Skin comes in countless shades, so why have beauty brands been skipping some? DARE contributor Natalie Ticehurst takes a look at the changing face of foundation…

Stick me on Tinder for 10 minutes and I guarantee one of the first things I’ll be asked is where I’m from. And despite living in London for seven years, they don’t mean north or south of the river – or even where I grew up (Oxford, for you nosy types). You see, what people really wanna know is why I look the way I do, or, as one guy so eloquently put it, why I look ‘exotic’. Yup, that happened. Twice. And while being dubbed ‘other’ in the dating world is pretty offensive – like, seriously, why is my skin colour even a thing? – on the beauty shelf it’s inexcusable.

Nat drop in

I get it, I have a tricky shade of skin to match. Yellow undertones, a bit sallow, totally changeable after a week in the sun with the girls. All of that equals a bit of a brain fart for beauty brands that have to match a nation of women (and, increasingly, men) to a handful of shades. So, with my not-so-common colouring – I’m mixed race (one black parent, one white parent) but more Simpson-esque than my brother’s enviable golden brown – I’m often left off the shelf. And if I struggle, what about the rest of my black and Asian friends? It might have been acceptable in the 80s (well, it wasn’t – it was just that no one was talking about it), but quite frankly it’s not any more.

You see, skin tones are only going to get more diverse as the world merges. Mixed race is the fastest growing ethnicity group (and has been for a while now), so surely beauty brands would be keen to capture this new audience. Why, then, has it historically been such a struggle to find shades for darker skin?

‘There are a lot of variations for light and medium skin tones,’ Barry M’s makeup artist Adam Burrell tells me. ‘But not so many for the rest of the spectrum.’ And I agree – new brands tend to launch a rainbow of beige with an obligatory token dark shade thrown in. But 
why is this? Well, ‘It can be hard to formulate for darker skin,’ I’m told when I chat to a spokesperson at the Rimmel Research and Development department. ‘Foundations use a white pigment that provides coverage, but it can look unnatural if there’s too much in the formula.’

are you covered LANDSCAPE v2

I get that it might be difficult to perfect – after all, our skin tones are almost as individual as our fingerprints – but Rihanna’s sell-out foundation range proves there’s a huge appetite from women of all shades to be catered for. So what exactly are the high-street beauty brands doing to reflect the changing shade of our nation?

‘Diversity is gaining an incredibly high amount of coverage, and this is pushing brands to release more shades in their portfolios,’ explains Rimmel’s R&D team. Indeed, the brand’s once depressingly limited 12-strong Match Perfection Foundation range will count 25 shades later this year.

This growth is supported by beauty powerhouse L’Oreal Paris, which already offers 23 shades in its True Match range – enough to match 98% of the population, they say. No mean feat given that, as Adam Burrell explains, ‘The range of skin tones is incredibly broad, and women with darker skin have varying undertones on different parts of the face – which makes it even harder to find the perfect colour.’

While I believe that mainstream brands should cater for all – and it’s reassuring to see more shades on the shop floor and more faces in the campaigns that cover shop windows – it was perhaps inevitable that new and niche brands would gradually form to fill in the much-needed gap, creating a safe space for all races to shop.

C.A.K.E Cosmetics, a new UK brand that specialises in women with darker skin, was established in 2015 and with its birth proved that the beauty landscape was irrevocably changing. ‘Women with colour alone have 45 different undertones, and the same for women with paler skin tones. So there should be a large portion of foundations being offered to everyone,’ argues Tanya Fagoonee, C.A.K.E Cosmetics’ makeup artist. Something of a pioneer, Sleek makeup was also founded 20 years ago to cater for fair skin, dark skin and everything in between.

But the brands can’t go it alone. It’s also down to stockists to create space on the shelf and support – or even request – shade extensions. When Superdrug’s Shades of Beauty campaign launched in 2016, I’ll admit that I did a mini fist-pump. One of the biggest retailers making beauty-for-all more accessible than ever by launching 55 new darker-toned foundations, not to mention an own-brand Afro haircare line? How can that be anything but a huge marker of how far we’ve come since those days of eight-shade foundation ranges? I’d also urge consumers to vote with their purses by supporting those smaller brands and making the most of what the high street now has to offer.

While there’s more to be done – there are still brands that don’t represent both ends of the skin-tone spectrum – these feel like huge strides. And I for one have enjoyed seeing what the high street has to offer. After playing with a load of new makeup (well, someone had to see what was out there, didn’t they?), I’ve quit the spenny beauty hall. My new foundation is B. Cosmetics Flawless Matte Foundation in W4, £9.99, and my concealer is Makeup Revolution Conceal & Define in C10, £4, in case you wanna send some my way…

The best 'beauty for all' brands

a line up of high street foundations that do a broad range of shades

Makeup Revolution

Its cult new Conceal & Define, £4, is available in an impressive 25 skin-true shades. And, believe me, if there’s a colour for me in the collection, there’s at least one for you…   

L'Oreal Paris

True Match Foundation, £9.99, comes in a whopping range of 23 shades and has colour-match technology to adapt to your skin’s undertones. Smart.

B. Cosmetics Flawless

Matte Foundation, £9.99, is everything I look for in a foundation. And it’s available in 12 brilliant shades that get the whole warm-or-cool-undertone conundrum sorted.

NIP+FAB

Available in 10 ‘real-skin’ shades, Nip+Fab Make Up Foundation, £12.95, offers great coverage for an array of undertones. It’s the foundation I’d create if I owned my own makeup lab.

C.A.K.E

Available in just five shades at the moment, C.A.K.E Liquid Foundation, £13, is a wise buy for medium to dark skin tones. With a super-silky texture, it gives that your-skin-but-better, Insta-worthy effect – because, well, a girl’s gotta selfie.

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