The Beauty Products I Swear By As A Black Woman

By Michelle Davis | August 24, 2020
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My freshman year of college can be summed up with one word: cringe. It’s the year I thought it was a #lewk to wear a bra, leggings, and combat boots to dorm parties; the year I really mastered the art of the peace sign, duck face selfie; and it’s the year I tried my hand at filming my own makeup tutorials. Now, please don’t get me wrong—there is nothing cringeworthy about makeup tutorials in and of themselves. In fact, there have been many a morning when I’ve woken up with “the grumpies” (as my free therapist calls them) and have been seconds from giving up, ordering chicken parm for breakfast, and going back to sleep, only to be saved by my favorite makeup artist, Katie Jane Hughes, and her divine ability to film perfect winged eyeliner tutorials while dancing to ABBA. Makeup tutorials have never been the problem; it was me doing makeup tutorials that were the problem. Me—sitting at a bulky wooden desk, filming on a used MacBook Pro, my twin extra long bed as a backdrop, and the casual cameo from my roommate who did not speak to me—filming makeup tutorials. That was the cringe factor. Needless to say, I took a quick look at the footage from my first 55-minute video, made the Jay-Z yikes face, and decided to permanently retire from the makeup tutorial filming profession. (Okay, you got me—I had every intention of posting that 55-minute video, but my laptop crashed, making the difficult but necessary decision to end my beauty blogger career for me.)

Although my YouTube influencer dreams never came to fruition, my passion for makeup and beauty never stopped. But then again, how could it? Long before I could even spell “going viral,” I had a well-established, indelible, even, relationship to beauty that ran deep. Some of my earliest memories include my mother scrubbing my face every night with Ivory soap and my dad laying down my eyebrows with a thick, nourishing pomade. My parents agreed on very little, but thankfully, they were able to come together on the essentials: skin care. As a teen, I technically was not allowed to wear makeup, so I joined the cheer team to bypass the system, as a glitter eyeshadow was a mandatory part of our getup. But what really solidified my affinity to beauty was my first trip to Sephora. I was a senior in high school touring colleges in New York, and my mother and I had some time to kill (how every great Sephora tale begins). We spent far too many hours and far too many dollars in that black and white striped oasis than I’d care to admit publicly.  

All this to say, if there is one thing I know well, it’s makeup and beauty. I’ve always received much joy, confidence, and even peace in discovering new products and new beauty routines. You have your healing crystals, I have my Bobbi Brown shimmer brick (we both should see health care professionals). But as a Black woman, specifically, my passion for beauty discovery has had to be far more intentional than your average (okay, white) consumer. Let’s face it, despite Black women being a majority demographic for beauty brand consumption, very few products are actually made with us in mind. I can’t tell you how many eyeshadow palettes I’ve opened that disappear entirely on my skin; how many skin care products that seek to fight “redness” when very few dark-skinned people encounter that issue. So, after years of being makeup and beauty obsessed, and even more years of being a Black woman, here are some of the beauty products that I swear by. 

Skin Care

Every girl has a moment in her life that she’ll remember forever. For some, it’s her engagement day, for others, it’s the birth of her first born. For me, it was the day my roommate asked me if I was wearing makeup when all I’d done was wash my face. What can I say? There is glory in proper skin care! In the last few years, models, influencers, and makeup artists alike have been raving about one universal craze: glow. That sunkissed, radiant bronze that screams “I spent the entire summer on a nude beach in Brazil.” Now, amateurs will try to achieve this look with bronzing powders or shimmering highlights or booking an illegal (COVID, etc.) flight to Brazil, but real radiance experts know: the perfect glow starts with the right skin care.

Shea Moisture African Black Soap Facial Wash & Scrub

In all honesty, I first started using this product accidentally. My family lives in California, and whenever I went home to visit, I hated lugging around my entire beauty cabinet. So, I decided to go to Target and randomly select a travel-sized tube of this African Black Soap Facial Scrub and keep it in California. While I was home, I would use this product every day, and would also start saying things like: “Wow, my skin is so much better in California—must be the water!” It took me a couple of trips home to realize that it wasn’t the California tap water that was revitalizing my skin, it was this Shea Moisture Facial Scrub. I then started incorporating this product into my daily routine (the right way, I must add—this is an exfoliant and shouldn’t be used daily, but rather 2-3 times a week max). And, at the humiliating risk of sounding like an infomercial, after using this scrub, my skin feels like legit silk. Not only does my skin feel softer, it is so much clearer. This facial scrub leaves your skin looking clear, feeling soft, and providing you with the perfect canvas for the rest of your skin care routine.

First Aid Beauty Radiance Pads

I discovered this product recently, during the height of COVID quarantine. I was depressed and had a promo code that was “expiring soon”—a lethal combination. I’d been looking for a better alternative to the toner I was using at the time and will be forever grateful that this impulse buy was just that. These radiance pads are unique because they are 3-in-1: they tone, but they also exfoliate and illuminate the skin. I use these pads after I cleanse my face, so they also help remove any excess makeup, oils, dirt, etc. And I can honestly say that within days, I noticed my skin became brighter and more radiant. I also love First Aid Beauty products because they’re conducive to all skin types. My skin is very dry and very sensitive, but I’ve been using this product regularly for about four months now, and haven’t had any negative reactions. Who knew that glow could start with your toner? This product is definitely a must.

