Let’s be real: at some point or another, we’ve all had an off moment with our complexion after a makeup application. Whether it was a concealer flashback in photos or foundation that's oxidized, there’s a makeup moment (or two) I think we'd all would like to forget. For us Black women, it’s been difficult in the past to find the appropriate products that would complement our skin tones. Then, once we finally have the products, applying them with the right technique so they look natural and seamless can be challenging, too. If you want to take your complexion to the next level, there are a few products and techniques you can use to help you get there. Keep reading to learn about the 10 different ways to make sure your complexion is on point.
Love On Your Largest Organ
In my years of working as a makeup artist, I have heard many clients say that they don’t want a foundation that is “cakey.” That’s a pretty reasonable request, but what everyone should know is that cakey-looking foundation can start even before the makeup step in your routine: I've seen products look thick and heavy on clients’ skin because of their skincare routines. If you’re reading this, you may already have a developed understanding of how to take care of your skin. Either way, it bears repeating that the literal foundation for nailing your complexion is consistently showing your skin some love. Whether your skincare routine is two steps or ten, if you have acne or skin as smooth as a dolphin, a skincare routine always helps elevate your makeup application. Cleanse your skin, moisturize, wear SPF, stay hydrated, and get your sleep. Whatever else works for your skin’s needs, be consistent with it. Now, on to the good stuff.
Primer Could Be Your Friend
Primer is a polarizing product—you either love it or hate it. If you like primers or are open to trying one, I promise there is a product out there to suit your wants and needs. Even though I have sensitive, acne-prone skin, I’m all about a glow; I stay away from products that could irritate my skin or break me out and opt for soothing products, like the Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer. The texture is like a lotion, my makeup sticks to it beautifully, and my foundation lasts all day. If you’d rather not use a primer, you can always use a touch of micellar water, like Bioderma’s H2O Sensibio Micellar Water, on a cotton or reusable pad and sweep over shiny or flaky parts of your skin; it’s a quick way to provide a smooth base without adding any product.
Find Your Right Shade
Struggling with finding the right color? Use your neck and the center of your face as your guide. Instead of trying to use one shade to even out your entire complexion, focus on the color that best matches your neck or center of your face. I wear the NARS Sheer Glow Foundation in “Tahoe” often, but The Ordinary, Juvia’s Place, and Pat McGrath Labs have foundations with extensive shade ranges as well. Start with your foundation at the center of your face and blend outwards, and use less product as you move towards your hairline. Women of color can sometimes have darker foreheads, so don’t worry about blending your foundation right into your hairline; you can take care of that with a deeper foundation colour, a darker powder, or your bronzer (more on that later).
If your face is darker than your neck and chest, refer to lighter areas of your face or identify parts of your neck and chest to find a happy medium. If you’d prefer for your foundation to blend even more, apply a thin layer of foundation onto your neck. Dust a darker powder or matte bronzer over the foundation with a big, fluffy brush so that everything looks seamless. Regardless of the coverage and finish you like, these steps will prevent you from your makeup looking ashy or having a grey forehead.
Darkness, Be Gone
Our under-eye darkness can range from mild to severe and typically take on blue or purple undertones. With our skin coming in so many beautiful shades of brown, picking the right shade means factoring all of these elements in. If you have dark circles but want a naturally bright-eyed look, try a product that is one or two shades lighter than your skin with a peach or orange tone to neutralize darkness (this depends on how deep your complexion and under eye darkness is). A product like this will give you the brightness that you want without a gray or chalky pink or yellow color. I love the NARS Radiant Creamy Concealers on myself and clients. This product is a makeup artist favorite because the coverage is buildable and comes in a range of shades that have peach, yellow, and neutral tones.
If you have moderate to severe dark circles or like using correctors, Danessa Myricks’ Vision Cream Cover Perfecting and Shaping Wand in “TP02” is an opaque orange product that completely zaps darkness. To apply, look in the mirror and tilt your head down as if you’re looking at the ground or texting, but keep looking in the mirror; where you have the most darkness is where you want to apply your corrector. Use a tiny amount and blend it in with a synthetic blending brush, your fingers, or your makeup sponge, and then apply your concealer. With both concealer and corrector, be mindful of how much product you’re using; using too much or putting either product right up to your lash line can cause creasing.
