Why ‘UK Black Girl Makeup’ Is The New Face Of Luxury

Photo: via @cee.loux.
There’s a general consensus across the beauty world of late: Black women in the UK have mastered the “perfect beat” —  a specific brand of polished, aspirational makeup that now feels distinctly British — or, as one person enthusiastically described on Twitter, “The UK Black girls have the best makeup in the game hands down!!!!” Defined by a ‘like-skin’ foundation base, bright under eyes, lip-lined glossy lips and false eyelashes, the UK Black Girl makeup aesthetic is gaining traction, and praise, across all corners of the internet. On TikTok, videos tagged under UK Black Girl makeup have amassed more than 58 million views, and Youtube tutorials by Mela Child, Cee Loux and Beauty By Bemi offering a step-by-step guide to recreating the look have garnered international appeal. It’s not uncommon for US-based Black makeup lovers to try out UK Black Girl makeup on themselves (and look distinctly more “bRI-ISH” as a result).
I am a Black woman in the UK, but this growing reputation for beauty perfection isn’t something I can personally claim. And yet, as I look around at my glamorous age mates, all in full UK Black Girl makeup splendour, it’s a makeup technique I’ve quietly wanted to master. Mainly because it’s an image of ‘got-it-together’ sophistication I’ve come to associate with Black British women who are successful. Take UK Black Influencers such as Melissa’s Wardrobe and Patricia Bright, who are praised for their “perfect beats” and aspirational luxurious lifestyles to match. These objectively successful women are routinely referenced in regards to popular “Black girls in luxury” lifestyle trends, where Black women are encouraged to aspire towards an abundant, “soft” lifestyle that can be unattainable. On social media, it seems if “soft life” is the attitude then the ‘UK Black Girl makeup’ is the accompanying makeup look. 
Yet for celebrated makeup artist, Bernicia Boateng, the UK Black Girl Makeup look was simply born out of a real need for Black British women to celebrate themselves, and their own unique brand of glamour.
“I think that's what people see, they see [UK Black Girl makeup] as confidence,” says Boateng. 
Bernicia Boateng is a celebrated makeup artist who works on the faces of Black British stars such as Michaela Coel. The London-based MUA  had recently been part of the main cast of Channel 4’s High Life, a reality show that charted the lives of successful, young, Black British people with West African heritage. Boateng is no stranger to the UK Black Girl makeup look and praises it for its understated glamour. 
“I would say our approach to makeup is very unique because we're English and our approach to everything is a little bit more chilled, a little bit more understated,” she explains to Unbothered over zoom. “My biggest influence in beauty is the soft glam, which kind of comes from that 90s era of R&B music videos and the [Black rom-com] movies that were out at that time, where the makeup is subtle, it's there, but it's not quite there. And I think we just have that perfect medium. I think [Black British women] just really understand that when it comes to beauty it's about looking like you've transformed yourself but still very much looking like yourself.”
While this look is seen as understated and (somewhat) natural, it does require some decent makeup skills to recreate (“I can spend 30 minutes on this look and sometimes two hours,” claims Boateng)”. With less of a focus on harsh contouring and a shift to a natural, near-perfect skin finish, UK Black Girl makeup does seem like a close cousin to the “clean girl” makeup trend — an aesthetic that has seen itself in a fair share of debates recently. It’s main opposers claim that the perfect “flawless” finish is limiting. 
Similarly, some have criticised UK Black Girl makeup trends for enforcing yet another unattainable beauty and lifestyle standard, as one person tweeted, “Now there is a Black UK girl beauty standard, if you're not wearing expensive frontals, clothes and having flawless makeup you automatically put into a bracket, TikTok definitely makes things divided…”
Though trends like 'clean girl' makeup have their issues, for some Black women being able to explore more minimal beauty looks like UK Black Girl makeup are signs that the beauty industry is evolving and Black women are no longer an afterthought.
“Makeup has definitely evolved for Black women,” says Boateng. “There are so much more products in the market for us, as brands like Fenty beauty really did put pressure on the beauty industry to expand their colour ranges to be more inclusive. And all of those types of changes that come within the beauty industry have made us feel more accepted and made us feel more confident. And so now we feel like we're a part of the luxury beauty world because we've been considered.”
UK Black Girl makeup is certainly a far cry from playful, colourful and dopamine-inducing beauty trends that are also trending at the moment. Yet weren’t Black folk once the perfect canvas for bright, colourful beauty looks? As Boateng explains, "If I look back at my work from 2015, there's a big difference in just a seven-year period. Now, I'm less focused on colour on my eyes or putting loads of gold glitter all over my face, for example. That's just not the vibe anymore.” 
No glitter. Noted. So, what’s provoked this beauty vibe shift?
“Black women have finally realised that we can go for a soft glam, there was a point where the only foundation that really matched Black girls was maybe the Studio Fix Foundation by MAC, which is a very full coverage foundation. So, in our minds at that time, there was only one way we could look, because those are the only foundations that came in our shade. We never really had BB creams that suited Black skin, so it was very hard for Black girls with darker skin to achieve that easy, breezy, you know, ‘I'm going to apply my foundation with my fingers on the train’ type look that maybe the white girls could do. We couldn't do that, because there were no products for our skin tone. But now we can. And so we're embracing that. And we're showing different layers of our beauty.”
During our chat, Boateng recommends Nars Soft Matte foundation, Fenty beauty lip paint, Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Freeze, Tom Ford Eye Colour Quads, Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Setting Powder and Kiko Milano lip gloss, if you want to take a stab at the look.
I do. I want in. I want to be a Pat McGrath makeup-wearing luxury girl.
By their very nature, a lot of social-media-born makeup trends are fleeting and of course, not every Black British woman has to aspire to look like this — please, do you. But I can’t help but want to be involved with the UK Black Girl makeup trend (sometimes) because it feels like an attainable Black British luxury within my own means. I’ve often asked myself whether a soft luxurious life is simply a look or a feeling. Here, it can be a little bit of both.
This story was originally published on Unbothered's UK edition.

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