Istill remember the first ribbon-tied bag that landed on my desk. For a veteran beauty editor, a stream of chic invitation­s and packages containing new products to review is a given, but for an intern, it’s always a thrill. Underneath the scented tissue was a gold compact engraved with my name. Inside the compact was a setting powder in a shade of ballet-slipper pink, described on the accompanyi­ng press release as ‘universal’. My seal of approval had become a stark reminder that my dark skin didn’t fit the beauty world. It wasn’t my first experience of feeling sidelined by the industry. As a teenager, my first foray into base meant improvisin­g with gloopy liquid bronzer while my friends splashed pocket money on starter foundation­s from Bourjois and Collection 2000. Yes, if you knew someone across the pond, you could source something from Naomi Sims or Flori Roberts, the first American department store brands for Black women, and if you tried hard enough to find it, there was always Fashion Fair. But then, in 1994, came MAC. With boundary-breaking shades in sleek packaging and a Harvey Nichols counter teeming with make-up artists, this was not the stuff of my grandmothe­r’s dressing table. Terry Barber, now MAC’S director of makeup artistry, was there at the time. ‘For many Black women, it was the first time they’d been able to buy make-up from a UK department store. After years of frustratio­n, finding the right foundation was suddenly simple – and, at times, emotional,’ he says. MAC Studio Fix lent my skin a velvety matteness straight from the pages of my favourite magazines, igniting a love of make-up that eventually led to a career in beauty journalism. Here, I could experiment freely with the handful of brands offering deeper shades: Kevyn Aucoin, Ruby & Millie, Bobbi Brown, Nars and Iman Cosmetics. With the help of the beauty director who gave me my first permanent position (and later revealed that my hire had raised a few perfectly arched eyebrows), I learned to navigate my way through a world that didn’t always relate to me. Balayage, spray tans, Touche Éclat... while I couldn’t test many of the things we wrote about, I needed to understand them in order to cater for a predominan­tly white audience. I soon adjusted my mindset to match the mainstream; a default setting through which all beauty standards, including my own, were filtered. After years attending launches as a beauty editor, and politely nodding while massaging biscuity shades on to the back of my hand, my position emboldened me to politely question (so as to avoid the stereotype of sounding like an angry Black woman) why brands were continuing to alienate Black customers? The responses ranged from clumsy theories about laboratory limitation­s to lack


of demand. ‘Excuses!’ says Julian Kynaston, founder of make-up brand Illamasqua, and one of the original beauty disrupters. He believes it was accountant­s, not scientists, who were responsibl­e for limited ranges. ‘The big brands bulk-bought ingredient­s, produced limited shade ranges, and then spent millions marketing them. Yes, it was costly for us to formulate 26 very light to very dark shades, but Illamasqua counters became a destinatio­n for the customers who had been marginalis­ed by the industry – and those sales offset the expense.’

Further strides were made by brands such as Becca Cosmetics, which offered a broad shade range and challenged its retailers to stock the ‘less profitable’ ones. Then, the sellout success of Vogue

Italia’s now iconic Black Issue in 2008 (four different covers celebratin­g Black supermodel­s, and pages dedicated to Black issues and influentia­l figures) forced the fashion industry to confront its lack of diversity. A sluggish economy saw the beauty giants pivot into emerging markets in the Middle East and Africa (which, by 2011, had the fastest-growing middle-class population in the world*), and by 2012, Lancôme, Burberry, Estée Lauder, Chanel and YSL had debuted darker foundation­s, with campaigns featuring Lupita Nyong’o, Jourdan Dunn, Joan Smalls and Alyssah Ali.

But while the beauty world tiptoed towards inclusivit­y, my mental health began to deteriorat­e. Constantly moderating myself became draining, and years of working within a predominan­tly white (and cliquey) space left me feeling lonely. The final straw came when I was asked to submit a report to a retailer I was writing for, who wanted to know how they could make a Black model’s dainty afro more palatable for a marketing campaign. It was a stinging micro-aggression, which tuned in to my insecuriti­es about my own appearance; and when a brunette model was booked instead, whatever passion I had left for the industry evaporated. I retreated from magazines and started to consume my own beauty content online, learning more about my dark skin and textured hair from blogs than from my decade spent interviewi­ng mainstream experts. Meanwhile, entreprene­urs such as Charlotte Tilbury and Glossier founder Emily Weiss were building successful brands that spoke directly to the digital community, where inclusivit­y was part of the DNA. This was soon reflected in fully formed foundation ranges, and a similar diversity filtered down to the high street with Sleek, Rimmel London, NYX, L’oréal, and Revolution Beauty finally making darker shades affordable and accessible.

But it took one of the most famous women in the world to transform the beauty landscape. When Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launched in 2017, with 40 shades of foundation spanning alabaster to ebony and the darkest selling out first, a flood of launches ensued as brands rushed to match the new shade standard. Not all were as


successful, it has to be said. ‘Many brands simply add black pigment to existing formulas,’ explains Adeola Gboyega, artistry manager at Pat Mcgrath Labs. ‘Black skin comes in a multitude of hues, which the best foundation ranges reflect through formulas with varying undertones and intensity.’ The broader the range, the more likely you’ll find the perfect match, says Gboyega, who recommends we seek out brands that show some understand­ing of this in the way they group and name their shades. ‘Really look at the tones in your skin. If you see more yellow or gold, you have a warmer undertone. If you see hints of blue or red, then it’s cool. A mixture of both means a neutral undertone.’

As well as getting to grips with my undertones, my attention has lately turned to authentici­ty. During Blackout Tuesday earlier this year (the digital protest against the death of George Floyd), the most sincere messaging came from brands with a historic commitment to inclusivit­y (such as Glossier, which recently launched a grant initiative for Black-owned beauty businesses), and founders whose dark complexion­s have inspired products and shaped businesses where Black women lead the conversati­on. Uoma Beauty, the Selfridges-stocked make-up line founded by former LVMH executive Sharon Chuter, features an impressive 51 shades of foundation and complement­ary powders, concealers and highlighte­rs. Chuter believes such a line could have existed decades ago had boardrooms been more diverse. ‘How can you fix a problem you don’t understand?’ she asks. ‘Shades at either end of the spectrum sell less than others, but we try to do what’s right as opposed to what’s popular.’

As we continue using our spending power to influence brands and retailers to do the right thing, Chuter’s approach may become the norm, building an industry that finally reflects who we all are, as individual­s and as a whole. Wouldn’t that be something to see?

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