With the exception of a tried-and-true lip color, few women in my family wear makeup, which makes a trip to the beauty counter feel like walking into a dark room with a blindfold on.
My cosmetic success has not without considerable effort on my part. Few major magazines lend their pages to dark-skinned beauty needs and it’s a cold world trying to find pictures of black actresses to emulate on Google Images. The beauty industry seems to forget that black women come in a variety of hues with both warm and cool undertones. One false move in the direction of the wrong foundation, concealer, or BB cream (if you can find it) and you’ll be looking casket sharp in your Instagram selfies.
Trust me. I’ve been there.
As a consumer, it’s important to me support companies who recognize that people like me exist, so I’m very conscious of where I spend my dollars. There are a few brands that get it and get it right. Below I’ve assembled a list of tried-and-true favorites For Brown-Skinned Girls Who Have Considered Wearing Makeup When the Beauty Industry Told Them They Weren’t Enough.
Let’s talk trends first. As with anything labeled “nude” the Nude Lip can be hard to nail down with darker hues, particularly since many of us have brown lips (or, in my case, a brown top lip and a pink bottom lip. This requires a little extra work when trying to find a lipstick, since the color can read differently on each. If your lips are two-toned, you can even them out with a light application of concealer on your lips before adding your lip color. (I don’t, though. It’s too much work.)
Anyway, trying to get the nude lip down pat was a challenge, but I have a few suggestions to get you started:
Goes on smooth, smells like marshmallows. It’s a little mauve in the undertone, which can be evened out with a lip pencil, should you so choose.
This color is grown and great for evenings. It gives a bit of Bardot, to make it a little more classic and soften the contrast to my skintone. With this color, don’t find that I need to put much on; too much and I look like I have donut glaze on my face.
Honalulu Honey is a nude of celebrity stylist June Ambrose. It’s a little lighter and peachier than the Blonde Venus.
This tiny thing is my favorite thing of all. It’s a multi-purpose lip balm that goes on pretty sheer. The bronze color gives a little bit of life to my lips, which is great when you’re trying to spicy up the ordinary. Sometimes I wear this on top of nude lip color, too.
The classic red lip will never die, so I compiled a list of my favorites:
Rimmel London’s Lasting Finish By Kate Moss in #01, Drugstores
A friend and I were going out for drinks, and as we headed out, I put this lip color on as a finishing touch. Her reaction? “Wow.” This color has high gloss, high pigment, and gets high praise. Available at drugstores for less than $10, it practically pays for itself.
Rihanna remixed the cult classic and MAC sold out in three hours. It comes back in June, so let’s discuss in case you want to nab a tube. Though the differences between the two shades are subtle, the cooler matte RiRi Woo pops on brown ladies with yellow undertones, as it’s slightly darker than the original with a bluer base.
COVERGIRL LipPerfection™ Lipcolor, in Hot 305, Drugstores
I think everybody knows about this color because it’s never on the shelf when I go to buy it! Go no further than Janelle Monae’s Cover Girl promo photos than to see how beautifully this color compliments brown skin. Created by Procter & Gamble's Global Creative Design Director and makeup artist extraordinaire, Pat McGrath, it’s no wonder it looks so damned, well…hot.
Listen. If you have no other takeaways from this post, remember that Bobbi Brown Cosmetics acknowledges that brown women can be both dark in complexion and yellow in undertone. For that, I personally will be forever indebted to this woman.
I don’t like a face full of makeup and have to deal with hyperpigmentation (we’ll get to that) when my cycle throws my skin out of wack. A quick dot of this on the dark marks and a nice finger blend makes all the difference. (As a reference, I’m color #7, “Almond,” which exists throughout the Bobbi Brown Product line.)
I bought the oil-free version a few years ago and it was my first real brown girl beauty buy. A little goes a long way and it’s great for folks who like a clean, but polished face. It’s a lightweight moisturizer that won’t change its color on your face as it oxidizes, which is important, you know, if you want your face and your neck to be the same color. It also works great in lieu of foundation (I don’t touch the stuff) when you are doing a full face of makeup. I wear the darkest color in the colletion, “Mocha.”
Maybelline Dream Fresh BB Cream, Drugstores
OK, so it’s not the expensive department store stuff (excitedly, I tried the Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream SPF 35 and got my feelings hurt when I stepped into the daylight), but it works. Brown girls have been scouring the earth looking for a little something extra to treat them right, and this is it. It’s a nice lightweight alternative to the tinted moisturizer as an 8-in-1 product. It’s also oil-free and has SPF 30 sun protection, which we need, regardless of how much melanin we’re packin’. My color, “Deep,” is the darkest shade available. Folks are really enthused about this product so let’s hope Maybelline decides to expand the color palate a little bit more.
When the salesperson at Sephora handed me the tiny sample tube of Clinique’s Pore Refining Solutions Instant Perfector in “Invisible Deep” (the darkest shade) I noticed that the product was a shade lighter than I am. Seeing the skepticism in my face, she urged me to try it, and when I did I instantly fell in love.
If shine control is your cross to bear, BUY THIS. Goes on with an invisible, undetectable finish under makeup, over makeup (or both, if you’re neurotic like me) and curbs shine instantly -– and for the rest of the night. Take pictures knowing that when folks say “shine bright like a diamond,” they aren’t talking about your nose.
Hyperpigmentation is the increase in melanin production on the skin, and folks with high levels of melanin are more prone to its wrath. I have sensitive skin so dark spots are the bane of my existence. No matter how quickly they clear, every breakout, every bump, every bruise leaves something for me to remember it by, so I am constantly trying to keep my skin calm to avoid them altogether. That doesn’t always work though, so here are a few favorites to fade them:
The high Vitamin C content brightens skin while citric acid speeds up the exfoliation process. Soften its acidity by mixing with more soothing products. Lots of folks use lemon juice on their knees and elbows, too!
I got one of my of my biggest beauty secrets from my dad. Cocoa butter is a staple in cold drying winter temps, but it’s every much the saving grace in summer heat, too. It’s great as a moisturizer for lips and keeping legs looking smooth and soft, but also works great as a way to slowly fade dark spots.
These products are all great especially for those who maintain a very minimal arsenal of makeup and I’d love to see additional tried-and-true favorites in the comments below. I can’t promise that the beauty industry will become more inclusive, but I am happy to share the name of any company that already is.