Shades Of Beauty: Superdrug Commit To Tackling ‘Product Inequality’ On The High Street (But Is It Enough?)

In a society that’s saturated with every skin colour imaginable, it’s hard to comprehend that in 2016 we’re still discussing appropriate representation within the beauty industry. As a pale-skinned ‘English Rose’ I can’t imagine not being able to walk into a store and just pick up a foundation, concealer or powder that works with my complexion tone – but that’s still the issue for many women of colour across the UK. Not only are they underrepresented in parliament, soap operas and the police force, but they’re being partially ignored by many of the major beauty brands who’ve yet to wise up to the huge value this passionate-about-makeup and ever increasing part of the population has to offer. When it comes to shopping for high street beauty it’s clear that there isn’t the plethora of product choice for women with darker skin tones, or Afro hair. Many foundation shades offer a spectrum only from red head to ‘slightly tanned after a week in Marbella’, forgetting to create products that our Asian or Black friends can enjoy too. The majority of hair care brands focus on mild frizz and a touch of hydration, rather than understanding the more intense treatments women with thicker European and Afro hair may require. Although there are specialists shops and some amazing online destinations, isn’t it about time the high street made changes too? Why should a huge proportion of women be forced into department stores to spend twice as much as their Caucasian friends, just to find a product that matches their skin tone?

Rather interestingly, Superdrug have just announced the launch of the ‘Shades of Beauty’ campaign – which has been launched to tackle
this issue and aims to make ethnic beauty more accessible and affordable. Taking on board consumer comments (dating back years I can imagine,) the power retailer has promised to make ‘some changes in its product range’ and offer a wider choice specifically for Black and Asian beauty lovers. To help shape the campaign and act as an ambassador of sorts, Superdrug has appointed June Sarpong to help them make these changes and ensure their stores are a destination for all women – no matter their skin tone. (If you don’t remember June, she was the slightly wacky one with a dirty giggle from T4 who moved to LA, only to return a kind of feminist-come-politician. She’s been all over our screens during the Brexit campaign, proving she’s a women who’s using her influence to make a positive difference.) She comments: “As a black woman I know how hard it is to find affordable beauty products. I can’t wait to get going and be a voice for black women and I’m delighted that Superdrug is listening to customers and is going to help make a real change.”

Looking at the Superdrug website right now, there’s a whole section for Black and Asian hair products encompassing a multitude of brands and over seventy individual choices; this is the first stage in their campaign and definitely is a step in the right direction. However, when it comes to makeup there’s no easy way of finding out which brands cater to darker skin tones without manually trawling through the hundreds of bottles and tubes on offer. According to Superdrug, this is the next on their list to tackle as they want to ‘create an area specifically for Black and Asian beauty products’ and ensure they’re accessible to all – even if they’re not available in each individual store. (However, it’s worth noting that everything online can be ordered for collection in a local
store, or loyalty card members can have their order
delivered to their home free. Bonus.) But what of the products that aren’t even actually available online?

According to Superdrug, they’ve “met with all the UK’s largest makeup brands to challenge them to help offer a wider collection of dark shades of foundation, concealer and powders.” From my experience working in beauty marketing, brands are often constrained by not only the shades made available from their HQ (often in Paris or the USA) but by the floor space they’re given by the retailer. I’ve written before about the stores themselves need to lead the way and make change, rather than relying on the brands alone to revolutionise the mass beauty market. Self selection cosmetics (when you pick up your product yourself, rather than having to buy at a counter) is big business and constantly trying to squeeze even more out of the limited floor space in stores. Until the likes of Boots and Superdrug make a commitment to offering more space to allow brands to showcase their full spectrum of colour, the makeup masters themselves will still be forced to showcase their best selling shades only. Until now this has been the main issue; however, with the growth of online beauty sales and the ability to pick up your order in your local store the next day, it seems the industry is running out of excuses.

