UK high street cosmetic brand Revolution Beauty has launched in Australia at Priceline. The Instagram-fan-favourite offers an extensive shade range at an accessible price point. The success of Revolution Beauty is an excellent example of the way drugstore beauty brands are challenging higher price-point prestige brands. Beauty Editor Ruby Feneley reflects on the narrowing divide between high-end cosmetics and their pharmacy counterparts, the lingering allure of high-end packaging, and why shopping for foundation remains one of the most problematic and political experiences in beauty today.
As the resident “beauty expert” at any office meeting, backyard barbeque, line for the bathroom, or family event I get asked a lot of questions about skincare and makeup. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is how short the list of questions I get asked is. By far, the most common is, “is expensive makeup actually better?” Or for the beauty versed, the age-old debate between pharmacy (or for the American’s amongst us “drugstore”) and “high-end.”
If you’re wondering what qualifies as pharmacy and high end, let’s take a look at the products you buy at Mecca, Sephora and prestige beauty counters like Lancome and Dior vs. the products you buy at Priceline and Woolies or Coles.
Of course, such a question is horrendously simplistic – there are terrible high-end products and indisputable drug store icons.
However, my heart has always been with high-end makeup. This is largely because I am a beauty geek and one of the few people who loves paying for the stuff you don’t put on your face. I live for the marketing, the founders’ stories, and the fetishistic glossy objects that make my room look like the inside of a bower birds nest. But it is also because I am passionate about choice. I have a difficult to match skin tone – I am extremely pale with an olive-neutral base in my skin. Most of the pink and peach based foundations make me look like a salmon (delicious, healthy and not what I am going for) and many of the neutrals make me look like I have jaundice or, peculiarly ashy (Caspar was cute, but I’m not the girl for him!)
Until recently an extensive and well thought out selection of shades was something hard to find at the pharmacy. So I have always said to people who pose that question – yes, there are good drugstore beauty products but choice can be limited. And if you’re looking to find a moisturising, fair-olive, satin finish, medium coverage foundation that is fragrance, oil, and cruelty-free? You may have to do as I did and shell out $120.00 for Chantecaille Future Skin at Mecca.
I have long thought of this as the “under-tone” tax. If you’re not fair-pink or deep-neutral you can expect to pay about 50% more for a good foundation match.
And I got off lightly. Many of my friends with South Asian complexions, i.e., medium-fair through to deep with olive or red bases found finding a match so problematic they boycotted foundation altogether. One friend said to me she avoided beauty counters full top because she couldn’t stand to see the flicker of stress in the sales assistant’s eyes as she approached them. That and the time she wasted waiting while they rifled through draws for a tester that wasn’t out on the display that was just as bad a match, only darker. Her comments stayed with me when I worked at a beauty counter (one that thankfully had a diverse suite of foundations) and made me aware of the extent to which many consumers were made to feel profoundly unwelcome in beauty.
It’s especially problematic to think that consumers with skin tones the beauty industry deems “hard to cater to” have to turn to prestige brands when you consider that income inequality something women of colour are statistically more likely to be impacted by. While Fenty beauty has made beauty a more welcoming space, with prestige brands upping their shade ranges to compete with it’s a blockbuster success, a Fenty foundation will till set you back $52.00 at Sephora. When you consider the minimum hourly wage is $18.93 that is almost 3 hours of shift work.
Compare that to Revolution Beauties new concealer that costs $8.00 and comes in forty-eight shades or their Conceal and Define Foundation that costs $18.00 dollars and comes in forty-five shades. Greater choice and greater accessibility are just one of many ways that drugstore retailers like Priceline are competing with high-end flagships and department store brands.
This is why I am so pleased to see brands like Revolution beauty entering the Australian market and companies like Priceline putting a fair price on beauty for everyone.