Friday, June 28, 2013

Ebony and Ivory

There is so much bad make up advice out there, floating around in the world. Sometimes I think about all of the bad advice that I've heard novices and professionals alike give (no offense, but I sometimes wonder what the requirements to work at these make-up counters are). And the make up advice tends to get especially sketchy when dealing with people of dark skin tones. I have some sympathy with the make up industry because black skin is so varied and just so complex that it is always going to be difficult to give advice and provide make-up for every shade of black. To complicate things even more, many black girls are one complexion on their neck, another on their face, and then their chest is a different shade too. Or even more confusing, the outer perimeters of their face is darker, like the forehead and beneath the cheekbones, but the inner portion like nose and cheeks, is a lighter shade. Using two foundations or mixing foundations to find the right shade is a part of life for many of us.

Especially for those of the African diaspora, who are often mostly of African-descent but have such a confusing genetic make up of African, European or Native American/Amerindian influences, finding appropriate make-up becomes near to impossible. For example, my sister is very dark, but some far-removed South Asian ancestor of ours has given her a yellow undertone instead of the standard dark-girl-red-undertone stereotype. Or like for me, who's got freckles even though I am very dark-skinned from some Irish ancestor. I am yet to find a foundation that hides freckles adequately. Finding make up has been an uphill battle for the both of us. Both of us are dark, but we are different shades of dark, yet we ended up using the same powder Clinique's Almost Powder Matte in the shade Sienna for YEARS before we discovered Black|Up, which makes make-up with specifically black women in mind. Looking back now, its funny to me that we ever used the same powder because our skin is nothing alike. Her undertone is yellower than mine which is actually neutral (there is no red undertone in our family, so the make-up industry with its racial stereotypes for black people were wrong again).

Anyway, because there is so much bad advice, I decided to share some tips and make up brands that I've had to find through trial and error on my own.

Some good make-up lines for us dark girls are:

Black|Up -- their two-way cake is a classic, but when I bought it I thought I had a red undertone (cuz I'm black and thats what the make-up industry said all black girls were back then) but not ALL dark girls have red undertones so if you have a neutral undertone like me, don't get it in TW05 like I did! I had a red face like a mask after two hours. It was terrible! But it was all I had so I used it for two years! Luckily I was at university then and only wore make-up occasionally on the week-ends.
Looking back now, TW03, which has golden/yellow undertones would have been better.
Anyway, its not a drugstore brand, so it's kinda pricey.
But I feel like that brand really understands black women's skin. No one beats them for shade, not even Mac. But honestly, apart from shade its just meh! The two way cake can be a bit drying after awhile because its matte. The matte-ness would probably appeal to you more if you have oily skin, as you'd have to blot less through out the day. But I have non-oily, sensitive skin, so maybe I should have purchased another foundation instead, maybe their fluid fountation. I have yet to try their Sublime Powder which I hear is the piƩce de resistance of all their cosmetics. I love bright finishing powders that give you a gold glow, so I can't wait to get my hands on it!

Black Opal -- good, solid drugstore brand. You cannot go wrong with that price. Its not gonna work miracles, but all their products do exactly what they say will. Nothing less, nothing more. The foundation will do what a foundation is supposed to do - give you an even skin tone. It will not illuminate or heal your skin or any of that fancy stuff pricier cosmetics promise to do. Its a great bargain brand if you're going through a rough spot (like me). Though I have found that their stick foundation is kinda waxy and may not be so great if you have very oily skin, or live in the tropics, like me. I'm still on the hunt for the perfect foundation to be honest. But right now I am trying their stick foundation and it's doing the job.

Milani -- I had a bronzing powder by them that I really liked but I haven't tried anything else by them but I am told its another solid for dark girls. I really want to try their lipsticks but all the reviews I see reveal the sheerness of all their lipsticks, and I prefer highly pigmented lipstick. (Ruby Woo has spoiled me forever).

Iman -- I've noticed their powders tend to have a very yellow undertone, so if you have a VERY red undertone, reconsider, though I have a crazy idea that sometimes a yellow under-tone powder can look great on someone with a red undertone if used sparingly (like powder is supposed to be used) because it brightens the skin immediately, especially bronzing powders or illuminating powders which tend to have lovely little gold flecks in them.