Sarah Gardner, Head of Beauty at Superdrug said: “We know that we’ve not offered all our customers the products they need in the past, but we are going to do our best to address this issue once and for all. It is crazy to think that in 2016 women with darker skin may have to spend twice as much for a foundation to match their skin tone or have to go to a specialist stores to find suitable haircare. The first step of the Shades of Beauty campaign will be online, and we’re delighted to say Maybelline, L’Oreal and Revlon have all risen to our challenge and will be launching an additional 23 shades for darker skin tones by the end of July. September will also see more shades launch. We know this is a small start, but we’re determined to see this through and ensure that when women with darker skin come into our stores they will find a good choice of shades, and find the perfect match for them.”

Superdrug were the first store to embrace brands like Sleek (which if you can remember that far back were originally developed as a brand for Black skin tones,) and have definitely been growing their Afro hair shelves in the last few years – so it’s no surprise they’re the first to make big changes to the way every ethnicity is represented in their shops. With Rimmel coming under fire for offering only one ‘nude’ shade suitable for Black skin tones in their latest Kate Moss lipstick range, and Maybelline causing quite the stir by slashing the six darkest tones from it’s UK Dream Mousse foundation launch (when rather ironically the model for the campaign in America was the British Jordan Dunn) it seems enough is enough. Why hasn’t the UK caught up with the US and commited to offering variety within cosmetics? According to a 2009 Mintel report, the market for black or Asian beauty products in the
UK is valued at only £70million (or just 2% of the total market
for women’s haircare, skincare and makeup) which well below the percentage
of the population. Blamed partly on the fact that there’s a
“lack of commitment by mainstream companies to ethnic beauty needs and a
lack of availability of ethnic brands in mass-market distribution”, surely this proves to brands the huge opportunity that lays in front of them?

I’m so incredibly pleased that finally Superdrug are actually encouraging brands to offer a wider spectrum of colour, so affordable and effective cosmetics are available to all. It seems to be an issue we’ve been discussing for the best part of a decade, but finally change is on its way. However, I want to know from you – is this enough? What would you like to see happen on the high street? What are your frustrations when shopping, or what do you think the likes of Superdrug should be doing? You never know, they may be listening…

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  1. Mimi
    June 28, 2016 / 10:44 am

    Its a similar case here in Kuwait. I'm an NC 42/43 ish and find that unfortunately almost all drugstore brands here in Kuwait stop at a shade or two lighter than what I need and I can only get my perfect match at Mac or something a little more higher end. I don't blame the brands, but rather whoever is choosing what shades to stock in their stores.

    • Hayley Carr
      June 29, 2016 / 1:28 pm

      A lot of the time it's the buyers who make that call – trying to ensure they make the most money for the space, rather than offering a diverse colour range so that every customer can enjoy affordable makeup. Here's hoping that will start to change.

  2. Abigail Alice x
    June 28, 2016 / 7:15 pm

    It must be so infuriating to not find your shade on the high street when so many people don't think twice about it! I like how more brands are thinking of the diversity in their shades.Abigail Alice x

    • Hayley Carr
      June 29, 2016 / 1:28 pm

      I do think Caucasian women can take it for granted – it's never a battle we've had to fight, but we should take responsibility and fight for our friends of colour too.

  3. Chichi
    June 28, 2016 / 7:43 pm

    Finally!As a Black woman, I find it hard to find products that suit me, but luckily there are brands out there that cater to Black women, and it's nice to see Superdrug, a high street retailer, trying to make an effort to make a difference.Also, I really hate the fact that Black women are under-represented in various areas – i.e. media, TV, politics, etc. It's so annoying! It's almost as if society assumes that we don't matter or that we don't exist, but we do!!! We are present!

    • Hayley Carr
      June 29, 2016 / 1:30 pm

      You are SO present Chichi! I read something about Coronation Street while writing this, and they don't have a single black character in an area of Manchester that's supposed to be ethically diverse. I can't imagine how frustrating it is.

