Full Spectrum by CoverGirl: Is this what a celebration of people of color looks like?

Over the weekend, I noticed a new brand pop up on Ulta called Full Spectrum, which is actually “Full Spectrum CoverGirl” when one looks at the packaging.  It’s categorized under brands as “Full Spectrum,” though, and it doesn’t show up as part of the “CoverGirl” brand category.  I was confused by it, since it seemed more like a sub-line geared towards brighter shades, except it also had base and complexion products, and was separated out as its own brand. This is how CoverGirl announced it to their fans on Instagram: “The collection is designed to celebrate Women of Color. 20 different foundation shades! Along with brightening concealers, mattifying primer, eyeshadow palettes, eyeliners, lipsticks and more!”

Through the course of this week, a few publications like Allure and Refinery29 have written up about it, and it is apparently for people of color.  The part that I’m unclear on is whether it’s a sub-line within CoverGirl, intended as more of a sister brand to CoverGirl, or if it’s a mere collection of products from CoverGirl–but Ulta has it separated out as its own brand.  I don’t have the full press release, so based on the snippets quoted and included in the aforementioned publications, here are two key quotes:

“Full Spectrum brings out your truest tones with super rich pigments and hydrating shades that stand out,” says the press release CoverGirl sent to Allure. “[We] understand that inclusivity goes far beyond shade ranges so we’re providing products for eyes, lips, and face that were designed to pop against darker skin tones.” (From Allure)

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Johanne Richard, Global R&D Face Manager of CoverGirl, tells Refinery29 that developing this line was important to her because she’s had her fair share of confusion in the cosmetics aisle. “I come from a Haitian background and skin tones in my family run the gamut,” Richard says. “So many of my friends and family have told me stories about mixing foundation shades, so we really wanted to create a collection that addressed the special nuances of our skin.”

Richard and her team spent almost two years measuring the skin tones of various people of color. “Through our research we were able to get a better understanding of the undertones of dark skin — not only to deliver on shades but on finish, too,” says Richard. “Most women of color are put into the same category, but we all have different undertones and our complexions are all really different.” The CoverGirl team also surveyed women of color to find out what this particular group wants, finding that most seek full-coverage complexion products, matte finishes, and vibrant color pigments when picking out makeup. (From Refinery29)

Now, whether it’s a separate line or sub-line or brand, none of it is encouraging and all of it feels very pandering; CoverGirl’s Instagram makes it seem like a collection, more in the vein of the Queen collection. (Read this brief interview with Queen Latifah on Essence on how it started and why… it’ll sound familiar except it’s going on 2019, so it’d be nice to increase inclusivity of the brand’s core offerings, rather than continuing to separate them out.)  We are always being sold to, and diversity and inclusivity are now used as marketing tactics, so we’re likely to see more attempts (without the follow through) in the future.

To a degree, I accept some of that as the cost of progress; I’d rather more options because brands see it as “profitable” than no options, but when major brands like CoverGirl, which has so many layers and people involved throughout the process, seem to miss the nuances of why diversity and inclusivity is important, it’s disheartening. The announcement of the new collection by CoverGirl on their Instagram shows some of the products but has no other campaign material, followed by a promotional image of a palette, and then two model shots.

A lot of my immediate reaction I had to reading the press write-ups on this launch had me feeling the same way I did about Flesh Beauty (read here): you’ve tried so hard to sell me on the idea you want me to believe in that I don’t believe it because I don’t actually see the nuances carried throughout the concept.

If you actually look at the Full Spectrum product offerings, there’s nothing about it that seems particularly geared towards people of color.  The Matte Ambition foundation contains 20 shades, while the concealer has a mere six and powder foundation comes in with 12 shades.  But why 20 shades?  The Matte Ambition shade range starts at Light Cool and goes up to Deep Cool 3.  CoverGirl’s TruBlend Matte, which made a splashy entrance when it expanded to 40 shades earlier this year, seems far better equipped at meeting the needs of a wide spectrum of skin tones and undertones.  (As an aside, CoverGirl’s other foundation ranges have not been expanded and remain at 13 or less shades.)

Also, let’s talk about the shade ranges themselves with a complete lack of real swatches (or even faux-real swatches) — no campaign shots, no models, no brand-provided swatches.  Nothing on Ulta, where you’d buy it, and it’s online only until February 2019, and there’s little that aligns with the press release accompanying this launch.  I think if you’re going to pitch me about the intensity of your pigments, that they’re specifically formulated to pop against all skin tones, that you’d be excited to share that visually in a community where swatching is now the norm.


