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Study: How Beauty Labels Foundation Shades

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Only four out of 130 products order its foundation shades from dark to light.

The Pudding has released The Naked Truth, a report on the shading system of foundations, focusing on how the beauty community labels darker skin tones compared to lighter ones. 

Related: Skin Match x It Cosmetics' Foundation Shade Finder

Author Ofunne Amaka and data author Amber Thomas show how the names of 6,816 complexion products can reveal bias in beauty.

For instance, looking at 130 products on Sephora’s and Ulta’s websites that use a sequential number system to label its shades, 97% put its lighter shades first.

Just four out of the 130 brands reportedly order their shades from darkest to lightest: 

  • Pacifica: Alight Clean Foundation

  • Juvia's Place: I Am Magic Foundation

  • Exa: High Fidelity Foundation

  • Beauty Bakerie: InstaBake Aqua Glass Foundation

The report looked at common trends among the shade names and found that "nude" is a popular foundation shade, accounting for 110 shades from 73 products ranges. However, the majority of shades named “nude” are clustered in the light to middle end of the shade spectrum. 

Another popular technique to name shades include using foods; 80% of these name shades fall in the middle to darker shade spectrum. For the lighter to middle spectrum, shades tend to be named after gems. 

In the “compliment” category of shade naming, which includes words like “perfect” or “classic,” a total of 15 brands include these words, but only two, Zoeva and BLK/OPL, use these words for the deepest shades.

The full report is worth a read for any marketer or product developer.