What’s colour got to do with it? The debate between darker skin and lipstick colour
BY ARNELLE PATERSON
US Rapper ASAP Rocky caused controversy just two years ago when he told The Coveteur that he felt in order to wear red lipstick, an individual would ‘have to be fair-skinned to get away with that’.
This ideology seems to be apparent within Islington, an area that has increased in ethnic diversity over the last decade. The most recent census revealed that less than half of residents are White British in comparison to the 57% in 2001. Additionally, London’s Poverty Profile revealed that the largest ethnic groups after White British and White other are Black African and Black Caribbean.
Ashanty Alves, a 21-year-old student at City University used to be a member of the African-Caribbean Society. She reveals her observations of the Islington area, particularly at the public research university. “I haven’t seen black girls wearing bright coloured lipsticks in university, I’d say I see more black girls wearing nudes and browns which is great because for too long a lot of us have been told that colours that are similar to our skin colour are ugly.”
The real question is, how does colour effect people’s perception of lipsticks? In our Twitter poll, the majority of our respondents preferred nude and brown lipsticks to reds and bright colours.
24-year-old Florence Adepoju is the founder of MDMFlow, a lipstick brand inspired by hip hop videos from the mid-1990s to early 2000s. The range features richly pigmented shades of blacks, blues, oranges and pinks. She completed her dissertation on the basis of linking colour to people’s perceptions of lipstick.
Florence told St John Street “People are more likely to wear colours they have a natural affinity to as they are more confident in wearing them. If a person’s general taste is bright reds and blues they would feel more confident wearing those colours whereas if a person has a more natural taste they are more likely to click to that in beauty.”
The Essex native explained that black women may not feel confident in wearing brighter shades of lipsticks because ‘they don’t think it suits them based on prior negative experiences they have had when experimenting with colour’.
She believes that the issue is not only about colour, but also quality. “The upsetting thing is this is usually due to the product not being the best quality and not because the colour doesn’t suit them.”
This is something that Ashanty resonates with. She admits “I’d say in regards to bright lipsticks sold at major cosmetics stores, their colours are of bad quality anyways.”
Florence says that societal factors and parental influences also play a part. “At the same time, in the ‘80s and ‘90s there were trends of black women wearing darker berry shades and more muted colours – these colours became synonymous with black movements. Our generation of young black women, although more confident in wearing bright colours, are still heavily influenced by our parents’ generation and the colours they wore – so we wear bright colours to make a statement, but we feel more confident and at home with muted shades.”
Naomi Emmanuel, a 20-year-old student at City University seems to be a microcosm of Florence’s theory. “For me, I’m not into very bright colours. I prefer natural colours and darker colours for lipstick and clothes. However, I definitely feel that some dark-skinned black women are almost afraid to wear brighter colours but they shouldn’t be! Some colours suit certain people but for me it’s not their shade but rather their outfit and personality.”
Whilst working at Space NK, Florence noticed that customers requested shades of blue and black frequently. If this is the case, why aren’t cosmetics brands offering brighter shades? “I think it is all about money,” she admits. “Brands sell more muted shades that is what they produce and sell to balance their books. A lot of brands we know and love play it really safe, so it is not because the consumer does not want it, it just has not been made available.”
It appears that absence of brighter shades of lipstick aren’t the only problem, but other shades too. According to the latest UK Mintel report, the market for black and Asian beauty products in the UK is only 2% of the total market for women’s haircare, skincare and make up.
Ashanty says “I would say that I don’t necessarily find it hard to get bright lipsticks, but more so nudes. In the cosmetic industry, they create nudes that match fair skin colours, so basically nudes is associated with ‘whiteness’. I find it hard to get subtle lipsticks without them looking ashy.”
Arguably, the cosmetic industry needs to take a leaf out of MDMFlow’s book. “What MDMFlow does is give customers scope to use and connect with colours that make them feel more comfortable and confident, or help them go outside their comfort zone and try something new,” Florence explains.