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Black and Beautiful: A Content Analysis and Study of Colorism and Strides toward Inclusivity in the Cosmetic Industry


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The purpose of this research is twofold: 1) to explore colorism in the cosmetic industry in light of multiple marketing venues such as social media, online, and retail stores and 2) to provide a snapshot of improvement (or lack of) in shades and foundation colors offered in the beauty industry. A Kolmogo- rov-Smirnov test conducted indicates that the total shades of foundation found in a sample of 49 cosmetic beauty brands do not follow a normal dis- tribution, D(49) = .360, p = .0000. In addition, a Chi-Square goodness-of-fit test conducted also shows that the variety in foundation shades is also not equally distributed (χ2 = 68.7, df, 47, p < .0001), suggesting that significant differences exist between the total number of foundation shades offered by cosmetic brands with higher numbers of shades found in the “light to me- dium” skin tones. Implications of these findings are discussed in terms of di- rections for the need for darker shades and images that show that black is beautiful along with suggestions for future research on colorism, beauty, and American standards and biases towards beauty.
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Advances in Journalism and Communication, 2019, 7, 35-54
ISSN Online: 2328-4935
ISSN Print: 2328-4927
10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 Jun. 19, 2019 35 Advances in Journalism and Communication
Black and Beautiful: A Content Analysis and
Study of Colorism and Strides toward
Inclusivity in the Cosmetic Industry
Cynthia M. Frisby
Department of Strategic Communication, Missouri School of Journalism, University of Missouri, Columbia, USA
The purpose of this research is twofold: 1) to explore colorism in the cosmetic
industry in light of multiple marketing venues such as social media, online,
and retail stores and 2) to provide a snapshot of i
mprovement (or lack of) in
shades and foundation colors offered in the beauty industry. A Kolmogo-
Smirnov test conducted indicates that the total shades of foundation
found in a sample of 49 cosmetic beauty brands do not follow a normal dis-
(49) = .360,
= .0000. In addition, a Chi-Square goodness-of-
test conducted also shows that the variety in foundation shades is also not
equally distributed (
2 = 68.7, df, 47,
< .0001), suggesting that significant
differences exist between the total number of foundation shades offered by
cosmetic brands with higher numbers of shades found in the “light to me-
dium” skin tones. Implications of these findings are discussed in terms of di-
rections for the need for darker shades and images that show that black is
beautiful along with suggestions for future research on colorism, bea
uty, and
American standards and biases towards beauty.
Content Analysis, Colorism, Skin Tone, Beauty and Skin Tone,
Marketing Beauty
1. Introduction
Good hair
light skin
you must be smart
if you
re black
re dark-skinned
re ugly. That really happens. This is something that started with slavery
when they divided the house
and it
s still a part of today
s society and things
that we battle with
How to cite this paper:
Frisby, C.
Black and Beautiful: A Content
Analysis and Study of Colorism and Strides
toward Inclusivity in the Cosmetic Indu
Advances in Journalism and Comm
, 7,
March 27, 2019
June 16, 2019
June 19, 2019
Copyright © 201
9 by author(s) and
Research Publishing Inc.
This work is licensed under the Creative
Commons Attribution International
License (CC BY
Open Access
C. M. Frisby
10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 36 Advances in Journalism and Communication
What is embedded in many marketing and advertising messages is the idea
that women need cosmetics to cover blotches and dark spots, stop aging effects,
and enhance physical attractiveness. If truth be told, what is behind the messages
entrenched in many advertisements for cosmetics is the idea that regardless of
one’s ethnicity, [most] women have issues with their complexion and need a
product, like foundation, that enhances deficits in facial appearance and will ul-
timately increase one’s level of physical attractiveness. Add to that idea that at
one point in American history retail stores used to offer limited cosmetic prod-
ucts that could be used by women of color (Nittle, 2018a). That all changed
when in September of 2017, Rhianna introduced her brand
and its 40
After years of limitations in shades for black women, it seems that the entry of
brand in 2017 started a new trend in beauty; all of a sudden
major marketers in the cosmetic industry began to expand offerings of founda-
tion shades from the traditional six shades to now providing 40+ shades for
women of all shades and skin tones. This market trend in cosmetics led to the
research that guided this work; we were interested in determining if beauty
market started to offer shades that are tailored to women of darker skin tones
and complexions? To answer this question, a formative research study was con-
ducted to determine how the cosmetic industry has responded to issues of inclu-
sivity and diversity by examining a specific observational measurement evalua-
tion: the availability of foundation shades that match darker skin tones. In other
words, this study answers the aforementioned research question by examining
the extent to which make-up for skin tones that do not match our culture’s tra-
ditional standards of beauty (light is beautiful) can be found in today’s cosmetic
and makeup industry.
