As a woman of colour, it’s been obvious for a long time that many brands barely consider me—and women like me—in their board rooms, beauty labs and marketing strategies. With global campaigns often only championing and catering to one skin tone, as well as only presenting one version of “beautiful,” I’ve often felt so alienated. And it isn’t just me—this is a feeling that I know many women of colour can relate to. What I’ve always wanted? To be able to walk into any mainstream store and to pick a product off the shelf with the confidence that it has been created to make me look and feel beautiful too.
Looking back to my younger years, I would face a real struggle trying to find a foundation that suited my complexion, a lipstick that matched my version of “nude” and eye shadows that were both rich in pigment and complementary to my skin tone.
But there has been a shift. Fast forward to today’s beauty climate and it would appear that brands have finally noticed our spending power with the gap in the market finally being addressed. Many brands are now realigning their focus when it comes to honouring diversity, inclusivity and transparency in a move that I hope is more than just a passing a trend.
For women of colour, beauty companies are finally becoming receptive to our needs. But although this is new for some, there have been many beauty brands that have stood by us from the start—genuinely celebrating all women by grounding their vision and guidelines in the importance of inclusivity and diversity.
From industry game-changers like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty to affordable drugstore brands like Black Opal, keep scrolling for the seven brands that I swear by as a woman of colour.
Pronounced “uh-mah,” meaning “beautiful” in Nigerian, Uoma Beauty is a new beauty brand that launched this year. Catering to all women, the brand truly understands, includes and champions every skin tone equally with a real emphasis on equally. Founder Sharon Chuter, a former beauty executive at Benefit Cosmetics, values and believes in empowerment, inclusivity and awakening a beauty rebellion.
Chuter’s vision for the brand is based on the idea of an empowered tribe that can stand up and rewrite the rules of inclusivity and diversity. She says “our race is human, our people are free, our language is colour and all are welcome.” This ethos resonates with me as a black woman, as the brand clearly sees all skin tones as equal and ensures that its message supports its value and products.
Acknowledging that both shade and undertone play a part in defining shade ranges, the Say What!? Foundation stands by the understanding that not one size fits all. Launching with 51 shades and measured against the Fitzpatrick scale—a scientific classification that calculates the skin’s reaction to the sun—Sharon created six custom formulations that span across varying skin categories: White Pearl, Fair Lady, Honey Honey, Bronze Venus, Brown Sugar and Black Pearl.
With shades named after icons like Aretha Franklin, this lipstick is infused with wild mango butter that caters to dry, damaged lips and offers long-lasting hydration. Highly concentrated and highly pigmented, it’s the perfect shade for my everyday nude-lip combination alongside a lip liner and gloss.
This palette offers a complete look with every shade. For a warm, everyday brown, there is Regal and La Sirène, while Poise, QMQ & Eja make great blending colours. Is a smoky eye more your thing? Try Mother mixed with Yemoja and Black, y’all.
Pat McGrath Labs
A woman that really knows and understands makeup, having worked with it so intimately for the last 20 years, is Pat McGrath. Not only has the world-class artist helped to develop luxury cosmetic brands, but she has also been on-hand to develop the textures, shades and complexion products for her own eponymous brand.
Pat McGrath Labs combines her mastery and iconoclastic vision. She sees makeup as a movement and her palettes, lipstick and complexion product reflect this. The reason why Pat McGrath Labs stands out as a brand that celebrates women of colour is that Pat herself understands the need for inclusivity, personally as well as professionally, and this knowledge has been infused within the body of the brand.
This foundation delivers a personalised silky finish that feels creamy upon touch and results in a sheer and satin finish. Developed with science, it’s crafted with a vita-serum complex that boosts hydration by activating the natural production of hyaluronic acid and ceramides.
The perfect neutral brown shade is hard to find in many palettes, but Deep Velvet resolves those issues. A deep plum-brown suede with an ultra-soft matte finish, it creates the perfect base colour before starting any eye look.
Encapsulated in lavish packaging, this shade offers an intensely pigmented rich chocolate hue that saturates the lips whilst providing hydration and protection from free radicals. I carry this with me at all times, as it acts as a great nude for on the go.
One of the first beauty brands that I was introduced to through social media was Maréna Beauté. From the outset, the brand and its vision celebrates women of colour and understands the direct needs of black women when it comes to cosmetics. Founded by Swedish makeup artist Diarry Marena, the brand was exclusively developed to match complexions of women with darker skin tones.
Originally from Senegal, Diarry moved to Sweden as a teenager and from there developed her skills in beauty and cosmetics. Studying colour analysis in New York, Diarry then went on to produce a high-quality collection that was supported by her experience of working with darker-complexioned models. The result has been the curation of foundations, powders and blushes in a vast range of shades.
Blush can often appear too ashy or too loud on darker complexions. However, this is a warm peach shade with a red-orange undertone that is finished off with a golden shimmer. When lightly dusted, this blush will complement any makeup look, as it has just the right blend of pigment and tone.
My favourite lipstick has to be Praline—a chocolate brown with a warm undertone. The rich and creamy texture glides onto lips without needing to apply an army of products before or after application. Infused with hyaluronic acid, the lipstick helps to keep the lips healthy and radiant.
For women of colour especially, powders can be problematic if the undertones are miscalculated. Often times, they end up being too white and leave darker skin tones looking washed out, grey and ashy. The Poudre Caresse range has mastered this and developed six shades specifically for deeper complexions.
