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Curly Nikki

I’m Dark Skinned, I Can’t Wear That…

By January 27th, 202149 Comments

I'm Dark Skinned, I Can't Wear That...

by Rachel Odem of Makeup by RachelO

Yes, you read the title correctly, and as a licensed skin therapist and makeup artist, this statement makes me cringe. Why do dark skin women think their complexions limit their choices when it comes to makeup colors?

Recently, as I was doing a bridal consultation and helping a client with color suggestions, she made the statement, ‘I have dark skin so I can’t wear a lot of colors’. I wanted to shake her and say, ‘snap out of it, beautiful, you can wear any color you want‘. Dark skin is gorgeous and as a matter of fact, I love to play with pastel colors like pinks, oranges and reds on darker skin.

As some of you may know, I enjoyed working with Ebony Magazine on the September 2011 edition Beauty Awards issue. While flipping through the pages I came across the above photo and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I thought of every client with dark skin I had ever worked with… I just wanted to show them this photo and say BAM! Do you see this? This model is beautiful with vibrant colors and so are you.

Do you feel your complexion limits your choices in makeup colors?
Share your comments and concerns below.


  • Kat9LD says:

    Im 19 and don't wear much makeup because I worry that the colors I like won't flatter my brown skin. Dark red lips make me look older and I have a darker upper lip so nudes look strange to me.

  • Anonymous says:

    I was coined dark skinned when I moved to the South. Thus, I have grown more and more comfortable in earth tones. (Blk, grey, tan, brwn) You know, "theplayitsafe" Colors. Now, as I mature, I 've noticed that I receive twice the amount of compliments when I rock vibrant colors.

  • Anonymous says:

    I started wearing lighter tones and I love it. True not all shades are for everyone, but I took at least five years off my age by leaving darker shades of lipstick and glosses. Pink and lighter purples are the new black for me:)

  • Anonymous says:

    the best trick about color and make up pairing with darker skin is to adjust the two key factors that make any color wearable or horrible, that's TEXTURE and APPLICATION. #1 find the right way to apply, some lipsticks and colors need a more subtle form of application, some can be MUCH more intense. Some colors, especially lipstick colors, depending on what it is, i have to apply differently. For darker lip colors i can cover my whole lips, and not worry too much about it. However, with bright or really pale shades, i have to be very precise with how i put it on otherwise, yea i look REALLY awkward. Also, texture, matte, shiny, pearlescent, glittery, etc. some colors i can wear in any texture, others, i need a specific texture. Like matte or pearly nude shades dont work for me, but a shiny nude, applied precisely looks TOO cute! Also, think about the rest of your make up… sometimes mascara can put a look WAY overboard and turn you from PYT (pretty young thing) to a ODH (old dirty hooker)

  • Anonymous says:

    I have a milk chocolate skin tone….I DO NOT wear any pinks, reds or oranges on my lips. When I look in the mirror and see it, I feel like I am preparing for a minstrel (black face) show!!!

  • Jamie says:

    I know I am late reading this. Like a month late lol, but I had to comment. I am a dark-skinned women and I too hate when I see black women only in neutral or dark shades. I loooooovvveee and adore colors if it isn't on my face it is on my body. In the summer time I am a complete show off. Give me the brightest color and I will wear it. Of course the shades differ with the seasons, but I rarely ever wear black or something neutral. If I do, it HAS to have a pop of color. I think some dark women who are afraid of color are because it is something they have internalized about their complexions. They use those dull colors as a way to not stand out even more. Psssshhh give me big hair and a rainbow, I'll make it work!

  • smile@me88 says:

    I am Chocolate and I do watch the colors that I wear,in terms of clothes and make up. I wish this was not an issue for me, butit has been all of my life.

