On Beauty and Truth

by Emily R | 33 Comments

Hi Mavens,

The subject of photoshopping skin tones on our nail polish swatches has a lot of you talking lately, and we want to be an active part of that conversation. It’s a juicy topic.

First, we’re lucky to have such a cool, in-it-with-us fan base. One that pays close attention to what we’re doing, and tells us when we’re heading in a right or wrong direction. It’s hard to express how appreciative we are! You’re seriously the best.

Yes we are photoshopping skin tones to show each color’s range of potential. We’d never think to sneak that decision by you, which is why we made it as obvious as possible by using the exact same photo, adjusting only the skin color.

So, what’s up with photoshopping skin?

  • You want to see colors on skin tones. So do we. Like the world-at-large, Julep HQ is not just one color.
  • But time is of the essence. Each month we roll out up to 13 new colors. 13 colors times three (or more) skin tones takes way more days than we currently have in the photo studio and the editing suite.  
  • We don’t hire models for swatches. We do it ourselves! Pulling a handful (zing!) of coworkers out of their jobs on a regular basis wasn’t sustainable for any of us, so we’re trying the new approach of only pulling one person away from her desk all day. The decision of “who?” is not guided by skin tone, but by bandwidth. As a result, sometimes we photoshop darker skin lighter or lighter skin darker.
  • Photoshop is amazing. We chose some real-life skin tones we wanted to see, and color-matched them perfectly. A group of us gathered around a computer screen to compare the altered skin tones to real ones. The verdict? Photoshop is crazy impressive.
  • It’s standard practice across the beauty biz. We aren’t breaking new ground with our altered skin tones. The only renegade thing we’re doing is being so open about it.

We’re genuinely sorry to learn that some are upset by our decision. We love that you’re voicing your concerns, and we hope this letter of transparency will help put some light on the subject.

Finally, please let us assure you (because it can’t be said enough): We will never subscribe to the unhealthy & unrealistic photoshopping that idealizes unattainable perfection and puts enormous pressure on women who simply want to feel beautiful, every day.

Here’s to all the world’s colors,


  • Cassandra Turcotte

    I thoroughly enjoy this article. The world is so anti-photoshop, but really? Altering skin tone to showcase a nail polish? I don’t think that’s going too far, actually, just the opposite, I think that it’s a fantastic use of the program. I also don’t think it’s such a bad thing to photoshop out breakouts, acne, under eye circles – all things that are cosmetic and can be adjusted with makeup. – so why not photoshop?
    Weight/body shape is the only thing I’m really against photoshopping. Mainly because it’s something people struggle with SO much and it sets such a high standard.

    • I think the real problem here is that we still don’t know what the polish would look like on different skin tones. Sure, photoshopping skin to look darker around a polish should show us, but the nail underneath still belongs to someone with lighter skin tone, and therefore the color will be brighter.

      • Mary McCarthy

        But Kelli, what about the fact that colors are also altered by the brightness and color settings on the device you are viewing them on? There’s not really anything Julep can do about that. My point is that we’re never going to get a perfect idea of what the color looks like until we put it on. Isn’t the fact that Julep is doing *anything* to make it easier at least a little awesome? Also, they did mention in their article that sometimes they start with darker skin tones, so the alteration of color could go either way.

        • Um, no. Not trying to cut corners and actually finding people with different skin tones to swatch would be awesome.

          • Elli(e)

            I don’t think you understand how to run a business.

          • Haha. I’m not going to argue with a kid about how to run a business. Have a good day.

          • Elli(e)

            It’s cute that you assume I’m a kid.

          • Kate

            Hmmm, so lets say they want to show at least 3 different skin tones, for each of their 13 new nail polish colors, which we’ll evaluate for 12 months. According to CNN a hand model can make up to $1,200 per day and according to Julep’s post they have to pull one person away from their desk for a whole day for the shots. So that means to pay 3 different hand models for all 13 colors for one month could cost up to $3,600 dollars. Now they have to spend additional time editing all of those extra shots, so that’s more expense in the studio. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic mean pay for a graphic designer is $23.85. Lets say they spend an extra 40 hour week on editing. That’s $954 more dollars, plus lost time to work on other advertising projects. So now take $4554 multiplied by the whole year is $54,648. So rounding up to account for additional overhead costs that’s an extra $55,000 that they do not have in their budget. If they have to spend that money in addition to manufacturing a product, then where do you think that necessary money is going to come from? It means that they would have to increase the price on nail polish. Ironically, people often don’t like price increases and they would choose not to purchase the product resulting in lost revenue for Julep. By losing revenue they would have to either increase price again or discontinue the product, either way it’s a big spiral downhill. All for trying to keep a very small percentage of anti-photoshop crowd happy!!! This company deserves a standing ovation for finding creative solutions to showcase diversity and keep product costs down for the buyer!

