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Why Does the Beauty Industry Still Not Know How to Make Darker Foundations?

by Oana-Maria Moldovan

In the beauty industry, where self-expression intersects with innovation, the pursuit of inclusivity has become a rallying cry for consumers and creators alike. This noble quest – which should be just the norm at this point – is often marred by missteps and oversights, as evidenced by the recent saga surrounding Youthforia’s “Date Night Skin Tint” Foundation.

Launched with much fanfare last year, this product promised a radiant glow for everyone. However, the brand soon found itself caught in a controversy that highlighted the industry’s persistent struggle with diversity and its very subjective perspective on darker skin tones.

At the heart of the issue lies the stark reality of limited shade ranges. Despite boasting fifteen shades upon its debut, Youthforia faced swift backlash for its failure to adequately cater to darker skin tones.

This criticism reached its peak when beauty influencer Golloria George took to TikTok, her video currently having amassed over 38.7 million views, to decried the brand’s exclusionary practices.

The foundation seemed like literal charcoal on the dark-skinned beauty content creator. If that isn’t a form of exclusion and denigration of the skin of people of colour, I don’t know what is.

Youthforia’s response to the outcry was twofold. Firstly, the company secured investment from billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, signaling a commitment to rectifying its misstep. Secondly, it expanded its shade range by introducing ten new options specifically designed for darker complexions.

But at last, these efforts fell short of mollifying George, who lamented the inadequacy of the darkest shade and continued to showcase mismatched results in her viral videos.

Founder, Fiona Co Chan, attributed the struggle to a dearth of suitable models for darker shades – an explanation that garnered mixed reactions from critics and consumers alike. Saying that, while many dark-skinned models can’t lend a contract for the sole reason of their skin tone, is ignorant at best and hateful at worst, especially Chan being a minority herself.

While some empathised with the challenges of inclusivity in product development, others viewed it as a symptom of deeper-rooted issues within the industry.

Indeed, the conversation surrounding Youthforia’s misstep extends far beyond one brand’s misfortune. It shines a glaring spotlight on the systemic inequities that plague the beauty industry - from formulation to marketing. 

Critics point to the inherent biases embedded in the creation of makeup, where the chemistry of pigments seemingly mirrors the societal structures of racism.

This debacle underscores a sobering truth: the industry’s failure to adequately represent diverse skin tones is not merely an oversight but a reflection of entrenched biases. It speaks to a pervasive lack of understanding and appreciation for the myriad shades that exist within the spectrum of beauty.

If checking and comparing the ingredients, you would notice a big difference in the way Youthforia made its lighter shades than its darker ones. That, in itself, might just be one of the biggest problems.

The foundation I would need, as someone with quite a fair complexion, has flower and fruit extracts and oils creating pigments of reds, whites, and yellows. At the same time, the one that was supposed to be a fit for Golloria has only two ingredients as pigments: black iron oxide and a tiny bit of white.

Now, if I remember correctly from when I was in school – and I should, since I have an art diploma – red, white, and yellow, should normally make a lighter skin tone. 

But black and white combined? That’s grey, not brown.

Any artist will tell you that, to create a real-looking dark skin complexion you need to – most of the time – use shades of purple (very rarely even green or orange) underneath. Funny how chemists working in the beauty industry don’t know this simple fact about color theory.

In the face of mounting criticism, calls for change reverberate louder than ever. Golloria George, the catalyst for this discourse, remains steadfast in her advocacy for inclusivity, urging consumers to hold brands accountable for their exclusivity.

Similarly, voices like Chambers emphasise the importance of diversity not only in product offerings but also in the workforce behind the scenes.

For Youthforia, the path to redemption hinges on more than just expanding shade ranges – it necessitates a fundamental shift in mindset.

Rebuilding trust with their audience demands a concerted effort to prioritise inclusivity at every stage of the creative process. It’s not merely a moral imperative but a strategic imperative as well. In a marketplace increasingly defined by diversity, brands that fail to adapt risk alienating a significant segment of their consumer base.

Chang has to first understand that her actions are not only discriminatory but also hateful towards people of colour, how they create even more stereotypes, and how the whole thing felt like a slap in the face for all the beauty enthusiasts who do not fit the beauty standard that Youthforia is so obsessed in further cultivating.

This saga of Youthforia’s darker-shaded foundations serves as a poignant reminder of the beauty industry’s ongoing struggle with inclusivity. While progress has been made, the journey towards true representation remains fraught with challenges.

As consumers continue to demand accountability and transparency, brands must heed the call for change or risk being left behind in an ever-evolving landscape of beauty and self-expression. Beauty and self-creation should be for everyone, not only for those who have the money and power to impose it.

Edited by Emily Duff

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