Full Spectrum Sculpt Expert Multiuse Cheek Palette

There are several lipglosses, liquid lipsticks, and traditional lipsticks that seem like a good mix of colors (for anyone).  I’m totally baffled by having a specific eyeliner formula for people of color when it’s primarily your standard fare for liner; where are some flesh-toned waterline shades. There are currently three cheek trios that don’t seem like they’re celebrating the full spectrum of depths and undertones that people of color come in.  Instead, the cheek trios land in the same territory well-covered by brands in the past: light, medium, maybe medium-dark (they don’t seem that different from CoverGirl’s TruBlend Palettes).


Full Spectrum So Saturated Shadow Palette

The same story is seen in the So Saturated Shadow Palettes, which routinely feature 2-4 very light shades and have the compositions that look like so many other palettes on the market already. They’re even described as “universally flattering highlighter, base, crease and liner shades,” when we know that the right highlight, base, and crease shades differ from skin tone to skin tone, undertone to undertone.

Compared to CoverGirl’s regular Eyeshadow Quads, the So Saturated Eyeshadow Quads are a vast improvement in general intensity/saturation but seem less about fulfilling the needs of a diverse group of skin tones so much as about providing… more saturated… intense color? because the most neutral version is very light but most of the quad variations are bright colors and have skipped the brow and transition type shades.

I’m actually all about the removal of skin tone-dependent shades like highlights and transitions; I’d rather see four colors that are usable by most skin tones and leave the more skin tone-dependent shades to the user.  In my ideal world, brands would, however, provide quads of basics by skin tone (and undertone, but let’s not get greedy) — e.g. a neutral quad for light skin, a neutral quad for medium skin, a neutral quad for dark skin, and a neutral quad for deep skin. But when it comes to providing workhorse neutrals in their line for “people of color,” there certainly seems to be a huge lack of options for a wide spectrum of skin tones.


Full Spectrum Eyeshadow Quads vs. CoverGirl Eyeshadow Quads Palette

There’s also a single version of a Contour & Correct Cream Palette. Part of the desire for diversity in shade ranges is because there is a huge range in depth (and undertone) between very fair to very deep–one size does not fit all.  When I go through and look at the range, I’m not seeing much that seems catered to the “needs” of people of color that isn’t accomplished just by… releasing… non-neutrals or not putting 50% beige in a palette.  I’m not seeing a revolutionary shade range.  I’m not seeing swatches on a spectrum of skin tones when I go to buy the product.

The Queen Collection is either getting more limited distribution or being discontinued so Full Spectrum looks more like a replacement; it’s not carried on Ulta and most retailers, like Target and Walgreens, have only a smattering of shades left. I wish that after 12 years of knowing that their core range was under-serving the full spectrum of skin tones of their customer base, they celebrated people of color by incorporating more products that worked for more skin tones and undertones into their core range.

CoverGirl, as a brand, would be continuing to better serve their customer base and to make strides forward to inclusivity after extending the TruBlend foundation range to 40 shades.  Instead, the continued segmenting out of people of color feels, at best, a very obvious marketing ploy to seem and look PoC-friendly to cash in on a marketplace that’s been demanding more and more from brands on that front.  At worst, it’s bordering on demoralizing to see the separation persist.

Had CoverGirl merely billed Full Spectrum as their take on fully-pigmented, unforgivably bright and electric colors and hues and incorporated those pops of color across eyeshadow quads/palettes, cheek colors, lip products, and eyeliners, it could have been an interesting collection, particularly if they’d shown swatches (at least entice us!). They could have, in their marketing spiel, addressed how they researched and were very careful to ensure that the colors translated well across skin tones and would maintain true in color regardless of skin tone. Anastasia from Viseart has mentioned this before; how they specifically test colors on deeper skin tones first and work their way to the lightest skin tone when they develop their products, like eyeshadow.

Instead, I keep going back to Fenty Beauty and its launch, where the brand made it clear that they were going to be an inclusive brand that celebrated diversity, but you could see that attitude reflected across their brand–not just in the foundation shade range, but the undertones, depths, balance of the range, and then in the diversity shown throughout the campaigns (and not just at launch but since then).  It seems so easy to get it right and yet brands miss time after time when it comes to following through but too often want to be patted on the back for how inclusive! diverse! they are.

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