          • As lovely as your math is, I have to tell you that there is actually an entire niche of bloggers and nail artists who post photos of nail polish on their blogs (much like me, actually!) and do all that heavy work for free. And let me tell you, there are a ton of girls with varying skin tones who would be happy to swatch for Julep. It seems like a TON of major companies like OPI and Essie have figured out this incredible little secret. They send their polishes out – at little cost, mind you, despite the fact that these polishes retail for $14 they actually cost less than a dollar to produce! – and get absolutely free advertising to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of viewers and followers. And I myself am a graphic designer, along with a bunch of other swatchers I know, so no additional work is necessary on their part.

            That being said, I suppose it would be difficult for Julep to find swatchers, since they tend to show little respect for people who are already subscribed, and tend to focus most of their attention on gaining new subscribers. A lot of bloggers have seen the brunt of this and had no desire to post julep photos on their blogs.

          • At the risk of sounding petty, I would also like to point out that Julep clearly does not use hand models. And if they truly were “anti photoshop” there wouldn’t be so much editing. So your costs are way off.

      • Susan Forest-Rode

        As I mentioned above I think that when they darken or lighten the skin tone they also darken or lighten the polish. I could be wrong but that is how it looks to me. And I agree with you that it really isn’t giving an accurate idea of how it will look. It’s better than nothing but far from ideal.

        • KristenT

          I don’t think that you have ever used Photoshop before… You can change the pigments of exact areas, without having to change the entire image. Look at any white polish on the fingers in their swatches and try to tell me you can see the difference with each skin tone… They can target the skin in the image and change that, not the whole thing. Gosh! SMH…

      • minuialear

        I’m one of those darker-skinned people, and I haven’t seen the color to be different on my nails than on anyone else’s. Mostly because, just like with my palms, the skin color under my nails isn’t actually different than that of any other person’s skin color under their nails.

        I don’t understand the outrage.

  • I’ve noticed that you also photoshop your makeup looks, which is unfortunate because it’s hard to tell what the products are actually like. There’s a blatant example of that in the kohl eyeliner swatches from a few months ago.

    • Riley Huggins

      Your pesky comments make it seem like it would suit you much better to just purchase nail polish and makeup elsewhere. Your Essie nail polish profile picture justifies my statement & also makes it seem like you’re getting paid for these annoying comments.. Funny how business works!

      • Excuse me, Riley, I didn’t realize that being a fan of one nail polish brand meant that I couldn’t ever use any other brands… Yes, that is a photo of me using Essie nail polish – didn’t realize that was a crime. I will be unsubscribing from Julep anyway, I just wanted to I’ve my input. All of you Julep fans are quick to jump on the trigger- seems like you LOVE drama and you just can’t wait to attack anyone who has a problem with the brand. I would accuse you of being paid to be a b*tch to me, but I know that Julep would never spend money on someone who has already subscribed (which is the whole reason I commented.)

        Anyway, I know you’re really loving this drama, and I’m sure you can’t wait to complain to your girlfriends about it, but I’m going to end it.

  • K.

    I am really glad to see that Julep is being open about this, I never had an issue with the photoshopping, but I’m glad they took time to address the concerns of others.

  • You guys are great… and really patient when it comes to tolerating a lot of the nasty/rude comments you get for (sometimes) the silliest reasons.

    • Susan Forest-Rode

      But it’s powered by girlfriends and if you can’t be honest with you BFF who can you be honest with?

  • It would be great if you would do sliding windows over the photos, so that we could see the original and the final versions of the photo. That would be real truth in presentation!

  • SM

    As someone with tan skin, I cannot express enough how appreciative I am to Julep for their commitment to showcasing
    different skin tones when launching new colors, regardless of how
    they do it. It’s quite disheartening to purchase something you think you’ll love, only to find out it looks strange on your skin tone and far better on someone with lighter skin.

  • Rebecca Comstock

    I appreciate you showing different skin tones, and I appreciate your openness about this issue. I am wondering if you could clarify whether you ever photoshop the polish, including, making adjustments to it in post-production (after the photos are taken). I know it’s really difficult to take true-to-life swatch photos, especially since the colors always look different under different lighting. Thank you!

    • Holly

      Actually getting the color right is the easy part. Getting it to look the same on all screens…never gonna happen.

      Also wondering if Polish is ever applied digitally. Iona looks much more blue/less purple than the swatches on the website (and I am a photographer, so my screen is calibrated with a spectrophotometer.)

