‘When I was 15, walking up to beauty counters filled me with joy and fear. I once asked for a pink blush and the consultant said: “Black girls don’t do pink and they don’t blush.” She’s represented many people in the beauty industry since then: they’ve told me, through their lack of products for my 4C coils hair and my combination skin prone to hyperpigmentation and melanin, that things are “not for you”. (FYI: I love blush and wear it every day.)
I recall going to the high street to buy my first lipstick, Rimmel London Lasting Finish Lipstick in Heather Shimmer. All my friends wore it with pride. But it looked ashy and grey on my lips, which made me realise that the same products my White friends wore looked totally different on me. My dark skin picked up different tones and needed more pigment.
It wasn’t until I discovered MAC that I found a brand that screamed “you’re welcome here”. The rich pigments and wide range of foundations, plus a lip liner that suited me, MAC Lip Pencil in Chestnut*, were a game-changer. The brand also understands undertones and gets that not all dark skin is warm, but can be neutral and cool.
In my 20-year career as a beauty journalist, I’ve fought for more diversity in the industry. Things are so much better now, but there’s still a way to go in terms of real choice when it comes to foundation finishes. Ranges boasting diverse shades tend not to offer different finishes, as they think people of colour just want to be matte. Darker skin tones can be oilier, but it doesn’t mean I don’t want to glow!
When Fenty Beauty exploded onto the beauty market in 2017, it sent shockwaves throughout the industry for its ground-breaking 50 foundation shades. I’d always been told by major brands that “Black doesn’t sell”, but Fenty Beauty’s success blasted that backward thinking out of the water. The brand is said to have raked in $72 million in sales in the month of its launch.
The world of haircare has also been a source of frustration for me. Between the ages of 8 and 37, I chemically straightened my hair to try to assimilate. I always knew my 4C coils from my Nigerian-Trinidadian heritage were perceived as “loser hair”, the hair of slaves and maids. I never saw anyone of power in movies or real life with hair that looked like mine. I knew deep down I wouldn’t be accepted in the magazine world with my look. But I’ve been “team natural” and chemical-free for five years now. For most of my life I had to put up with what I call “beauty apartheid”: I used to go to specific parts of London to hunt in dusty bargain bins for over-perfumed, cheap products. Now I can get the new generation of high-quality curl buys on my high street.’
NEW NARS Blush in Torrid*, I love this pretty peach blusher. I only need to apply it lightly for a pop of colour on my cheeks.
Fenty Beauty Match Stix Shimmer Stick in Sinamon*, was ground-breaking, as it showed how highlighter could work on darker skin tones.
Bouclème Intensive Moisture Treatment*, is packed with nourishing camellia oil, softening prickly pear-seed oil and moisture-boosting mafura butter.
‘I was 17 when I first used make-up. I was working in a shop and became fascinated with the flawless skin of a guy on another counter. As a teen, I’d suffered skin blemishes, which I’d picked at. This had caused scarring, and I’d also started to get skin pigmentation, which is common for my Turkish-Mediterranean heritage. I was always on the hunt for anything that might help my skin look clearer, and this guy said he used Bare Minerals Original Loose Mineral Foundation SPF15*. I’d never bought make-up before, so I pretended it was for a female friend. I even showed the sales assistant photos of a mate with the same Mediterranean skin tone as me, so I’d get the right colour match.
At the time, I didn’t feel brave enough to admit I was buying make-up for myself. Not only was it not talked about in wider society, but I’m from a religious Muslim family – and wearing make-up is not something men in my culture do. But when I buffed on the foundation, my skin looked great and I felt great. There was no turning back.
My next step was to sort out my skincare. But I didn’t feel I could go into a shop and ask for help – I thought I’d be ushered towards products for men. As most brands weren’t “talking” to me – a gay, Muslim guy – I had no idea where to start. I didn’t even realise Dove soap could be used by men, as I’d only ever seen women in the adverts. I researched online what I should be using for my pigmentation issues and went from there.
