The Best Clean Foundations for Melanin-Rich Skin Tones

Ruea wears a Lou de Bètoly beaded dress; Jacquemus skirt; Van Cleef & Arpels earrings; Chanel neckla...
Photo by Harley Weir; Hair by Cyndia Harvey.

For years, there has been a distinct lack of shade options for people of color, especially when it comes to clean beauty. Those with deeper complexions were lucky to find a foundation dark enough to match their skin, and were even luckier to snag products made with organic ingredients. Brands had developed an unfounded misconception that darker shades simply did not sell—and that couldn’t be further from the truth, according to Jazmin Alvarez, founder of the clean beauty platform Pretty Well Beauty. “Black women spend $1.1 billion a year on beauty, which is more than every other demographic combined,” Alvarez tells W. “You’ll see most clean beauty brands offering maybe 12 shades—with the darkest one being for someone who is tan—but you won’t see anything for deeper shades of brown. Not to mention the undertones that are needed for [deep-rich] women are very difficult to find within the limited options available in the clean makeup category. Black and Brown women, she contends, are simply not being considered when brands are forming their product development strategies. “Brands are viewing [them] as some type of monolith,” Alvarez adds. “BIPOC are so incredibly diverse and that isn't being represented in a way that resonates with us.”

Tisha Thompson, an African-American cosmetics entrepreneur and founder of LYS Beauty, agrees—attributing the dearth of product innovation and marketing representation for women of color to the general lack of awareness and diversity behind-the-scenes. “In recent years, we’ve seen the industry at large make considerable strides toward expanding product offerings, but in order to effectively formulate for deeper skin tones, you have to understand our skin and how it responds to different colors and ingredients,” she says. “Complexions vary in both skin tones and undertones and it takes proper testing to ensure deeper shades don’t skew too red, ashy, muddy or dull. Oftentimes, the focus is entirely on making products dark enough without considering which undertones help make the shade a perfect match.”

Undertones definitely play an important role—but so does ingredient composition. Rose-Marie Swift, the founder of RMS Beauty, recalls using foundations whose base tones didn’t match, or were too heavy and cakey. “Powder mineral lines were the only real ones out there for a long time, and they would create an ashy look or a white overcast on the skin,” Swift says. “Many times it was a result from too much titanium dioxide in the formulas, which can work well for lighter skin but not for deeper ones.”

To aid your search for the perfect clean beauty foundation formulation, we’ve highlighted the best ranges that offer complexion perfectors, addressing the needs of those with darker skin tones specifically.

Utilizing the concept that botanical facial oils can help balance your sebum production and overall skin health, Kosas’s silky tint features skin-nourishing ingredients like meadowfoam, rosehip seed, and jojoba oil, which hydrate, soothe, and protect your visage.

The sheer-coverage skin enhancer comes in 16 flexible shades that allow your real skin color to peek through, accommodating a wide range of hues and undertones.

Hailed as one of the first Black-owned clean cosmetics brands to be stocked at Sephora, Lys’s light-to-medium weight complexion perfector comes in 35 shades, and is enriched with Ashwagandha and turmeric—both powerful ayurvedic agents that combat skin stressors and aging—plus hyaluronic acid for lasting hydration.

Makeup artist Kristen Kjaer Weis took inspiration from the natural earth tones of Mother Nature when sourcing the organic minerals used for the realistic-looking tints in her label’s foundations. The minerals provide a deeper and truer representation of browns, reds, and golden shades that can’t be artificially replicated.

The majority of the 21 shades in this Black-founded brand are for brown or deeper-toned complexions, with three to four undertones to complement a diversity of hues. The satin-finish foundations meld with your skin rather than sit on top of it.

One of the first clean beauty brands to create an expanded line of shades for deeply rich skin tones, founder Rose-Marie Swift spent a lot of time concentrating on getting the undertones just right so that her cover-up creams (which contain a medley of organic oils and herbs for maximum hydration and radiance) would look like real skin.

Packed with active ingredients to soothe, calm, and repair the skin, this luxurious, creamy formula melts into your face, creating a radiant, natural look. “For achieving that perfect match, you really have to pay close [attention] to undertones,” explains founder Gucci Westman. “Skin tone can change over time, but your undertone never changes. Darker skin tones can have cool, warm or neutral undertones just like medium and fair skin. But for our deeper shades, it’s important to balance the undertone and shade depth. Take Atelier XIV—it’s a warmer shade, but instead of using a golden or caramel undertone as you would for medium or fair skin, it needs a red undertone to make it balanced.”

Credo Beauty’s private label foundation line boasts a 43-shade extension to flatter every skin tone and type. Its smooth, serum-like texture and game-changing mineral makeup technology give off a flawless semi-matte finish that won’t oxidize on the skin to ensure a true color match.

BareMinerals is the OG when it comes to clean mineral foundations. Its latest iteration comes in liquid form with built-in protection from UVA and UVB rays. Available in 30 diverse shades, the squalane and prickly pear-boosted complex nourishes skin and visibly refines pores.

The cult-favorite indie brand worked with a coterie of makeup artists of color to ensure that their line captured the nuances of undertones—from golden, olive, blue and red, and other tonal differences of its melanin-rich community.

Vapour’s multitasking cream stick can be used to contour, highlight or even out your skin tone. The base ingredients are individually fine-tuned to accommodate the pigmentation and skin balancing needs of every shade.

Infused with peptides and botanical sugars for an added layer of anti-aging and anti-pollution benefits, the eco-conscious French house created its K-beauty-inspired cushion compact with innovative powders that are both transparent and have incredible skin blurring properties, requiring the need for less pigment in its formulations. The result? Flexible shades that are able to adapt to the richness and complexity of a multitude of skin colorations.

A favorite of Alvarez’s, this Swedish brand was founded by a woman of color who understands the customization needs of Black and Brown women. And, though there are only four shades in the company’s lineup, they are meant to be used like an artist’s palette—mix two or more of the chroma together to achieve your perfect complexion dupe.