Carrie Underwood in an Almay "The American Look" advertisement
photo: Olivia Buono

Almay thinks "The American Look" is in — and it doesn't cater to women of color. The cosmetics brand defines the coveted "American Look" as a celebration of the "true spirit of American beauty."

"The all-American beauty look is genuine, fresh and glowing with confidence," Almay explained in a statement. "We make getting this natural beauty look easy and safe. We are very proud of our American heritage and to be a truly American brand." However, Almay's look doesn't apply, unless you're 50 shades of beige.

While choosing a spokesperson isn't always a reflection of a company's ideal consumer, the Revlon-owned brand almost exclusively casts white women with blonde hair — like Carrie Underwood, Kate Hudson and Leslie Bibb — in their advertisements.

With a shade selection ranging from ivory to warm (a deep bisque shade), Almay's options clearly cater to light-skinned women. There's not much for darker-skinned women to work with, save for a few eyeshadow palettes and liners. 

But Almay seems to want it this way.

This isn't the first time Almay has released questionable content.

The nonprofit group, Truth in Advertising, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and New York's attorney general this past May alleging that Almay’s campaign misleads consumers. 

Their former slogan, "Simply American," implied that their products are American-made, which is false — almost 95% of their cosmetics sold online don't meet the FTC's strict requirements for "Made in the USA" labeling. Almay changed their slogan from "Simply American" to "The American Look." 

The new slogan is legally acceptable, but still brings up a bigger issue: The brand selling the self-proclaimed "American Look" completely excludes women of color from their shade selection. 

"American beauty' should represent the full spectrum of beauty in America," Alle Connell, Revelist's senior beauty editor, says. "If you only make light foundation, you're telling women with deep complexions that these products are not for them, and by extension, that their beauty is not 'American.' This isn't the kind of message that brands which claim to be inclusive should be sending."

Yet, this issue seems to fly under the radar.

photo: Screenshot from Lipstick Alley

Revelist had to dig deep into the world of beauty forums and groups to see just how frustrated people are with the brand’s lack of diversity. Readers of the Lipstick Alley forum think the new slogan is offensive, especially since Almay doesn't cater to all skin tones.

photo: Screenshot from Lipstick Alley
photo: Screenshot from Lipstick Alley

Twitter users are also discussing the racist implications of the ads, but mainstream media has remained mum.

So how does this exclusion impact darker-skinned women?

An Essence magazine study found that Black women spend over $7.5 billion annually on beauty products, 80% more on cosmetics and twice as much on skincare than other demographics. Brands should be catering to, not ignoring, the needs of such a profitable market.

Journalist Joan Morgan and Dr. Yaba Blay, the Dan Blue Endowed Chair in political science at North Carolina Central University, started the hashtag #LupitaforMac in 2014 to persuade the cosmetics brand to hire Lupita Nyong'o as a spokeswoman.

"It's not easy being a dark-skinned woman in this society, and it's not easy being a dark-skinned woman within the beauty industry," Blay said in an interview with NewsOne. "There are a lot of compromises that I have had to make throughout my adult life in terms of how to manage my aesthetics. So I just can't walk into your average makeup counter and get my color instantaneously. I definitely can't get my color out of Target and I wouldn't even try."


The Oscar-winner has since gone on to become the face of Lancôme.

The conversation goes beyond Almay, though. The beauty industry, as a whole, has an unspoken exclusion problem.

"It sucks that Almay only makes shades of foundation from light to medium, especially because their formulas are really good, but they're far from the only brand who does this," Connell said. "A lot of drugstore makeup brands don't offer colors for darker-skinned women, which is garbage."

Several BB cream formulas, such as Dior and Kiehl's, only come in three shades: fair, light and natural. Dior's normal foundation formulas also stray on the lighter end of the spectrum, with Amber being the darkest shade.

Benefit Cosmetics has also received backlash for their limited shade selection, especially after using comedian Angelah Johnson and her self-proclaimed "ghetto fabulous" alter-ego, Bon Qui Qui, in an ad campaign. The video, which has since been removed, perpetuated racist stereotypes. The commercial is particularly offensive since the brand doesn't make products for Black women, according to Kimberly N. Foster, editor of For Harriet.

"The clip is particularly interesting because I have not known Benefit to be particularly black girl friendly," Foster wrote. "Their products serve a fairly narrow market. Bon Qui Qui's affected speech and "ghetto" aesthetic are played up for laughs and purposely juxtaposed with to the "typical" Benefit customer."

All of these slights prove a bigger point about the exclusion of darker-skinned women in cosmetics.

"It's 2016," Connell points out. "Women of color shouldn't have to consult an oracle to find makeup that works for them." 

Thankfully, some cosmetic brands are getting it right.

L'Oreal, the parent company of Lancôme, has consistently challenged traditional beauty stereotypes in their campaigns. They most recently launched "The Spectrum," which profiles chemist Balanda Adis as she works to create foundations for every skin tone.

"Cosmetics have struggled with trying to find the best shades for women of color for as long as makeup has existed," Atis says in the video. "With each baby, a new skin tone is born, and with that we know our work is never done."

Adis is also the lab manager for L’Oreal's Women of Color Lab, and the woman who created the custom shade Nyong'o is wearing in her Lancôme ads. 

"Women always want to identify themselves as being described as a 'medium' shade because that's safe. No one wants to be singled out. We heard that from consumers across the country," Atis said in an interview with Essence. "When you create a shade range, you want to create a range because you want women to identify with something."

Almay has never publicly responded to the criticism about their limited color selection and lack of diversity in their casting — until now.

In a statement to Revelist, Almay said:

"Through advertising, cosmetics companies market a particular style to inspire and create a bond with their consumers. Almay's "Simply American" campaign is designed to capture the “spirit of American beauty,” a fresh look that enhances natural beauty; is light and uncomplicated; pure and hypo-allergenic. Almay is proudly American, with our products based on American heritage and science, formulated in our labs in Edison, New Jersey. 
Eighty-four percent of our products which account for 88% of our sales are made or assembled in our factory in North Carolina. Our products are very clearly and correctly labeled as to where they are manufactured. Where our products are made in the US, with US and non-US components, we say that too. And, we are making active efforts to move all manufacturing to the US."

Almay didn't say if they plan to expand their shade range in the future. In the end, though, it's about recognizing women’s beauty needs as unique and individual. We’re not categories, we’re customers. And we want products for all — regardless of our skin tone.

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