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There’s little like the experience of buying makeup — heading to the beauty counter, perusing colors and hues, finally deciding on the shade that suits you best. Buying makeup can feel like an intimate and personal interaction — what works for one person could react badly on another's skin or just not work for their unique tone, type or style.
But for Black beauty fans, shade-finding and sourcing can feel rather taxing — the beauty industry still has far, far to go when it comes to inclusivity. When Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty launched in 2017 with 40 shades of its Pro Filt'R foundation, the Internet took note — at the time, 40 shades was an anomaly. The groundbreaking move resulted in “The Fenty Effect”, wherein brands had no choice but to expand their own range of shades — and their minds.
In the nearly three-and-a-half-years since Fenty Beauty hit the scene, several beauty brands have made the move to expand their shade ranges and options to be far more inclusive, which seems to make fiscal sense. According to a study by market research company Nielsen, Black Americans bought more beauty products in 2019 than any other group of consumers. To put that in context, they found that Black Americans outspent other groups by nearly 19 percent, which translates to $572.6 million.
As Black Lives Matter protests took hold across the country last year, major beauty retailers like Sephora and Bluemercury expressed support for anti-racist activism on social media. However, many people, like Brother Vellies' creative director Aurora James, wondered if those words held any weight and voiced their skepticism on social media. Challenging them to turn words into action, James created the 15 Percent Pledge, a social media initiative that challenges retailers to pledge 15 percent of their shelf to Black-owned businesses to align with the population of African Americans in the United States. So far, Sephora and Bluemercury are among 16 other brands that have signed the pledge.
If Black History Month inspires you to support Black-owned brands (or you don’t need a specific month to do so), we asked some Black beauty experts and makeup artists to recommend their favorite beauty products from Black-owned businesses to help guide your next intimate beauty purchase.
Best skin care products from Black-owned brands
Founded in Detroit, Michigan, The Lip Bar lipstick is designed to stick around for 24 hours — with options ranging from brightly colored lipsticks and liquid lips to matte stains. Noel calls the Bawse Lady her “favorite” liquid lip red shade.
Rihanna’s cosmetics company was the most referred line from every single makeup artist and beauty guru we spoke to. Musician and content creator Bri Hall — who went viral for her critiques of critiques of products made for Black and African-American hair — told NBC News she’s “obsessed” with it. “The formula is great for dry skin girls like me,” Hall said. “Though other brands made my shade, as a West Indian woman, many brands never catered to olive and yellow undertones — leaving me to look like a Flaming Hot Cheeto at times.”
Clothing designer and makeup artist Ellarie Noel is the first Black woman to collaborate with makeup company ColourPop, and Kenneth Senegal — who goes by HeFlawless and vlogs about his experience with makeup as a Black man — both recommend these lip glosses. Noel said she especially likes their smell while Senegal raves about the entire Fenty Beauty collection. ”It’s the perfect universal shade for anyone, and completes every look when you don’t know what to pop on the lips,” Senegal explained.
Pat McGrath was one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2019. “Pat McGrath allows us to be seen. Her makeup is not just nice makeup—her bold, beautiful colors make a statement,” supermodel Beverly Johnson wrote of McGrath for Time. “You usually don’t get that with world-renowned makeup artists. People are afraid of stepping outside the box.” Hall adores McGrath, from product packaging to the actual products. Her favorite right now is the Mothership V. “The shimmer shades glaze over the eyelid like a glow from within,” Hall said.
“When UOMA Beauty launched, I thought it was cool that their ingredients and concerns were broken up into skin type and skin tone,” said Shanygne Maurice, whose YouTube channel Too Much Mouth is dedicated to finding and applying beauty products for darker skin tones. UOMA (pronounced uh-mah). Founder Sharon Chuter launched UOMA Beauty with 51 shades of its Say What?! foundation, 17 shades of its “Stay Woke” Concealer (which is on our list below), 16 colors of Badass Icon matte lipstick, among many, many others. “I don’t have many options when it comes to contour but their contour stick is actually deep enough and wears beautifully on my skin,” Maurice noted.
Makeup artist Camara Aunique — who runs her own line of lash-specific products designed for everyday use by women suffering from cancer or alopecia who may be looking for a natural-looking lash — recommends UOMA’s concealers. “One thing I can say is UOMA got it right with the colors and texture in their products — they’re a personal favorite of mine,” Aunique told NBC News.
The combination of beauty and baking may seem like a stretch, but Cashmere Nicole’s Beauty Bakerie is a charming brand that puts the two together. Senegal has never found a Beauty Bakerie product that did not work for him, sharing he loves "the Setting Powder they offer because of the lack of flashback when snapping pictures and the comfortability,” Senegal said. “And it sets whatever is underneath for hours, too.”
Makeup artist Tiyana Robinson wants everyone to know about this up-and-coming skincare line that she said gives her the dream “baby skin” many seek in the morning. Skincare formulated for Black and brown skin, this toner and their Nightime Repair Serum with 10% Glycolic Acid are other favorites of Robinson’s.
Remember a few years ago when everyone was searching for their dream nude lip color? Mented Cosmetics capitalizes on the quest for the so-called “nude” lip color — which means something different for everyone. What’s nude for one person may be dark-brown for another or a light peach for yet a third. Founders KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson designed their cosmetics with women of color in mind, and Maurice loves their blush in the shade Clay Too Much. “It’s the perfect everyday shade for my skin tone,” Maurice said. ‘It’s hard to find a nude blush for deeper complexions that won’t look ashy.”
Aunique is a fan of Black Opal’s Beauty Stick foundations, telling NBC News they “make her happy,” having been a staple in her makeup kit for years due to their flexibility in use and blending to create the "perfect" skin tone.
Danessa Myricks Beauty is another common mention. Robinson calls their powders her “secret weapon." “I especially love her Enlight Illuminator Powder, which is a loose highlighter powder, and her micro-fine Evolution Setting Powder allows you to set your makeup without looking cakey or overdone.”
Likewise, Hall is a huge fan of the Danessa Myricks Dew Wet Balm, for those makeup-but-no-makeup needs. “For those days where you just want to wear your bare skin, this balm allows me to look so hydrated, and it also gives the illusion of contouring because I place the balm on the high points of my cheeks and bridge of my nose.”