1.1. Significance and Contribution
Often in American culture, it is believed by some that dark skinned women are
thought of as being “ugly”, are less educated because of the dark skin tone
and/or are less attractive. As a result, women with darker skin tones are often
socially disadvantaged and treated as second-class citizens existing beneath
women with lighter skin tones and complexions. This paper hopes to show that
the darker skin tone color is beautiful, valued, significant, and loved. We want to
show that being Black is also beautiful.
A legendary nursery rhyme for children illustrates and underscores the claim
previously made in the preceding paragraph;
If you
re black
stay back
If you
re brown
stick around
If you
re yellow
re mellow
If you
re white
re all right
Colorism is and continues to be an unyielding stumbling block for blacks liv-
ing in America. Colorism refers to “a process that privileges light-skinned people
of color over dark in areas such as income, education, housing, and the marriage
C. M. Frisby
10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 37 Advances in Journalism and Communication
market” (Hunter, 2007). What is not known is whether or not colorism has been
addressed and showing signs of improvement in the beauty industry. Results
obtained in the current study may provide insights on enhancements conducted
in terms of marketing cosmetic foundation to women of darker skin complex-
ions. Specifically, the study hopes to provide empirical evidence that demon-
strates strides made in the cosmetic industry that show that the industry has
heard the voices of darker skin toned women and in response have expanded
product lines to include cosmetics like foundation that can and will fit a wide
array of skin tones and complexions. Moreover, few, if any, published scholarly
works could be located that investigate colorism and the marketing of makeup in
the cosmetic industry. While several studies have been published on the effects
of colorism in media, Hollywood, business, and interpersonal relationships, little
work has been conducted on the colorism in the cosmetic industry. Thus, this
research seeks to expand on studies that examine attitudes and opinions held by
women of color on colorism in makeup shades by filling a gap in the literature
that offers an academic, pragmatic research perspective and data in an unchar-
tered area.
1.2. Research Goals and Questions
Although empirical studies and scholarship have yielded invaluable information
on the manifestations and effects of colorism in other areas (i.e. income, em-
ployment, entertainment, media), few published scholarly studies have directly
focused on obtaining systematic, empirical data on cosmetics and the makeup
industry. Yet, even fewer scholarly studies were found that address the everyday
experience of colorism in terms of finding the right shade of makeup for women
of color. Hence, the following research objectives were established to help de-
velop the literature review and the associated methodology;
1) To fulfill the researcher’s curiosity and need for greater understanding
about colorism in the beauty industry. Related to this goal, the author wanted to
test the feasibility of starting a more in depth study in this area on the depth and
breadth of shades offered by beauty brands that will match a broader variety of
skin tones and shades;
2) To develop a beginning foundation of a theoretical framework encapsulat-
ing the key features of colorism in the 21st century in the beauty industry;
3) To produce culturally relevant knowledge on another aspect of colorism in
American culture that will inform recommendations for changes in the market-
ing, advertising, entertainment, business, and journalism industries.
Victims of colorism often feel pressure to cover up their dark skin tones with
lighter foundation shades. Dark-skin women have repeatedly expressed the need
and offered commentary on the social pressures they feel to sexualize themselves
in order to appeal to others (see, for example “Oprah Winfrey’s” “
Dark Skin
documentary, also refer to Goodine, 2018; Moné, 2018; O’Brien, 2009).
Therefore the present research was crafted to contribute to the field of commu-
nication broadly, but more specifically for scholars interested in multicultural,
C. M. Frisby
10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 38 Advances in Journalism and Communication
gender, and inclusivity academic, empirical research. Data obtained in the cur-
rent study specifically addresses how the beauty industry has responded to issues
of colorism in marketing of their products.
Purposely, two research questions were formulated to guide the research:
RQ1: To what extent are cosmetics available for skin tones that more closely
resemble women of darker skin tones and pigmentation?
RQ2: How difficult is it to foundation for darker skin tones? To what extent
will darker shades be offered in other outlets like Variety stores (e.g. Wal-Mart,
Target, etc.), Department stores, and online, E-commerce outlets?
2. Background
2.1. Buying Power of African American Women Dollar
Marketing research shows that many African American women will spend twice
as much money on skin care products than the general market simply because
they have to go through a trial and error process to find the right shade of foun-
dation (Bryant, 2016). This trial and error process ultimately generates billions
of dollars for the cosmetic industry but at the expense of women of color. It
seems that the beauty industry may want to focus on including shades made for
darker skin tones instead of marginalizing these complexions and forcing wom-
en to engage in the cycle of trial and error.
In fact, in a recent report, it was documented that women of color “spend
nearly nine times more than our non-Black counterparts on ethnic hair and
beauty products” (Harmon, 2018). Research also informs us that black consum-
ers define mainstream culture and shows that buying habits of black consumers
also influences how non-Black consumers spend their money (Harmon, 2018).
