If Nandita Das Went Out To Buy Makeup Products For Dark Skin, What Would She Find?

Posted: February 27, 2019

A couple of years ago, it would have been tough to find makeup products for dark skin. Has the situation changed? Has the cosmetic industry woken up to this need?

I’ve been a makeup junkie for as long as I can remember. The connection began early on as I often peeked into my mother’s bag to run my tiny hands over beautiful shades of lip colour. As a little girl, I was mesmerized with makeup products. What I didn’t know at that age however, was the constant struggle for dark-skinned women to find suitable makeup products. Recently, I stepped out to shop for a friend, and here’s what I realized.

It was a glorious day and I was feeling excited to shop for a pretty dark-skinned friend, though knowing the scene in India, I was a little doubtful about the choices that I would find.

Walking into a brightly lit mall, I was greeted with advertisements splashed all across the walls. These images of fair-skinned ‘perfect’ models pouting with the brightest shades possible felt as if they mocked me. Their eyes glared at me with a message, “Buy this, and you will look perfect” Honestly, it almost works for a couple of seconds, as you look at the perfectly made-up eyes and flawless complexion courtesy photo editing software.

Shaking my head to break this hypnotic gaze, I sauntered into the beauty section looking out for makeup products for dark skin.

A bias from the sales people

The lady there looked at me and laughed, “You are not dusky madam. Why do you want makeup products for dark skin?” I rolled my eyes and told her I was shopping for a friend. A saleslady at a counter for Revlon showed me a whole range of lipsticks that ranged from pencil lipsticks to long staying mattes, glitter, and liquid varieties. She displayed around 10 of the darkest shades on the counter, each differing slightly in the hues.

Upon seeing the deep reds and dark browns, I quizzed her, “What about the pinks? Aren’t there any other options available?”

To this, she retorted, “Madam, these will not suit your dusky-skinned friend.” She seemed almost reluctant to let me peek into her prized collection of tester shades. They had a range of 4-5 shades of foundation which was a mix from light beige to brown. However, I would have liked to view 4-5 shades that were suitable only for the different tones of a dark-skinned woman. That would have offered me a wider choice.

I hopped away to Faces Canada which had the prettiest display.

“I’m looking for makeup products for dark skin,” I smiled my sweetest smile. The saleslady there looked slightly disappointed and pointed at a couple of lipsticks. It was an indication that I could either look at these or walk off. That is all they had. And yes, I am not ‘allowed’ to look at any other shade as it would not suit my friend. That was the final decision. I don’t know who decided that though.

“What about foundation?” I asked. I wanted to gift an assortment of makeup products for dark skin. I was shown two shades that would suit a dark complexion. “Is that all?” I asked. She gently nodded with a sigh, dismissing the chance of any further (boring) questions from my end. I also noticed a concealer stick was available in a mere two shades. That was quite disappointing. Perhaps there were more shades available online, but I did not get to view a range for dark-skinned women at the store.

The local brands – what’s available?

I moved on to the Lakme counter and went to pick up a bright bold colour. The lady in charge who had heard my conversation earlier fussed around me like a mother hen. She seemed quite frantic. “No, no, don’t touch that. Those are only for fair-skinned women,” she said.

Lakme included 4 shades of the ‘9-5’ mousse foundation ranging from Beige Vanilla, Rose Ivory, Rose Honey, and Beige Caramel. Can you guess how many have been targeted for dark-skinned women? The Lakme Absolute Skin Natural mousse had at least 6 shades with barely two appearing suitable for a dark-skinned person.

“Are bright colours a no-no for dusky women?,” I wondered. She rubbed the deepest brown foundation on her skin and showed me, “You buy this for your friend. You see, it will make her look fair. She will love it.” I honestly did not feel it was suitable for a dark-skinned woman. It gave a slightly fair tinge, which actually looks unsuitable for any dark-skinned woman as it appears a shade lighter when applied.

“But I never said I wanted her to appear fair!” I murmured to myself and almost bit my lip before saying that aloud. “What about nude lipsticks?”

She looked horrified, “No, no! These will not suit your friend,” she said. I threw up hands in despair! Why don’t we have a wider range of nude lipsticks for all?

I was mildly surprised to find Studio West by Westside to have launched a new range of colours in glitter. From greens to deep blues and grey, you’d find the most different types of colours in lipsticks that are considered “odd”. These fun shades were good for creative shoots, I felt. “If they can make such odd shades, why are makeup products for dark-skinned women such a problem?” I wondered.

For years, we’ve had cosmetic brands cater to the ‘white/fair mainstream consumer.’ What the beauty industry fails to recognize is that there are a large number of dark-skinned women who are big spenders. Dusky women do not ask for special treatment. Like every woman, they also have their beauty issues and want products tailor-made for their requirement.

The global scene – what’s on the counter?

Globally, style icon and musician Rihanna launched the Fenty Beauty brand with a mission of inclusion of all women.

Fenty Beauty was created for women of all skin colours and types who want to use makeup as a means of self-expression. Riri, a dusky beauty herself, felt women shouldn’t feel the pressure of looking good. It’s about doing something different and having a whole lot of fun. Fenty Beauty may not be the first, but it sure set trends. Sephora followed suit with 40 shades of their soft matte longwear foundation. Globally, we’ve indeed moved on from beige, to porcelain and mocha shades. However, back home, things are yet to look up.

Decades ago, there was indeed a dearth of options in India as I remember playing around with makeup at an early age. While some mainstream brands such as L’Oreal (Approximately 7 foundation shades including True Match Cocoa, Nut Brown, Mahogany, Golden, etc.) and Revlon (good range of lip colours for dark skin) may have started addressing these needs to create makeup products for dark skin, these are yet to be highlighted and get the space it deserves. This may be a conscious decision to include a wider range of products for dark-skinned women, but hardly a handful actually advertise keeping this as a USP.

In recent times, a popular cosmetic brand, Becca, has apologized for ‘adjusting and changing the colour of their dark-skinned model’ in a campaign. Some Indian brands are also known to ‘modify’ the skin colour of dusky Indian film actors to show them in a different light (pun intended). If you are featuring women of different ethnicities, you might as well let them be as they are. If your target audience is dusky women, why are the images being edited to display a different story?

Sales people, don’t discriminate!

Brands also need to ensure their sales staff do not label colours for specific skin tones. It is ultimately the consumer’s choice and any advice should be optional. Give it when asked for it.

There are brands who are trying to cater to all types of women wherein some may want to “throw in some colours” to pretend they are “diverse”. What I noticed is that we do need a fantastic range in blushers, contouring powders, BB and CC creams, compact powders, concealers, and more. Yes, and let women decide what they want to buy, irrespective of their colour.

What is important here is probably to avoid the need to label cosmetics and categorize them for specific types of women. Allow a customer to look through the entire collection without feeling the pressure that they cannot touch a specific shade because it is suitable for a “specific skin type”.

A hope of diversity in products

Of course, there are companies that are now listening to the needs of women of diverse colours and we can’t wait to see this change that addresses these consumers.

With a number of beauty bloggers and fashion influencers bringing more awareness to these issues, we may soon see a larger number of shades for dusky skin than ever. Instead of seeing the one odd commercial with a dusky model, let’s hope to view a more diverse range of display ads and makeup products for dark skin, the next time I step into a mall. If brands are including a range for all skin types, then I would like to view this diversity strongly in their advertising campaigns.

Until then, as Riri emphasizes, have some fun with your makeup, ya girls! As for my friend, I picked a shade of lipstick, glitter eyeshadow, and foundation of my choice without tuning in to biased opinions. Let us learn to appreciate all the colours in a rainbow without trying to redefine it to suit an unrealistic expectation of the society.

Time to make a splash with all the colours! Be creative, have fun, and remember, your smile is indeed the best accessory when combined with strong mental makeup!

Images source: pixabay

Header image: YouTube

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A wordsmith passionate about all the creative things in life! Artist | Beach Lover | Style Hoarder |

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Comments

1 Comment


  1. surabhi ganguly -

    I absolutely love this piece. And I feel there is a bigger message behind this.I accidentally stumbled upon this blog and I am glad I did.I believe make up should be used to highlight the best in you and it should be used for yourself and for your own happiness. I am a big make up junkie and different kinds of make up products fascinate me. It is the best form of creative self expression. I aspire to create a beauty brand that caters to skin type not color and encourages an individual to be themselves. Hopefully via women’s web I can connect with like minded individuals and seek more inspiration.Thanks.

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