Wearing nude lip shades enhances our natural beauty. They are a simple, subtle way to celebrate who we are. Applying nude lipsticks should be effortless, like putting on a second skin. Yet, that’s not the reality for many dark-skinned people, because too often society assumes "nude" means beige. PSA: brown is a nude, for a lot of us. Now, imagine playing darts while blindfolded. That’s how it feels to shade-match without seeing swatches on deep complexions. When we are lucky enough to find that perfect product for dark skin, it’s either consistently understocked or eventually discontinued. Finding the right nude lipstick can feel like an uphill battle for those with deep complexions.
I think I speak for dark-skinned folks everywhere when I say this: We are tired of the ashy-neutrals that only work with a liner. Constantly having to tweak products to work for deep complexions reinforces the idea we do not belong. These challenges made professional makeup artist Brandy Allen, more creative. “I like to really play in color, and it’s because I was educated during a time when there was a lack of certain products,” says Allen.
For that reason, clear lip gloss and MAC's Lip Pencil in Chestnut ($19) will always be one of her favorite nude lip combinations. “It’s so pretty on all shades of Black women," Allen says. However, clear gloss doesn’t have pigment.
So what makes a nude, well, nude?
“Every neutral shade has red, yellow, and blue—the primary colors,” explains Allen. Believe it or not, all of those colors mixed together make brown—not beige. Adding more of one color turns a neutral into a fleshy nude. “Warmer nudes have more red and yellow, cooler tones have more blue.” If a shade looks ashy, it probably has too much white pigment. Contrary to popular belief, the right pinks look stunning on dark skin. “I like pink that has warmth in it, like rose. Rose looks beautiful on everybody.”
Why do dark-skinned people struggle to find nude lip shades that aren’t ashy?
“I think it all lies within the misunderstanding of how a lip color bounces off dark skin,” says Allen. It doesn’t help that beauty brands often misrepresent dark complexions in marketing campaigns. “If there is a model of color wearing your stuff, it needs to be the right product,” Allen explained. “If it's being manipulated in the pictures but the product isn't going to look good in person, then what are we doing? You're just basically making dollars off of us without giving us a fair shot behind the scenes to have a voice in what you're selling.” When inclusivity becomes more than just a trend, it may be easier to find nudes for everybody.
For now, Allen swears by House Creme de la Creme’s Buttercream Lip Gloss, specifically in the shade Biscotti ($22). It’s a warm, buttery hue that works for all dark skin. “Every nude they’ve given me, I absolutely love—and it’s Black-owned.” She regularly uses their products on Issa Rae, Skai Jackson, and Aja Naomi King. “The color payoff is enough to be a lipstick and a gloss in one,” says Allen.
Since everyone deserves a nude lip shade in a formula they love, we asked three beauty pros to recommend lip products guaranteed to flatter deep and dark skin. Keep scrolling for their picks.
Best For Deep Walnut Skin
“I would love to see Nyakim Gatwech rock AJ Crimson’s Sultry and Matte Lipstick in Ex-Factor ($20),” says two-time Emmy award-nominated makeup artist Deja Smith. Ex-Factor is a smooth, highly pigmented chocolate nude that’s perfect for cool and neutral undertones.
Best for Espresso Skin
If you’re looking for a deep mauve, look no further than Natasha Denona's Lipstick in Nati ($25). It looks stunning on Adut Akech’s rich, espresso skin. The lipstick has a creamy finish that’s hydrating, lightweight, and vegan. These pair beautifully with gloss, too.
Best for Cool Deep Dark Skin
Nyma Tang accented her gorgeous, cool-toned complexion with Mented Cosmetics' Semi-Matte Lipstick in #5 ($17), a purple-brown shade with a satin finish. She finished it off with Pat McGrath Labs' Lust Lip Gloss in Faux-Real ($29), a deep beige formula with tons of shine. The picture speaks for itself—Tang looks stunning.
Best for Rich Umber Skin
Ladies with Gabourey Sidibe’s shade should try a 90s-inspired brown nude—it’s a look that never goes out of style. To recreate this lovely lip, try MAC's Lipglass in Low Cut ($19). It’s super pigmented and made to last all day.
Best for Deep Bronze Skin
For a semi-matte, warm chocolate lip that’s as bold and beautiful as Amara La Negra, try IMAN Cosmetics' Lipstick in Sheer Iced Tea ($14). Who doesn’t want a luxury formula at a drugstore price?
Best for Mahogany Skin
“For her day to day glam Ms. Jackson prefers more of the 90s style, dimensional nude lip,” says Smith. To recreate this ombre nude lip, apply the Make Up For Ever's Lipliner in Dimensional Dark Brown ($20), layer with the Maréna Beauté's Lipstick in Toffee ($18), and finish using Beauty Bakerie’s Lip Whip in Salted Caramel Mocha ($17) (as a center highlight).
Best for Sepia Skin
Danielle Brooks looks drop-dead gorgeous in this understated pink lip. Allen, her makeup artist, says MAC's Lipstick in Soar ($19) is key. “It’s the perfect balanced, neutral pink. You can put it all over the lip with a clear gloss. It’s so beautiful,” says Allen. Make no mistake, this matte lip is super comfortable.
Best for Cool Ebony Skin
Fact: it’s impossible to go wrong with Fenty Beauty's Gloss Bomb in Fenty Glow ($20). Smith used the shimmery rose-nude to accentuate Angelica Ross’s cool ebony skin.
Best for Sable Skin
"As far as lips go, I use the same combo every single time,” says Christopher “Draco” Dixon, Flo Milli’s makeup artist. “I use Morphe's Trendsetter Lip Pencil ($5), Coloured Raine’s Lipstick in May She Raine, and Fenty Beauty's Hot Chocolit Gloss Bomb ($20). That’s my go-to lip combo for brown girls.”
Best for Reddish Neutral Skin
Bad news: Keke Palmer’s favorite Buxom Nude Stick shade may have been discontinued. Luckily, Danessa Myricks' Vision Flush Lip in Bread-N-Butter ($20) is the perfect matte dupe for reddish-neutral complexions. Pop on some clear gloss to top it off and you’re ready to go. Plus, it works for cheeks and eyes too.
Best for Rich Gold Skin
A mid-tone brown is all it takes to accentuate Aaron Phillip’s glowing golden skin. Smith used Make Up For Ever's Artist Nude Creme Liquid Lipstick in #6 ($14), but Pat McGrath Labs' Lip Gloss in Flesh 4 ($29) is a quality Black-owned alternative.
Best for Cool Chestnut Skin
If you have cool chestnut skin, opt for a defining liner with muted yellow tones like the MAC's Lip Pencil in Cork ($19). Then you’ll look just as regal as her flyness, Tracey Africa, in this Cleopatra-themed shoot.
Best for Neutral Brown Skin
According to Allen, Skai Jackson is the definition of neutral. Her juicy lips at the 2019 Soul Train Awards were courtesy of House Crème De La Crème's Cha Cha Lip Gloss ($22). It has strawberry extract and a high color payoff.
Best for Warm Brown Skin
EJ Johnson is often seen rocking a bold eye and nude lip combo. As you can see, a soft peach gloss like Nyx's Butter Gloss ($5) looks like literal honey on his warm undertone.