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Women of Color and Their Representation in the Cosmetics Industry

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For decades, the makeup industry was predominately geared towards Caucasians, with products such as foundation and concealer only available in a limited shade range of light and tan tones. When singer Rihanna launched Fenty Beauty in September 2017, the makeup line featured 40 shades of foundation, ranging from fair to deep dark, and challenged other makeup brands to create collections that were more inclusive to all skin tones. This has since created a shift in the beauty industry towards inclusivity and diversity of all races, genders, ages, and sizes.

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Firstly any makeup company that wants to create a new foundation or makeup line starts with research. For foundations they look for what ethnicity is around the areas that will supply their products

This is how they know whether to make more light shades or dark shades. Even if there is a lot of different skin tones they can’t produce and sell everyone, or else they would have around fifty shades! Companies then start to whittle down through similar skin tones putting together about 10-17 shades. It’s not just skin tones considered, it’s also complections. If the foundation formula is matte or dewy looking, liquid foundation or stick foundation, and whether it’s for oily, dry, or combination skin. In an interview of participants for a study by Iowa State University in 2013, the women of color favored the brand M.A.C for makeup products because they have oil free foundations with rich pigment and extensive colors to choose from. This gives companies a look at what some women prefer in foundations, helping more with how to formulate desired products. After these brands have figured out what kind of makeup or foundation line they should produce, the actual creation of shades starts. The basic colors used in any foundation is: red, yellow, white, and black, says the Cosmopolitan in the article “Why Are Women of Color Still Having Trouble Finding Foundation?” on December 26, 2015. Using these colors just in my head I can think of them being able to make nice pink undertones or yellow ones for light skin, but one of the most common undertones for darker women doesn’t seem easy to make. The olive skin tones on many women of color is one of the hardest to find on shelves or to create. If too much white pigment is added to the foundation it looks ashy, too much orange and it looks like a bad tan. Makeup companies get slammed on social media for this like Tarte did in their release of the “Shape Tape” foundations. People have wondered why there are fewer darker shades on shelves and there could be a few reasons. One could be because it’s not easy to make colors to truly match anyone and two it could be too much to make. I can now say that they are both not valid. In the article “Not Fair: Are Darker Foundation Shades Harder and More Costly to Make?” by Get the Gloss in May of 2016, they revealed while working with the company No7 “...creating foundations for darker skin tones was neither hard nor more expensive to do….” This means companies need to get on the larger shade range productions with more dark tones that actually match darker women without them mixing three different colors of foundation from different brands.

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The Barbie doll is an example of “a media product that creates a distorted body image in women” (MediaSmarts, n.d., para. 2). More than 1 billion Barbie dolls have been sold since her inception, and she has become “the face of the American dream,” according to the Barbie historian Christopher Varaste (“Life in Plastic,” 2005, p

166). Barbie is known for her “perfect” looks, hair, and makeup. The doll is said to have the “Barbie effect” on younger adolescents, as their notions of what is attractive have been shaped by the doll. Barbie’s body proportions and features are, nevertheless, not achievable by human women. By the early 1960s Barbie “opened new dreams for girls that were not accessible” (“Life in Plastic,” 2005, p. 169). Yet, this doll has impacted millions of young girls and played a huge role in their behavior at an early age. According to M. G. Lord, the writer of Barbie’s biography, Barbie is “the most potent icon of the American’s popular culture in the late 20th century. The beginning of a young tween or teen girl’s first experimentation with applying cosmetics can be seen as a rite of passage as well as development toward a feminine identity (Cash, Rissi, & Chapman, 1985). Indeed, it is during early menarche that the female adolescent becomes more concerned with her appearance. In American culture, young female adolescents tend to emulate beautiful women. Advertising tells us that makeup holds the promise to women of bringing out their inner beauty and transforming them to have higher self-esteem.

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Definitely, although changing cosmetic regulation may take years, consumer pressure can quickly do what cumbersome legislation cannot. Back in 2014, Johnson and Johnson announced (paywall) that they removed any traces of formaldehyde from their baby shampoo—despite the fact that the chemical had never been in high enough concentrations to have been proven to cause any harm to any infants

Woodruff thinks that a similar pressure from consumer groups—particularly on behalf of women of color—could cause cosmetic companies to reformulate their products to remove some of these chemicals.

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Cash, T. F., Rissi, J., & Chapman, R. (1985). Not just another pretty face: Sex roles, locus of control, and cosmetics use. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 11(3), 246– 257.

Lerner, R. M., Karabenick, S. A., & Stuart, J. L. (1973). Relations among physical attractiveness, body attitudes, and self-concept in male and female college students. Journal of Psychology, 85(1), 119–129.

MediaSmarts. (n.d.). Body image: Toys. Retrieved from the MediaSmarts website:

Miller, L. C., & Cox, C. L. (1982). For appearances’ sake: Public self-consciousness andmakeup use. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 8, 748–751.

Life in the plastic. (2005). In M. L. Damhorst, K. A. Miller-Spillman, & S. O. Michelman (Eds.), The meanings of dress (2nd ed.; pp. 166–169). New York: Fairchild.

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