Of all Kim Kardashian’s many entrepreneurial enterprises, her makeup line, KKW Beauty, seems as if it would be among the least controversial.
On Friday, Kardashian advertised the line’s new concealer kits on the brand’s official Twitter account. The concealer comes in “16 shades,” the tweet read, adding they will be available on Friday. Attached was a photo of a dark-skinned black woman with the 16 shades drawn down her arm, highlighting them.
It didn’t take long for Twitter users to notice something odd about the photo: None of the 16 shades matched the skin-tone of the model. At best, one came close. Now, for the uninitiated, the purpose of concealer is to, well, conceal blemishes on the skin. That means that it needs to be close to the user’s natural skin color to be effective.
“Using the model to advertise ‘diversity’ but the shades don’t match the model is trashhhh,” one user wrote, presumably adding the extra h’s for emphasis.
The problem is twofold, according to Kardashian’s critics. First, the line doesn’t include concealer that works for dark-skinned women of color. Second, it used a dark-skinned model, someone who couldn’t even use the product, to sell the product.
The criticism eventually grew so loud, it was curated into a Twitter moment over the weekend. As of early Monday morning, Kardashian has not responded to the backlash.
KKW Beauty was not the first makeup line to be criticized for not including more dark shades. In fact, the criticism began mounting after September, when Rihanna launched her highly inclusive makeup brand, Fenty Beauty, which included 40 foundation shades.
The line won praise. Julee Wilson, the fashion and beauty editor for Essence Magazine said: “I knew that she was going to be thoughtful. You expect that from a woman of color coming out with a cosmetics line, but I was honestly shocked at how inclusive the line is.” When the line was available in stores, the Chicago Tribune reported a girl cried in Sephora when the Fenty Beauty foundation matched her skin. Since then, cosmetics consumers have vocally called out other brands for lack of inclusivity and praised brands that included more shades.
In January, for example, Tarte Cosmetics was blasted on social media after it released promotional photos of their 15 shade “Shape Tape Foundation.” Tarte’s line included only three dark shades. Beauty YouTuber Alissa Ashley, who is African American, told her 1.1 million subscribers: “The fact that there is such a limited shade range for people of color is just so disappointing, and honestly, I’m shocked that Tarte would do this, given the fact they knew that people were so excited for this. … It’s a slap in the face.”
In the video, Ashley mixed two of Tarte’s Shape Tape foundations to achieve her correct shade.
Even white YouTubers called out Tarte. Makeup artist James Charles told his 3.3 million subscribers, “It is 2018 and I just cannot wrap my head around how this launch passed the test in the first place. Not only is a launch like this racist but it’s just really really stupid. The lack of inclusion is a lose-lose situation.”
Laura Lee, who has more than 4 million subscribers, took to Twitter with her disappointment over Tarte’s shade range.
The criticism got so bad that Tarte turned off commenting on their Instagram post promoting the foundation line. In an Instagram story — that disappeared after 24 hours — the company said, “We lost sight of what’s really important in this industry, & for those who feel alienated in our community, we want to personally apologize.”
Tarte said it would release more shades of the foundation but did not give a date.
On the heels of Tarte’s disastrous foundation launch came IT Cosmetics. Instagram account trendmood1 posted a preview picture of IT’s new Bye Bye Foundation line that was set to launch in February. The box of foundations severely lacked darker shades.
One user tweeted, “It Cosmetics was bought by L’Oréal for 1.5 billion dollars and they still can’t invest that money into figuring out the color brown.”
(L’Oreal bought IT Cosmetics for $1.2 billion in 2016.)
“I used to walk around with either [an] ashy looking face or looking like a red orange. But now that we see other brands coming out with inclusive extensive ranges there just isn’t an excuse anymore for brands like IT to pull these kinds of disrespectful jokes,” Instagram user trendmood1 posted in the comments of the picture.
In a statement to Allure Magazine, IT Cosmetics said: “Bye Bye Foundation is the first-ever full-coverage moisturizer from IT Cosmetics. … Typically SPF moisturizers with physical-only sunscreens have only been possible in a few shades — and at IT Cosmetics we’ve spent the past 2 years creating 12 skin-tone-adapting shades for this moisturizer (3 Light, 3 Medium, 3 Tan, and 3 Rich). … Due to the physical-only SPF in the product, we’re not able to go darker than our deepest shade.”
On the other hand, Kardashian’s own younger sister, Kylie Jenner, was praised in December when her brand Kylie Cosmetics announced a line with 30 shades of concealer. Harper’s Bazaar touted the shade range as “very impressive.”
Unlike Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line, Tarte Cosmetics and IT Cosmetics, KKW can’t be found in stores. Kardashian sells her beauty products exclusively on her website, making it impossible for someone to test her products before purchasing.
One of the other factors at play is that even if a brand extends its shade ranges, they may not always suit the skin tones of women of color — because of “undertones,” which refers to the color underneath the skin’s surface color. Undertones affect how makeup appears on different people. There are three: cool, warm and neutral.
If two women have the same complexions but different undertones, the same makeup will look different on them.
And undertones have nothing to do with skin color. For example, Beyoncé Knowles and Nicole Kidman each have warm undertones, but Lupita Nyong’o has cool undertones. For each color shade there should be three varieties to match someone’s undertone.
In an interview with Essence Magazine, Cover FX international director of artistry Derek Selby said: “The way undertones work in foundation, is your skin will accept the color that compliments it, and [reflect] the shade that doesn’t. So, If I put a neutral color on someone who is gold/warm like Beyoncé, her skin will like the gold and throw off the red, and the foundation will actually appear pink or a bit red on their skin instead of matching it perfectly.”
More from Morning Mix: