Youthforia’s Minstrel-esque Makeup Shows Beauty Inclusivity Not Solved

Renika Williams The Black Lens

Youthforia, a skincare-centric makeup brand that got its start on Shark Tank, has been celebrated for its commitment to clean, sustainable, and inclusive beauty products. Its unique products, including a popular color-changing blush oil meant to react to your skin’s PH, were favorites amongst Gen-Z and Millenials looking for high-quality formulas that aim to evoke childhood joy and adult bliss. With the recent launch of their expanded Date Night shade range, the brand has sparked significant backlash, highlighting deeper issues within the beauty industry have not yet been fully resolved.

In October 2023, Youthforia faced criticism for its limited foundation shade range for its bestselling product Date Night Skin Tint Serum Foundation, which many felt was not inclusive of darker skin tones. Responding to community feedback, the brand pledged to expand their shade range and improve inclusivity.

With the shade expansion, Fiona Co Chan, founder of Youthforia, seemed confident that the brand would quiet her critics. “I’m always looking to see where there are gaps,” she said in March. “If I see a gap, I’m definitely going to go back into the lab and expand, but, in terms of the deepest of deep, I think we do have several options.” They spent months building awareness for the new launch, recruiting influencers and other Beauty experts to generate content. Chan informed Beauty Independent that the brand had achieved “equal distribution in terms of shade representation across the influencers that we work with on a paid basis, especially for this launch.”

Despite these efforts, Youthforia’s latest release has been met with severe criticism. Earlier this month, the brand launched foundation shade 600, intended for deeper skin tones. However, the darkest shade in the range was found to contain only black pigment, more closely resembling black face paint rather than a foundation. For clarity, no matter how dark the skin tone, there are undertones, no one’s skin is matte, flat, black. Looking at the market, there are plenty of brands who have developed wide shade ranges for their products, inclusive of darker skin tones, and none of them–absolutely none–use only Black pigment. This means the formulas do exist, Youthforia just chose not to try. This choice not only failed to cater to the needs of those with darker skin tones but also evoked painful historical associations with blackface, a form of theatrical makeup used to mock and stereotype African Americans.

The backlash was swift, with many accusing Youthforia of insensitivity and poor judgment. Influencer Golloria George compared the darkest shade of Youthforia’s Date Night Skin Tint Serum Foundation to “minstrel show black” in a TikTok video that garnered over 30.7 million views and 2.5 million likes. “Nobody asked for a foundation shade that dark, and it doesn’t have any undertones.”

In the wake of this controversy, major retailers Credo, Thirteen Lune, and Revolve have dropped Youthforia from their shelves. Black creators on TikTok have expressed their disappointment, further amplifying the fallout. Reviews on Ulta’s website highlight the discontent among consumers. One reviewer called the product “malicious compliance,” suggesting that Youthforia’s response to demands for inclusivity was spiteful. Another review pointed out that the darkest shade lacks undertones, making it unusable as a foundation.

A sarcastic review underscored the offensive nature of the product: “Had a minstrel show the other day and wow! This really stayed on better than the tar I was previously using. It was so good, I decided to keep it on for a rally I had later that day! It was a huge hit and I got so many compliments. I recommend this to all my fellow performers.” This review starkly contrasts with Youthforia’s mission to create inclusive and joyful beauty products.

Surprisingly, Youthforia has not responded to these complaints and retailers such as Ulta, have failed to remove the product from its shelves or website.They have yet to issue a statement acknowledging the misstep or promise to recall the product.

This incident underscores the importance of genuine inclusivity in the beauty industry. It is not enough to simply offer a wider shade range; brands must deeply understand and respect the cultural and historical contexts of their products. As consumers continue to demand more from the brands they support, it is imperative for companies like Youthforia to listen, learn, and act with sensitivity and awareness.