Acknowledging the changing complexion of America, several of the nation's largest cosmetics companies are plunging into a new competition with shades of makeup designed for black, Hispanic and Asian women.
The new lines by Revlon, Estee Lauder, Maybelline and others are partly a response to to the rising number of Americans of non-European descent, analysts say.
But in addition, minority women are becoming increasingly desirable customers, because as a group they are now younger than Caucasian women and they are more likely to spend money on cosmetics, marketing studies indicate.
Until recently, the cosmetic market for minority women had mainly been left to smaller specialty brands from modest-sized companies such as Flori Roberts and the Fashion Fair division of Johnson Products and to some door-to-door sales by such companies as Avon.
Although Revlon and a few other larger cosmetics companies offered darker shades of makeup in their standard lines, many minority women complained that these products appeared chalky and unattractive on darker skin.
With sales of beauty products sluggish in recent years, and with the 1990 census indicating that one of four Americans is now of non-European descent, analysts say that the industry can no longer afford to ignore a fast-growing market segment that spends more than $500 million a year.
"What is happening is both very superficial and very important," Linda Wells, the editor in chief of Allure, a national beauty magazine, said of the new products. "Most blacks and Hispanics have not been able to get what was right for their skin. Many had to rely on a kind of home alchemy to get the product they needed."
Lacking a wide choice of products has placed a special burden on black women, who have often had to pay high prices or drive long distances for the right lipstick, blush and mascara. Or they mixed their makeup at home to come up with cosmetics that matched their skin tones.
"Until now we have pretty much been on our own," said Mikki Garth-Taylor, the beauty and cover editor for Essence, a magazine primarily aimed at black women. "Imagine in the world of fashion if women were only allowed to shop in two small stores."
This summer, Clinique, an up-market Estee Lauder subsidiary, started selling Color Deeps, a new six-shade foundation collection, and Sheer Intensities, a new, darker palette of lipstick, blushers and eye shadows.
Revlon, which tried an unsuccessful line for darker women in the late 1970s, plans to introduce its new Darker Tones of Almay line in the next few weeks.
The new Revlon line will be promoted by an extensive advertising campaign in English and Spanish.
Since March, Maybelline has been selling its Shades of You line of foundations, blushes and lipsticks for dark-skinned women. The company, which has spent $2.5 million in advertising for the line, reports brisk sales.
In April, the Body Shop, a retail cosmetics chain that specializes in natural products, introduced a 21-product addition for non-Caucasian women, called Shade Extensions.