The best makeup shades for women of color

Finding the perfect makeup for women of color – whether it be foundation, lipstick, blush, etc. – used to feel like a scavenger hunt with little to no options for darker complected ladies. Today, there are a variety of brands and products that are suited for every woman’s skin tone. That is if you know where and how to look.

By knowing your skin’s undertone, you can make the trek through the makeup department a little less intimidating.

Am I warm, cool or neutral?

Illustration by Marialaura Paucar
Illustration by Marialaura Paucar

Determining whether you have a cool, neutral or warm undertone can make all the difference when picking makeup.

Women with warm, brown skin on typically have yellow or olive undertones. Think Kerry Washington – yellow undertones – and Jennifer Lopez – olive undertones.

Neutral undertones apply to women who have what is considered medium-toned skin. These women tend to have an easier time finding the right shades since they can choose colors that are either warm or cool.

And women with deeper complexions usually have either who typically have gray (cool) or reddish (warm) undertones. Think Lupita Nyong’o – gray undertones – and Mindy Kaling – red undertones.

To find your undertone, notice the parts of your skin that don’t get much sun (inside of your wrists and chest.) Another way to determine what undertone you have is to look at the veins in your wrist. Green veins mean that you have a warm undertone, and bluish veins equate with cool undertones.

What products should I use?

Once you’ve discovered what undertone you have, it’s much easier to pick shades that will compliment your skin. Just choose makeup with hues that are the same as your undertone.

For example, if you have a warm undertone, your makeup should have warm, earthy tones like deep reds, golds and bronzes. Those with cool undertones should wear makeup with blues, silvers, pinks and purples.

Now, does this mean that someone with warm tones can’t wear purple eyeshadow or someone with cool undertones can’t wear any gold? Absolutely not! There are shades of purple that have reddish undertones that will look perfect on a caramel sista with warm undertones. The same goes for a bronze shadow and mixing it with a little silver on a dark chocolate sista with cool undertones.


When selecting a foundation, it should match your neckline so that it blends with the complexion of both your jaw and face.

Photo by Morgan Nimmons

Covergirl’s Queen Collection offers a vast selection for women of color such as Lasting Matte Pressed Powder ($6.99) – perfect for those with warm undertones – and All Day Flawless Foundation ($11.29) – for all undertones – which is a 3-in-1 formula with foundation, concealer and powder. On the more expensive side, Napoleon Perdis’ Boudoir Mist Spray Foundation ($69) leaves a flawless, airbrush finish and comes in five shades.

Other notable brands that offer a wide selection of foundation shades for darker skin tones include M.A.C., IMAN Cosmetics, Bobbi Brown and Black Opal.


Blush is a great way to accentuate cheekbones and give skin a beautiful glow. The rules for wearing blush on brown skin is a little different as it isn’t necessarily determined by undertones but by skin shade.

For those on the darker side of the color spectrum, ruby reds, deep pinks, plums and bronzes that are highly pigmented look beautiful on the skin and will blend best. Brown-skinned women that are lighter should choose cooler colors like light pinks and corals. And those with warm undertones or medium-toned skin look nice in warm colors such as peach, bronze and medium pinks.

Be careful: Choosing the wrong color might leave skin looking ashy or dry.

IMAN’s Luxury Blushing Powder ($11) in “Sable” and Black Radiance’s Baked Blush ($4.99) in “Raspberry” look radiant on deeper skin tones.

Women with much lighter skin should stay away from warm tones like oranges, ruby reds and purple hues and, instead, stick to light pinks, peaches and bronzes. Blushes to try are Bobbi Brown’s Blush in “Peony” ($28) and tarte’s Amazonian Clay 12-hour Blush ($28) in “Coral Pink” adds just the right amount of vibrancy to the cheeks.


Women of color can experiment with almost any color and still look great, but you should still keep in mind of what shades go well with your undertone.

Purple, emerald green, blues and grays complement darker skin with cooler undertones and on those with dark eyes. Women of color with warm undertones should try shimmery colors – golds and bronzes, specifically.

However, like mentioned earlier, women with warm tones can still rock purple eyeshadow as can darker women with gold eyeshadow, just as long as shades that match their undertones are present in the makeup.

Photo by Morgan Nimmons
NYX’s “Bohemian Chic Nude Matte Collection” | Photo by Morgan Nimmons

Shadows to try include NYX’s Bohemian Chic Nude Matte Collection ($18) which comes with 24 earthy eyeshadows (ideal for ladies with warm undertones), two blushes and two applicator brushes. The colors are very pigmented and numerous applications are unnecessary for it to show up the lids.

For cooler tones, Wet n Wild’s Color Icon Eyeshadow Collection in “Petal Pusher” ($4.79) is a great option, and you couldn’t ask for a better price.


Darker skinned women with cool undertones can get away with more saturated lip colors, but going too bright can over exaggerate the size of the lips.

Women with warmer undertones are often able pull off a wide range of lip colors, though the wrong shades of brown or nude colors can wash them out. Pigment is also a significant factor when choosing a lip shade. Colors with little pigmentation can make the skin look gray.

Maybelline's “455 Mauve-ulous” | Photo by
Maybelline’s “455 Mauve-ulous” | Photo by

The Color Sensational line by Maybelline offers products that are highly pigmented and have strong color payoff. Try shades “455 Mauve-ulous” – a brownish mauve color – and “410 Blissful Berry” – a plum shade with reddish pink undertones. You can find this brand at any drugstore for around $3 to $4. Women of color also need not shy away from red lipstick.

Those with cooler undertones look fabulous in blue-based shades such as Covergirl’s Colorlicious Lipstick ($6.99) in “Hot” and ladies on the warmer side might want to try raisin toned reds like Stila’s Color Balm Lipstick ($22) in “Alia.”

I’m still unsure about what makeup shades will suit my skin.

Because there are more makeup options for darker skinned women to pick from nowadays, it’s just a matter of experimenting with different brands and shades to see what works.

If you are going to experiment, it’s better to visit your local drugstore and find cheaper brands such as NYX, Wet n Wild or e.l.f. cosmetics so you don’t waste your money on luxury brands only to find that you bought the wrong color.

Many beauty stores such as M.A.C., Ulta and Sephora have Personal Beauty Advisors that are available to help you choose the right makeup shades. Additionally, when browsing for makeup – whether it be lipstick, blush or foundation –  imagine the color being a few shades lighter than it looks in the package.

Lastly, remember to have fun with your makeup. As a woman of color, it can be very frustrating finding a shade that compliments your skin, but by keeping in mind what your undertones are and learning what colors do and don’t work, your process will cause less of a headache.