Santa Ana, Calif. -- She was shopping for cosmetics at a Thrifty Drug Store in Garden Grove, Calif. She looked over every shelf and easily selected Maybelline black mascara and a Flame Glo eyelash curler.
But when it came to makeup for her cheeks, Eusebia Pulido of Westminster examined a Cover Girl blusher sealed in plastic, hesitated, then put it back.
"I don't know what's good for my color and my skin," Ms. Pulido said, referring to her medium-tone features. "If they had makeup just for Hispanic women, I'd buy it."
Ms. Pulido may soon get her wish.
Major cosmetics companies that once ignored the makeup needs of black, Hispanic, Asian and Middle-Eastern women are starting to pay attention.
Manufacturers see huge potential for profit in minority women, said Cornelia Stanek, consultant at Klein & Co. Inc., a New Jersey consulting firm specializing in the cosmetics industry. They hope to achieve this by offering new shades, removing ingredients that cause chalkiness on dark skin and using different packaging.
In April, Maybelline Inc. introduced Shades of You, which it touts as "a new line of cosmetics for women of color." The makeup, priced from $3.35 to $5.50, is available at some drugstores.
And Almay, another well-known drugstore brand, is launching a cosmetic line for black and Hispanic women in late October, said Cynthia Stremba, senior director of marketing.
Prescriptives, a department-store cosmetics line, will expand its foundation from 65 to 115 shades in a project called Prescriptives All Skins in October, said Anne Michaelson, public-relations coordinator. All Skins is the result of Prescriptives focus-group studies showing the customers' need for a wider range of shades and formulations.
Although Maybelline's Shades of You is not the first line of cosmetics for minority women, it may be the first time a large cosmetic company that traditionally caters to white customers has addressed the lack of makeup for minority women.
Department-store brands such as Fashion Fair and drugstore lines such as Posner, Simply Satin and Ultra Sheen -- all made specifically for black women -- for years have been available in areas with large black populations. But other minority women haven't been attracted to these labels, preferring Revlon, Cover Girl, Max Factor, Estee Lauder or Clinique.
So why are cosmetic companies suddenly paying attention to minorities?
Competition and a growing ethnic population are the answers, according to Kay Desmarais, senior vice president of Maybelline, and Ms. Stremba of Almay. Drugstore shelves have been crowded with so many brands of cosmetics that makeup manufacturers must look for other avenues for profits.
And minority women are excellent potential customers, according to a 1988 report by Frost & Sullivan, a New York consulting firm specializing in the cosmetic industry.
Ethnic makeup is expected to jump from $95 million in 1987 to $146 million in 1992, the report indicated.
Maybelline spent three years studying black women, Ms. Desmarais said. "What we were hearing from these women was [that] they were not pleased with the quality of products at the mass level," she said.
The differences between cosmetics for white and minority women are real, Ms. Stanek said.
"Typical white-customer makeup ingredients, such as titanium dioxide, produce a chalky look on black skin," she said. "Ethnic makeup contains little of this."
Both Ms. Desmarais and Ms. Stremba emphasize that their new ethnic makeups have smaller amounts of titanium dioxide and have heavier pigments of red, yellow, blue and black to produce deeper, richer colors.
Other experts contend that while mass-level cosmetic companies are paying attention to the needs of black women, they haven't been as swift to cater to Asian and Hispanic women.
"Many of [the] foundation and powder colors in mass-market cosmetics look like raw hamburger meat," said Johnny Hernandez, a Los Angeles-based Mexican-American makeup artist who has made up models of various ethnic backgrounds for fashion magazines.
"A lot of bases have too much red in them. Most Asians and Hispanics need bases with yellow undertones."
It's a sentiment his colleague, Terri Apanasewicz of Los Angeles, shares. "I've seen Asian women wearing makeup like masks because the foundation color isn't right," she said. "Their faces have a pale pinkish tone, but their neck has natural yellow tones."
Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Apanasewicz recommend pricier department-store brands such as Visage Beaute and Prescriptives for foundation and powder because these can be custom-blended to match a woman's complexion.
But even department-store brands have their share of problems meeting the needs of minority consumers.
Some ethnic customers, for example, still perceive these brands as geared toward whites. The reason: High-end cosmetic advertisements rarely use minority women as models.
Beauty experts have some advice for minority women on getting the most from makeup:
*For women whose skin has yellow undertones, mix M.A.C. yellow skin toner (about $10 at Nordstrom) into regular foundation.
*If your drugstore doesn't carry the correct foundation or powder color for you, tell the store cosmetics buyer or manager.
*Department-store lighting is artificial, and your makeup will look different under those lights. Don't be pressured into buying right away. Place the tester shade near your chin, step outdoors and see the results.
*Many drugstore brands offer testers for foundation. Take advantage of them.
+ *Orange County Register