Politically Incorrect Foundations

foundation 1

I have no business looking for new foundation products.  I have over a dozen bottles and powders combined that I can mix in any way to create the right shade for me during any season.  Still, I can’t help trying out new base products.  Buying foundation products are always tricky for a variety of reasons.  Getting a second opinion is always helpful, as is getting professional advice.  However, help from sales associates or makeup artists can actually add to the problem.  I can’t tell you the number of times a specialist has matched me to something that is NOT my shade.  Sometimes the lighting is bad enough that I can’t tell how bad a match it is.  Other times I can.  I have learned to rely less on these professional helpers.  They are working with TOO many preconceived notions in their heads that are reflective  of what THEY think a foundation match looks like, which may not be what I THINK a foundation match should be.

So, before I get into discussing beauty associate issues with “matching” let me just explain what a foundation match is to me.  I want my foundations to be as near my skin tone as possible.  Basically, I want to duplicate my natural tone without the blemishes, splotches, redness, post-acne marks, and irregular patches of sun-induced hyperpigmentation.  My skin before hormones and the sun fucked it up.  My foundations should essentially AIRBRUSH my skin of all the irregular tone-changing “blemishes” I experience, while at the same time matching its unblemished state.  This should be a simple request.  It is not.

I keep experiencing, over and over again, the same three issues when it comes to foundation matching by “experts:” Orange Tones, Too Light, Too Dark.  Let’s dig.


I am tired of makeup artists overwhelming telling me that this orange-leaning foundation is my match.  Why are orange-leaning beiges the “universally” perceived color for a foundation match if you are light-medium yellow?  It’s okay to tell me that a foundation does not match me, or that it is the closest shade within the range. 


I understand that it’s not realistic to expect a perfect match from a foundation and sometimes we have to compromise.  Getting as close to the depth and undertone of your match means that sometimes you will go lighter or darker than your skin tone, based off of what is available, and what is easily alterable to match with other aids.  Bronzers are often used to correct too light foundations, while luminizers and moisturizers can lighten.  I definitely have an array of lighter and darker foundations.  But I have experienced beauty associates trying to match to me shades that are CLEARLY TOO LIGHT.  A while ago, someone in Sephora tried to match me to Becca’s Radiant Finish Foundation in BUFF and BUTTERCREAM.   These are CLEARLY shades I could picture on Heather Locklear PRE-TAN.  Typically someone with fair to light skin and light yellow-beige undertones.  He was INSISTENT this was my color.  I politely asked for samples to move on.


Interestingly, whenever I try to get matched at department store beauty counters, I am often matched to a shade that is TOO DARK.   This happened at the YSL counter, where the beauty associate believed I was BD 50 in the YSL Le Teint Touche Eclat Foundation.  This was somewhat a believable, within reason, mistake.   I had a MAC associate try to tell me I was NC 42!!!  But when the Chanel associate tried to match me to Chanel’s Lumiere Powder Foundation in B60, that’s when I had a WTF moment.  I had a similar WTF moment when a south indian friend with reddish-light, tan brown skin (often referred to as “wheatish” by south Asians) was being matched and the YSL associate grabbed B80 –  a CLEARLY VERY WRONG TONE MY TWO EYES COULD EASILY DISCERN – and started working her way down.   Back to the Chanel artist – I was exasperated and bluntly said there was no way I could be a B60.  She noticeably backed off.


One of the things I like to do when at department store beauty counters  is to chat with beauty associates about their experiences working in beauty.  I will recount two of the most interesting observations.  First, many south asian, east asian, west indian, african, and darker latinas, overwhelmingly prefer to use foundations that are lighter than their natural skin tones.  On the flipside, many american and european white women usually prefer to go with shades that are darker than their skin tones to simulate a tanned look.  It was interesting to hear the anecdotes of these artists who are trying to match skin tones, who are then rebuffed, sometimes hostilely.  One memorable beauty associate recounted the story of a brown-toned woman insisting she was the shade “ivory” in her country. 

I had to think about all of this as I walked away in a huff from the Chanel beauty counter.  After I bluntly proclaimed there was no way I could be B60, I decided to swatch it on my hand.  NOPE.  It was clearly too dark even in the crappy lighting.  Just like makeup artists and beauty associates have come up with their observations about various customers and their beauty preferences, I have come up with observations about various beauty associates and makeup artists.

Let the political incorrectness begin!

I often have a problem with some white female beauty associates who match me too dark, particularly at department store beauty counters.  As in, ARE YOU BLIND, too dark.  I do not understand this.  If you are someone who works for a beauty brand, and you are charged with learning about the products, this isn’t science.  This is eyesight.  I wish I had taken a picture of this B60 swatch, which is a very strong medium-dark, golden olive shade, on my hand.  I am also remembering the YSL associate who tried to match me to B50 in the YSL Le Teint Touche Éclat.  Want a reminder of what this shade looked like on my arms? Here it isChanel’s B60 is darker and a more pronounced medium-dark, golden-olive skin tone.  Here is a swatch of the liquid foundation in B60 to compare.

