Dear Beauty Lovers: There Is A Difference between Pale Foundation Problems and Dark Foundation Problems

Pale skin might come with makeup complexities, but it doesn’t come with the structural discrimination and disadvantage that brown skin often does.
Publish date:
September 8, 2014
racism, foundation, pale skin, dark skin

I am 30 years old. The first time that I found a foundation shade that closely matched my skin colour was two years ago. This is partially because, when you live in Australia and a Revlon foundation costs $28 on sale, high end make-up with its more extensive shade range is often inaccessibly and prohibitively expensive.

But that isn’t the whole problem. A big reason I’ve struggled so much to find a reasonably priced, easily obtainable and full coverage foundation is because I am not white, and mainstream makeup is designed for white people.

I know that I’m lucky. I’m as fair skinned as a tanned white person, so I’ve been able to find many shades that were almost there, but not quite right. That’s not true for many of my minority peers though, who are often unable to find shades in anything even close to their skin tone. And don’t even get me started on BB creams or concealers.

Most drugstore brands carry one or two shades of BB creams and concealers and you can bet anything that none of them will be suitable for somebody with dark skin. One shade called “Deep” does not capture an entire race, nay races, of people.

And you know what? I know that I’m not alone in this. I know that even people of colour aren’t alone in this. I know it can be hard for most people to find a perfect shade match in the drugstore. Drugstore foundations very rarely cater to very pale skin either. But according to many commenters on beauty blogs, this is exactly the same problem as a lack of shades for dark people.

This is a big pet peeve of mine. Often, when a mainstream beauty blog runs a piece on good foundations for dark skin, or on the difficulties people of colour face in finding shade matches, the comments are overtaken by white people complaining about finding foundation for their whiter than white skin.

It’s always so disappointing to read a really great article about the problems faced by people of colour in simply seeking mainstream representation of the way we look, and then head to the comments to be faced with commenters complaining that people of colour don’t have the “exclusive right to colour match frustrations.”

While it’s true that colour match foundations affect everybody, the implications of this are markedly different for pale and dark-skinned people.

It’s important to remember the context. Not being able to find your shade in foundation is a one-off problem for a white person. For a person of colour, it’s just another way we are reminded that the world is not designed for us. It’s another piece in the puzzle of systemic racism. When I see a brand that has darker shades, or a broad range for yellow-based complexions, I feel gratitude. I feel like they’ve done me a favour, because we’re made to feel that acknowledging our existence is doing us a favour.

It sucks that you can’t find makeup in your specific skin tone, it really does, no sarcasm. But I can guarantee you that in most mainstream lines you can find makeup designed for your race. A drugstore foundation range will usually read something like Ivory, Porcelain, Buff, Beige, Medium Beige, Honey and Tan. Tan. That’s it. For all of us. Your problem is specific to you, ours is generalized to our entire race.

Derailing is such a buzz word in social justice type arenas, but that’s exactly what this is. We want to have a conversation about this problem. One conversation with our peers where we can empathise and share advice. Making this conversation about pale problems is completely derailing, and long comment threads about brands that provide the whitest of white foundations belong somewhere else.

I see it as part of this post-modern way that we communicate these days, where the only thing we know is our own experience and the only way we empathize is by sharing our own experiences. But that doesn’t have to be true, because sharing white experiences in conversations about race often just ends up shutting up the brown people.

There is nothing wrong with listening, with simply saying "I’m sorry" or "I can’t believe this" or "I saw this brand that looks like it might have a good range of darker skin tones, why don’t you check it out?" Or, you know, not participating in this one discussion. There’ll be others for you. I promise.

Shopping for bases is frustrating for all of us. It’s the kind of thing that nobody really wants to do, because in a perfect world we’d all have flawless skin that wouldn’t need any kind of correcting. When you layer that with the frustrations faced in finding shade matches, it isn’t fun. I’ve resigned myself to having to fork out significant amounts of cash to find a good foundation shade, and I’m not sure I’ve even found a perfect one yet. We feel your pain, pale white people of the world.

But, don’t be the person who makes all our conversations about your pale problems. Recognize that your “problem” also comes with a massive amount of privilege that most people of colour looking for foundations don’t have. Pale skin might come with makeup complexities, but it doesn’t come with the structural discrimination and disadvantage that brown skin often does. Next time, keep that in mind that before you dive in and tell us about good foundations for NC -15s.