  • Anonymous says:

    I too am a dark-skinned woman. I grew up thinking that I was too dark to wear anything but neutral colors whether it was make-up or clothing. Now as an adult in my 30s, I love my dark skin and I wear any color clothing or make-up I want. I think the model above is beautiful in that lip color! My current fave red this season is MaryKay's Nourishine Lip Gloss in Red Passion! I have realized the ultimate truth: BROWN GOES WITH EVERYTHING!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm dark-skinned and was never really into makeup in general but I did tend to veer towards the shades that were considered "appropriate" for dark-skinned women. In terms of clothes I was also conservative in color; I was yet another city warrior in black for many years. I didn't break out of that until about 6 years ago and now I like wearing vibrant colors. When it comes to makeup, though, the only place that's seen a drastic color change is my eyelids. Lipstick is still a huge challenge for me…my lips aren't as big as the model's but lighter colors just make me look like the color's wearing me, you know what I mean? I do think there's something to be said for not looking like a clown (and that's true regardless of skin color) and my lips have yet to cross that barrier.

  • Anonymous says:

    I saw nothing offensive in that article's message. Its a sad truth that many dark skin women feel that way. For instance I went to MAC just the other day with one of my darker skin friends (i am also dark skin) and she was hesitant about getting a lip color (coral) because of her color…I was so aggravated with her. And she said if I were lighter I could rock this. I just shook my head and bought it just to show her that a dark skin girl could rock it. I'm just biggedty that way lol

  • The Melanista says:

    All I know is, Ruby Woo is my favorite red lip color for my dark chocolate complexion! I'm so not scared of color. I take a more subtle and natural approach, but when I want to go bold, there is no hesitation. I have pink/red undertones, so rich blues, purples and greens look amazing on me. Cool colors are my bffs, including blushes. Ladies, just experiment and play with color. You will be amazed at how beautifully it compliments our rich brown skin.

    @Curlique: I think you misunderstood the article's message. It's not meant to divide and devalue dark skinned, short haired natural women.

  • Anonymous says:

    I see what the problem is…the model is wearing Estee Lauder's brand of red. That brand is really not for black women period, the tones are not pigmented enough. The model should have been in a red tone from MAC. If she had gotten the Vino lip pencil with the clear lip gloss, it would have been a really hot look for her!

  • Anonymous says:

    You go INDIA and friend! I guess that's what the article is all about…to encourage women to try something different. Also, asking for assistance at a MAC makeup counter would be insightful.

  • India says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I am a very dark woman, about 3 shades darker than the model above. For a long time I've felt limited in the kind of lipstick I could wear. I would stick to earth tones for the most part, and my best friend and I, who is also very dark, would always talk about how we wished we could try brighter colors, but how it just wouldn't blend well with our skin complexion. I read this yesterday and it felt like the author was speaking directly to me!!! Today I finally had the courage to wear the fire red lipstick I had in my make up case for the past month still sealed and unopened… and it is FIERCE!!! Thank you!!

  • Anonymous says:

    @Curlyique You got all that from Ms. Odems scant 3 paragraphs? An "insult to democracy"? Oh.. ok

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree with Bobby but my problem is her lips too big for that color but it looks great with her skin tone! Sorry ladies but I'm not into that PC (political correct) thing.

  • Anonymous says:

    Oh Lord! Why is this being framed as an esteem issue? Why would a dark skin person shying away from certain colors be an example of them hating themselves? I have heard white people talk about avoiding or not getting aways with wearing certain colors. Where is that article on their self-esteem? Different colors and tones complement different skin tones. Can we stop pathologizing dark skin people under the guise of supporting them?

  • shesweet says:

    I am dark complexion and can admit I would shy away from colors when I was younger.As I got older I realized my complexion doesn't limit me I was missing out on a world of beautiful colors.

  • Anonymous says:

    As a dark brown sugah my belif is that I can wear whatever I want!!! It is all about how and where the colors are places. I feel in love with MAC eyeshadows not due to the name but the color range and pigmentation for this brown skin. Another problem is we were told we were not pretty for so long we thought our make should be as invisible as we felt. Loreal Hip also has a great collection of duos for us ladies, check them out.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think the current mid-priced make up sold in drug stores aren't for dark skinned women, it seems like everyone I know with darker skin tones go for brand names like Nars and MAC. I'm really big into eye shadow so being darker works out for me, but I need to pay more $$$ to get the quality of vibrancy that I want.

