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In Search of the Perfect Foundation

Aja Mangum, an editor at New York magazine, loves beauty; she just doesn't enjoy the stress of shopping for it. As a woman of color, she set out to find foundation and concealer that would match her skin. Without revealing her identity as a beauty editor, she visited more than a dozen makeup counters in search of something that worked.

She went to Chanel, YSL, Bobbi Brown, T. LeClerc, Too Faced, and the list goes on. With the exception of Prescriptives and MAC, she found nothing. She writes:

Everyone was lovely, everyone tried, everyone has good intentions. YSL, Chanel, and Nars are launching darker shades later this year. Bobbi Brown can’t put a timetable on their latest. Still. Makeup shopping is supposed to be fun, but getting rejected time after time made this the most emotionally draining story I’ve ever done.

Finding a foundation match isn't easy for most women, but it's especially difficult if certain beauty lines don't have any choices for your skin tone. While I'm glad that some brands are deepening their variety—no pun intended—it's still remarkable that in a city as big as New York, Mangum wound up depressed by the lack of options.


Join The Conversation
enSue enSue 9 years
I can totally understand the lack of understanding by cosmetics companies and their lack of options for darker and more natural-looking skin tones. I, on the other hand, am on the opposite end of the color spectrum with extremely pale skin. I know that my preference to purchase only drug-store brand foundations and powders has really limited my options, but I just can't afford more than $10 each for foundation and powder. My skin is so light that the lightest shades are still too dark on me, and most are way too orange or pink. My options are even more limited because I have extremely oily skin, and prefer a foundation with SPF rather than a separate application of (unnecessarily moisturizing) sunscreen. So far, the only product I have been happy with is Cover Girl's Fresh Look in Classic Ivory (only because the lighter Ivory is way too pink on me). But I think I should probably bite the bullet and look into the more expensive brands others have recommended above. Sigh.
Ann070558 Ann070558 9 years
I lucked out, I can always rely on Halle Berry and Revlon. Every shade that I have liked on Halle, has suited me perfectly. Even before Halle, I have always been able to use Revlon successfully. My mother, on the other hand, has a much richer brown complexion. Mommy has always had a tough time finding just the right shade. Luckily, when I started to use the Revlon Colorstay line, I thought I'd found the perfect shade for my mother, as well. I'm not sure how everyone feels about 'doing drugstore', but for me, Revlon offers some of the best deep browns. Ditto Iman and L'Oreal (especially their True Match line). Online, there are many new websites that feature makeup created especially for women of color. Could be that one of them will have the perfect shade?
gibbon345 gibbon345 9 years
I myself am one of those pasty cannot find a good foundation that doesnt make me look like a sheet or a pumpkin.but As a makeup artist I have noticed that when it comes to women of color most companies do not know what they are doing. if they even make the darker shades. it seems to me that instead of looking at indertones they throw whatever they can in so it looks darker. some are way to orange, I have even seen purple. then for some reasonthe piments they use for said products just seem to get darker as the day progresses. it bothers me that makeup companies feel that women all fall in the medium shade. where isthe makeup for the ends. I mmean have you ever gotten oneof those kits that only comes in one shade. medium. For me it is way to dark. I cannot imagine what it would look like on others. SO LADIES i AM CALLING FOR A SAY. LETS LET THOSE COMPANIES KNOW WE DEMAND A BETTER PRODUCT. WE WANT FOUNDATION COLORS FOR ALL PEOPLE. tHEY THINK BECAUSE WE ARE WOMEN WE DO NOT HAVE A SAY. WEL GIRLS WE DO. i AM NOT PROMOTING VOLENCE OR HATE. i SAY NEXT TIME YOU GO TO HE MAKEUP CONTER TELL THEM HOW YOU FEEL. LET THE COMPANIES KNOW IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE.
sweetpeabrina sweetpeabrina 9 years
I'm super happy that I saw this, Bella! Thanks! For the longest, I have struggled with finding make up. I know that everyone comes in different shades but trying to find a foundation has been killer for me! Some make me look ashy, some make me look orange, some are too dark, some are too light. I thought the problem was that I was just being picky. I have tried to find websites that will help me to find out what colors on the eyes and lips will look the best but there isn't much.
areidz areidz 9 years
I just use bare escentuals in medium beige. I hope it still matches fairly well after a self tanner (for a wedding - am a bridesmaid and she's insisting on us to tan!)
Arias101 Arias101 9 years
I don't know if you have some way to contact her, but BECCA is raved for every skin tone!
tameeka tameeka 9 years
Being a woman of color it is so hard to find colors and shades that go with your complexion. I see looks on the runway, in fashion magazines, or on actresses and it's upsetting when I can't recreate the look because of my color. MAC is great when it comes to a wider range of foundations. It's just sad when the darkest color a make up line carries is some caramel color that only scratches the surface of what we women of color need. For once, I would love to find a great shade of lipstick that looks great on me! The search continues...
tmmkitten tmmkitten 9 years
i am genuinely surprised that so many cosmetic companies haven't tapped the huge market of makeup for darker skin tones. i am very pale, and often mix my own, but i am rather annoyed that so many companies are not aware that those with deep completions love matching foundation too.
