There's no denying that it was Rihanna's Fenty that catapulted the term inclusive beauty into the spotlight with its promise of "boundary-breaking shades for women of all races". The brand, which was part of Time magazine's list of 25 Best Inventions of the Year in 2017, has been credited with enabling many women to find their shade of foundation for the very first time. Let that sink in for a second.
In line with Fenty, projects by some international and boutique brands last year were aimed at making make-up accessible to more women. From campaigns such as Blend In, Stand Out (Make Up For Ever) and Live Boldly (Revlon), to ambassadors including Issa Rae and Ayesha Curry (CoverGirl), and Adwoa Aboah (Marc Jacobs Beauty), a handful of cosmetics companies went all-out to position themselves and their products as multiracial.
It was not surprising, therefore, that my conversation with Sharon Collier of Cover FX quickly turned from the Canadian make-up brand’s latest product launch (glitter drops) to the 40 shades of foundation it has been manufacturing since its inception back in 2000. Funnily enough, the idea for Cover FX was dreamt up at a hospital, although it’s not a medical brand, the chief executive tells me during her recent visit to Dubai. It so happened that the head of dermatology at Sunnybrook, Toronto, approached the would-be founders to find a post-operative solution for people with skin issues such as scarring, burns, misshapen birthmarks and acne.
Consequently, the formulas are highly pigmented to offer full coverage, and are free of ingredients such as parabens and synthetic fragrances, which could further irritate the skin, as well as being and animal-cruelty-free. “The whole premise of why the brand was conceived was because of the psychological impact that an imperfect complexion can have on many people. And skin issues do not discriminate among races and cultures,” says Collier.
Despite being one of the oldest brands in the inclusive-beauty business, Cover FX launched Nude Is Not Beige, one of its first promotional campaigns, only last year. The same goes for CoverGirl, which became the first major cosmetics company to sign a black model – Lana Ogilvie in 1992 – yet is most well-known for the ambassadors it signed last year.
Black Opal was the first doctor-recommended skincare line for women of colour in the 1990s, but gained a global following after Beyoncé's make-up artist vetted its foundation. Suffice it to say, a handful of beauty brands has offered a diverse palette for some time, while those that still don't are increasingly feeling the heat, most notably Tarte Cosmetics, which got flak for its non-inclusive Shape Tape concealers last month. The company has since apologised to its irate Twitter and Instagram followers, saying that it will release 10 more shades soon.
40 shades of foundation is the magic number
As with most other issues, social media has a large role to play in this newfound demand for diversity. "Having grown up surrounded by fairness-cream ads and matrimonial posts demanding fair-skinned brides, a whole generation of women such as myself fell prey to make-up that just was not suited to our 'wheatish' skin tones. I can't even imagine what black women went through," says hairstylist Karishma Dalal. "Not so, anymore. There are plenty of options out there now, some of which seem to have materialised almost overnight thanks to Facebook and Instagram."
When it comes to the number of skin colours covered, 40 seems to be the magic number, at least for foundations. Fenty Beauty, Cover FX and Make Up For Ever boast 40-shade ranges, which go from the palest porcelain to the deepest ebony. To this, Collier spins in another stipulation. “Who’s to say there are only or exactly 40 shades, or 50 or 100 for that matter? According to us, there’s going to be a new shade of complexion born every day, what with people travelling and marrying across the planet. Even just dipping in and out of the sun in your own city, your shade can change from week to week and certainly from season to season.”
Not all brands offer diverse shades
Accordingly, a handful of brands, such as Gosh, Nyx and Hard Candy, have developed super-pigments that you simply need to drop in your foundation to deepen or lighten the shade, or even into your face cream for a tinted moisturiser based on the shade of your skin.
Of course, the shade options may not span every product category within each brand. L'Oréal, for instance, released a range of True Match Lumi Glow lotions last year, suited to all skin shades, and even enlisted black American actress Aja Naomi King as the face of the campaign. But the company is yet to formulate a foundation, concealer and powder that King could don as is. Revlon offers highly pigmented lipsticks suited to darker skin tones, and Wet n Wild was the first brand to bring an albino model on-board, but both companies don't yet have base products to suit black or even dark-toned brown skinned women.
“I think, for a long while, the women who were underserved were frustrated, but remained quiet. They may have found other ways to shop, or just not been as vocal,” says Collier. “Someone once said to me years ago that if you went to your favourite brand, and it did not have a basic product that would work for you, then that made you feel strange. ‘Why is my shade different?’ became the question, not ‘why don’t they have my shade?’.”
This is no longer the case. Women are at once more confident and more candid about what suits them, and unwilling to accept both a product that does not live up to expectations as well as a brand that dabbles in limited offerings. Think Tarth as well as Kim Kardashian’s contour sticks – the darkest colour was nowhere close to suiting the darkest skin tone – while Huda Beauty was criticised for its dark-shade-leaning highlighters.
The knell has been sounded for divisive cosmetics, and women of all races, cultures and skin conditions are unlikely to stop it ringing.
And if Milk Makeup’s Blur the Lines campaign is anything to go by, the next inclusive trend we expect to see on the international beauty market horizon: cosmetics that celebrate gender fluidity.