  • Curlyique says:

    Dear curly ladies
    I find this article silly, ignorant, and offensive because this shows everyone there is a devaluation of Black women who are brown skin and dark skin. On top of that, our fellow sister has a cute TWA, meaning that there is also a continued devaluation of curly women not being fit for certain occasions or situations. This denies us our humanity because the article is only saying that Brown/dark skinned, natural hair girls are acceptable under certain constraints. Although the article focuses on skin tone, Ebony chooses to use a model with a TWA; this cannot go un-ignored! I believe brown or dark skin women can wear color lip stick they want too; and to try to take that liberty from us and present us what they think we should have is indeed an insult to democracy. This occurrence has taken place for over 400 years; we have always had liberty taken away from us. This occurrence has simply been repackaged, to fit a mass-consumer culture. I will write to Ebony and voice my opinion on this dangerous message they are sending to the black community. On top of that, I will rock my TWA with my orange MAC So Chaud matte lip stick with pride!

  • Anonymous says:

    @ashley jane and others

    Of course every color doesn't look great on every skin tone, but that's why you play with shade and intensity, you don't give up on color. I am a medium brown sister who loves a pinkish nude mouth, but my pinkish nude isn't another woman's pinkish nude. But guess what? It's still pinkish nude. I didn't give up the color, just picked a different intensity.

    And I love that this perspective came from a makeup artist! Once, I was the only AA in a wedding party and the bride's gift was either hair or makeup. I was relaxed at the time and the wedding was in a small town in Mass and I did not want the (white) stylist doing my hair (my own racism, i know). But i figured i could undo makeup.

    Well, this artist gave me the best face of my life. She kept cooing over my skin and pouring on more color than I would ever normally use, but you know what? It looked great.

    Color is our friend.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think you are limited depending on your skin tone. There are some things that don't look right depending on that, but otherwise, no I play with whatever colors I choose.

  • Anonymous says:

    This comment also makes me soo sad when I hear my beautiful, regal, elegant darker skinned sisters say this…but it also challenges me to prove them wrong!
    I am even more upset at the media and our family members that ridicule and make us feel ashamed and less attractive than our lighter skinned counterparts. Shame on them! We were created in the image of God and we are ALL beautiful, all shades!!

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm dark-skinned and over the years I've noticed I look great in pinks, torquoise and blues: basically, anything that is "cool." Warm colors, like most oranges, reds and yellows don't compliment my skin tone as well. But I can rock the hell out of a blue-red lipstick or lipgloss! I really think the key to finding the right color for your skin, regardless of the color, is in the under-tones. It's all in the undertones, folks!

  • Ashley Jane says:

    I'm sorry but dark skin women do need to stay away from certain shades just like women that are lighter or even white need to stay away from certain colors that drowned them out or make them look like a corpse. I'm dark skinned and I need to be VERY careful when picking a color, especially a lip color like red. Not every red will look good on me, real spill…. I'll look like a clown if I'm not careful. lol

  • brittbreezy says:

    I hate that saying, i'm darkskin and I wear whatever make-up pleases me and it's funny because i'll wer something they'll say isn't good for my complexion and get tons of compliments on it, do what you wanna do, wear what you wanna wear

  • Anonymous says:

    Do what you like.

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm not really into bright makeup anyway, but I have looked high and low for a brand of lip color with gorgeous brown nude shades (I LOVE the polished, no makeup look). Makeup companies think nude always means band aid beige, and I need a pretty, sheer brown color for my dark skin.

  • Kisha S. says:

    You can wear whatever color you want, just not every shade! I'm a esthetician and makeup artist who loves color. Lately i've been experimenting with my 60 color lip palette. I really like the bright pink and purple colors. You just have to play around with color. Find what's right for you. We all need to stop giving ourselves a hard time about who we are. Every one of us is beautiful & unique. We should embrace it!

