That Elusive Shade: Hunting for the Right Foundation

Ever since I wrote a piece for Marie Claire on my difficulties in finding the right type of brown foundation, I’ve been inundated with suggestions by regular folk, makeup artists and well-meaning readers. Who knew that finding foundation would hit such a nerve with so many people?

My various brown makeups.

The premise of my piece is that though some companies offer brown makeup offerings, the colors still aren’t that varied and they are often difficult to come by. Drug store brands do slightly better than prestige (aka fancy) brands. And, of those, the brands carried by Target or by Sephora seem to perform the best of all.

In part I wrote: “For a while I settled for dusting the oil off my face and rocking great lipsticks, eyeshadows, or mascara. But it frustrated me to no end that white people had 500 different shades of pink, tan, olive and beige to choose from while black people had two shades — neither one deep enough for me.

For too long now, the beauty industry has been way behind in making adequate foundation colors that match the various skin types for women of color. At least Fashion Fair, a line for women of color, figured out that there were millions of dollars to be made when starting the iconic company in the 1970s. Other companies didn’t bother to catch up until maybe the last 20 years or so. Maybe. And most of them didn’t even bother until fairly recently. And even now, with the exception of a handful, I swear my color is barely ever an option.”

What was interesting was when a white friend posted on my FB page that she too has problems finding foundation because she’s really white. Irish white, she said. And none of the a zillion “tans” out there work for her at all. Then my light-skinned black friends said they can come close to a color, but not quite-usually because of undertone issues. And then when they find the right color? Bam, it gets discontinued. And then some people said they didn’t understand the problem since Whoopi Goldberg and Lupita Nyong’o wear makeup.

Er. Ok.

I find it interesting that people point to the one or two black folk that they think are my color when they want to discuss makeup. And of COURSE Whoopi and Lupita have adequate coverage for their skin color. They have makeup artists who can whip up a personal blend whenever they need. Plus, Iman made it clear that the reason why she started her makeup line was because she tired of going to shoots and finding that the makeup artists weren’t prepared to prep her face. Iman’s not dark at all. But even if she was, newsflash: not all dark-skinned black folks are the same color.

The good news is that I’ve heard from a number of brands who want me to try their expanded color wares. Other beauty bloggers have gotten in touch with suggestions on brands to try, including BlackUp and they’ve said to give Lancome another try now that Lupita is the face of that brand. Everyone acknowledged that where you shop means a lot here. If you go to a majority white place, it will be difficult to find appropriate shades. But I think that’s poor marketing. If you sell it, we will buy, so why not sell it everywhere? (Especially in Chicago, which is fast becoming majority people of color.)_

I’ve also gotten some cool emails from makeup artists who agree with me that a broader spectrum of browns is in order. This heartens me, especially as the summer comes and my brown skin begins to tan, necesitating a different take on makeup. I know the right stuff is out there, and I appreciate the companies that take the time to find combinations that work better for all women, and not just some women.



Director, Creator Growth @Medium. Editor of ZORA and MOMENTUM. Writer. Mother. Proud recipient of an official Beyoncé shout out.

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