This information clearly mandates the need for women of color, and all diverse
consumers, to see themselves authentically represented in marketing of beauty
brands. This background on the beauty industry and women of color shows that
not only is the current study important and needed (it will show which beauty
brands are paying attention and who listened to women of color), but data ob-
tained will also shed light on those beauty brands who listened and continue to
listen to the needs of women with darker skin tones and complexions.
According to research firm Kline & Company, the multicultural beauty mar-
ket is growing fast with brands that market toward minorities growing from 3.7
percent in 2014, to 4.8 percent in 2018 (reported in Marketing News, 2018). Ac-
cording to the US Census the majority of Americans will belong to an ethnic
minority group by 2044, therefore, to keep up with the demand, the make-up
industry must offer products for a diverse market with complex needs for foun-
dation that will match a particular skin tone. Research suggests that approx-
imately $7.5 billion is spent on beauty products annually, which translates to a
purchase rate of 80% more on cosmetics and twice as much on skincare than any
other consumer (Marketing News, 2018; Segran, 2015). This statistic becomes
even more enlightening when we consider that market research data demon-
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10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 39 Advances in Journalism and Communication
strates that in terms of the heaviest buyer of cosmetic products are women of
color (Marketing News, 2018). Women of color, it has been documented, spend
much of their disposable income on makeup.
2.2. History of Colorism in American Culture
Colorism is a demonstrated bias toward lighter-skin tones and often refers to
explicit discrimination based on skin color. People who are dark-skinned are of-
ten disadvantaged while those with lighter skin tones are offered greater oppor-
tunities, resources, and privileges. Published research on colorism associates this
phenomenon to social disparities for those with darker skin tones in categories
like smaller incomes, lower marriage rates, fewer job opportunities, longer pris-
on terms and fewer job prospects. “Job advertisements from the mid-20th cen-
tury reveal that African-Americans with light skin clearly believed their coloring
would make them better job candidates” (Nittle, 2018b).
Colorism in America has been traced back to slavery times when slave owners
gave preferential treatment to slaves with lighter skin tones and complexions.
Historical records reveal that during slavery, skin color was a discriminatory
characteristic among African-American slaves and Caucasian slave owners (Hall,
1995; Robinson & Ward, 1995; Wade & Bielitz, 2005). Those darker-skinned
slaves worked outside in the fields while the lighter-skinned slaves worked inside
the home and were often given less physically grueling domestic chores (Wade &
Bielitz, 2005). African-Americans whose physical features (lips, nose, and body
shape) resembled European Americans were thought to be more attractive and
appealing than those whose features were seen as being “too Black” or “Negroid
(Hall, 1995; Wade & Bielitz, 2005). It was also during slavery when slave owners
were known to treat light-skinned slaves as family members. It was also a time
when slave owners frequently forced light-skin slave women to engage in sexual
encounters that resulted in and mixed or biracial, light-skin offspring. This
background in our culture’s history provides the framework for understanding
how light skin came to be viewed as an asset in American culture.
2.3. Colorism in the Makeup Industry
Even though makeup lines for black women in the 1940’s were prevalent, beauty
companies focused many of their advertising efforts on appealing to black
women through the use of skin lightening products often promoted as “blemish
creams”. Products and merchandise aimed at African-Americans also perpe-
tuated skin color biases by frequently utilizing actors and models with light-skin
tones (Fears, 1998; Watson, Thornton, & Engelland, 2010). Thus, it should be no
surprise that colorism has been a controversial topic in a wide-range of areas for
African-Americans since slavery (Wade & Bielitz, 2005).
Light skin was so coveted in American history that skin-lightening and whi-
tening creams were and still continue to be best-sellers in the 21st century (Nit-
tle, 2018b). In fact, research shows that Mexican-American women in Arizona,
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California, and Texas have reportedly “suffered mercury poisoning after using
whitening creams to bleach their skin” (Nittle, 2018b). Thus, it should be no
surprise that skin-lightening products sold by cosmetic manufacturers were
made exclusively for women with darker skin tones with the covert message that
the product will lighten the skin and result in fairer, lighter more attractive skin
After a careful review of the history of colorism in the makeup industry, one
major theme was discovered: the range of shades available in the makeup indus-
try was often limited, leaving women of color with darker skin complexions un-
able to find a shade that even vaguely resembles their own. This finding along
with the history of colorism and its impact in the cosmetic industry led to the
formulation of the first research question:
RQ1: To what extent are cosmetics available for skin tones that more closely
resemble women of darker skin tones and pigmentation?