So, the question is, what are these beauty associates seeing with their two eyes that is clashing with reality?

Could it be a stereotype? Being a typical multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-racial latina/hispanic, I think I definitely skew on the lighter-side of this equation.  In the U.S., being latino has overwhelmingly been perceived as mexican, or looking “mexican,” which is overwhelmingly portrayed as a very indigenous looking person with reddish-light brown skin.  Now, the OVERWHELMING majority of latinos/hispanics in the U.S. ARE mexican.  Nearly two-thirds, I believe.  The remaining one-third is a hodge-podge of other Spanish-speaking countries descendants.  However, I’ve seen mexicans light as white paper.  (It’s here I will quickly gloss over the reality that modern day hispanic/latino in the Americas actually encompasses a large variety of skin tones, hair types, and hair colors because of the history of overwhelming race mixing, as well as smaller monoracial groups, who are exclusively of european, native, or african descent.)

Could it be a normalized and externalized preference?  I have learned from many beauty associates and countless beauty blogs that some white women prefer to use foundation shades darker than their natural skin tone to simulate a tan color.  This is often followed by a HEALTHY amount of bronzer.  So the finished look in no way resembles their skin tone, natural or tanned.  If the Chanel beauty associate was applying the same foundation rules she uses to match herself, then Chanel’s Lumiere’s B60 would be a reasonable suggestion using this logic (if I wanted to resemble an oompa loompa).  For the record, Chanel doesn’t really have a close match for me.

On the flipside, I find that foreign-born american beauty associates of color, overwhelmingly try to match me too light.  Like, ARE YOU BLIND, light.  The worst offender’s are usually south asian or south east asian.  I have since learned from reviewing many beauty blogs that it is very common place for some south asians to match themselves to shades that are conspicuously too light.  I’ve since had to drop looking through some south asian beauty blogs because these foundation “matches” were getting ridiculous and it was really irritating me.

On the otherhand, major western brands have only recently started accommodating different skin tones.  These “matches” may have been the BEST matches they could find if they needed to mask discoloration or blemishes.  The american and european beauty market isn’t exactly a hotbed of color cosmetic democracy.  It’s only been within the last 5 years these companies have been offering real quality options for women of any color, outside of ivory and beige.

I remember, years ago, assisting a ginger-toned (reddish-dark tan) older hispanic woman select a foundation shade in a drugstore.  She asked for help and she was in front of the Cover Girl (!!!) display holding up a very pink-beige foundation.  I led her away from the Cover Girl display and walked her towards the only real drugstore option she had – REVLON – and guided her to a very close ginger shade.  Cover Girl has since expanded a bit of their color selection, but whenever I see Cover Girl displays I think of that woman and the fact that the cosmetic brands in this drugstore were selling cosmetic shades that did not match most of the women in this hispanic-dominant community.

All these experiences and observations have gotten me to realize how people can see, but NOT ACTUALLY SEE what’s in front of them.  There are a lot of pre-conceived ideas at work here that are being externalized and applied to people.   (In college, I once had a very pale puerto-rican-irish friend exclaim in shock to a mutual brown-toned indian friend “Your nipples aren’t pink?” in reference to our indian friend’s comment on being unable to wear light bras with light tops because her areolas became visible.)  Many way to complex to start examining in appropriate depth in a random ‘ole beauty blog post crafted in stream of thought prose – and I certainly don’t have the academic background to discuss it appropriately.  But something as simple as matching COLOR TO COLOR is apparently not that straight forward.  Asking “help me find a foundation” now becomes an interesting social-political-economic-racial-cultural exposition on identity, self perception, and idealization.


All I wanted was a foundation powder, man!

Powder 2



  1. I don’t bother with assistants anymore. At least where I live they know nothing! I could probably do a better job blindfolded than they do with both eyes open and glasses. On the other hand, if the few brands we have available here conspire against us and offer shades with too much pink and/or that are too dark, then these ladies can’t even do their jobs properly, considering they were fit to. For instance, Maybelline FitMe starts its liquid range at 110… the official L’oreal importer only brings a few shades of that line but they start from 130, which means that 110, 115, 120 and 125 aren’t sold because they consider the population to be too dark and that they wouldn’t sell those… I’m between 110 and 115. This foundation would have been the only one I’d be able to purchase locally because of the somewhat affordable price and availability, yet I wasn’t because they “refuse” to carry my shade. All my friends (and several other people that I know) are within the 115-125 range yet they insist that the majority are “darker”. I’m sick and tired of everyone asociating latinas to ‘red-brown-dark’ shades and companies not listening to real demands. If you saw the tiny counters we have here, you’d know what I’m talking about. Worst part of it all is that they’re all filled with products nobody buys because they suit no one! : / Loved reading this post, now I don’t feel like I’m alone in the endless search for the perfect match foundation ^^ xx

    • Wow. I think instead of companies or people leading with preconceived notions, they should just offer as many shades as possible. I definitely feel even though many brands have dramatically expanded their color ranges, that they are still expecting people who fall outside of the beige, light-medium realm to suck it up and just use what ever leaning orange product is out there, which is why orange has become the “normalized” foundation tone for many women. I am surprised by this importer since I can easily find Latinas that cover nearly the entire color spectrum from any country and that includes very, very pale skintones.

