You’d think that with the ever-changing racial climate of our society, the beauty landscape would follow suit and uphold diversity. For a while, many mainstream beauty brands excluded themselves from that narrative and catered their products to a limited number of skin tones.
Growing up, I’d walk down the makeup aisle in the drugstore and peruse the beauty counters at department stores and sometimes see two to three shades for dark skin tones. This sparked the onset of my long and drawn-out struggle with finding a foundation shade that matched my unique dark complexion and undertones. Unfortunately, many women of color share the same story and have dealt with this for years.
Nowadays, it’s important to note there has been progress in expansive foundation shade ranges from brands that make an effort to cater to all skin tones. Inclusive beauty matters, and it’s refreshing to see lines with more than 30 foundation shades that speak to women of all racial backgrounds.
We’ll forever be applauding the success of Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty’s foundation line of 40 shades. Rihanna said it best: "Fenty Beauty was created for everyone: for women of all shades, personalities, attitudes, cultures, and races. I wanted everyone to feel included. That's the real reason I made this line." She can say that again.
Before we get into foundation brands, it's important to understand how to go about finding the right shade. We tapped celebrity makeup artist Malika James, who has worked with Gabrielle Union, Kelly Rowland, Lauren London, and more. We also called on celebrity makeup artist Meredith Baraf who has a star-studded client lineup like Adriana Lima, Lea Michele, Olivia Munn, Kim Kardashian West, and more.
James believes you should always start by swiping foundation on your jawline. "Women should keep in mind that we're more than one complexion," explains James. "Having a shade that matches and one that is slightly darker is ideal. Try using a warmer color along the jawline, then using a slighter lighter or matching color under the eye area. These two shades blended together will be your perfect match and add dimension to your face."
The first thing Baraf does when choosing a foundation is a visual scan of the face, neck, chest, shoulders, arms, and legs. "Your face really ends at your cleavage unless you're more exposed," says Baraf. "Your face can often be a different color than your neck, which is usually a different color from your chest. The top of your shoulders and chest are often the darkest tone on your upper body. Using the tonal info from those key spots, you can find anything from your perfect sheer foundation to your full coverage contour package."
When choosing foundation, Baraf swears by natural lighting. "This will help you find the truest match," she explains. "Honestly, when I worked at the MAC counter back in 1996, I did my best to get my clients outside with a mirror to look at a three-swatch jawline test. Also, remember that based on your skin type your foundation may oxidize after it sets into your skin. Be sure to account for this too or do a test wear before purchasing. When you look in the mirror, check out both sides of your profile to make sure that the blend is seamless."
To help you choose your perfect shade, we rounded up the 10 most forward-thinking brands with more than 30 foundation shades.
Fenty Beauty: 40 Shades
This foundation is literally sold out everywhere, especially the dark shades, which is a good indication of how good it is. I’ve tried it and I’m in love with the filter-like finish it gives my skin. It also blurs my hyperpigmentation and gives me this airbrushed glow. True story: I couldn’t stop taking selfies.
MAC: 35 Shades
You can’t call out OG shade-inclusive brands without talking about MAC. Since the beginning, brown girls have turned to MAC as their go-to foundation because the cult brand has always carried a plethora of shades. The Studio Fix formula is a favorite because its matte texture doesn’t budge and controls shine.
Clinique: 30 Shades
If you love a luminous glow, this SPF-packed foundation is certainly for you. With over 30 shades, you’ll find a shade that will even out your skin tone and protect you from any sun damage.
Cover FX: 40 Shades
Cover FX consistently keeps shade range top of mind, offering up to 40 shades in all of their foundation lines. So good. This oil-free foundation is made to look like another layer of your skin and also contains vitamin C and E, so your skin can feel good about wearing this all day.
A.P.D.G.: 33 shades
If you haven’t heard yet, this foundation line was going viral for all the right reasons. You can find 33 shades of the palest to deepest hue in this impressive lineup. Each shade has a unique blend of color correctors so it’s essentially an Instagram filter in a bottle.
Maybelline: 40 Shades
Major props to another big line with 40 shades. We’re in love with the Fit Me line for so many reasons—one of them being that the foundation was made with a virtual shade finder system so customers can choose their perfect match. Number two being that this formulation’s micro-powders will give your face a poreless finish.
Lancôme: 40 Shades
Want to look retouched in real life? This cult classic is the one. It took the brand eight years to develop this long-wear foundation—meaning there’s no question its formula is legit. The brand points out its color-true NAI pigments, which control the PH level of your skin so your foundation looks flawless all day.
Anastasia Beverly Hills: 30 Shades
Not only is this the MVP of all stick foundations because of its diverse shade range, but also because you can use it for several things: as a foundation, for contouring, or as a tinted moisturizer. Having the freedom to multipurpose your foundation gives you the bang for your buck. It’s also free of harsh ingredients, so those with sensitive skin can feel good about giving this a try.
L'Oréal: 33 Shades
Meet the star of drugstore foundations. For just $8, you’re guaranteed an oil-free and fragrance-free foundation that’s formulated with technology to suit a vast range of skin tones and types.
MAKE UP FOR EVER: 42 Shades
Make Up For Ever has remained one of the most shade-inclusive brands for years. Its 42 shades of foundations will give your skin a full-coverage, flawless finish. It's a celebrity makeup artist favorite because of its power to look airbrushed under the brightest camera lights.