The most controversial beauty blunders and how brands redeemed themselves

The most controversial beauty blunders and how brands redeemed themselves

Way off the mark

Text: Emily Heng

If there's one lesson major beauty corporations are (finally) learning, it is that the consumers of today are not a naïve, uninformed or apathetic bunch. Quite the contrary, in fact. Remember the outrage spawned from Laura Lee's racist tweets, Beautyblender's limited foundation shade range, and BECCA Cosmetics' photoshopping scandal? 

The backlash transpired has been momentous — just ask Laura Lee, whose makeup was pulled off Ulta and Morphe shelves, a blowback heightened by a loss of 500,000 YouTube subscribers in less than 30 days.

Even names known for championing diversity aren't immune to missteps. Alas, to err is human, to forgive divine. Below, the biggest beauty brand blunders we've witnessed so far — including those handled with grace and those that didn't quite get there.

Fenty Beauty
It seems that Queen RiRi may have slipped up just a tad with the recent release of a Killawat Highlighter titled 'Geisha Chic'. When tongues clicked, and the brand was called out for fetishizing Japanese culture, they swiftly pulled the product. Personal apologies were issued to concerned fans, along with the assurances that the hue will return once renamed.

You-done-screwed-up scale: 0.5/10. The brand accepted full responsibility, provided an immediate solution, and thanked fans for educating them. Fenty Beauty: a beacon of hope for the beauty industry, once again.


The launch of Tarte's Shape Tape Foundation — a spin-off from its best-selling Shape Tape Contour Concealer — was met with backlash instead of excitement due to the limited 15-shade range; only three being catered to medium and deep skin tones. Uh oh.

You-done-screwed-up scale: 2/10. While Tarte took a year to reverse the boo-boo, the brand acknowledged their mistake and pulled the product off shelves entirely. They simultaneously launched the Tarte Face Tape Foundation in place of its predecessor. This one comes in 50 shades and undertones, which understandably required major man hours to put together. A for effort.


Sunday Riley
The cult skincare brand admitted to posting fake positive reviews after a disgruntled ex-employee spilled the tea on Reddit. Apparently, employees were encouraged to do so, and were even taught to use a VPN to avoid getting emails traced back to them, which just makes this exposé twice as awkward.

You-done-screwed-up scale: 3.5/10. No cover-ups were attempted, thankfully. Sunday Riley and Sephora issued a formal apology, though it should be noted that founder Sunday Riley tried to justify the practice, claiming that competitors have made "negative reviews" to "swing opinion." Sigh. Why can't we all just get along?


Becca Cosmetics
Instead of hiring models of colour, Becca Cosmetics opted to Photoshop white models to appear darker in a promotional campaign for the Skin Love Weightless Blur Foundation. *Thumbs down, sad face*

You-done-screwed-up scale: 6/10. The brand stayed deafeningly silent for months, presumably hoping the outrage would follow suit. When it didn't, Becca Cosmetics issued what many considered a half-apology as they claimed that the image did "feature four models of different ethnicities." In the end, they re-shot the image with real girls from the Becca office to demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity.


Balmain isn't a beauty brand per se, but the look conceptualised by the fashion house for its spring 2019 runway has stirred enough controversy to earn a spot on this list. The brand utilised paint in their recent show, coating models' faces, bodies, and hair in either white or black paint (white paint on white and Asian models; black paint on black models) prompting critics and fans to point out the resemblance of the latter to blackface. 

You-done-screwed-up scale: 6/10. Designer Olivier Rousteing is staying mum, while makeup artist for the show, Val Garland, has posted pictures of the show on her personal Instagram with the hashtags #statue and #statuesque.  


The brand's first-ever makeup product, the Bounce Whip Liquid Longwear Foundation, sounded promising with claims of a 32-shade range and full-coverage formula. Alas, a heavy majority of the shades were some variation of beige; the lacking options for deeper skin tones were alarming to fans. 

You-done-screwed-up scale: 7/10. No apology was issued. Eight new shades were released five months later, which is allegedly part of the brand's plan all along. BeautyBlender cited its search for the right undertones as the reason why there was a delay in the full 40-shade release.