2.4. Foundation as a Cosmetic Skin-Coloring Tool
Foundation for the purposes of this paper has been operationalized as a
“skin-colored cosmetic application used to even out skin tone, blur pores, hide
imperfections and make skin appear smoother” (Goins, 2019). Foundation, or
facial cosmetics, is an item in the beauty industry that started to produce shades
for fair to moderate skin tones, leaving women with darker skin hues out of the
market and unable to use or purchase foundation like women with lighter skin
tones were able to do. It was common to find that most product lines seem to
include the skin tones of various women whose complexions can be identified as
fair to moderatebut when looking at a fuller scale of tones available, it was
apparent that the darker end of the skin tone spectrum was non-existent. Given
this information, the current study seeks to determine if the darker end of the
skin tone spectrum is currently in existence for women whose complexions may
be darker.
2.5. Difficulties Finding the Right Shade
After a doing a recent survey of roughly 5500 women of color Tomi Gbeleyi, a
former model obtained responses that showed over 80% percent of the women
who participated in the study reporting extreme difficulties finding the right
foundation shade (reported in Payne, 2018). Implications of the data obtained
suggested to Gbelevi and her team of researchers that when one considers the
enormous number of beauty brands available to women, 80% of a total of 5,500
women (n = 4000 women of color) feel that it is difficult finding the right foun-
dation, then we have a huge problem in the cosmetic industry (see Payne, 2018).
If Not in Stores, Then Where?
The make-up industry, according to market research, generated close to $42 bil-
lion in 2017 (Report Linker, 2018). Out of all the product categories in the cos-
metic industry, foundation which is considered to be a face cosmetic represented
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10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 41 Advances in Journalism and Communication
the leading market segment, with over $12 billion in sales revenue in 2018 and
accounting for more than 35% of overall market value (Report Linker, 2018).
According to recent market research statistics, many cosmetics manufacturers
are concentrating on providing ranges in products so that they no long just offer
differences in color, but that products produce the same benefits for women of
all backgrounds and skin tones.
Innovation and product development in the make-up industry has led to a
wider range of cosmetics that are being offered in new formats and new textures.
Make-up products are usually sold through various outlets; Variety stores like
Wal-Mart, Wal-Greens, Target, and grocery store retailers; Retail outlets that in-
clude department stores and specialty retail stores also provide alternatives to
purchase cosmetics; and of more recent trends, cosmetic marketers have started
to embrace E-Commerce, which includes online marketing to their distribution
outlet also have seen major success. We also know from marketing research that
when beauty brands make their products available online, sales increase, espe-
cially given that the online sales are primarily driven by African American and
Hispanic women. The greatest challenge for many women of color is the issue of
having opportunities to walk in a retail or specialty store and finding darker
shades on the shelf or in stock. To combat this hurdle, Rihanna’s Fenty product,
Pro Filt’R Foundation, offers consumers 40 shades+, which are available at a spe-
cialty retail outlet, Sephora and also online. The information provided on the in-
crease of online marketing led to the formulation of the second research question:
RQ2: How difficult is it for women to find matching foundation for darker
skin tones? In other words, to what extent will darker shades be offered in other
outlets like Variety stores (e.g. Wal-Mart, Target, etc.), Department stores, and
online, E-commerce retail venues?
Based on the review of the literature, it is evident that data obtained from this
study have significant implications for how people from different cultures and
races are represented in the beauty and cosmetic industry, industries that perpe-
tuate beauty ideals. While numerous studies have analyzed colorism in Ameri-
can culture, there is little research on colorism in the beauty industry, and little
to no research has been conducted on beauty brands that market cosmetics and
foundations for and targeted to women of darker skin tones.
3. Methodology
A content analysis was designed and conducted for this study to test the statis-
tical significance of relationships between beauty brands and total number of
foundation shades offered. Content analysis is a quantitative research method
that involves exploring the images and representation of subordinate groups in a
representative sampling of media (Berger, 1991). Krippendorff (2004), defines
content analysis in relation to this study as the analysis of the manifest and latent
content of a body of communicated material (beauty brands) through classifica-
tion, tabulation, and evaluation of its keys symbols and themes in orders to as-
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10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 42 Advances in Journalism and Communication
certain its meaning and probable effect. Similarly, Mittell (2004) defines content
analysis as the setting of specific boundaries to measure within a selected group
of programs and count the appearance of characters that fit into the identified
categories. Mittell (2004) also suggests that content analysis is best for answering
questions where the coding groups are clear-cut and objective such as with par-
tisan media and the type of frame used.
To evaluate the extent to which beauty brands in today’s current market have
addressed issues of colorism, we analyzed 49 beauty brands for six months dur-
ing the 2018-2019 academic year. We began our study period in Fall of 2018 to
capture a true picture of as many beauty brands that are available for consumers
of all ethnic backgrounds.
