Residents say pharmacies and supermarkets selling affordable make-up routinely fail to stock shades beyond medium skin tones.
UAE women dismay at lack of darker make-up
Darker skinned women say they are being stigmatised by stores that fail to sell make-up suited to their complexion.
Pharmacies and supermarkets selling affordable make-up routinely fail to stock shades beyond medium skin tones, say the women, who are then forced to use products several shades lighter, visit high-end stores, or buy from abroad.
Most brands produce darker shades but they are not available in this country.
Maryam Ibrahim, 25, is one customer frustrated by the policy. “It’s discouraging because the sales reps will continue to try foundation on you that clearly doesn’t match your skin colour,” she said.
"Then when they see all hope is lost, they say, 'sorry, we don't have anything that dark'. That dark? What's that supposed to mean?
"The UAE is a multicultural country and these products should be available."
Ms Ibrahim's preferred foundation is Revlon's PhotoReady Airbrush Mousse, which costs Dh81.
The Sudanese-British master's student uses the darkest caramel shade, but the brand only offers five of its eight colours in the UAE, with the darkest being golden beige.
This left the bride-to-be with two choices - to switch to a costly high-end brand or to stock up on the product every time she went to the UK. She chose the latter.
Similarly, Noura Mohammed always used Maybelline's Dream Matte Mousse in the cocoa dark shade in the UK. But the marketing executive, who has Kenyan roots, could not find any shades darker than medium beige in Dubai, where the product costs Dh71.
The brand's other foundation, Fit Me, is also only available up to the soft honey shade, although internationally there are four darker shades, up to mocha.
"The lady at Carrefour told me they don't have darker shades across all the brands and that I'd be better off going to Mac or Bobbi Brown," she said. "At that point I felt like the market was making the choice for me instead of me having the option."
Both Mac and Bobbi Brown are popular brands for darker skinned women - but the products come with a higher price tag. MAC foundations cost from Dh129 to Dh189, with the most popular Studio Fix foundation at Dh157. Bobbi Brown costs from about Dh200.
Consumer-brand products that are typically sold in pharmacies and supermarkets, including Revlon and Maybelline, cost between Dh50 and Dh100. Higher-end foundations, such as Clinique, Lancome and YSL, average between Dh150 and Dh300.
Sales associates representing consumer brands say they are often confronted by frustrated customers.
"Customers come up to us and start asking how come we can find it in the UK but we can't find it here?" said Romelin Solis, a Maybelline sales representative at Dubai Mall.
"We then try to refer them to other products in our L'Oreal Paris line, which is a little more expensive but still affordable."
Even then, the brand's darkest shades in its True Match and Infallible foundations, which cost Dh95 and Dh99, are cappuccino and golden beige, although darker shades are available internationally.
Part of the challenge lies in where the products are manufactured, said Scheherezade Saadat, senior brand manager for L'Oreal Paris Middle East.
"Our products are produced in Paris, where the lighter shades are more in demand. In the US, on the other hand, they have their own manufacturers," she said. But the brand says it will be expanding its portfolio for both products to include colours from the darker end of the spectrum this September.
Another challenge, brands say, is balancing consumer demand with available shelf space.
"This requires us to choose between just a few shades per foundation range to have on display," said Carina Leb, Max Factor Brand Management, Middle East.
"As a result, we have to ensure the shades we select to have in-store suit the majority of our consumers."
Brands are also influenced by distributors. "They have actually found that in the Middle East, the lighter shades sell the most," Ms Leb said.
For MAC Cosmetics, the most popular shades are those that are neutral cool with a golden undertone, which they say suits the majority of skin tones in the country.
But the brand says it sells a full range of colours to provide products that suit all skin tones and individuals.
A sales associate working for a cosmetics store at Mall of the Emirates said she often came across customers who wanted to lighten their skin tone, particularly among the South Asian community.
"You will rarely find a Sri Lankan woman, for example, who wants a foundation the exact colour of her skin," she said. "Most would want to go a few shades lighter."