Makeup Colors for African American Skin Tones

beautiful woman with natural makeup

As women of color know, there is a wide range of African American skin tones, each with their own unique coloring. In today's market, there is also a variety of makeup colors available that can enhance and complement each unique woman's tone and allow her to always look her best.

The Right Colors for Your Complexion

Decades ago, cosmetics were mostly aimed at a fair-skinned market, leaving African American women with few resources. The foundations and powders that were available at the time often left women with darker skin with an unattractive, ashy undertone. However, in recent years, the cosmetics market has exploded with products geared toward women of all shades, no matter how dark or light the skin.

Makeup that looks good on light skin may not complement dark skin well, and vice versa. Depending on your particular complexion, you might look great in Beyonce's makeup colors or you might look better emulating Gabrielle Union.

Color Categories

The best way to get started with determining the type of skin tone you have is to see which of these three categories you fall into. Even with the number of shades, black skin can be broken into three main categories:


The darkest of African American skin tends to have a strong grey or reddish undertone. This skin color formula is best with makeup colors that are primary hues of red, mauve and magenta.


Most dark skin falls into the middle category with a medium color tone. The makeup shades most beneficial for these colors are shades with red and blue undertones.


Colored skin that falls into the light category are mostly yellow and olive shades. The best makeup colors follow an earthier palette.

Flattering Makeup Shades for Women of Color

pink lipstick and gold eye shadow

In addition to determining which of the three categories your skin falls into, you can also try to determine whether you have warm or cool undertones.

African American women who fall on the warm end of the spectrum will look fantastic in these colors:

  • Peach
  • Gold
  • Bronze
  • Orange red
  • Brown

If you have more of a cool complexion, stick to:

  • Blue
  • Purple
  • Silver
  • Pink
  • Blue red

If your skin is very dark and you've always shied away from deep lipstick colors, you don't have to. You can also try a neutral look with a lip color that closely matches your skin and top it with a light coat of clear gloss.

With neutral lips, you can put the makeup focus on your eyes. Women with cool complexions can wear silver or charcoal eye shadow, while warm women can sport bronze eye color and a couple of coats of deep black mascara for maximum impact.

Makeup Color Tips for African American Women


When selecting a foundation it is important to match the skin color exactly. Foundation should match your neck color to avoid the fake line along your jaw and should bring out your natural color, not mask it. Visit a local makeup counter and place stripes of foundation colors from your cheek down to your jaw. Then take these tiger stripes for a walk outside. Some darker skins cause makeup to oxidize, so let the foundation set for at least twenty minutes then check the colors in natural light. Finding the right shade of foundation will give you the perfect base for trying out new makeup colors to complement your skin tone.


A small tint of blush can bring instant life to dark skin. Look for deep and rich colors that also share the same hues as your lipstick. Apply a small hint of color during the day, adding more for the evening. Frosty colors can add glamor on dark skin for a special event. If you prefer, consider using bronzers, to achieve a dewey look.


model with charcoal eye shadow

For eye makeup, nearly any color can complement an African American woman. Tips include:

  • Jewel tones such as purple and emerald green look great against dark skin.
  • Gold and bronze shimmering eye colors will work well if you have warmer undertones to the skin, or lighter colored eyes.
  • Blues and greys will really make darker eyes pop and will complement cool-toned skin.
  • If you really want your eyes to pop, try using a blue mascara on the tips of your lashes, as it complements darker skin tones.

With all eye colors, eyeliner and mascara is a must.


The best shades of lipstick for African American skin tones will depend on the undertone. In general, however, the darker your complexion, the more easily you can pull off richer or more saturated colors. A range of shades, from pink to red to brown, can look gorgeous.

Finding Makeup for African American Skin Tones

You can easily find makeup just for women of color anywhere, including your local drugstore and department stores, as well as a slew of online merchants. When shopping for foundation, it's wise to test different shades on your face, if possible. This won't usually work in a drugstore, but you can try out various colors at department store makeup counters.

Some companies that carry makeup for African American skin tones include:

  • Revlon
  • Black Opal
  • Max Factor
  • Maybelline

Longtime brands like Max Factor, Revlon and Maybelline now offer women of all colors affordable cosmetics, while lines like Iman Cosmetics (created by famous top model Iman) were developed specifically for African American and other women of various ethnicities.

Tips on Purchasing

You may benefit from following a few tips when shopping for cosmetics:

  • If you're already familiar with a brand, you may not need to try on your favorite foundation shade each time you purchase, but realize that your skin may change between seasons. The foundation and powder that look great on you in the summer may be too dark in the winter.
  • Branch out into cosmetic colors you thought you couldn't wear, such as green, pink or peach. There are some makeup shades that seem to complement any complexion such as Clinique Black Honey lipstick.
  • You can mix and match between drugstore and department store brands, including cosmetic lines that you might not have tried before because you thought they only catered to one type of ethnicity. Many makeup brands now feature shades suitable for women of any color.

Achieving Your Desired Look

When it comes to finding the right makeup color for your unique African American skin tone, the best thing you can do is experiment. Try buying sample sizes of makeup or visiting the makeup counter at a local department store for affordable ways to play with color and find the right options for you.

Makeup Colors for African American Skin Tones