3.1. Rationale for Using Formulative Research
Since the study sought to explore the phenomenon of makeup available for
darker skin tones, the research called for a more exploratory or descriptive me-
thodological procedure (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Through exploratory research
designs such as the one used in the current study, data presented will highlight
crucial research problems for future studies and investigations. While the me-
thodology and statistics employed in the study are not complex or advanced, we
must recognize that this study is important because it puts the issue of colorism
in cosmetics front and center in scholarly journals. Therefore, it was determined
that the investigator needed to begin with a study that will acquaint readers and
other interested persons with the problem or concept to be researched which will
ultimately produce hypotheses to be tested in future research.
Formulative (i.e. exploratory) research is often employed in a study when a
researcher has an idea or has observed something and seeks to understand more
about the phenomenon. A formulative research study, therefore, is an attempt to
lay the groundwork that will lead to future studies or to determine if what is be-
ing observed might be explained by a currently existing theory. Since the current
study seeks to break new ground in an unchartered research territory, this ap-
proach was deemed most appropriate due to the fact that the data obtained de-
livers new information about colorism in the cosmetic industry. Therefore, the
main contribution that this study offers is that data and findings obtained can be
hugely useful for future social research. It is believed that the research and asso-
ciated findings are important because this study is breaking new ground and will
deliver data about colorism in a new, relatively unchartered area such as the
cosmetic industry.
3.2. Search Terms
To obtain a sample of beauty brands, the following search terms were used:
“foundation”, “beauty”, “cosmetics”, “foundation shades”, “shades of color in
beauty”, “makeup for women”, “women of color and foundation”, “make up for
women of color”, “”popular beauty brands”, “make-up and foundation”, “wom-
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en and beauty brands”, “colorism”, colorism in beauty brands”, “make-up and
colorism”, “shades of foundation”, “dark skin tone makeup and foundation”,
“beauty brands with widest foundation range”, “lack of diversity in ma-
keup/foundation”, “total number of foundation shades” “foundation shades for
darker-skin tones”, “brands with over 10 shades in foundation”, “marketing co-
lorism”, and “women of color, make-up and colorism”. We searched entire
magazines, retail stores such as Sephora and a search of websites. For example,
one of the coders along with the principal investigator would visit variety stores
and department stores to check for brands not included from the website Google
search. We merged our lists and then reviewed brand names and excluded those
that were no longer available. From this search, we were able to obtain a total of
49 brands, which also served as our unit of analysis.
Since the objective of the present study was to analyze the availability of
foundation for darker skin tones, we also gathered data on the total number of
shades each beauty brand had in a specific skin tone category. Thus, data for this
study were obtained through a content analysis on the website pages and/or
brochures or retail store displays of 49 beauty brands (see Table 1).
The author and one of three coders tallied the total number of shades available
from these 49 beauty brands while another coder tallied the types of shades
available (see Figure 1). Categories in the coding book were defined by observa-
tions of the shades of foundation provided on each of the 49 beauty brand’s web
Figure 1. Operationalizations for coding foundation shades offered by brands.
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Table 1. List of beauty brands and total number of foundation shades available.
# # of Shades
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Total Shades Available*
*As of February, 28, 2019. Note: For further reference, see
pages. Revisions were made along the coding process to make sure coded cate-
gories of skin tones and pigments were as exhaustive and mutually exclusive as
possible. The third and final coder made judgments about all the codes provided
in the sample. Forty-nine beauty brands were obtained by conducting an exten-
sive search via Google, phone calls to department stores, reviewing magazines,
and database queries assisted by journalism media librarians.
3.3. Unit of Analysis and Coding Categories
The unit of analysis was the 49 beauty brands as identified previously in Table 1.
The author used databases and Google to identify top beauty brands used by
women of all backgrounds. Each brand was coded in the following categories:
where the cosmetics are available for purchase, type of foundation shades that
ranged from 1 = light, 2 = fair, 3= medium, 4 = olive, 5= tan, 6 = brown, 7 =
dark brown, and 8 = black, total number of shades available, and whether the
product was created specifically for women of color (e.g. 1 = no, 2 = yes). Figure
1, again, depicts the color chart that was used to code foundation shades.
If a foundation shade was observed in the skin tone/pigment category, a
number “1” was placed in the coding category to show that the shade was availa-
ble. If the shade for the pigmentation was not available, a “0” was coded to
represent “not present”. We then coded the number of shades, if provided, that
were available in the pigment/skin tone category. This coding category led to the
creation of a variable “total shades offered” which was a summation of all the
skin tones and levels of pigmentation offered by each beauty brand.
One important note must be considered in terms of coding of shades and
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pigment. The coding of shades was a rough proxy for inclusivity. Keep in mind
that liquid foundation often changes when it is applied to skin, therefore it must
be noted that a valid tabulation of exact matches to skin tone was not calculated.
