The Best Makeup for Dark Skin Tones, According to Keke Palmer's Makeup Artist

Christine Forbes
·7 mins read
Photo credit: Instagram/@thescottedit
Photo credit: Instagram/@thescottedit

From Prevention

A few years ago, I was on the hunt for the Fashion Fair counter in Dillards. They had a cream-to-powder foundation formula that made my brown skin glow. After walking around for a while, I asked a white employee at the Dior counter to point me in the right direction. She wasn’t familiar with the pioneering Black makeup line, so she recommended Dior products. As a beauty lover with time to kill, I decided to entertain her. During the next hour, she applied a series of products that, to put it kindly, looked utterly dreadful on me. Her excuse, “Well, people aren’t usually this dark.” In essence, she meant that fair skin is the standard. Therefore, her inability to help Black people was my fault. Once again, corporate disregard for the needs of Black consumers resulted in casual racism at the beauty counter.

Truth is, training employees to work with dark skin hasn’t always been a priority for a lot of companies. “MAC doesn't really teach you much about working with brown skin,” says professional makeup artist Scott Osbourne. “I learned basically through trial and error when I was on the floor and customers wanted their makeup done.” Far from discouraged by the lack of institutional support for Black clients, Osbourne rose to the challenge. It’s not surprising considering that he grew up going to fashion shows with his mother. Now, Osbourne engineers vibrant, futuristic looks that adorn the faces of Rico Nasty, Keke Palmer, and inspired HBO’s hit show, Euphoria. “I believe, with makeup, anything is possible,” he says optimistically. “There are no rules. A lot of it is, I'm not going to say made up, but, it's been done so people just believe it's right.”

To save you some time, money, and potential humiliation, I asked the man who is redefining beauty for some advice. Keep reading to learn how to avoid common mistakes when doing your makeup or makeup for people with dark skin.

Know your undertone.

Osbourne says the issue he sees the most is discoloration. Granted, it would be easier to find shade matches if more drugstore lines had inclusive shade ranges. Until then, Osbourne says finding your undertone will help. Put simply, if you look better in silver and chrome-colored jewelry, you likely have a cool undertone. Gold jewelry tends to flatter people with warm complexions. If you look good in all kinds of metals, congratulations! You’re neutral. Most foundation shade descriptions include undertone, so knowing yours is always a good idea. It’s especially helpful when shopping for makeup online.

Do not assume that your face is one color.

When Osbourne started at MAC, he matched foundations to people’s chests. The problem: Our faces tend to be darker than our chests. “Brown skin has a lot of depth,” explains Osbourne. "It's not one shade. I might put one skin foundation on the lower half of the face, a different shade at the top, and two different shades under the eyes because nobody is just one shade all across.” So don’t be afraid to mix your foundations and concealers on the back of your hand to match different tones in your face. Your skin is multidimensional, so why should your foundation be flat?

Scott’s favorite complexion products to use on Keke Palmer are HUDA BEAUTY #FauxFilter Full Coverage Matte and NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer.

For Slick Woods, he uses Milk Make-Up Blur Liquid Matte Foundation and a lot of MAC.

Find a great transition shade. (Hint: It’s probably orange.)

Anyone who thinks people with dark skin can’t wear [insert any color here] hasn’t scrolled through Osbourne’s Instagram. He’s crafted sickeningly gorgeous red, blue, and purple looks for countless dark-skinned clients. “Every color can work on everybody,” says Osbourne. It's all in how you blend. The perfect flesh-toned transition shade was key to Flo Milli’s flawless neon makeup. For Osbourne loves using orange in the crease of dark-skinned models. “It actually goes with any type of bright color because it transitions easily,” he says. He loves the MORPHE X Jaclyn Hill Ring the Alarm Eyeshadow Palette. “I use the colors Alert and Rush on almost all of my brown-skinned women.” As far as brushes go, he’s a MAC 224 and FENTY 210 stan. "The Tapered Fenty Brush, I can use for everything,” he says. “I can use it to blend under the eye, I use it to blend eyeshadow obviously, concealer, I can use it for brows. My MAC 224 brush is one of my holy grail brushes."

Don’t be intimidated by white.

There’s an unlikely ingredient in each of Osbourne’s signature fantasy looks: white. “No matter what client, I always add a touch of white,” he says. That’s why everything he creates looks futuristic, cool, and fresh. The contrast between dark skin and white pigment yields ethereal and otherworldly results. “If you have brown skin, blend it out with some brown,” advises Osbourne, “but pack all the color in one area so that your focus is a really vibrant color.” He broke down the retro 90’s supermodel glam he did for Glow Princess. “You want to know what I put in the middle? White lipstick.” To blend it in, he added a touch of pale pink. And for contrast, he applied a bold layer of Chestnut lip liner.

For soft glam: If you’re going to do a bold eye, go for a neutral lip.

Soft-glam means something different for everyone. One person’s soft glam could mean a light CC cream, tinted undereye concealer, and a gloss. For a person like Osbourne who describes his aesthetic as “fun,” soft glam could mean many things. Still, he tends to follow one simple guideline. “I feel like with soft glam you never want to go as harsh as a heavy red lip,” says Osbourne. “Stick to your neutrals.”

Here are some of the products he used to create an inverted, white smokey eye for Dreezy that is totally soft-glam.

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