Mac -- You know, I don't think Mac quite knows what it has done for women of colour. By expanding their shade range to include darker shades, they opened a whole new world to us. I actually get kind of emotional when I discuss Mac. All I can say is thank you to them.
Anyway, their Studio Fix foundation is so amazing. I have a friend who is NW45 and she looks so amazing in it. It's like her skin; it matches that perfectly. Sad to say but I have never purchased any of their foundations myself. I tried one once and I didn't like it very much. I suspect my search for the perfect foundation will never end. Its so hard to find one not just because of these darned freckles, but also because I have highly reactive, sensitive skin and fine lines around my mouth. Foundation gets into those creases, and stays there. And yes, I've tried face primers. I've tried everything.

Anyway, I've found that girls at the other end of the colour spectrum have the same problem us dark girls have. Very pale girls find the foundations that make up brands make for them have the wrong undertones. I've noticed that lots of dark girls and fair girls actually have yellow or even neutral undertones, and far fewer people have pink or red undertones than you'd think. There are even people out there who swear they have no undertone at all; I read a comment from a pale woman who swore her undertone was white.
If I, a lowly, infrequent blogger, can find all these complaints by just browsing the interwebs, then why can't these major companies find about about all these concerns the very dark ladies and very pale ladies have??

Anyway, I can't pretend to have any great expertise on pale skin but from what I'm hearing from other fair shaded people, some good make-up lines for very pale girls are:

Estee Lauder (so I'm told; all I know is that their blushes are divine)
Laura Mercier (I have yet to find this brand on my island so I haven't tried any of their products) 
Illamasqua (UK brand)
GOSH is supposed to be really good too if you can get it (I believe its based in Denmark)
Lumene -- actually a Finnish company so they should have shades for very Nordic complexions. However, they are more into Skin Care than Make-Up but their BB cream is supposed to be very good.

And here are some random bits of make-up advice I have:

  • Here's a tip I have had to learn the hard way (red face like a mask), dark girls: always, ALWAYS! get a finishing powder with yellow or gold highlights if you are dark-skinned, it will brighten you up immediately. And its a good balancing act if your foundation had a red undertone. It will kind of neutralize it a bit. MAC Mineralize Skinfinish seems to work with this idea. Its gold highlights brightens everything.

  • And for the pale girls: If you find that powders are too yellow-y or orange-y, translucent powder is your best bet because it does not have colour and will just blend in with your skin tone.

  • Another tip for pale ladies: Splurge on a good foundation adjuster. I read that many foundations are always too orange-y or too yellow-y for them. A good alternative to just throwing out the foundation is to buy a pure white foundation adjuster, mix it with your existing too yellow/orange foundation, and keep mixing until you create the shade that is closest to your complexion. This one is supposed to be pretty good:

  • AND to all girls: HIGHLIGHTER IS OUR FRIEND!! It will add dimension and give you that healthy, glowing look.
 I use bronzer as highlighter btw. That's another tip for dark girls. Pale girls can use it for contouring but I advice against it because... (see following rant)

  • Another great tip for both ebony and ivory girls is to forget about contouring. Just forget about it. No, hear me out. On pale girls it just looks muddy and too dark if not done by a professional. Everyone across the board is too heavy-handed with contour, even some professionals. It's supposed to look natural. No one seems to understand that you have to BLEND the stripe out. To be honest, its more hassle than it is worth. On dark girls you can barely even pick it up because a lot of us are naturally darker under the cheekbones. So instead, REVERSE contour! As in highlight in order to create contour. The highlighted area will make the underside of cheek look darker in comparison to it. I don't know if that sentence made sense. Lemme try again. When you brighten the high points of the cheeks, the un-brightened area will naturally seem darker because you left it alone. I hope yall understood that.

Thats all for now folks. The struggle of being dark-skinned in an industry that can't figure your people's skin out and isn't interested in doing so continues. We just have to do everything ourselves, and learn from trial and error. Learning the art of mixing foundations and learning to disregard the wrong information you get at the make-up counters is a big part of life for us. But I press on.

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