  2. I’m not a foundation hoarder by any means, but I want one that does exactly what you want. I own one: Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua and I cannot express (enough) my unpleasant experience at the Chanel counters. I’m a medium-fair-skinned Southeast Asian and was telling the Chanel SA that even though I have neutral undertones and a mix of both pink and yellow, I prefer to stick to their “beige” range since the “beige rose” comes off a bit too rosey for me. The SA says “No you need to wear beige rose. I’m half Korean so I know because we have similar undertones.” Needless to say, I did not buy anything…what is up with these cats anyways?

    I meant to ask you, I want to buy the Terry Sheer Expert Foundation and was contemplating the Vanila Beige – do you think this would be a good match for my MAC NC20-25ish skin and Chanel B20/30? I’m just gonna have to guess, but that’s the shade I’m eyeing right now.

    • I need to stop being a foundation hoarder! But SA’s are useless. They have their own preferences and misconceptions on skin tone and if your blog photos are accurate no way should you have been matched to BR anything in Chanel. Ridiculous. Actually, I think you should stay away from By Terry’s Honey Beige, it should be called Apricot Beige instead.

  3. TLDR version: You’re so right about everything.

    Long version: I freaking love this entry and made a note to come back to comment. Not just because it gives an in depth look into correct base selections (which I know nothing about, and get anxiety over) but because of how you examine the context behind how people perceive their skin tone and other skin tones. The estimated worth of the skin whitening industry is BILLIONS globally – $100 million in India alone. Quick googling shows that the tanning industry is 2.6 billion in the US alone. We are getting a very persuasive, very strongly-financed message that to be either of these things is better than being ourselves. (I mean, no surprise in the beauty industry right?). Sure, there are remnants of history that play into these desires, especially in countries with a history of colonization, but at the end of the day, just follow the money and you see the heart of the problem.

    Another factor that trips people up I think is in the foundation names. While they can be as accurate as a monkey threading a rope through a needle in the midst of an epileptic fit, they all play towards a woman’s ideal self-perception. “There’s no way I am Brick Mudhouse, I must be Champagne Rose!” “Sallow Albino disappears into my skin, so I must be Brazilian Bisque”. Also, inconsistency across the industry. If you rounded up all the “Beiges” across the brands and swatched them, you’d probably get a full color range. No one can agree as to what Beige is (much like the elusive Taupe and Coral), and perhaps some people go with the wrong shade because of history of the names of previous brands they use.

    I think those who select foundations that are very obviously too light for them or very obviously too dark can be divided in two groups – those who have convinced themselves that they already possess their ideal skin tone and refuse to believe otherwise, and those who think that going darker or lighter will successfully bring them to their ideal skin tone. I had a point to make about this but I forgot it. But as people constantly learn about makeup, I think they learn to stop this and start picking the right shades.

    Anyway, I think sales associates can help stop the madness by being generous and offering samples of like 2-3 consecutive shades that the customer can try at home. This is why Sephora is great – I would never buy at a department store if Sephora was an option, and they never question when you bring five bottles to sample up because no one around you has a bloody clue, including yourself. Stop being so stingy, department store counters! Foundation can be an expensive investment, and if I’m going to shell out $100+ on Suqqu, there’s no way I’m going on your SA’s word alone.

    • Haha – I had to laugh at brick mudhouse! I always think about why my skin tone needs to be “corrected” when an associate says you need this pink base to counteract the yellow, or this orange combats the green. (I’ve heard both). I am a sallow yellow-green. I would love to buy a shade like that because it’s MY shade, so even if its called – “Ripened Banana” I would buy that. But I totally get what you mean…I have noticed “VANITY” naming in shades now, where the darkest shades are no longer referred to as dark but “DEEP” and I was like, ok. Now, in some brands, “LIGHT” is a very medium-based shade that I would not associate with being light.

      The beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar operation and it annoys me when companies say that international local populations only respond to a euro-beauty standard, without acknowledging that these same companies were partly responsible for promoting those euro-beauty standards.

      I find it interesting that the more economically powerful developing countries become the more likely advertising to the local population starts to reflect local beauty standards. I followed a lot of the news regarding how prestige brands were always advertised in China with European models, and how as the middle class grows, the same Chinese populations that responded “well” to euro models selling them luxury goods, now demand Chinese faces selling them the same goods. Economic power, I think is directly connected to a demand in actual self representation in media, particularly in the beauty model.

      Thanks for the comment! You got me to think a little bit further as to what I only hinted at in my blog post! Hope to see more of your own blog posts in the future! They have been missed! 🙂

  4. Pingback: And Another Thing… « Fairytales and Coffee

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