We did not code how a liquid foundation changes when it is applied, or, whether
it is effective across different undertones and skin types. Thus, our coding did
not take into account how the shade looks on various skin tonestherefore it is
important to keep in mind that the findings obtained in this formulative study, a
study that is rare and unique, represents just one piece of a much-needed larger
Next we measured sales venues for the foundations provided by beauty
brands. We measured whether or not the brand was available through discount
stores like 1 = variety stores like Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Target, 2 = retail stores
such as Macy’s, Kohl’s, J. C. Penny, to name a few, 3 = E-commerce (i.e. direct
marketing and online sales), 4 = 2 or more retail venues. In order to avoid dup-
lication of data, we did not code product shades that were available in all three
venuesthis was deemed the more appropriate for better clarity of the findings,
particularly when some brands were only offered in one of three venues.
3.4. Coding Reliability
To maintain consistency in data collection, the coding guide was continually re-
ferenced during the coding process. Before coding of the entire sample began,
the author checked inter-coder reliability until an agreement of at least 80% was
reached for all coding categories. If coders disagreed more than 20% of the time,
operationalizations of the coding category were reworked until the agreement
reached 80% or higher (Neuendorf, 2017). New coding categories did not emerged
during the training or data collection process. The coders were asked to analyze
20% of the beauty brands in the selected sample. Inter-coder reliability showed
97.9% agreement, well above the recommended 80% threshold. Each coding
category also resulted in a high inter-coder reliability agreement: beauty brand
(100%), shades (94.3%), and availability of product purchase (99.8%). Due to
high agreement rates in the initial analysis, this explains why newer coding cat-
egories were not incorporated into the study after training and further in-
ter-coder reliability was also unnecessary.
3.5. Data Analysis
Since the overall purpose of the current project was to determine if beauty
brands have added darker shades for women of color making it easier for wom-
en to find make-up that matches their skin tone. The main research goal was to
compare the relationship between beauty brands and the depth of skin tones of-
fered in the foundation marketed and sold in stores, on the web, or in discount
stores. Given the research question and goal, a Kruskal-Wallis one-way ANOVA, a
non-parametric method for comparing independent samples, was used to ana-
lyze data obtained in this study.
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The Kruskal-Wallis nonparametric tests has distinct advantages; it was be-
lieved that this was the best way to analyze data on shades of foundation by the
43 beauty brands. Since the data obtained was nominal and as we previously
discussed, coding of the foundation shades was measured with some impreci-
sion, a nonparametric test was relatively simple to conduct.
It was also determined that a nonparametric test was most appropriate for the
current research for these reasons:
1) Non-parametric tests deliver accurate results even when the sample size is
2) Non-parametric tests are more powerful than parametric tests when the
assumptions of normality have been violated.
3) A nonparametric test is suitable for all data types, such as nominal, ordinal,
interval or data that has outliers.
4. Results
Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the coded data by implementing MAC
SPSS 20.0 (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) software. To answer the
research question that served as the foundation for the study (What shades are
marketed by beauty brands, and has availability of shades for women with dark-
er skin tones more readily available? In other words, have there been any changes
in shades over time?). To answer this, descriptive statistics that included fre-
quencies and percentages were conducted for each beauty brand. Frequency
analyses were also conducted to answer RQ1: (Do beauty brands have skin tones
and shades that more closely resemble women of darker skin tones and pigmen-
tation?) and RQ2: (Are women of color having difficulty finding foundation to
match skin tone? To what extent will darker shades be offered in other outlets
like variety stores, retail stores, and online, e-commerce outlets?).
RQ1: To what extent are cosmetics available for skin tones that more closely
resemble women of darker skin tones and pigmentation?
A series of nonparametric tests were conducted with
-values for two inde-
pendent proportions. Following statistical analysis, the results were interpreted
in relation to the literature with a focus on issues related to colorism in the cos-
metic industry. Grouping each brand’s shades by their lightness values, we first
sought to determine how the shades were distributed. By comparing the number
of shades the 49 brands offered in each shade range, we can visually determine if
there is support in the market for a greater range of skin tones, excelling on both
the darkest and lightest ends of the spectrum.
We analyzed shades within the cosmetic industry, namely foundation using
frequencies, and the results indicated that light shades (n = 267) and medium
shades (n = 247) was seen more often than fair shades (n = 195), olive shades (n
= 201), tan shades (n = 176), brown shades (n = 161), dark brown shades (n =
96), and black shades (n = 31). As reported in the literature review, at one point
in American culture, the only scale of tones available was for women of color
C. M. Frisby
10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 48 Advances in Journalism and Communication
with complexions labeled as “light to moderate/medium”. Later, in the 1940s we
saw the expansion of three more shades, totaling six total shades that were also
expected to included women of darker skin tones. However, as data collected in
this study shows, as of 2019, the darker end of the skin tone spectrum is not only
available but does exist (see Figure 2). Figure 2 also shows that skin tones with
the largest number of pigmentation shades available were found in the light, fair,
and olive skin tones. And data shows the availability of foundation shades that
should match women whose pigmentation may match more with the dark
brown/black skin tones.
