I can't say it enough: Embracing the beautifully diverse spectrum of dark skin tones is so incredibly important. Every impeccable shade of brown deserves a spot in every single beauty brand's lineup, and we're fortunate to see this finally starting to happen. Women of color know all too well how tough it is to find products like foundation and lipsticks that perfectly match our complexions. Thankfully there are hidden gems on the market made with us in mind, and there are also knowledgeable makeup artists who educate the masses on makeup tips for dark skin tones.
To tap into their wisdom, we reached out to two celebrity makeup artists who know best: AJ Crimson of AJ Crimson Beauty, who has worked with names like Brandy and Letoya Luckett; and Ashunta Sheriff of Ashunta Sheriff Beauty, aka the woman with the gifted hands behind every single one of the striking Empire makeup looks we see on Cookie Lyons (played by Taraji P. Henson). The pair were game to share their go-to makeup techniques and holy-grail products they keep stocked in their kits for women of color, as well as their tips for finding the perfect shade match.
Brown-skinned beauties, you're going to want to take notes on these.
Don't Assume Your Complexion Is All the Same Shade
"The biggest mistake women make is that they perceive that they're one color all over, and I think once they dispel that myth, they'll have a better and easier time in matching the foundation," says Crimson. "The way that I like to match foundation is I start with the center of the face—like the lightest point. When you do that, you're basically highlighting and concealing all at once, and that will also show you your natural contour points. The face will always give you its blueprint; you just have to follow it.
"When you match the foundation to the center of the face, working from the inside out, you're basically starting to highlight and conceal all in one step, and you'll use less product by doing this. So by starting at the center of your face with the lightest foundation shade you can find will represent your undertone, and by putting that all over the center of the face, you're creating your first flawless layer. Then you'll see your contour points: around the hairline, parameter, jawline, and cheekbones.
That's where you'll go with something a little bit warmer that will represent a shadow on your face.
"And then there's this third exposed area between your hairline, the center between your brows, on the forehead, and around the jawline that will represent your actual complexion color, and you take that color and literally dust it and buff it over everything else. This step puts the contour behind the complexion, which is really great because the contour is a shadow, so why would you ever contour on top of the skin, right? This method helps your makeup blend together."
As for products, Crimson recommends his AJ Crimson Beauty Dual Skin Foundation ($45) for women with deeper skin tones. "It's really such a foolproof product that you can't go wrong," says Crimson. "All of the colors work seamlessly together. I've swatched all 18 of the colors on my arm and mixed them all in, and they just blended right into my skin. It's like magic—it really is."
Test Shades on Your Jawline
"When looking for a shade, the swatch test on the jawline is tried and true," explains Sheriff. "You will find the color that melts into your skin best is the shade that works. I love Black Radiance's Perfect Blend Foundation Stick ($10) for women of color up to about a cinnamon skin tone, and for darker shades, I'm loving Fenty Beauty Pro Filter Foundation ($35) for those rich dark mahogany shades. I find that there's not one line but rather two or three that master the broad spectrum of women of color."
Look for Warmer Lipstick Shades, and Play With Color
"I think girls with deeper skin tones can pretty much wear anything," confirms Crimson. "Most colors look absolutely fabulous against their skin tone. So I wouldn't really shy away from it. Where you win with brighter colors is making sure that the warmth is present. If you were to take a pink shade, look for a blue base—not so much on the paler, cooler side of things.
"Always go for the warmer, deeper side of the color spectrum. Layering also works really well. I love taking a darker lipstick and putting that as the base and filling the entire lip in with something brighter on top. You'll achieve this gradation of color not only from the foundation you're wearing, but also repeated on your lips.
"One of my favorite shades from the collection is LaDee Lyke ($20) —it's this really beautiful warm pink that works so well on deeper skin tones. And then you can take something like that and pair it with a color like Subculture ($20), which is a pale, nude-y pink. It creates an ombré effect with a pop of color that has a natural appeal to it. I also love this liquid lipstick in the shade Boy Bye ($22). Taking Boy Bye with something like Love Jones ($22), which is a cooler, paler lip, looks really great."
Sheriff says there are a few lip shades that look good on darker skin colors across the spectrum. "There are universal shades like MAC's Ruby Woo ($19) or The Lip Bar's Purple Rain ($13) universal lipsticks on women of color regardless of their complexion," she notes.
Try Layering Your Highlighter
"I like Danessa Myricks Enlight Illuminators ($20)—the colors really work on different skin tones and also look amazing when you layer them in threes," explains Crimson. "I always kind of work in threes on dark skin tones because it just works best. You want three-dimensional skin because you're a three-dimensional person. So we want our makeup to reflect that; otherwise, we'd just look flat."
"I'm living for Fenty Beauty Killawatt Highlighters ($36), and I love Danessa Myricks Enlight Illuminators too," Sheriff agrees. "They look amazing on darker skin tones."
Support Brands That Have Always Valued Shade Inclusivity
"There are a few brands that have been around that we've forgotten about that have always spoken to women of color," says Crimson. "Fashion Fair has been around forever. It was a $50 million company at one point, and it's always spoken to black women first—it's a black-owned business as well.
"Then there's Black Opal, which is not a black-owned business; however, it has always made it a point to speak to black women first. You have two different spectrums there: one more drugstore and more high-end brand that has gotten lost in the conversation, even though they've both spearheaded the moment."
I think it's great that black women's voices through social media have resonated to the point where more brands feel the need to have extensions of their lines because black women do deserve variety.—AJ Crimson
"Why should you always have to beg to fit yourself into someone else's box when the boxes have already been built around you? They've been made and designed to fit you like a glove," Crimson says speaking on forward-thinking makeup brands.
Sheriff thinks it's important to recognize how vast the market is right at this moment. "I believe there are more choices now than when I was a younger makeup artist, and for sure more options than what my mom and grandmother had," she tells us. "I believe we are making strides and progress. The more we create, the better it will be."