Tatcha Violet-C Vitamin C Brightening Serum

Full transparency: the first thing you’ll notice when you look up this product is that it is disgustingly expensive. And to address your questions now: no, I do not have a trust fund, I just have a credit card with no real sense of the word “debt.” And that, I get, is a “me” thing. But I do also sincerely believe that if there is one thing to splurge on, it’s your skin. You only get one face, unless you are a Real Housewife, so I choose to take care of mine at all costs. You’ll also notice that this product is a serum. Honestly, I did not start using serums until about a year ago because I “didn’t find them necessary,” but really because I didn’t know what they were or how to use them. After some research, however, I found that serums are attractive skin care aids because they target specific skin care concerns. Truly whatever concern you may have, there is probably a serum for it. My major issue has always been hyperpigmentation, which is a multisyllabic word for dark spots on your skin. I love this Tatcha Serum, in particular, because not only does it eliminate dark spots, but it also, you guessed it, radiates the skin! I’m looking for glow anywhere I can, babe. Pro tip: this was the product I started using when my roommate asked me if I was wearing makeup. Needless to say, it is worth its weight in gold—and is probably a similar price! 

Makeup

While deeply humbling, it’s important that I admit: it has taken me a while to master the “no-makeup makeup” look. If you unearth any of my Instagram photos circa 2012, you might have trouble identifying me, as in most of the pictures I look like a woman in her 50s going through a nasty divorce, painting on blush and eyebrows to mask her pain and be strong for the children. It’s been… a journey. But after much trial and error and watching Rihanna’s 10-Minute Beauty Routine sincerely once a month, I finally have a makeup routine that’s comprised with products that make me look natural and youthful. So now when I look like a woman in turmoil, it’s because my life is in disarray, not my makeup!

Fenty Beauty

Believe me, I tried to narrow this list down to one Fenty product. But asking me to choose only one product from this brand is like asking me to choose between cheese and sauce on a pizza—it’s simply not done. A few years ago, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line garnered critical acclaim and traction when it launched foundations and concealers that were inclusive to, dare I say, all skin tones. From the palest to the darkest coverage seekers, Fenty formulated a hue just for you. As such, I simply cannot mention makeup must-haves without highlighting the Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Concealer. This is a full coverage soft matte concealer that can be used on its own or combined with your favorite foundation. I often find that some matte concealers can be chalky and overpowering, but this one provides the perfect amount of coverage while still offering a dewy, natural look. I bought this concealer a year and a half ago, and it has remained in my makeup bag ever since.

Fenty Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Concealer

While we’re talking Fenty, I also have to shout out their Sun Stalk’r Instant Warmth Bronzer. Bronzers have always been sort of an enigma to me. I loved how they looked on other people, but I, myself, was unsure of how to use them, especially as someone with darker skin. But, after watching the aforementioned Rihanna video, I learned that bronzers are used to warm the face. After applying your foundations, concealers, and powders, chances are you’ve eliminated blemishes, but you’ve also probably eliminated any warmth in your skin along with it. Bronzers bring that warmth back, and this bronzer, in particular, brings it back effortlessly by bringing out the undertones within your skin. I can’t recommend this product enough. 

MAC Cosmetics Strobe Cream

Earlier this year, I was on the hunt for a great highlighter. I researched powder formulas, cream formulas, and finally came across the MAC Cosmetics Strobe Cream. This product is unique because it’s not a typical highlighter, meaning you don’t apply this product to the high points of the skin toward the end of your beauty, like most highlighters. Instead, this product can be combined with your favorite foundation at the very beginning of your routine, providing for a more natural, radiant glow. This is because the deceptively lucent white cream has iridescent undertones. I wear it every day, either on its own for a natural radiance, or combined with a finishing highlight, for even more drama. This product is one of my most prized (and top-secret) products in my toolbox. You’re welcome. 

Pat McGrath Perma Precision Liquid Eyeliner

I couldn’t honestly tell the story of my makeup journey without mentioning my personal never-ending plight: trying to find a liquid eyeliner that is very black and easy to use. In my quest, I’ve found tons of eyeliners that have been extremely pigmented, but also extremely hard to use, or a liner that glides on effortlessly, but doesn’t show up on my skin at all. Which is why we simply must give thanks to Pat McGrath and her precision liquid eyeliner. If you don’t know Pat McGrath, she is a prominent makeup artist, and she is a Black woman. If there’s one thing she knows, it’s how to formulate beauty products that are bold, pigmented, and inclusive. And she’s done just that with her perfect liquid eyeliner. Admittedly, I can’t take full credit for discovering this product because I first learned about it from watching Naomi Campell’s 10-Minute Beauty Routine (I watch these videos like most people watch the news). It was good enough for top model Naomi Campbell, and it has been more than good enough for me. When it comes to liquid eyeliners, this product is top-tier. 

Beauty products are an integral part of most of our daily lives. At the very basis, they are preventive maintenance agents that work to provide us with healthy and youthful-looking skin for years to come. But beyond that, they’re simply fun—offering so much to play with, discover and explore. Which is why some of us (@ing myself here) decide to throw caution to the wind, foregoing contributions to a retirement plan, and invest in rejuvenating eye serums instead. But believe me, beauty products are far less enjoyable to play with when you don’t feel represented by most of them, when only select products are accessible to your skin concerns and hue. The discussion of beauty inclusivity is a big one and shouldn’t stop here, as there is much work to be done in this arena. And while some brands are making strides to better diversify their products, the work isn’t done until this mindset is adopted widely across all brands. I hope that this list is helpful to you in the meantime.

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Images: Alex Sorto / Unsplash; Giphy; Shea Moisture; First Aid Beauty; Tatcha; Fenty Cosmetics; Mac Cosmetics; Pat McGrath