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Hey beauty brands: black makeup isn’t one-shade-fits-all

Apps to help women of colour find makeup are great, but we shouldn't need them

By Shondelle Quarshie March 29, 2016

I recently downloaded the new app Cocoa Swatches. Designed for black women, it gives makeup advice and tutorials, playing on the trend of makeup swatches. It’s like the fact book I never had, and I’ve upgraded it to the front page of my phone as this is the first of its kind.

Cocoa Swatches is a revolution, but should we as black women need this? Why can we not get this advice from so-called “beauty” magazines?

It seems women of colour are pushed to the side when it comes to beauty and makeup, and we have to rely on the internet to get anywhere near it. Makeup is big business, with beauty sections in shops expanding out the door, massive concessions in department stores, and make-up artists (MUAs) making it big on YouTube and Instagram. Yet black skintones are still under-represented, receiving minimum attention. Not many MUAs are even trained in providing make up confidently for darker skin tones, taking a one-shade-suits-all approach to darker skin when there are so many shades of brown. Whether black or Asian, it seems very hard to get the right colours when you have darker skin.

Many of the shades included in the Cocoa Swatches app weren’t available in my local beauty stores; didn’t exist as they’d been discontinued; or were either too dark or too light. And this is just foundation. When it comes to finding blusher, lipstick and eyeshadow it becomes a completely impossible task. The colours just seem to be hiding. But where? Many makeup companies boast that they have 24+ shades, so why can I not find a match for my skin in a shop? How can the darkest shade be lighter than my skin, when I’m not even really a dark black girl?

Fortunately for me I don’t mind travelling, ordering online, and risking trial and error, but what about the average girl who has no idea about makeup? Why can she not she open her Look Magazine and get advice, why can she not turn on her TV and get help from Bryony Blake, why can’t Sophie on the benefit counter advise her instead of saying “Sorry, we don’t go that dark?”

Sure, we can go to MAC (in bigger cities) and get the lowdown, but even then some of the artists are clueless about darker skin colours and the shades that do and don’t work. Also, why should we have to pay £30 for foundation when we could pay £6 if Boots just sorted their ass out and created a few more colours?

A lot of the brands say they do darker shades, but when you go into the store, you can’t find them. They say they don’t stock them because they don’t sell, but if they’re never there, how are we supposed to buy? Unless you’ve used the makeup before, you can’t order it online – how are you going know if it’s your shade of brown?

Some of the comments in the Cocoa Swatches reviews prove that I’m not just being Shondelle and going off on a rant about a problem that doesn’t exist. It exists for so many women of colour. Many of them were commenting “thank you” and “finally,” but do we really have to rely on an app to supply this information? There are so many beautiful, iconic black women in the media that it shouldn’t be a rarity to find black beauty advice in magazines or on TV. Our culture has been appropriated so much, yet we can’t even embrace it ourselves.

I understand it’s hard to offer every single skin colour in the very multicultural society that we live in, but how are black women supposed to feel beautiful and comfortable when we can’t shop properly in most beauty sections? It’s the same with hair: only recently have the bigger supermarkets and beauty shops started selling afro products – and in my local, they’re on the tampon aisle rather than with the rest of the hair brands!

It seems like the internet and apps like Cocoa Swatches may be black women’s only saviour when looking for makeup, with many relying on YouTube tutorials and going by gut instinct to order makeup online without seeing it first. For the average woman, it’s a daunting experience when it really shouldn’t be.

And that’s before you even consider things like trying to find cruelty-free makeup in your shade – which lots of women were complaining about in the comments. The blogs in the Cocoa Swatches app mention the difficulty of finding contour kits for WOC, and even in London it’s hard to find shades that reflect us accurately.

We live in a multicultural society. Makeup should reflect that, but many brands are still – in 2016! – not responding to the vast need for better shades of brown. Not just in MAC, not just in London, but everywhere and for every budget. We shouldn’t have to rely on apps and the internet like we’re some kind of niche.


Main image: Natasia Causse via Flickr Creative Commons

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