In 1952, COTY came out with Instant Beauty, a foundation that came in six shades—Ivory, Beige, Rosy Beige, Fair, Blush, and Bronze. Fast-forward 65 years to 2017: Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launched 50 foundation shades and started what’s known as the “Fenty Effect,” or the normalization of including a wide shade range in cosmetic products.
As more brands embrace broader offerings, the focus has shifted beyond foundation to include other essentials like face serum, tinted moisturizer, setting powder, and even shapewear that expand beyond the limiting—and often standard—light, medium and dark options.
Unlike the Pantone or Munsell schemes used in art and fashion, cosmetic shades are not standardized. The appearance of a “Medium Beige” or “Deep Honey” shade will vary dramatically from one brand to the next, and also between different formulations within the same brand.
“It’s not the number of shades that is important, it’s about the accuracy, representation and intention,” says Huda Beauty founder Huda Kattan, whose Huda Beauty Nude Obsessions eyeshadow palettes ($29) come in three shade ranges to suit every skin tone. “People want to feel represented in an authentic and intentional way. It’s about understanding the tones, undertones and diversity among the shades you choose to create. So many brands want the largest number of shades to say they have the most for marketing purposes, and I don’t agree with that approach. I am very intentional with the shades I choose to create, and we do a lot of testing to determine what people are looking for, want and need.”
For supermodel Veronica Webb, who has had front row access to the best makeup, skin care and fashion, the recent movement toward inclusion has been a long time coming. “It’s not only psychologically more inviting for me to be able to pluck my exact shade of foundation or lingerie off of the shelf, but it’s also more economical for me not to have to buy multiple products in order to cobble together the one product I need,” she says. “It’s a concern that multiplies exponentially when it comes to cosmetic procedures, too. Offering products and services with a commitment to diversity and inclusion save me time and money. Even at the supermodel level, you can feel like a beauty outsider when brands don’t reach out to bring you into the fold.”
While the beauty industry is at the forefront of shade inclusivity, other industries are following suit. Band-Aid recently expanded its shade range with its OurTone line of flesh-colored bandages featuring deeper skin tones.
In a true art-imitating-life moment, Crayola released a Colors of the World collection last year and tapped MOB Beauty cofounder Victor Casale to make sure it got its skin tone–inspired shades just right. “I made my first wide shade range more than 30 years ago with MAC Cosmetic’s Studio Fix ($33), which I launched in 1988 with 28 shades,” he says. “At that time in the ‘80s, most ranges were around 12 shades. In the ‘90s, we saw them increase to 18, and in the early aughts, we saw up to 24.”
“When consumers cannot find their shade it’s upsetting and disappointing, and they feel left out and unseen,” he explains. “You don’t make a connection to brands that do not recognize you. As a child, I could never find my color in a crayon box, and I was thrilled that Crayola reached out to me to help create Colors of the World, so every child can find their color and feel seen.”
“I work with a very diverse clientele, so it is very important for me to have access to a broader shade range, not only for skin, but also for every feature of the face,” says celebrity makeup artist Ermahn Ospina, whose clients include Salma Hayek, Jordana Brewster and Rosario Dawson. “As an artist, I must have all of the tones and a variety of options to present to my clients.”
“I love NARS’ Radiant Creamy Concealer ($30) because of its consistency and how easy it is to apply on any type of skin,” he adds. “I also love the variety of shades, from the very light Chantilly to Dark Coffee and all other 26 shades in between.
“Broader shade ranges are important to not just one community, but all communities and the beauty industry as a whole because it demonstrates a willingness to be more inclusive of all people,” says Birmingham, AL dermatologist Corey L. Hartman, MD, adding that tinted sunscreens and serums are helping to make skin care a more inclusive space. “Colorescience has done a great job of expanding its Sunforgettable Total Protection line, including the powder brushes and Face Shield Flex SPF. AlumierMD Moisture Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 40 ($48) also boasts a technology to match virtually any skin tone from the lightest to the deepest. One of my favorite Black-owned skin care brands, Black Opal, has an impressive line that addresses a more diverse set of needs.”
With her olive skin tone, Pretty Connected’s Lara Eurdolian says she’s struggled most of her career to find the right makeup shades, and has often had to blend foundation colors to create her own. “Now I have more options than ever, which I can share with my followers who also have diverse skin tones,” she explains. “Extended shade ranges and being able to see swatches on different skin tones has been a game changer, even with something as simple as a setting powder. Historically, brands launched a standard, ‘universal’ translucent powder, but now we’re seeing more banana, medium and dark skin tones being included. Two of my favorites are the Laura Mercier Loose Setting Powder ($39), which now comes in three shades, and the beautyblender Bounce Soft Focus Gemstone Setting Powder ($32), which comes in five.”
For celebrity stylist Jessica Paster, whose clients include Freida Pinto, Emily Blunt and Nicole Scherzinger, having breast tape that comes in a variety of shades has made styling a much easier process: “Undergarments are the most important part of styling, and it’s so crucial to take skin tones into consideration. White will always show under white clothes, and the same goes for black underwear under black outfits. The best way to achieve a seamless look is to match the client’s skin tone as closely as possible to their undergarments. Nue’s Breast Tape ($25) is great because not only does it eliminate all traces of straps and bra bands, but the variety of shades also makes it invisible under all tops and dresses, including sheer fabrics.”
Celebrity stylist Nicole Chavez, counts Skims shapewear as her go-to for their expansive color range. “It’s a brand that is creating second-skin solutions for every body,” she says. “I’ve found their fabrication and construction to be outstanding. The collection offers a range of sizes and nine skin tones, and some bodysuits even have seasonal color options.”