  • Lemon

    I feel like Julep gets ratted on a lot, when they are really trying their best. Sure, they’re not perfect, but just because your child is screaming and you had a rough day at work, you shouldn’t be taking out your anger on a small company that depends so much on customer base and reviews. Photoshopping nails to show how it would look on those of us who AREN’T pale white or dark brown is awesome for us who run the gamut, and it is in no way conveying an “un-achievable beauty standard”. Sorry for ranting :p

  • Amber

    Photo shopping skin tones isn’t bad or weird. I appreciate that Julep chose to share examples of multiple ethnic backgrounds. Im caucasion but my daughter is bi-racial. Colors look differently on us. Im glad I don’t have to call her over to match up tones! We are both major Julep fans. She’s 9 but I’m teaching her quality at a young age 🙂

  • Susan Forest-Rode

    I have no right to complain because I’m pretty fair skinned but it just seems that when you darken the skin tone digitally you also darken the polish. Because of that people aren’t really getting a good idea of what it actually looks like. What I don’t understand is why the bloggers seem to do such phenomenal jobs of showcasing the polish under different types of light but the company doesn’t think that it’s important enough to do that. That being said I am glad that at least you show it on a hand because it is much better to be able to see the polish on someone’s nail rather than just a digital swatch of the color. I realize that you will never be able to get the color on the monitor to show exactly how it will look once applied (well, maybe someday). For that reason I often hesitate to buy certain colors because I’m just not sure if they’ll look good on me. For example, coral tones, while pretty in the swatch, do not always look good with my skin tone. That is why if I am hesitant I usually wait for the reviews of other customers and the blogger sites before I buy. What would be cool is if you could add a feature on the review section that allows people to select their skin tone if they want, since not everyone who reviews mentions that fact. A person may rave about how great the color is but if I don’t know what skin tone she has I cannot decide if it is right for me. I realize there is a huge variety of skin tones to contend with, more than just light, medium, dark. So you would have to come up with a well-thought out selection. (ie. fair with blue undertones, medium with yellow undertones, olive, cool, warm, etc.) Thanks.

  • Susan Forest-Rode

    Okay here is one more crazy idea I have which you might consider (if you already haven’t). Why not give several different women in your work place a bottle of polish from the new collection (not randomly, but selected colors for different skin tones) and have each person do their own manicure the night before the photo shoot. I am assuming that most of the employees (female) wear nail polish, or at least a majority of them do. If you don’t have enough people some could do one color on each hand. Then call them in one by one and snap, snap, snap their manis. I worked at schools most of my life and on picture day it goes by so quickly – like 2 – 3 minutes for each picture. It’s just a thought.

    • Or an even more novel idea – send the products out to bloggers to review and swatch. And work with bloggers of different ethnicities. I mean that’s what every other nail polish company does. I would not trust a company that admits to extensively photoshopping swatches of their product. Swatches are supposed to provide an accurate example of what the polish looks like. Also, Julep is generally known for not working with bloggers and using only their own swatches to promote their products, add to that the extensive editing they do on those swatch photos, really does not instill trust for me as a potential customer.

  • becky pb

    I think it is very responsible for Julep to (1) tell us that they are photoshopping the skin tones and (2) to write a blog article explaining their decision and the reasons for making that decision. This is the only business I know of that actually shows the polish on the fingers with the skin tone and I think that is a big plus! A couple of comments on the comments below: (1) Julep has to have a person’s fingers to start with before photoshopping the skin tone and adding the polish to the nail. I would think that the fingers they started with would be one set in a light color and a separate set in a darker color and, they could easily use layers in photoshop to darken the nail pre-polish to correlate with the skin tone. I use photoshop with my fiber artwork and the program gives one almost endless options to create accuracy. (2) Again, the polish color would probably be added as a different layer onto the nail (or by another option in photoshop) so the accuracy of the color when it is published on the website would be the actual color of the polish. Pantone’s color combinations (pantone is part of the photoshop program) gives the ability for a color to be spot on when you are using it in photoshop. Although, I would think either a photograph or a scan of the polish color “swatch” on a neutral background is the original color that’s input to the program to be applied on the nails. (3) Like Mary wrote, any color you are viewing whether it is a forest of trees or nail colors will only be as accurate as the way color is shown on the device on which you are viewing the picture.

    I’m not trying to be picky with anyone but I think photoshopping colors isn’t something a lot of people are familiar with so I just wanted to offer this little bit of info.

  • Clarissa

    Thank you for saying something. It really was causing a lot of discussion and it’s very noticeable, but I appreciate you explaining why. It makes sense now. Thank you again for the transparency in telling us exactly what’s up.

  • Terry Mcpeters

    Koodoes to the Best New Company, may you all be rich and sucessful forever

  • Robin Martz

    Gracious, people! It’s NAIL POLISH! I cannot believe people are ARGUING about this! And getting very rude to one another. I don’t see the problem. I immediately noticed it was photo shopped but I thought it was a great idea. One can truly see how a nail color would look on all women. I feel that it was a smart move to make and a considerate thing to do! WHY do people insist on fighting about the most mundane of things?? I even noticed people fighting on a post about Robin Williams! WHAT is wrong with people??? Are we just all carrying around a lot of anger? Would you say those things if that person were standing right in front of you? WHY is photoshopping a reason to rip someones head off? Or to call them a B—h?? Really that”s awful. Julep has made it very clear that they support WOMEN’S ISSUES and the women who BUY their products. I have had the experience of Julep always making any problem I have had right. We all have opinions and we should all respect everyone’s’ right to those opinions without name calling. It is OK to say that something is your opinion without calling someone a female dog.