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Youthforia: ‘Shark Tank’ makeup brand faces backlash over foundation critics say resembles ‘black face paint’

TikTok influencer Golloria George applies Youthforia foundation in an April 30 video that went viral. (Photo: Courtesy Golloria George via CNN Newsource)

(CNN) — When cosmetic company Youthforia launched its “Date Night Skin Tint” serum foundation line in 15 shades last year, some beauty influencers and reviewers were critical of the lack of options for darker skin tones.

Golloria George, a Texas-based beauty influencer with over 1.5 million followers on TikTok, shared why she felt the brand had missed the mark — and an opportunity — in a TikTok video last September that racked up more than 2.4 million views.

In her series, “The Darkest Shade,” George reviews the darkest shade in a brand’s lineup to see if it could match her complexion. The darkest Youthforia shade, she claimed, was lighter than what was advertised online and didn’t match her skin tone.

It’s a criticism many brands have faced over the years, as the beauty industry — which critics have long accused of elevating Eurocentric beauty standards — tries to expand its product lines for melanated skin tones.

Youthforia is a “clean and sustainable makeup company” that markets itself as “makeup you can sleep in,” according to its website. The company’s founder, Fiona Co Chan, appeared on an episode of the TV series “Shark Tank” that aired in 2023 and received a $400,000 investment from billionaire Mark Cuban.

In March, the beauty brand added 10 new shades to its “Date Night” collection, many for darker complexions. George told CNN she was still unsure if one of the new products would be a match, so she again tried the brand’s darkest shade — 600 Deep Neutral — and was stunned by the result.

“Which side of my face is the black face paint or the Youthforia foundation?” she asked in a Tiktok video posted April 30. “You can’t tell. You know why? Tar in a bottle.”

That video now has over 24 million views.

Youthforia did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. Last year, Chan defended her brand in a post that has since been deleted. Earlier this year, days before the new products launched, Youthforia posted a video on TikTok where Chan says the brand had trouble finding models to match the darkest shades they offer.

“So a month ago we held a casting call to just look for real people, real skin. We found matches for most of our shades except for our dark shades,” she says in the video.

In the days that followed, the brand posted a series of view of videos showing Chan searching for models and ultimately testing the foundation on two young men who “graciously agreed to be our models” in a mall.

She applies the 600 foundation — the same one George used — to half of one model’s face and remarks on how it appears to be a match. “His undertone was actually perfect,” she says.

Last week, Youthforia replied to a comment about the brand’s darkest shade by resharing the video from March.

While George acknowledges the shade may work for some customers, she also posted a separate video where she reviews the brand’s second darkest shade, 590, which she notes “leans very red on me.”

George told CNN she found the transition between the two darkest products offered by Youthforia to be “shocking.”

“It was like we really just missed a whole range of undertones and depth and it’s disrespectful,” she said.

And she wasn’t the only one remarking on the brand’s attempt to provide products for darker skin tones, with other content creators calling out the brand and even trying to mix shades together to create lighter options.

George told CNN  the saga reminded her of not being able to find shades of makeup that matched her complexion when she was younger.

“It was a big deal. It was really disheartening,” she said. “I really felt like there was something wrong with me, you know, and no one deserves to feel like that.”

Karen Chambers, chair of the diversity, equity & inclusion taskforce at Cosmetic Executive Women, said Youthforia is not the only brand to face this sort of criticism from customers.

The success of Rhianna’s FENTY launch in 2017 saw many makeup brands working to expand their product offerings. But in 2020, influencers called for a boycott of Hourglass Cosmetics after the company released a fan-favorite foundation with a limited shade range.

In 2018, Tarte’s Shape Tape line also faced similar criticism, causing beauty influencer NikkieTutorials to remove a video about the product and call their shade range “an absolute mess.”

Chambers, who has worked with brands such as IMAN Cosmetics, Dark & Lovely and Posner throughout her 28-year career, said in the past five or so years brands have recognized the need for more conversations around diversity and inclusivity.

“Whether it’s domestically or globally, demographics are changing and if a brand is not inclusive in what they offer, then they are just missing a huge opportunity as far as just accurately being there for their consumer base,” she said.

“So we’ve seen brands that have gotten (an) ‘A’ in their efforts to diversify and we’ve seen brands that have gotten an ‘F’ and everywhere in between.”

In addition to research, Chambers said, the businesses should incorporate diversity as a whole.

“Certainly as in this instance, in those laboratories, you’ve got to have someone who understands that creating darker shades for brown skin is not as easy as adding black to an existing one that’s created for light skin.”

It is unclear how Youthforia created its formulas for foundation shades.

George said she now feels it’s important to call out brands and the industry as a whole when they exclude darker complexions.

“It kind of feels like a slap in the face. It kind of feels like you know, not only are we just not being seen, but we’re also just like, not even being considered and it’s just really horrible,” George said. “I feel like it just goes to show how rampant colorism is still in the beauty industry.”

“There are a lot of people in this world, and everyone deserves to be able to try makeup, play with makeup and, you know, just be included,” she added. “The girls are here. We’ve been here and you know everyone deserves a spot in this industry.”

Chambers said Youthforia needs to rebuild trust with its audience — and that starts with making sure the audience feels included and important. Many of the brand’s posts and advertisements on social media feature people of color.

“It’s also just good business,” Chambers added. “There really is no way to be in this industry and not take diversity seriously. I think any brand out here that really wants to continue to grow and evolve … It makes for a better company.”

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