Selecting Your Highlight and Contour
Highlight and contour aren’t necessary steps in your makeup routine, but these techniques definitely elevate your look anytime you do it. If you want to give these steps a try, use the lighter part of your neck and chest as a guide when picking your highlight; these areas have the color and tone you can reference to pick your shade. Personally, I either use the FENTY Beauty Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Concealer in shade 255 or the Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer in shade SX 11. For your contour colour, ask yourself: where are you darkest on your shoulders and arms? Use that shade and tone to help you. I normally use FENTY Beauty’s Match Stix Matte Contour Skinstick in the shade Truffle. If you find that you still want a brighter highlight or deeper contour shade, try moving a shade or two up or down from your reference points and remember to look for a product that’s the same tone.
Highlight and Contour Application
When applying your highlight and contour, try to create an oval shape, as the shape you’re creating helps you decide where to place your products. For your eyes, imagine a diagonal line between the outside of your nostrils and the outer corners of your eyes; fill what is inside of that diagonal line with your highlight shade. To contour your cheeks, take your fingers and feel where your cheekbones are on either side of your face and place your contour colour on that area. Apply the contour on your cheeks in as straight a line as possible, because the aim is to create a linear shadow that plays off of your highlight, so that the high points of your face pop out more. If you have a larger forehead, use less highlight and more contour. If the bridge of your nose is wider, you’ll want to highlight the bridge of your nose and apply your contour right beside the highlight itself, not the side of your nose. Softly blend your contour into your eye sockets and the front of your eyebrows with a blending brush as well; this helps make your application look more natural.
Set It and Go
When you’re setting your foundation and concealer, you want to use a light application of powder (one with or without coverage—that’s up to you) and a soft touch to keep your product in place. MAC Cosmetic’s Mineralize Skinfinish Powder is a great option: it’s a thin, buildable powder that blurs over imperfections without looking thick. I recommend using more than one brush to set your makeup: for your face, a bigger, fluffier brush will help disperse product and allow for an even, thin application. For your under eyes, try using a blending brush or any brush you have that can fit comfortably in your under eye area. Pat your powder products onto your skin; try not to sweep. Since your foundation or concealer products are liquid-based, you don’t want brush streaks and brush hairs ruining all of your hard work. A patting method will not only set your makeup, but prevent it from looking patchy or streaky.
When you’re baking, you’re using a heavier amount of translucent or tinted loose powder in specific areas of your face to lock in your concealer or highlight for a brighter, creaseless, long-wearing look. You can use a Beautyblender or another big, fluffy brush to place the powder under your eyes, the bridge of your nose, the outsides of your nose, and anywhere else you’d like to keep your makeup from moving or creasing. To effectively bake, you want to leave the powder on your face for a few minutes. On myself, I reach for my Sacha Buttercup Setting Powder to accentuate the yellow undertone in my skin, but Laura Mercier, Beauty Bakerie, and Fenty Beauty have options you can explore too. Move on to other parts of your makeup routine while you’re baking, and after a few minutes, sweep off any extra powder that is on your face.
Warm Up Your Skin
Blush can be fairly straightforward, but bronzer can be a little more intricate. With bronzer, you want to find a shade that is about two shades darker than your skin with the same tone. One of my personal favorites is MAC Cosmetic’s Refined Golden Bronzer because it has the same warmth the darker parts of my arms have, but Mented Cosmetics and The Lip Bar are other amazing brands with bronzers for deeper complexions. Another tip when finding a bronzer is to look for a powder or cream product that is not classified as one, like the powder foundations from brands like NYX Cosmetics. Just because it’s not technically a bronzer doesn’t mean you can’t use it as one. If you’re unsure as to where you should apply it, work in the shape of the number three: dust your bronzer on your forehead, temples and cheeks, and your jawline. If you didn’t apply your foundation into your hairline like I mentioned before, this is where you can use your bronzer to blend it all together.
Highlight Is Where The Heart Is
Highlighters are some of the best products that can help give our faces dimension and a beautiful sheen. There are so many lovely highlighters on the market and you should pick a color you love, as long as it’s not too ashy. I love to wear the BECCA Cosmetics Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter in Prosecco Pop. To perfect your placement, look in the mirror and tilt your head from side to side. What you’re looking for is where the light hits the high points of your face, like your cheekbones, temples, and parts of your forehead. Following the light and applying your highlighter in that same area will give you a natural, illuminated glow that doesn’t have sharp lines. If you want to have your highlighter stand out even more, layer your products: you can use your liquid, cream, and powder highlighters on top of one another. Blend out the edges of your highlighter with a damp makeup sponge or your fingers, spritz your skin with your favorite setting or hydrating spray, and your complexion is ready to go.
Khera Alexander is a makeup artist and beauty writer. You can follow her on Instagram @beautyrevolver for more daily makeup inspiration and tips.