  • Pecancurls says:

    I agree with the ladies who said that everyone can wear any color, however, every color does not necessary look good on everyone. I say do you. If you can look in the mirror before you step out and feel like you are rockin' it —then go for it! I know my limitations and what will/won't work for me in the make up department.

  • Anonymous says:

    It's kind of funny. There are times I've heard that certain colors look better on lighter skinned people. Well I'm kind of on the caramel side of light, but those colors that have been mentioned to me look terrible on me. I can't wear pastels at all, except maybe peach, in clothes or makeup.

    But I think what anonymous 2:29 said is true. It's more about cool vs warm. I've learned that I look absolutely dreadful in cool colors, but warm colors look much better on me.

    But, I guess it's like anything else. You have to experiment and find out what works for you.

    – Marion

  • Anonymous says:

    ummm…noooo!!! I wear blue eye shadow, pink lip gloss…shoooooo

  • Anonymous says:

    It's not really light vs. dark, it's cool vs. warm. There are going to be colors in EVERY color family for women of EVERY skin tone and all you have to do is figure out what "base" needs to be in the colors that you want.

    So you might look better in a "cool" red (like something with blue in it) vs. a "warm" red (like something with orange in it), and then you kind of should just use your eyes. If YOU like it, go for it.

    But you can be dark and find reds, pinks, beiges, etc. that look amazing and honestly a lot more colors work and don't look garish on dark skin than on light skin.

  • Anonymous says:

    I love colors and believe when applied correctly they stand out beautifully on dark skin! Of course certain colors may accentuate certain skin tones and under/overtones. I love my brown skin but many times wish I was darker!

  • Anonymous says:

    I agree with the writer of the article. My mother however has the most beautiful shade of mahogany dark skin you ever did see (I remember being a little envious of her when I was a child. I'm more of a milk milk chocolate mixed with caramel color…), and no one can pull off a fierce deep red like she can. However IMO, using that picture actually opposes the author's point rather than proving it. I don't think that color looks good on that model. I agree with previous commenters who said you have to find what works for you. Maybe we all need to seek help from professional make up artists who can tell us about undertones, and other makeup-y stuff, lol. I know I would sure like to.

    Neesha Cherie

  • Dana says:

    +1 with Bobby, Dani and others who commented on people wearing whatever color they want but realize EVERY color is not flattering on everyone. I'm limited in my color selections because I don't fully understand what my undertone is and am rather conservative however IMO if you choose a variety of colors that compliment your undertone you can't go wrong whether light, medium, or dark skinned.

  • Anonymous says:

    Every color color is not meant for everyone.

    Thankfully, there are so many options for people of ALL colors/shades.
    I remember a time when there were only options available for white or very fairskinned people of color.

    I think that if you wear maekup, the key is to find out what looks best on you. And to ignore any negative or limiting statements/thoughts. There are people out here who will find someone negative to say about ANYONE.

  • Anonymous says:

    I'm a honey roasted color? i guess and I feel i'm limited in my color selection only because i don't know enough about it to know what I can/cannot wear. I've only recently begun to wear more than eyeliner and gloss, so I'm new at this. I'm timid in my selections because I don't want to look ridiculous, so I stick to purples and browns on my eyes and nudes on my lips. When I have more time I'll visit a counter and experiment because I love color! and I love the way colors look on African American women.

  • Anonymous says:

    I don't feel my complexion limits my makeup choices. I love color period. You will never see me in head to toe black. The more color the better. Yellow, orange, green, blue – I love it all. My favorite look is thick black liner on my lids with bright green eyeliner underneath topped off with a bright pink lip.

  • Imogen says:

    No, I don't. I'm not dark skinned (I'm a roasted chestnut color), but I think dark dark skin is the so so very beautiful. It's just so deep and gorgeous. I've always LOVED dark skin (maybe bc my mom and grandmother love Black/dark skin). I've had people think I only like white guys since my husband is Italian, but that's so not true, his game was just on point and he swept me off my feet fairytale style. But he always keeps a tight arm around me when a dark skinned guy is near as if to remind me "hey! you're taken woman!" bc he knows I think dark skinned men and women are more than gorgeous.

