Fenty 40 Effect

Omar Altimany

On September 8, 2017, global superstar Robyn Rihanna Fenty launched her new makeup line, Fenty Beauty, with Kendo, a beauty brand incubator. As an accomplished artist with back-to-back hits for over a decade, as well as an influential face in the realms of fashion and film, she has become a business mogul in the beauty industry. Just two months after the release of Fenty Beauty’s first line of products, revered for its unprecedented shade range, the brand was named one of TIME’s 25 Best Inventions of 2017. Subsequent shifts in the beauty industry prove Fenty Beauty wasn’t the typical project - one where a celebrity just slaps their name on a company’s product and gets their paycheck. It rather indicates influential social change in a market that has long catered only to those with white or lighter skin, shades of skin that are considered “normal” and marketable.

Rihanna destroyed the common myth in the beauty industry that darker shades don’t sell. Her line ushered in a wave of inclusivity in the beauty community and its massive success demonstrated a clear need for much more inclusive shade ranges and immediate change in the industry. Rihanna made it a priority to ensure accessibility and representation for all. This intention to create room for all skin types was clear from her ad campaigns to her mission for her line. She doesn’t hide this mission; it is clearly present in the brand’s ad campaigns and she frequently discusses it publicly. On the Fenty Beauty website, Rihanna states, “Foundation is one of those areas in the beauty industry that has a big void for women at extreme ends of the shade spectrum. There’s this middle ground that's covered really, really well. But then if you're very pale or if you're very dark, there aren’t a lot of options.”

So far, Fenty Beauty has enjoyed high sales and rave reviews. Most importantly, however, are the heartwarming stories of marginalized people finally feeling represented and respected by the beauty industry. An anonymous user posted a review on the Fenty Beauty website, sending a personal thank you to Rihanna. In the review, the user stated, “My wife has cutaneous lupus erythematosus and we have tried every makeup brand to try to cover up her pigmentation variations and scarring of her skin. I would like to personally thank Rihanna with putting out a product that has helped my wife of 16 years regain some of her confidence and helped her with her reluctance to leave our home due to her skin imperfections” (Rodulfo). Personal stories like these demonstrate that Fenty Beauty has revolutionized beauty, and cultivated important discussions about inclusivity.

Although brands such as M.A.C. Cosmetics and Maybelline have released foundation ranges that had close to 40 distinctive shades to choose from, not a lot of brands were releasing forty shades of foundation, let alone releasing more than five deep shades, before the launch of Fenty Beauty. However, a standard was set and the results over the past year have shown a proactive effort by brands to release extensive shade ranges. Both luxurious and drugstore makeup brands, such as Dior and CoverGirl, are mimicking Fenty Beauty’s foundation launch by releasing their own variations of the “Fenty 40.” Allure reported that in 2013, “African Americans had around $1.3 trillion of total buying power, with black [sic] women specifically shelling out $7.5 billion annually on beauty products—80% more on cosmetics than non-black consumers” (Yates). This begs the question: why did it take so long for 40-shade foundation lines to become mainstream, when those who most desperately need them have immense buying power?

In 2015, Balanda Atis, a scientist with L’Oréal USA, a company that owns beauty brands such as L’Oréal, Lancôme, and Esteé Lauder, explained, “While brands might succeed in making darker shades, they didn’t always get the undertones and the depth right,” (Yates). She continued to discuss the chemical pigments used to create shades and said, “There are four pigments used to create one shade: white, yellow, red, and black. To create deeper hues, some chemists mix in too much black pigment, which can leave skin looking bruised” (Yates). Even for caramel hues, Atis stated, “There may be too much red or yellow, which can leave the skin looking orange. Sometimes, chemists add titanium dioxide, a pigment used in many cosmetics to add coverage. Result: an ashy finish. So even when dark shades are available, many haven’t been very good,” (Yates). The careless manufacturing of beauty products designed to suit people of color—despite their active roles as consumers—cause us to question the sudden drive to provide diverse shade ranges following the success of Fenty Beauty. Are other brands adopting the trend for moral or capitalistic reasons?

Rihanna noticed a severe lack of representation and accomodation in the beauty industry, indicated primarily by the preponderance of foundation lines that don’t even make an effort to include all skin colors. As such, Fenty Beauty was borne of the need to expand diversity and advocate for major change within the beauty industry. Ever since Fenty Beauty was released to the public, not only have there been rave reviews and high sales, but transformations in a historically problematic industry. Rihanna has used her platform to ignite an important conversation and diversify mainstream conceptualizations of beauty. Her impact has already created massive shifts in the industry and encouraged critical thinking about the future of the beauty industry.