The struggle of being a dark-skinned woman in this era gives me sleepless nights, literally. There are many aspects to life with darker skin that give me shivers just thinking about them. For the sake of this article, we'll focus on the makeup industry and the obvious gap in the products available. One of the questions I frequently ask myself is where do I get foundation that perfectly complements my skin tone? I get whiplash every time I think about restocking on foundation.

When you scroll through social media, it appears that the only places where you can buy exactly what you want is a fancy beauty shop where the prices, more often than not, are beyond the reach of most of us. Excuse me, but I’m not fortunate enough to wear some Estée Lauder foundation that goes for a whopping Sh7, 200! Well, not yet.

Right now, I have no preferred brand of foundation. All the shops I walk into don't stock too many dark-skin products. I have had to switch from brand to brand depending on what is available. Over the years, I have used tens of products such as Maybelline Fit Me. It was pretty awesome but our cozy relationship didn't last long as it was out of stock when I decided to get a second one. I'm now using Mary Kay and it has been so good to me.

 Photo: @lollitahbunde

I polled a few beauty vendors during one of my errands and I was amazed by how business perspectives have taken over our sense of Africanism. “The lighter shades move faster, my boss doesn’t like it when products take too long on the shelves,” one vendor said. Before I could find my bearing, the second one chimed in: “Dark skin women don’t know what they want, they spend hours trying all the products and settling on none, on the other hand light skin ladies know exactly what they want and it makes my work easy. I am not a beautician, I just sell these products to pay my bills.”

I had to call it a day but not before I listened to this lady, who, with all the sobriety she could amass, explained that as a vendor, she is compelled to “move with trends”. She adds: “I will only sell what people want in whatever shade it comes, sometimes everyone is lucky but not always, I bring few units of dark skin beauty products but they don’t move fast, I have to stay in the game and sell what everyone else is selling to be able to survive.”

Judging from what these vendors had to say and looking around me, I couldn’t help myself out of this confusion - out of every 10 women I meet every day seven are dark skinned! Some irony right? So what could be the problem? How come this is not reflected when it comes to beauty products? Why is there no variety?

I may not have ready answers to these questions but our plight as dark skinned women is seemingly here to stay. The biggest problem is not being able to find the right foundation for our skin tone. It is having to relive the experience over and over again: the horror of walking into a beauty shop, crisscrossing the aisles and being forced to leave without getting our exact shade. We are tired of being forgotten, talked down upon and made to feel unworthy.

For a long time, the beauty industry has considered lighter skin tones as more beautiful. This in turn made it impossible for women-of-colour to not only love their naturally darker skin but to find suitable makeup as well. We are queens and we deserve as much if not more attention during the making of products. Makeup is not meant to change ones appearance but to enhance it. The natural look is beautiful. It is perfect even, but a little foundation and lipstick can boost ones confidence to extraordinary levels.

In my quest for answers on the struggles of dark women, I talked to a few ladies. I wanted to hear where exactly it pinches. For fashion designer Victory Raija, she has had to stick to a single shade of lipstick: “I gave up on the search a long time ago, now I only use lipstick. It took me a while to find the perfect shade of maroon and I've stuck to that to date. Anything else and I look like a zombie. I've never found the perfect shade of nude lipstick.”

It gets worse. Some ladies have been forced to stop using makeup all together. Take for instance Salome Kimani who has since stopped using foundation. She blames her ordeal on sellers who are not quite familiar with the products and what skin tone they go with hence end up misleading buyers. She adds that the affordable foundation products she was using were giving her rashes and she had to stop using them.

“I don't use makeup anymore. I've tried looking for perfect lipsticks in vain. The few I thought were better still made me look weird in some way. So I stick to my Vaseline. I feel like there's no lipstick that complements my skin tone, and if I can’t find the perfect lipstick why bother looking for foundation?” lamented Nadia, a trainee lawyer.

It all boils down to the urge to be light skinned. In some skewed way, the society has convinced us that light skin is more beautiful than dark skin. Skin bleaching products are selling faster than most dark skin products in the makeup market. For Lavenda Bunde, she also had to stop using foundation, but that’s not all: “I don’t use foundation, why bother? They all make me look like a zombie. I only do facials. I also have a campaign on social media where I am encouraging black women to embrace and love their skin. Most are convinced that being light-skinned is beautiful and being dark is not. We are all fearfully and wonderfully created before God.”

Nutritionist Margaret Apindi didn’t hold back: “It is hell! Especially the cheap powder products. If you get a close to right shade, by afternoon you either turn reddish or it wears off and you have to re-apply! The costlier products are quite okay but even with them it takes several trials to find the right shade. The Suzie Beauty powder I'm currently using, took me several trials and two shops to find its right shade. For the foundations, they are poorly stocked. I use Maybelline Fit Me No. 362 but it is not readily available. I’d say it is because so many buy it so it is always out of stock. I don’t have a problem with my lipstick. I don't even try to know what suits my colour as I can't afford the right shades. Look at the likes of Huddah Cosmetics and Nakshi Nouba, they have extravagant prices!”

While I couldn’t include all responses, a majority of dark skin ladies seem to have given up on the search for the perfect makeup. The few perfect products that are available are unaffordable, not to mention the hustle of finding the perfect colour. It is a real struggle.


- The writer is a fashion blogger at Rage Craze

Eve Fashion;Beauty;Makeup;Trendsetter