A Black Makeup Scientist on Why Makeup For WOC is Overlooked

As a woman of color, finding makeup in my shade has been a struggle.

In any department store, I go down a line of 15 different types of beige and taupe just to compare the 2 or 3 mocha foundations at the end. Some brands cater specifically to black women but why do I have to pick from a few brands when lighter skinned people have infinite options?

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My friends with lighter complexions will hand me three nearly identical bottles and ask me which one I think matches them exactly and it’s frustrating because I want that level of specificity. Makeup should reflect the diversity of our culture but companies just don’t primarily consider me. And it’s like, why not? Is there technology that’s missing or is it something else?

Cosmetic chemist Erica Douglas knows the struggle. As the owner of the company mSeed, Erica has combined her knowledge of chemistry and personal experiences as a woman of color to make products that cater specifically to our needs.

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And according to her, while there’s no science or technology preventing women of color from being represented, there are slight differences between shades that contribute to the cost for companies.

“When you’re mixing these types of colors together, often times yes, some of these colors do cost more than others,” she explained to Galore. “But so little color goes into some of these products. I don’t think it’s a matter of how much does it cost, or if darker colors are too expensive to put it in the market, it’s more so do you have the volume to justify making a large number of those products?”

Basically, darker shades may be more expensive to make but mostly because makeup companies are already buying large quantities of ingredients for their products in lighter shades. Companies have centered on lighter skinned women for so long, they just haven’t built that same demand for darker shades. So part of the work is buying the ingredients, but most of the work is in converting customers who have never seen their shades represented by mainstream brands.

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One answer to making the beauty industry more inclusive is for companies to be strategic in where products are placed. By putting more hues for women of color in communities where they are a majority, and fewer lighter shades in communities where there is lower demand for them, Erica thinks brands could start selling to every woman. She notices that some companies like Walgreen’s have already begun doing this.

“I think that over the last year, women of color have just made it more evident and kind of announced themselves, [saying], ‘Hey, there are very few options for us, if there were options for us, we would buy them,'” she says. “There is more than just white and black and there are so much in between. We need to be able to satisfy the consumers’ demands in order to meet the criteria of what our society is starting to look like.”

She sees the beauty industry changing fast, every single day. There is definitely an awareness that women of color are not really being catered to. Covergirl, Revlon and Maybelline specifically have made a concerted effort to put out darker shades, although there is still more work to be done. Most recently, Maria Borges became the face of L’Oreal, suggesting that diversity in who companies are targeting is really on its way.

“I think it’s very easy, just as easy, to make foundations for women with lighter skin tones and darker skin tones,” she said. “It all comes down to a business decision as to how they’re going to do it and how they’re going to roll it out and what they’re going to make available and when. And so at that point I just always tell people: as a consumer you create the demand and if your voice isn’t heard then these brands don’t know that we exist.”

With social media and the internet, it’s so easy for us to communicate our needs to companies every day. And according to Erica, these brands are listening. Any beauty company would be willing to put more research and money into changing our beauty landscape if they felt there was enough demand for it. So in addition to companies making more of an effort to convert customers, the answer is also for us to make more of an effort to be loud about what we need.

“I always say if it doesn’t make dollars then it doesn’t make sense,” she said in closing. “So we have to show these brands that we do create dollars so these decisions to make foundations and makeup in darker skin tones make sense.”

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