What Moving to London Taught Me About Makeup and Diversity

When anyone goes on vacation to faraway cities like Paris, Madrid, or Seoul, they might want to go to a restaurant or a play, but for me? All I want is to go to the nearest makeup counter. Because I, Courtney Gilfillian, am a certified beauty junkie. So when I moved to London for grad school in 2015, I was super excited to go to the British pharmacies and buy all the exotic makeup. As a student, I didn’t have the same budget as I did when I was employed full-time, but the UK drugstores seemed like they’d offer the perfect solution. That is, until I discovered how difficult it was to find makeup shades that suited me as a woman of color.

As many epic beauty struggles do, it all started with concealer. I have some discoloration on my face, and during my first week in London, I was on the hunt for a thick concealer that would fit my skin tone. I have medium to deep skin with yellow undertones, and I usually wear foundation shades that are right in the middle, which are fairly easy to find in the United States, even at the drugstore. There are definitely many women of color darker than I am. But to my dismay, my local Superdrug and Boots didn’t have concealers dark enough even for my skin.

I scoured Rimmel, Sleek, Essence, Lottie, and the bigger brands like Maybelline and L’Oréal. For them, “Beige,” the darkest color they had on offer, could be a highlighter for me. What was even more disheartening was when I discovered that some of my favorite, slightly more niche drugstore brands like Nyx were sold at exclusively at Selfridges, an expensive department store. (Oh, and did I mention there’s no Sephora in London?) I was left confused: Why were black women not represented in the makeup aisles of one of the most international cities in the world?