Haven’t you heard? The future of luxury beauty is Black. Beauty & The Bag is a guide that keeps a close eye on high-value skin, hair and makeup trends aimed at Black consumers and questions whether it’s always worth spending your hard-earned coins. With the help of experts and influencers, ‘Beauty & The Bag’ explores the best and worst of a changing beauty landscape, whilst reminding you that you are, and always have been, the beauty standard.
A few weeks back, I went to meet the founder of a well-known British skincare and makeup company. I introduced myself, and, as if she was thee Devil Wear’s Prada Miranda Priestly herself, she took one look at me and said, “For a start, you’re wearing the wrong foundation”. I gasped and clutched my pearls. She later added, “You have brown skin, not grey-brown skin” before her makeup artist stripped me of my offensive makeup. It was the first time someone had ever pulled me up on my foundation shade, let alone a very rich white woman, and it was difficult to hold my tongue. Yet, one thing is true, finding the right shades for my skin tone can be extremely difficult.
Throughout the year, my skin tone progresses from yellowish anaemic brown in the winter to a richer, deep golden brown in the summer and back again, leading to hyperpigmentation and an uneven skin tone. To help, I tend to buy and wear two foundations at a time. Having tried most foundations on the market, from drug stores to TikTok popular brands and the more expensive designer offerings, I thought it was time to treat myself to Pat McGrath’s Skin Fetish: Sublime Foundation — because if I am going to invest my coins on a luxury makeup brand, I am going for the one with a talented Black woman at the helm.
For those who are not au fait, Pat McGrath is a world-renowned Black British make-up artist, whose influence and creative direction extends from catwalks to magazine cover shoots and advertising (she’s been known to create makeup looks for around 80 major fashion shows per year.) Of course, notably, McGrath and her team have painted all of the recognisable faces in fashion and celebrity, including Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, and most recently Doja Cat’s Schiaparelli head-to-toe Swarovski crystal look. In a word: iconic. Through her cosmetic company, Pat McGrath Labs (founded in 2015) McGrath has been committed to making sure dark skin tones are properly adorned. Speaking to the Guardian in 2017, McGrath said, “I was working all the time with pigments to make sure they work on all skin tones, particularly to make sure dark skin doesn’t become ashy, pigments that are so rich they work on everybody. Because a lot of the time when you buy a normal shadow, it doesn’t always work on every skin tone – it’s chalky or too light – so that’s my main aim, to bring makeup for all skin tones to the fore.”
Is Pat McGrath's Skin Fetish: Sublime Foundation The Perfect Match?
For a good minute, the beauty world has been heavily preoccupied with the “clean” make up trend — a combination of minimal-but-not-quite-make-up and a poreless, perfectly matched foundation base that for many is not achievable without the help of a ring light and TikTok’s beauty filter. With more realistic expectations, I have been trying to create my own version of natural makeup, one that enhances my skin’s natural radiance rather than masks it. McGrath is known for personally loving a natural foundation base (“I wear very natural makeup but it’s made up out of five foundations to make that perfect skin,” she told the Guardian in 2017) so my expectations weren’t just high, they were astronomical.
Pat McGrath’s Skin Fetish: Sublime Perfecting Foundation (£61) is an oil-free foundation that comes in a wide 36 shades. The formulation contains Vita-Serum (a vitamin C serum known to help aid skin brightening) and is said to be a buildable medium to heavy coverage. Using McGrath’s Lab shade-matcher to help find my shade, I eventually opted for two shades in the same colour family (because I doubt I’ll ever be a one-shade-fits-all foundation-wearer) one with a neutral undertone (Medium/Deep 22) and the other with a golden undertone (Medium/Deep 23).
Now, on to the application. Last year, Refinery29’s deputy beauty director Jacqueline Kilikita spoke to McGrath on the best way to apply your foundation for smooth skin — and it was no surprise to find I’ve been taking a vastly different approach to my makeup than the renowned makeup artist recommends. McGrath suggests using an essence beforehand to prep your skin (I used the CORSX Advanced Snail 96 Power Essense), not going overboard with foundation and spot-treating the areas that you feel need coverage. I’ll be honest, on the first application, I didn’t take McGrath’s advice and I was heavy-handed and over-zealous: the result was giving orange oompa-loompa and ‘baby’s first foundation’. So, I tried again, completely scaled back, took a deep breath, kept the faith and spot-treated the areas of my face with pigmentation. I used a damp sponge to blend and gradually the foundation melted into my skin — it was undetectable. I am so impressed by the dewy, glowy result. This is a foundation for the days you want to show off and show out. Following more of McGrath’s advice, I used a facial mist, instead of a setting spray, to set (Avené Facial Spring Water - £5.75) and, I can’t believe I have been missing out on such a glowy, natural finish for all this time.
Do High-Priced Foundations Equal A Better Match?
Here’s the good news for those who don’t want to fork out the high price tag of luxury foundations: no. The cosmetic industry has come a long way (with room to improve) when it comes to foundation formulas and shade ranges. Most brands have come to realise that more shades mean more customers — a win/win for all involved. L’Oréal’s True Match Foundation (£10.99) is one great example of an affordable brand that has a large shade offering. And, in a beauty world where Fenty Beauty exists, these days I am confident that I’ll be able to find a ‘Warm Almond’ or ‘Medium Deep’ shaded foundation somewhere on the high street. But, I still struggle to find that truly perfect match — one not too orange or too grey — that feels like my skin but better. So far, luxury brands where foundation prices range above the £40 mark, like Pat McGrath’s Skin Finish, Giorgio Armani’s Luminous Silk Foundation (£45) and Dolce and Gabbana’s Velvet Skin (£51) have provided me with the closest, true-to-me match overall.
I’ve come to learn that, for my skin tone specifically, it’s not just the label of the foundation that will lead to a natural skin tone match, it’s the formulation. Javon Forde, a Black cosmetic chemist who debunks beauty ingredient jargon on Instagram and TikTok, suggests people with a similar skin tone to mine struggle to find foundations because formulations tend to contain a “higher ratio” of yellow and red irons that appear orange. Forde explained that after searching through all the brands in Sephora and Ulta, make-up brands such as Lancome’s Teint Idole foundation and L’Oréal True Match contain a blue ingredient that helps cancel out that orange tone. It also seems one of the biggest pulls of investing in high-priced foundations is the better colour pay-off, that can endure a long day.
When it comes to the landscape of luxury fashion and beauty, makeup tends to have a far smaller barrier to entry for the average person — I definitely don’t have the means to buy a Chanel bag, but I could, for example, purchase a Chanel perfume with time. As someone who wears makeup most days, and spends a lot of time in front of a camera, I can confidently justify investing in a high-end foundation if I can rely on it to be my perfect match.
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