Because frequency analysis does not give a
-value, a series of follow-up non-
parametric tests comparing proportions between shades was conducted. One of
the follow-up tests was a Kolmogorov-Smirnov test, a test that is used to indicate
if the total shades of foundation found in the sample of beauty brands follows a
normal distribution. Results of this test revealed that the number of shades in the
eight skin tones does not follow a normal distribution which further supports
the idea that there are more shades in the lighter skin tones than darker skin
tones, D(49) = .360,
= .0000. The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test is frequently used
to test the normality assumption for smaller sample sizes and is equated with
analysis required by many statistical tests such as ANOVA, the t-test regression
analysis. Therefore, this test was conducted particularly given the small sample
Next, a chi-square goodness-of-fit test was conducted. This test was used to de-
termine whether the distribution of cases (e.g. beauty brands) in a single categori-
cal variable (e.g. skin tones) consisting of eight groups: (light, fair, medium, olive,
tan, brown, dark brown, black) follows a known or hypothesized distribution
Figure 2. Total number of foundation shades offered.
C. M. Frisby
10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 49 Advances in Journalism and Communication
(e.g. the proportion of shades in a beauty brand that we anticipate for darker
skin tones). This test assumes that the proportion of cases expected in each
group of the categorical variable are equal or unequal. Results provided by the
analysis shows that the shades provided in beauty brands are not equally distri-
buted (
2 = 68.7, df, 55,
< .0001). This suggests that significant differences exist
between the total number of foundation shades offered by beauty brands with
higher numbers of shades found in the “light to medium” skin tones.
RQ2: How difficult is it to foundation for darker skin tones? To what extent
will darker shades be offered in other outlets like Variety stores (e.g. Wal-Mart,
Target, etc.), Department stores, and online, E-commerce outlets?
Chi-square results shown in Table 2 reveal a statistically significant difference
in purchase venue of foundation shades among the eight skin tone groupings (
< .0000). E-Commerce venues are more likely to offer darker shades than are the
variety and department store venues.
5. Discussion
If you
re a cosmetics company that
s coming to market and you have the old
school six to eight shades of foundations
then you
re behind the times
In doing this study, the goal was to examine changes in the types of shades
and tones offered in foundation by the beauty industryscientific and experien-
tial. The overarching purpose guiding this study was to determine whether
changes, enhancements and improvements in make-up have been made since
the 1940s. Data obtained in the study show that many beauty brands are now in-
cluding black and brown skin of various ethnicities, particularly in terms of
foundations and concealers. Beauty brands are starting to positively serve the
Table 2. Results of chi-square test and descriptive statistics for purchase venue by foun-
dation shades.
Shade/Skin Tone
Purchase Venues
Variety Department
E Commerce
Light 92 (35%) 89 (33%) 85 (32%)
Fair 96 (39%) 91 (37%) 60 (24%)
Medium 70 (36%) 70 (36%) 55 (28%)
Olive 69 (34%) 73 (36%) 59 (30%)
Tan 59 (34%) 62 (35%) 56 (31%)
Brown 49 (30%) 51 (32%) 61 (38%)
Dark Brown 4 (4%) 3 (3%) 89 (93%)
Black 0 (0%) 1 (3%) 30 (97%)
439 (32%)
440 (32%)
495 (36%)
2 = 45.9, df, 9,
< .0000. Numbers in parentheses indicate row percentages.
C. M. Frisby
10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 50 Advances in Journalism and Communication
female consumers and have clearly made the availability of shades for darker
skin tones more accountable. It may also be implied that imbalances in shades
may be shrinking and that the progress documented in this study may also sug-
gest that women of color will find darker shades. While data suggest that the gap
in availability of shades appears to be shrinking toward progress and inclusivity,
the idea that there may be more shades available but there isn’t one “for me” is
still relevant for women of darker skin tones, especially when looking for shades
to make their skin tones in outlets such as variety and department stores. Signif-
icant differences were found in the relationship between outlets and shades
available in the stores. That is, data revealed that foundation shades for the
darker skin tones are primarily marketed and available online.
5.1. Future Research
As mentioned earlier, this study, while formulative and exploratory, was con-
ducted in order to establish ideas for future extensive research testing changes in
the cosmetic industry and their willingness to include women of darker skin
tones. Future research may now build on the data provided in this study by first
investigating the mission statements of each beauty brand. Retailers and compa-
nies have, over the years, began designing and implementing a wide range of di-
versity initiatives. For example, we find diversity mission statements displayed in
company marketing brochures, efforts to expand diversity training, and an in-
crease in events that celebrate and highlight various racial and ethnic groups
within a corporation. However, efforts at promoting diversity and inclusion are
often met with push back potentially due to concerns about the superficial sen-
timents regarding the mission and true passions of the company’s desire to in-
clude people of different races and ethnicities.
