The Makeup Industry Is Now More Skin Shade–Inclusive Than Ever

Today, you can *finally* find a foundation shade that matches your complexion. And that says something about the evolution of the beauty industry as a whole.

Photo: Fenty Beauty.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, finding a foundation meant taking your pick from a handful of shades like "porcelain," "beige," "tan," or "mocha." Six to eight color options were the norm, a dozen was impressive. That's most definitely no longer the case. The movement toward shade inclusivity and truly diverse color options has exploded, especially within the past year. Gone are those single-digit shade ranges, replaced with 30, 40, even 50 hues for you to choose from. (

It's welcome news for women who have long struggled to find a foundation or concealer that matches their skin tone. While it's been a well-documented issue for African-American women, it's also a common complaint among women across a wide range of ethnicities, with varied skin tones and undertones.

"I stopped wearing foundation almost eight years ago because it just wasn't worth the hassle of trying to find the right color," says Elena Flores Rector, a Mexican-American. "Everything was too red-toned or just imbalanced," she says of her attempts to find a shade that worked for her complexion.

For Niloofar Mirani-whose mother is Iranian and father is Dutch-finding a concealer has always been challenging. "My favorite formula only comes in two shades, light/medium and medium/dark, neither of which work for me," she explains. Her solution: Buying both and mixing them to create a color that worked for her.

How Shade Inclusivity Fits Into Body Positivity

It's no coincidence that the industry's push toward shade inclusivity comes alongside similar efforts such as body positivity and redefined ideas about what beauty looks like; take CoverGirl's recent campaigns featuring male model James Charles and 70-year-old Maye Musk. One size (or one shade, as it were) no longer fits all, as the definition of beauty becomes more inclusive and individual than ever.

The shift in the industry is also reflective of how the country's demographics are changing, says Alison Hahn, SVP Merchandising, Color at Sephora. "The U.S. is becoming more and more diverse, so it's only natural that brands see that and adapt by evolving their product assortment to be more representative of the total population and the needs of all clients-especially those brands that have a global presence," she points out.

So how did it all begin? Many credit Rihanna's Fenty Beauty line as igniting the trend; the Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation ($34; launched with an impressive 40 shades. "Although not the first to launch an extensive and inclusive shade range, Fenty Beauty is a perfect example of a brand that has set a global precedent, not just with foundation, but in other categories, such as concealer, lip, and cheek," explains Hahn.

In addition to shade inclusivity, the launch of Fenty was also an important moment for the beauty world because of the size inclusivity it showcases in its campaign images; plus-size model Paloma Elsesser (who was also featured in Nike's plus-size activewear campaign) was included in the brand's launch video, a rarity for most beauty ads. (Earlier this year, Revlon followed suit by announcing Ashley Graham as a new brand ambassador-the first time a curvy model of this generation landed a major beauty contract.)

The Explosion of Shade-Inclusive Foundations

A range of new brands have followed Fenty's suit, offering more colors than ever before. Newcomer Flesh Beauty is built upon the notion of "redefining flesh color"-the brand's Firm Flesh Thickstick Foundation ($18; comes in 40 shades. Another newbie, Il Makiage, has 50 shades of their Woke Up Like This Foundation ($47; Existing brands are jumping on the bandwagon as well. Makeup artist and beauty influencer Huda Kattan spent months developing the 30 shades of her eponymous #FauxFilter Foundation ($40; Earlier this summer, Too Faced launched a long-anticipated collaboration with beauty style influencer Jackie Aina, who developed nine new shades of their best-selling Born This Way Foundation ($39;

"I've been championing diversity since I started my YouTube channel," says Aina of her partnership with the brand. "I appreciated that they brought someone in with dark skin to develop these colors," she adds. The end result was three new colors that are darker than the previously darkest option, as well as six medium shades with gold and olive tones.

But it's important to note that it's not just the new and buzzy companies pushing for shade inclusivity. Iconic, heritage beauty brands are revamping their complexion offerings as well. Estée Lauder's best-selling Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup ($42; is available in an impressive 56 shades as of this month, with the brand's newest spokesmodel, African-American model Anok Yai, as the face of the campaign. Lancôme not only offers 40 shades of its Teint Idole Ultra 24H Long Wear Foundation ($47; but also takes it one step further with their groundbreaking Le Teint Particular Custom Made Makeup. The in-store technology involves a scan of your skin tone that's then used to create a completely custom foundation color.

You also don't need to spend big bucks to take advantage of all of these new shade options. Drugstore staples such as CoverGirl and Maybelline New York now offer an equally vast array of colors. CoverGirl's latest foundation, TruBlend Matte Made Liquid Foundation ($8; comes in 40 shades, as does the Maybelline New York Fit Me! Matte + Poreless Foundation ($8; Maybelline New York also doubled the shade ranges of both their Instant Age Rewind Eraser Dark Circles Treatment Concealer ($8; of the best-selling concealers at mass-and Fit Me! Concealer ($5; earlier this year.

At the end of the day, this redefined complexion rainbow is a direct response to what women are asking for. "It's very evident that clients are yearning for a wider and more extensive range of foundation shades and undertones, and the brands that are able to deliver on that demand have proven to be extremely well-received," says Hahn. "There's a new inclusivity standard being set and clients are quick to support the brands that are delivering on a wider product assortment, both in terms of the number of shades they offer and the range within those shades." It's about time.

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