Around this time, my followers on YouTube noticed the change in my appearance and asked what I was doing. It was then that my online content changed and became more focused on skincare, make-up – and brows, which are my passion. Mediterranean men are quite hairy and a monobrow is common. I started taming mine when I was 14 and I’ve had every look going. From skinny to slugs to where they are now, which works for my face. While most men in my culture wouldn’t necessarily wear make-up, they don’t mind grooming their brows, which makes me happy.
In the last few years, brands have started to include guys in their ad campaigns and on social media. Some are doing it as a box-ticking exercise: they feature a man once and then go back to focusing on women. But others, such as Huda, Urban Decay and NYX Professional Makeup, are smashing it in terms of diversity and inclusivity. I’m lucky I’m at a stage in my life where I can walk into a shop, buy make-up without having to pretend it’s for a girlfriend, and feel like no one is judging me. But I know that’s not the case for lots of guys. We wear make-up and we will continue to wear make-up, so brands should keep talking to us. This is how we want to present ourselves to the world; it’s how they should present themselves, too.’
Ole Henriksen Glow2OH Dark Spot Toner* EXCLUSIVE has really helped with my pigmentation.
NEW Urban Decay Brow Blade*. I use this ink stain to create temporary flawless, defined brows that look like the work of a pro. It comes in a wide range of shades.
NEW NARS Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation* is the most amazing foundation – it’s really easy to buff in and around facial hair.
Growing up with dark brown skin, frizzy waves and a monobrow, I often felt like I was the polar opposite of what I saw in beauty ad campaigns. It was the early 2000s, and it was all about poker-straight hair, skinny brows and skin tones lighter than mine. I was around 15 when I became interested in make-up and skin- and hair-care. Looking back, it felt as though I was shoehorning myself into a Western ideal of beauty that was at odds with my Sri Lankan features and heritage. I went to an all-girls school and if there was even the slightest chance of seeing a boy, we wanted to be ready. So, with our skirts rolled up, we’d pass round a black kohl eyeliner, bright eyeshadow, lip gloss and straighteners. I didn’t embrace my natural waves during that time. In ads and magazine articles, frizzy hair was regarded as unmanageable, so products that smoothed locks were our staples.
Now the narrative has shifted to hair health, and deep-frying my hair has been replaced with deep conditioning. Brands such as OGX, Maui Moisture and Bumble And Bumble have products that allow me to embrace my natural texture rather than hide it. I’m no longer seen as niche.
It was the same with make-up. In my teens, I was aware of how, unlike my light-skinned friends who could get their base fix for under a tenner, I’d need deeper pockets. I recall going to the Boots Clinique counter, where the consultant matched my skin to a foundation shade from the one or two lines that catered for my skin tone.
But then I discovered MAC and everything changed: eyeshadows with enough pigment to show up on my skin, foundations in different formulas, and brash pops of colour and glitter. For the first time, make-up was fun. Sure, it was expensive, but the psychological pay-off was huge. I started to feel confident enough to experiment.
In the 15 years since, other brands have given me that same buzz: NARS, Sleek Makeup, Lancôme, NYX Professional Makeup, Huda and Fenty Beauty have made inclusivity the norm rather than the exception. They offer something for all tones and undertones.
But there have been occasions over recent years that have bumped me back to reality. The lack of darker shades at a foundation launch made my skin tone feel less of a priority, or an afterthought. Plus, skin-lightening creams are still popular in South Asia, which highlights that “colourism” is far from an archaic concept. There’s still work to be done to ensure people of all colours, genders, ages and sizes don’t feel the “otherness” I felt during my formative years and still feel at times now. The definition of beauty is broadening, but it could be broader still.’
Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Wear Foundation SPF15 in 10.3 Pecan* gives high coverage and comfort. Plus, it’s available in 45 shades.
Maui Moisture Revive & Hydrate Shea Butter Hair Mask is great for quenching my dry ends – they feel instantly softer.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Invisible Fluid SPF50. Non-greasy, it helps protect against the sun and hyperpigmentation.
Are you a beauty buff who always wants to try the latest innovations? Then we want you on our volunteer panel of customer reviewers! You’ll get to test products currently in development, influence new launches and have a say on what’s on the shelves in Boots. We want our team of testers to be as diverse and inclusive as possible, so if you’re interested we’d love to hear from you. Find out more and sign up at bootsvolunteers.com/home