Future research might employ a theory that builds upon recent research on
colorism and show how cultural ideologies shape various aspects of marketing
and product development in the beauty industry (e.g. Heine & Norenzayan,
2006; Knowles, Lowery, & Schaumberg, 2010; Plaut, 2002; Plaut, Thomas, &
Goren, 2009; Sanchez-Burks, Bartel, & Blount, 2009). Two cultural ideologies
known as multiculturalism and color blindness (see Park & Judd, 2005; Plaut,
2002; Wolsko, Park, & Judd, 2006; Wolsko, Park, Judd, & Wittenbrink, 2000)
offer ideas on how organizations should meet the needs of consumers living in a
diverse society (Markus, Steele, & Steele, 2000; Plaut, 2002).
The color-blind model emphasizes that people are basically the same, that ra-
cial categories should be ignored or avoided, and that differences based on social
identity should be assimilated into an overarching unifying category. In contrast,
the multicultural modelillustrated by the metaphor of a mosaic whose indi-
vidual pieces are distinct yet together form a coherent pictureexplicitly ac-
knowledges differences among groups and promotes the notion that differences
associated with unique social identities should be valued and even celebrated.
Research in this area might, for example, explore each beauty brand’s mission
and code the extent to which a company is relying on a cultural color-blindness
C. M. Frisby
10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 51 Advances in Journalism and Communication
ideology or a multi-cultural ideology. Then, researchers could compare the
number of shades available by the brand and provide data that may address the
validity and sincere nature of the brand’s increase in beauty shades, particularly
since some brands have been accused of creating darker shades just for profit
and not for need. Research should be conducted that helps to offer an objective,
scholarly explanation for why some products are available on-line and not in
specialty retail stores. It is quite possible that many retailers may lack the appro-
priate target market for darker shades in their cities/towns, and therefore the
products are not offered in stores. This, once again, is an research area that has
been largely untapped and research that helps people of color understand the
whys and why nots may also shed light into other areas that will unite us and
close the gap on colorism, particularly in the cosmetic industry.
5.2. Conclusion
Studying colorism in the beauty industry phenomenon provides a window of
opportunity for understanding the depths behind the pervasive problem facing
women of all skin tones in American culture. By learning more about the beauty
industry, practitioners will be able to systematically incorporate diversity and in-
clusivity concepts that adequately address attractiveness and ideals concerning
beauty in American culture. The need for this exploratory research is particular-
ly great as scholarly initiatives to address this problem have been met with less
than favorable results.
While the answer to the research question posed in this study may appear on
the surface to be a simple onejust create more shadeswe must understand
and recognize the larger issue and the motivation for this exploratory research.
In terms of certain topics that focus on inclusivity and diversity, we have, in this
culture, an issue of ignorance and bias in addressing colorism in the marketing
of cosmetics. While there may be more shades available for darker skin tones
and complexions, there still seems to be a “but there isn’t one for me” pheno-
menon found in comments on social media. In light of the extensive research on
colorism, diversity and inclusion and the many articles arguing to address color-
ism in media, it is surprising that more progress has not been made in under-
standing colorism in the beauty industry. However, it is believed that data ob-
tained in this study provides a basis for stimulating research on colorism that is
focused on communicating changes and progress made in the industry. Broader
research on colorism and improvements (or the lack of) in other areas such as
beauty has the potential to provide important benefits to individuals, groups,
and organizations.
In the future, a collection of studies on dark skin tones and changes in the
frequency of depictions and exposures of models and women with dark-skin
complexions might actually encourage the idea and change the narrative con-
cerning what is beautiful. The fact that the cosmetic industry has made changes
that show that they increased their traditional six-eight foundation shades to
proving 40+ shades, including shades for darker skin tones. Perhaps more mes-
C. M. Frisby
10.4236/ajc.2019.72003 52 Advances in Journalism and Communication
saging and more depictions of these darker skin tones with the tag line #Color
Me Black and Beautiful, could finally strategically communicate a persuasive
idea that despite your skin tone, you are a women with sophistication; despite its
brightness or darkness commands automatic respect and you are beautiful, va-
lued, respected, and loved.
The author would like to express gratitude to the blind reviewers for their in-
sights and guidance on this manuscript. Thank you to the coders who volun-
teered their time to train, code, and validate the variables under investigation in
this important and innovative research study.
Conflicts of Interest
The author declares no conflicts of interest regarding the publication of this pa-
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... The issue of racial inclusion in beauty products was raised by Cynthia M. Frisby (2019). In quantitative research conducted on 1,374 foundation products from 49 brands, she finds that lightcolored products far outnumbered dark-colored products. ...
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