Products include lip, eye, and nail colors, as well as other face and body products. Its target market is younger women, although it is not limited to this range, and is also designed to appeal to customers who wish to purchase cruelty-free makeup. Its products are sold at large department stores in the United States such as Macy's, Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom, and from the official website as well as in several other countries such as Mexico and Germany.
Pink, red, and beige tones dominated the beauty industry palette until the mid-1990s. In 1995, Sandy Lerner, a co-founder of Cisco Systems, and Pat Holmes were at Lerner's mansion outside London when Holmes mixed raspberry and black to form a new color, which they named Urban Decay. Then, they decided to form a cosmetics company. Launched in January 1996, it offered a line of ten lipsticks and 12 nail polishes. Their color palette was inspired by the urban landscape, with names such as Roach, Smog, Rust, Oil Slick, and Acid Rain.
In 2000, Moet-Hennessy Louis Vuitton (a diversified luxury goods group) purchased Urban Decay. In 2002, the Falic Group (owners of the Perry Ellis fragrance lines) purchased Urban Decay. In 2009, Castanea Partners (a private equity firm) acquired Urban Decay. On November 26, 2012, L'Oral announced it would purchase Urban Decay Cosmetics. L'Oral acquired the company in 2013. L'Oral paid an estimated amount of $350 million for Urban Decay.
In Spring 2015, Urban Decay expanded its social media presence with a Tumblr site, The Violet Underground. It features collaborations with young artists such as Baron Von Fancy.
In 2009, Urban Decay received approval by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) awarded the company with the fifth annual Best Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Line award.
However, PETA removed Urban Decay from their list of cruelty-free companies following Urban Decay's announcement on June 6, 2012 that they would begin selling products in China, a country known to conduct animal testing on products before releasing them to the public. A month later, on July 6, 2012, Urban Decay announced that it would not sell its products in China.
As of 2014, Urban Decay does not employ animal testing in the creation of its products. PETA and The Leaping Bunny Program (CCIC) certify the brand as cruelty-free. Urban Decay offers 100% synthetic fiber makeup brushes made from taklon, an alternative to typical brushes constructed from animal hair.