Decay Bun Bun Vice Lipstick ($17.00 for 0.11 oz.) is a medium,, plummy brown with warm undertones and a cream finish. It had opaque color payoff in a single layer, and the texture was lightly creamy, smooth, and thick enough to help fill in lip lines rather than accentuate them, but it did not feel heavy applied. This shade stayed on well for five hours and was lightly hydrating.

Formula Overview

$17.00/0.11 oz. - $154.55 Per Ounce

Urban Decay Vice Lipstick ($17.00 for 0.11 oz.) is available in six finishes, which are primarily distinguished by level of sheen, shimmer content, and coverage. Mega Mattes are the thinnest and have the most “cling” as they are drier and more matte (but most are semi-matte and not a totally flat matte) and can be drying, though they are longer-wearing.

Comfort Mattes are creamier, a little denser, with richer color payoff on average (they are the most pigmented out of the finishes), and have a satin finish that is fairly comfortable to wear, usually lightly hydrating, and longer-wearing.

Creams are usually softer and creamier, though not too soft (they don’t mush or break from the base easily), with some being tackier and stiffer in the tube until they warm up against the lips; they have good color payoff, are hydrating, and are comfortable to wear but have more typical wear (four to six hours–six hours for deeper/richer shades like a red).

Sheers and Sheer Shimmers have a more balm-like consistency that feels a little thinner but is wetter/more emollient than Mega Mattes, so ultimately, they feel quite different applied; they have sheerer coverage, though more semi-sheer to semi-opaque than very sheer, and have the shortest wear time at two to fours with light hydration.

Metallized is the most shimmery of the finishes, though some of the other finishes have shades that are actually as shimmery (to me), but the Metallized formula has a thinner, more emollient base that isn’t as dense or as cream-like as the Creams; they feel more like the Sheers but a bit heavier and more pigmented (but seem to run semi-opaque to opaque, not always fully opaque) with average wear (four to five hours), light hydration.

Browse all of our Urban Decay Vice Lipstick swatches.

Ingredients

Octyldodecanol, Isodecyl Neopentanoate, Kaolin, Cetyl Ricinoleate, Butyrospermum Parkii Oil / Shea Oil, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Candelilla Cera / Candelilla Wax, Cetyl Lactate, Cera Alba / Beeswax, Cera Microcristallina / Microcrystalline Wax, Polyethylene, Dimethicone/Bis-Isobutyl PPG-20 Crosspolymer, Aqua / Water, Octyldodecyl Neopentanoate, Caprylyl Glycol, Calcium Sodium Borosilicate, Aluminum Hydroxide, Alumina, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-T-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Silica, Tocopherol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Colophonium / Rosin, Glycine Soja Oil / Soybean Oil, Squalane, Orbignya Oleifera Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis Seed Oil / Jojoba Seed Oil, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Theobroma Cacao Seed Butter / Cocoa Seed Butter, Persea Gratissima Oil / Avocado Oil, Shorea Stenoptera Seed Butter, Butyrospermum Parkii Butter / Shea Butter, Tin Oxide, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Synthetic Fluorphlogopite, Calcium, Aluminum Borosilicate, Polyethylene Terephthalate, Citric Acid, Polylactic Acid [+/- (May Contain/Peut contenir): CI 77891 / Titanium Dioxide, CI 77491, CI 77492, CI 77499 / Iron Oxides, Mica, CI 15850 / Red 7 Lake, CI 77120 / Barium Sulfate, CI 45410 / Red 28 Lake, CI 15850 / Red 6, CI 19140 / Yellow 5 Lake, CI 15985 / Yellow 6 Lake, CI 42090 / Blue 1 Lake, CI 17200 / Red 33 Lake, CI 75470 / Carmine].

Bun Bun
Bun Bun
9
Product
10
Pigmentation
9
Texture
9.5
Longevity
5
Application
94%
Total

Also In This Review

A-

Cloud9

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B

Spellbound

Limited Edition
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Urban Decay x Kristen Leanne Beauty Beam Highlighter Trio

01/07

Urban Decay Beauty Beam Kristen Leanne Highlighter Trio

Urban Decay Beauty Beam Kristen Leanne Highlighter Trio

Urban Decay Beauty Beam Kristen Leanne Highlighter Trio

Urban Decay Beauty Beam Kristen Leanne Highlighter Trio

Urban Decay Beauty Beam Kristen Leanne Highlighter Trio

Urban Decay Beauty Beam Kristen Leanne Highlighter Trio

Urban Decay Beauty Beam Kristen Leanne Highlighter Trio

Beauty Beam

Urban Decay Beauty Beam Kristen Leanne Highlighter Trio ($34.00 for 0.38 oz.) contains three, luminous highlighters that range from copper to soft yellow to peach. All three shades were undeniably warm-toned, so I don’t expect it will appeal to everyone as a result. I only had slight issues with less pigmentation and a ever-so-slightly less-creamy texture with the third shade in the palette, but all three performed well.

9.5
Product
9.5
Pigmentation
9.5
Texture
9.5
Longevity
5
Application
96%
Total

Also In This Review

A+

Beauty Beam #1

Limited Edition
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A+

Beauty Beam #2

Limited Edition
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A-

Beauty Beam #3

Limited Edition
Read Review