MAC Cosmetics was single-handedly one of the first luxury brands that catered to women of colour. Its shade ranges opened up the conversation around diversity right from the very beginning, and today it still masters an understanding and knowledge around all skin tones and cosmetics.
Standing for Makeup Art Cosmetics, the brand was founded by makeup artist and photographer Frank Toscan and salon owner Frank Angelo, who at the time was frustrated by the lack of makeup that photographed well. MAC celebrates diversity and individuality of all ages, races and genders as well as being socially responsible with its campaigns. MAC has created a space in the industry that stands away from cultural norms and beliefs and accepts and celebrates all skin tones. As a black woman, I can definitely appreciate this.
I like to mix this with my foundation and then blend it all over the face. The effect is instant—it immediately creates a hydrating glow under my foundation and offers the natural dew that I crave.
This highlighter is a strong favourite in my collection, as it has a lightweight consistency that blends immensely into the skin. Offering a soft finish without any harsh reflection, it highlights the high points of my face impeccably well.
The one shade that never fails me is Chestnut (seriously—I have four in the cupboard as back up). The warm brown is every black woman’s go-to thanks to the way that it perfectly lines any nude-lip combination and blends well with any product that you follow it with.
To fully appreciate the phenomenon that is Fenty Beauty, it’s important to recognise the way in which the brand brought inclusivity to the table. Granted, there were brands that were offering options to women of colour before, but Rihanna and Fenty Beauty pushed the topic of diversity to the top of every other brand’s agenda. What Fenty Beauty did for women of colour was to create a brand that could be shopped anywhere—from Harvey Nichols to Boots.
Rihanna has been influential in helping us to feel confident and proud to shop for cosmetics, without worrying about how the products would look on our skin. We know that the brand’s vision included all of us. Focusing on a wide range of factors such as formulation and creating those hard-to-match shades, the brand designed a whole range that is utterly brilliant and grounded in making skin look like skin.
When Fenty beauty released its Lip Luminizier, it was a celebration of full lips, explosive shine and shades that would work universally on every skin tone. Whether seen on Rihanna or on model Slick Woods, it was a gratifying moment to see the celebration of full, natural lips being organically visible across the campaign.
Brown Sugar is a glistening bronze with gold flecks running through the formula that allows for it to highlight and enhance brown skin spectacularly. The gel-based body highlighter acts as a veil for the skin and delivers a gloriously dewy and high-shine finish that leaves the skin glistening.
I adore the shade Mocha Mami thanks to its warm, red undertone. The bronzer works perfectly when adding dimension to the face and effortlessly blends into the skin for a natural, soft-matte finish.
Born in France and influenced by his mother Claudette, François Nars developed a love for cosmetics after being an assistant to some of Paris’s top makeup artists. In 1994, Nars launched Nars Cosmeticswith just 12 lipstick shades but has gone on to create some of the most iconic products in the business.
Each product and range showcases glamour, experimentation and inclusivity, and for a luxury brand, Nars has always supported and celebrated women of colour. From its shade range and campaigns to its cult following, it’s clear that this is a brand with women at the forefront—empowering them to feel their most beautiful selves.
A strong repeat purchase in my routine, this concealer truly answers my prayers. Starting with a strong shade range for women of colour, I can conceal with Café, highlight in Amande and contour with Dark Coffee.
I am addicted to this foundation. Its performance never falls short and covers my many foundation moods. If I’m wanting something light, I would apply a small amount, and for full coverage, I would build this up with an illuminator mixed in for added radiance.
As I have a warm, golden undertone, my skin reaches out for bronzes, golds, oranges or reds. The shade Taj Mahal is the perfect blend of all four. When on the skin, the warmth shines through and leaves a soft-bronzed finish, and most importantly, it’s packed with pigment to stand out on darker complexions.
At every angle, this drugstore cosmetics brand celebrates women of colour. It’s all about acceptance and pride when it comes to your skin, and from its Instagram feed to its ambassadors, Black Opal is focused on making women of colour feel and look beautiful. The brand was started stateside in 1994 by Carol Mouyiaris and Dr Cheryl Burgess (a certified dermatologist) and was curated to address the concerns for African American women.
The name for Black Opal comes from the gemstone. Opal can take on many variations of colours and yet black opal remains one of the rarest and most valuable gems. Relating to beauty, black opal is like our skin tone—varied, unique and valuable, and because of that, it needs specific products in order to address its specialised needs. The brand, therefore, believes you need to treat women of colour’s complexion and skin tone the way you would treat a rare and expensive gem.
I rarely ever try stick foundations because the ones I have tried are not creamy enough for my needs. However, this stick foundation made me re-question everything I thought I knew. It’s definitely full coverage, and because of this, I would only use it when I need my makeup to stay in place all night, but the flawless finish is what makes the foundation stick one of its best-sellers.
I have an extremely oily T-zone—so much so that my foundation and concealer will slip and slide without a primer. This is formulated to maintain a matte finish and is the perfect base for any complexion product I apply afterwards.
The Perfecting Concealer is the ideal product to touch-up on the go without much need for a mirror. With a creamy consistency, it glides on effortlessly and doesn’t pull on the skin. Plus, this offers the same level of coverage as a foundation.
Fashion Journalist Graduate with published work and musings around social commentary, fashion and beauty.