    But I think as a woman, you do have to have a discerning eye when it comes to color. Like others have pointed out, you don't want "chalky" looking colors; they look bad on everyone. I think mango and oranges and golds look amazing on dark skin. I mean, there are so many colors that look majestic on black skin. <3~*~*~

  • CurlyIntheA says:

    Totally agree with you @Anonymous 12:08, and thank you for your expert opinion. I'm dark skined and for years I thought I couldn't rock certain colors. It wasn't until I had the chance to get a professional makeup artist when I was 15 tell me that I should wear more pinks and fuschia (this was the early 90s) that I became convinced. As a child, I went to church with a lady with skin the color of Hershey's Kisses. She always wore beautiful shades of eyeshadow — rich purples, deep golds, mustards and deep blues. I don't wear lots of eyeshadow, but that taught me that it's all about the undertones. Growing up in the 80s, we were told that we couldnt' wear makeup colors that lighter skinned girls wore — but that's so untrue, because it depends on the undertones. (Not to make this a light vs. dark issue, but I'm just being honest). We were all automatically steered toward mahogany and burgundy, but that stuff is too dark for me and it drowns me out. Pinks, corals, nudes and bright lipsticks look beautiful on us. Just as bright colored clothes act as a canvas on dark skin, so, too, do bright makeup colors. I think we can do it without looking garish, if we pay attention to the undertones. Not a fan of the orangeish-red lipstick that the model is wearing in the picture (I personally like a bit more berry or red), but we can wear all the nude colors and lots of pinks lipsticks as long as it's not that "chalky" or pastel pink, since those tend to clash to with the deep understones of chocolate skin.

  • Taneica says:

    Quite frankly, fashion and beauty (make-up, hair, ect) is about self expression, so wear whatever works! I honestly don't look good in bright colors. Yellow and green eyeshadow looks ridiculous on me. I don't do yellow clothes usually either. When I was in high school, a friend of mine chose this obnoxious shade of yellow for her EVENING wedding. In the pictures, you couldnt even see me! I was eyes, teeth, and yellow dress in all of the pictures :-/.

  • Anonymous says:

    That's so odd, I always thought the conventional wisdom was that bright colors "pop" best on the darkest skin.

    Not that other women can't wear color, but just that bright color looks particularly good (as opposed to neutrals) on dark skin.

  • FrankoJulio says:

    As an artist so I'm addicted to color but of late ive been addicted to pale nudes, so I've been buying up nude/skin tone lipsticks. As long as it is layered correctly it will be fabulous. XD

  • Anonymous says:

    Ita w/Bobby. I am lt.skinned and I never say that I shouldn't wear a color or more importantly try it bc of my complexion however the reality is all colors don't look good on everyone. That is whether you are lt. dark, medium, or whatever skin tone you may be.

    You have to experiment to find out what looks good on you but at the same time you have to be HONEST w/yourself about whether something TRULY looks good on you! Our friends and family also need to let people know when they look a hot mess. There are way too many women going out 'trying to experiment' w/colors that they KNEW were way to extreme the moment they put them on!

  • Dani @ says:

    I agree w/ Bobby above. People from palest pale to darkest dark CAN wear any color they want, but every color doesn't flatter every skin tone.

  • Anonymous says:

    As a MUA, I too cringe when I hear clients say that they're limited to color choices due to their dark skin. Hello! Have you ever heard of undertones. I tell them all the time that dark skin sistas can rock just as many colors as the caramel sistas. You just have to find the shade that fits your undertone. It's almost like dark skinned women are so conditioned to hearing negative things about themselves, that they don't realize that they have the most coveted complexion. There are so many things that I can do with my dark skin clients that I just can pull off with my lighter skinned clients. I wish they wouldn't limit themselves and have fun with color! I promise… if applied correctly, you won't look like a clown! LOL

  • Bobby says:

    Women can wear any shade of color they want to BUT every color doesn't look good on everyone, regardless of how dark or light their skin color is. I dont like that orange-y lipstick on that model and I wont like it on me and Im a different complexion then she…just my opinion…

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