How Makeup Brands Choose Their Exact Foundation Shades

Coverage and wear used to be the main defining factors of a good foundation, but in 2018, inclusivity finally ranks number one.

“For too long, the term ‘flesh color’ was used to describe beige skin, which is a disheartening and regrettable misnomer,” says Linda Wells, creator of the latest rule-breaking makeup line Flesh, which is out to redefine the term to mean every shade of skin. But the new-to-market brand isn't alone in its quest for a rainbow-spanning lineup of color—for beauty guru and creator of Huda Beauty, Huda Kattan, the lack of inclusivity in the makeup world was personal. “I was always having to mix different foundations to find the right shade that worked for me and didn’t mask my skin, so I knew that if I was frustrated by the current market offering, others were too.”

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The answer for brands like Flesh, Huda Beauty, Cover FX and ColourPop to name a few—there are 152 stunning hues between them—was the creation of a lineup of foundation shades that met the market’s evolving requirements. But before the shade gradients we see on our store shelves get introduced to the world, there’s a lot of work that happens behind the scenes. Here, a peek at the backend of how our favorite inclusive brands selected their game-changing, headline-making foundation shades. 

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CoverFX: “We set up color testing labs in various cities and invited customers to evaluate their skin color,” says Victor Casale, founding partner and senior R&D advisor for Cover FX of its 40-option line. “We also set up in colleges and hospitals, stopping people as they walked by and evaluating their skin shades. Scientific instrumentation is also used to help precisely make the shades 'step' from light to dark and pink to gold in a systematic matter. Prototype shades are made and sent out all over the world for testing and evaluation, and then feedback is gathered and adjustments are made accordingly.”


ColourPop: “Foundation was one of the most highly requested products from our customers, so it was vital we get this launch right and offer an expansive range of 42 shades," says Jordynn Wynn, marketing manager for ColourPop. "Following the success of our concealer shade range, we wanted to go out the gate with shades distributed evenly in six categories: fair, light, medium, dark, medium dark, and deep dark. From there, we have both neutral cool and neutral warm undertones. We worked on these shades for over a year—focus groups, multiple shade matching exercises both internally and externally, wear tests and flash tests were all central to the selection process.”


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Huda Beauty: “We aren’t like a lot of brands that have access to research and development or libraries of colors to choose from—we start from scratch and create everything by hand," says Kattan. "With the foundation, I hand-mixed the formulas myself, made the shade elaboration and tested the updated formulas. Our team spent months shade-matching everyone from the staff in the Huda Beauty office to friends, waiters, husbands, and neighbors. We shade-matched hundreds of people to ensure that our final selection would be all-inclusive. The whole process took two years.”


Okay, ladies, now get in formation 🏆 #showyourflesh

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Flesh: "We worked with outside labs to identify the formulation for our foundation and then mixed each shade to create a benchmark," says Wells. "When the lab finished each shade, we tested each submission on women to see how it appeared on the skin immediately and over time. We discovered that the darker shades turned ashy on the skin, so we reformulated them several times. We actually ended up changing the formula for the darker shades to match perfectly without any hint of chalkiness. The process took several months of exacting work."