DreaAST DreaAST 9 years
I want some sort of foundation but have no clue what to get. I am average color, not dark and not pale. However, I go tanning a lot. Lately I have been slacking off but since Spring is coming I will go a lot. And I tan easily and get dark. So.........i just have no idea what to pick. And, I don't want too look like I have foundation on. I want a nice glow I guess.
Cycy Cycy 9 years
Hm, you think you have a problem finding foundation in the US of A. Or UK for that matter. Try living in Norway. I did not even wear foundation regularly up until last year because you just could never find foundation for shades darker than olive. Thank goodness I have friends in other countries who were very concerned for my beauty so every once in a while I would get a beauty shipment. Mac finally opened here in 2006 and I swear for weeks after they had 90% coloured clientele.
ALSW ALSW 9 years
I didn't mean to draw attention away from the actual point of the blog, but more so to bring up the point that makeup makers need to realize that there are women of all shades and colors. I wonder why so many companies refuse to acknowledge that???
rumpel2 rumpel2 9 years
Bella, I agree...Prescriptives Custom Blend is the way to go ladies :)
Beauty Beauty 9 years
Thanks for all of your comments. I agree that finding foundation for very fair skin can be difficult. Shiseido, Stila, and MAC might have some options, and as you know, I'm a big fan of Prescriptives Custom Blend. And I definitely see what Belladande is saying. It's difficult for fair-skinned women to find foundation, but in most beauty lines, as Aja Mangum says, it's IMPOSSIBLE to find foundation for dark skin. So while fair-skinned women might be able to go to a beauty counter and find a foundation that isn't quite right, many women of color go to the same counter and find out that the company doesn't even make foundation in shades for dark skin.
almost-famous almost-famous 9 years
LOL I want to wear it just to say I have some at home. I know its weird, but hey. I just don't wanna rely on foundation
tiabia tiabia 9 years
I have to agree with bellande. I am a woman of color with a darker complexion, and make-up shopping can be very, very stressful. I'm lucky that I am actually able to find concealers and foundations in my complexion with both MAC and surprisingly Bobbi Brown, but sometimes it's a bit jarring when the "colors" of the season come out, and they just don't fit your complexion.
Jude-C Jude-C 9 years
As an Asian, I've had a very difficult time finding any good matches for my skin. It's light but with some olive undertones, and almost everything ends up too pink or too yellow. Prescriptives provided some good matches, but I never liked the texture of their foundations. Hence, I stopped wearing foundation *shrugs*
bluecanary bluecanary 9 years
I get what you're saying belladande. If I think it's hard finding a decent foundation (when most of the market is geared toward my general skin tone) I can't imagine how difficult it must be for a woman of color. Just frustrating all around.
bluecanary bluecanary 9 years
I'm in my early 30's and the sun damage from my youth is coming back to bite me (in the face!). I can't seem to find something to hide my random splotchiness that still looks natural - I don't need heavy coverage everywhere. And everything comes out too pink toned on me. I'm open to suggestions for slightly damaged, pale, combo skin!
belladande belladande 9 years
bailaoragaditana, the point is not that there are camps, but that this article is specifically about the difficulty, and sometimes humiliation, women of color face when trying to by makeup. It is being sidelined and being equated to an entirely different issue.
bailaoragaditana bailaoragaditana 9 years
Haha I'm afraid I'm on the side of the "too pale" camp again - I wear Bobbi Brown tinted moisturizer in Alabaster, with powder in White, and if I'm not careful, even that can make me look orange! But at the same time, when I go makeup-shopping with my (rather diverse) group of friends, it's nearly impossible to find shades dark enough, or without an unnatural pinkish cast! It does just become immensely frustrating...
Jessamae22 Jessamae22 9 years
I'm pale with freckles...and honestly, I foundations are either TOO dark or TOO light!I agree with brittanybe in that with most foundations, my face looks like Lindsay Lohan on a Mystic Tan binge! I pretty much have to mix different colors to get something that matches the skin UNDER my freckles...blah
belladande belladande 9 years
I have to say the "I'm very pale" comments that accompany these stories about the difficulty of women of color to find decent foundation matches to be quite funny. I hope that in the future BellaSugar actually does a piece on being too light so that the focus of these stories can remain clear.
brittanybe brittanybe 9 years
I have really fair skin too guys, and the Bare Escentuals looks orange on me. I do like Benefit True Story. I love MAC makeup but even their lightest color is orangey on me. I'm thinking of trying Bobbi Brown next. For now I'm using the L'oreal True Match from the drugstore.
almost-famous almost-famous 9 years
I'm a brown toned women and I have past damage acne on my face (from high school). I'm 20 years old and I'm trying to cut out sugary drinks and use cleaners such as Ambee..and it works. So hopefully I won't have to used foundation.
SugarCat SugarCat 9 years
That really sucks! I have come across the same issue, I am very pale and liquid foundations used to do nothing for me. It was like I was slapping on invisible paint - nothing covered well, it was awful. I finally got a good match and coverage with Bare Minerals.
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