  4. Natalie Gbadero
    June 28, 2016 / 11:50 pm

    I'm definitely impressed with the lengths Superdrug has gone to to try and include WoC. I really appreciate them targeting High Street Beauty brands and challenging them to increase their shade range, I hope I'm able to find something for myself as it would be nice to not have to spend £30+ on foundation! I do think there is certainly a long way to go in terms of full equality in the beauty world but this is a very good start. Great post! Natalie x

    • Hayley Carr
      June 29, 2016 / 1:30 pm

      It's a little start – but who knows where it may end!

  5. Sakara
    June 29, 2016 / 3:24 pm

    As someone incredibly pale i also have a problem finding foundations that are not high end as most drug store are too dark and too yellow. But it must be even harder for women of colour to find theirs as i think only Sleek have always been for all skin colours ( though not very pale like me!)

    • Hayley Carr
      July 4, 2016 / 2:58 pm

      Yes that's a really good point too – not just black skintones, but a lot of other varieties of colour struggle too.

    • Joanne Mallon
      July 5, 2016 / 10:53 am

      If you want super-pale then Korean BB creams are your friends. They go into much paler tones than Western foundations and BB creams, and you can usually buy sample sachets to try out the shades.

  6. Claire
    June 29, 2016 / 3:38 pm

    This sounds like a great campaign – well done to Superdrug for getting things in motion.

  7. cinabar
    June 29, 2016 / 10:34 pm

    I'm a Caucasian women and I can never find a shade to match my skin. You know when make-up brands have an "Ivory" in their range – that is about two shades darker than me. :-/More companies should be encouraged to increase the shades available, and not just focus on the big seller of medium-beige.

    • Hayley Carr
      July 4, 2016 / 2:59 pm

      You're so right – and yes, absolutely, we need a better mix of all skin tones across the spectrum. There used to be brands specifically for very pale skin (I recall Nicola from Girls Aloud launching one) but they don't seem to exist any more.

    June 30, 2016 / 8:53 am

    I think this is great to here, and a brilliant campaign!

  9. Jasmine Stewart
    July 1, 2016 / 7:29 pm

    This is a topic that's really close to my heart! I remember being 14/15 and wearing a foundation that was totally the wrong shade that I bought with my pocket money because that's all there was. My mum marched me to MAC to get matched properly shortly after…The worst part is that most drugstore brands offer these shades in the US but won't do the same in this country despite the fact there's demand! I appreciate that Superdrug are acknowledging the elephant in the room at long last – I can't help but be a little sceptical but it sounds like at least a step in the right directionJasmine xx Jasmine Talks Beauty

    • Hayley Carr
      July 4, 2016 / 3:00 pm

      Let's see what happens over the next 6-12 months and then I feel another blog post coming on 😉

  10. livvy
    July 18, 2016 / 1:21 pm

    That was a great article Hayley, very thorough and comprehensive.I just have one query with regard to that Mintel report – I am wondering if there is not more recent data available? It just seems odd to be reading an article written in 2016 which is using data that is seven years old.Also the finding that women of colour only represent 2% of the total market seems strange to me, in light of the comments which stated that woc are often forced to purchase higher end products in order to obtain the correct shade for their skin? And most Afro Caribbean women use hair products which are imported from the US which I am assuming makes them more expensive – there isn't really an equivalent of Tresemme (although I wonder if that is because AC hair requires 'better' quality ingredients?).Looking forward to that follow-up post!

    • Hayley Carr
      July 18, 2016 / 2:54 pm

      Mintel reports are very often years out of date to be honest. They take so long to pull together that you're always looking back at quite retrospective data (normally at least 4 years!) And regarding the 2%, I can only assume it's because it only counts foundation rather than all cosmetics (of which many are universal) and that WOC maybe use less because of availability issues? To be honest it asks more questions than it answers! But that's a Mintel report for you 😉

  11. dasheenbushtrace
    August 26, 2016 / 5:30 am

    I am not impressed and I won't be impressed until I can walk into the store, swatch it and purchase it. I still have to order my dark shades online!

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