The Invisibility of Dark Skin Women in the Cosmetic Sector


For many women, the simplest idea of finding yourself without makeup is an excuse to go shopping. It’s like going out on an adventure seeking what is new in the market for them, probably like “me” time.  For me, each second of this process can be a fight, where most of the time I am trying to ignore the growth of self-doubt, while at the same time giving space to self-empowerment and forcing myself to believe once again that I am enough. That black skin is indeed magical and deserves to be taken care.

Early last year, I was invited to speak in a Brazilian Activism Event called Encrespa Geral. The event, which is spread through Brazil, aims to empower women in finding their natural and true beauty through a journey back to natural, curly hair. The idea was for me to share my personal experience (my pain), of how I, as a dark skin, black woman, feel disrespected, and many times invisible, to the cosmetic sector.

I then decided to do a brief experiment, where I would face my fear of rejection and go to as many cosmetics stores as possible to try and find a foundation that matched my skin tone. At the time, I was due to travel on holidays to London, Geneva, and Paris, which gave me the possibility to make the experiment even more interesting. The main idea: in each city that I visited, try to find my skin tone in at least one cosmetic brand, which was also affordable to me as a student.

I knew it would be an extremely difficult experience. I am used to seeing the staff of numerous stores hiding or pretending that they don’t see me whenever I walk in looking for help. I try not to blame them since they are most of the time not trained to attend to the needs of black women’s skin, which requires more attention and sometimes the mix of three different products to reach a tone closer to our shade.

I keep asking myself, why am I still mixing my makeup?

photograph by Claudia Vieira – instagram: @clauphotos

I refuse to do so, because I  know that if I settle for it – for less than I am and deserve – we won’t be acknowledged and this struggle will continue. In a few stores in Paris, people tried to convince me that I could find something online and ship from the US to Ireland, where I’m currently living. But the sad truth is I lived in the States for 5 years and only found one brand (Iman) that matched my tone, which at the time cost $35 for a small tube of foundation. Most of the time I had to pick the days I would wear this foundation in order to make it last longer, because spending $35 dollars in makeup is more that a “treat” for a student overseas.

I knew what colourism was, but I had never realised that it affected and segregated dark skin women like me as much as it does. The fact that the cosmetic industry places dark skin black women in an invisible range, where they don’t see us as part of society and do not acknowledge our simple needs, is insulting and revolting.

I understood that if I faced situations like this, many other women faced it too, and decided to do more studying in regards to this problem.

Many might say that I’m being over dramatic stating this and that times have changed, but for me, we still carry the old times chains around our feet and arms bounding us to the lower levels in society; because those with power refuse to give us space to grow and show what we are capable of.  It is as if they believe we are still in the colonial era and black women’s needs should not be listened to, as they won’t spend time and money manufacturing products where the target customers will have the means to afford it.

In 2016, Colourpop launched their contour tones and named the darker shades with offensive names such as: “dume”, “easy peasy”, “yikes”, and “typo”, while the light shades for white women had names such as “gummy bear” and “castle”.

After hashtags were created on social media and customers shared their thoughts from different channels, the spokesperson for the brand released an apology stating that they were sorry, but extremely happy for the feedback they were receiving, and were working on the name changing, as well as the whole process to ensure this would not happen again.

Not much longer after that, in February of this year, Makeupstore came to light after one client realised that a brown eyeshadow (this colour used for black women as a nude tone) was named Ghetto. Again, many customers complained on the Instagram profile of the brand and expected an apology from the CEO, which unfortunately never happened.  The brand’s CEO simply informed that it was an eyeshadow, not a product specific for black women.

It’s bittersweet to know that big names in the fashion world face the same problems when it comes to getting ready for the catwalk or having their makeup done in the right complexion. I remember reading an Instagram post in 2015 from the South Sudanese-born model Nykhor Paul, who was exasperated with the treatment she had faced so many times. She was that saying the problem occurs in major fashion weeks, such as New York, London, Milan, Paris. She was obviously tired of complaining and apologising for her blackness.

In 2016, the London model, Leomie Anderson, shared a series of heated tweets, exposing make-up artists who were busy beautifying ‘blonde, white girls’ while she was once again forced to bring her own cosmetics to the backstage.

photograph by Claudia Vieira – instagram: @clauphotos

We are in the 21st century, in an era where everything is possible and we have finally started to question the wrongdoings of the past, aiming to do better for the children growing up now. I absolutely refuse to make excuses for those who deliberately ignore my needs as a young black woman and truly believe that I should not have to face the situations I’ve mentioned above, and to be able to wear cosmetics that have great quality and are affordable. I don’t want to worry about going out looking the way I do in the above picture after buying makeup in a regular drugstore.

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