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"You're too dark": a discussion about Asia's shade range

Sep. 6, 2018
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I buy my makeup online. That doesn’t sound particularly groundbreaking, but to me it is, because I can’t find shades that match me in my own country. Whenever I tell people about this, their eyes quickly pan across my face. “But how?”

Asians want to have white skin. A majority of my friends with Asian heritage grew up with their mother chasing after them, urging them to put on sunscreen, not for fear of sun damage or skin cancer, but rather, that their child would look dark-skinned.

Many of my female friends and I never liked the feeling of wearing sunscreen as children. While our male companions and siblings grew up being praised for their healthy tans, we were criticized for looking like “Indonesian maids.” Degrading slurs and taunts followed us through our childhood and into adulthood.

The older generations’ common ideology associates lighter skin with upper-class wealth and beauty. On the other hand, darker skin is associated with working in fields and on plantations.

The beauty standard for skin color is set at such a high standard that it is impossible for anyone to be considered truly “light skinned.” Normally, I’m in the medium color range for foundation, which wouldn’t make makeup-shopping an issue.

There isn’t a Sephora in Taiwan. As a result, most people are left with two options: high-end or drugstore makeup products. Neither option holds up to the diversity standards of the Western beauty market. Many may doubt Taiwan’s need for a wide range of foundations, but despite the ethnic population being 95% Han Chinese of a variety of skin tones, Taiwan also contains 3% of new immigrants from across the world and 2% aboriginals who are known to have tan to dark skin tones. 

A quick lap around a typical Taiwanese drugstore would give clear insight into the ongoing diversity issue in Asia’s cosmetics market. Most drugstore brands such as L’Oreal and Maybelline in Taiwan only offer three to five shades as opposed to the dozens of shades available in the United States. The Taiwanese foundation shades are also named vaguely, with “Bright,” “Healthy,” “Natural,” “Nude,” and “Confident” all used to describe similar light shades.

It is difficult for people to feel confident when they can’t see makeup brands representing them.

While Asia takes up 36.9% of the global market, outnumbering North America, Western Europe, and Eastern Europe, we’re still left with the smallest shade range.

According to a Vox video titled "Why the market for skin whitening is growing," people too commonly associate the idea of lighter skin with superiority, resulting in them wanting to permanently change themselves to feel included in society’s idea of beauty. This is also a phenomenon in countries where light skin is already the norm. Being light-skinned isn’t enough; people want to be paler.

We are sick and tired of feeling and hearing from people who are supposed to be on our side that we are too dark. More often than not, we turn to makeup and cosmetics to feel better about ourselves—but existing in Asia’s cosmetics world just results in us feeling worse than we did before.