A black woman says Ulta worker told her she was 'too dark' for makeup in store

"In a store full of people who didn't look like me I felt sad and upset," the woman wrote on social media. She said later that a manager who is biracial contacted her.
Image: An Ulta beauty and cosmetics store.
An Ulta beauty and cosmetics store.John Greim / LightRocket via Getty Images file

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By Janelle Griffith

A black woman said an employee at an Ulta Beauty store in New Jersey told her that her "skin was too dark for most colors in the store."

The woman, Ebony Kankam London, wrote in Instagram and Facebook posts that the incident happened Saturday at an Ulta store in Holmdel, near the Jersey Shore.

London, who lives in Houston, said she was visiting New Jersey to attend her baby shower and went to Ulta to get her makeup done for the occasion.

"I brought in a picture for reference and was told that my skin tone was too dark for most colors in the store," she said in the posts, which featured side-by-side images of her desired look and how she said her makeup ultimately was done by a makeup artist at the store.

"So this was the best she could do," London wrote.

Afterward, London said, the employee asked her whether she had ever gotten her makeup done professionally. London said the experience made her feel as though she was in 1990, when makeup "was made for one type of skin."

"In a store full of people who didn't look like me I felt sad and upset," London said. "Like my skin tone was a problem."

London said in an interview Thursday that when she told the makeup artist that she was displeased with the results, "she got really upset, and said she had done makeup for 20 years and never had anyone be unhappy."

Ulta said in a statement Thursday that it was in contact with London.

"Guest satisfaction with our services is a top priority," a spokeswoman said. "We never want to hear that a guest has had anything less than a great in-store experience. This is our responsibility and we take it seriously."

Ulta provides "ongoing artistry education, and diversity and inclusion trainings across the organization, which is an important commitment that we recognize requires daily action and accountability," the spokeswoman said. "We remain committed to provide a welcoming, inclusive environment where our guests can feel their best."

London's Facebook post had been shared more than 2,500 times and had drawn almost 300 comments by Thursday morning, the vast majority expressing support.

London provided an update in a separate Facebook post on Monday.

She said she was contacted by a manager at the Holmdel store "who is apparently biracial and witnessed the entire situation." She and a corporate manager were in the store, according to London.

London said that the managers didn't step in because they "didn't want to make a big scene" and that the store manager told her that she felt "comfortable doing black makeup" and offered to do her makeup over. London told NBC News that she declined because she no longer needed her makeup done and was returning to Houston. She said she was also offered a bag of sample lotions as compensation.

"If she felt comfortable doing my skin tone, I'd much rather she have come over," London said.

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The availability of makeup appropriate for black women and of stylists trained in applying it has long been an issue of concern for some in the beauty industry. Sam Fine, who has been in the industry for decades, told The New York Times in 2018 that makeup lines were offering diverse shades but that more needed to be done.

"It's not just about putting a black model next to Gigi Hadid," Fine said. "The stock needs to be there, and not only 40 shades at your Times Square store. The people at the counter need training."

Last summer, some of Ulta's current and former employees accused the company of encouraging racial profiling at its stores. Ulta responded: "These accounts are disappointing and contrary to our training and policies. We stand for equality, inclusivity and acceptance and strive to create a space that is welcoming to all."

London said she believed Ulta should issue an apology and educate its staff on different skin tones and textures.

"What I would like to see happen is for there to be more training on working with women of color so that we don't feel like we don't belong," she said. "Especially when we spend so much money in those stores."