By Kim Katrin Milan
I’m a self-avowed cake face. I am not trying to give the illusion of being makeup-free or “natural.” I adore the colors, the textures and the act of painting my canvas and others. I began taking my love of this artistry more seriously as I continued to curate shows for Toronto’s Buddies and Bad Times Theatre, and earlier this fall acting as designer Sun Sun’s makeup artists for Dapper Q’s Queer New York Fashion Week show. Working with predominantly artists of color, Indigenous people and queer and trans folks meant that in order to highlight their unique skin tones and diverse gender identities, I needed artists who were highly skilled with an existing, comfortable relationship with LGBT communities of color. I already had the passion for makeup and the relationship to my folks, so I decided to deepen my skill to serve the people I knew best. As much as I love it, I recognize it is fraught with a lot of the same problems in many other industries. The inherent bias in makeup is evident in the 11 shades of beige that are standard to most lines, with one or two “dark” shades tacked on almost as an afterthought (not to mention its varied environmental impact). As with other parts of my life, I work to make consumer choices that are aligned with my values.
I would never disagree with the fact that there is a corporate makeup industry run by men with very narrow definitions of beautiful that thrives on pitching themselves as the solution for the low self-esteem that they manufacture and exploit in young women. That culture is not my “mainstream.” I strive to consciously be inspired by a collective of cultural experiences that transform and subvert those messages.
When we advocate that there is only one way that a “respectable woman” looks, we are effectively inviting others to disrespect anyone who doesn’t fit into that limited idea. I love us as we are, with color oozing out of every pore and if you won’t have us as we are, then we don’t want you either.
There is a particular brand of feminist who while at the same time fighting for our apparent freedom, policies our desires and our bodies if they don’t fall into a constructed idea. My feminism is so fundamentally different, it has always been grounded in Indigenous resistance, women in intricately woven skirts with tattoos on their faces, sex workers and strippers, hood ass femmes with acrylics and gold doorknocker earrings, beautiful and inspiring trans women who remind me to be proud of our sisterhood. These are women hustling day and night to take care of themselves even when the rest of the world decries that their bodies are not valuable or even beautiful. These folks are challenging a double standard that exists and that glorifies the creativity of some white girls for wearing things that we as women of colour are punished for. With all of this in mind, ethical beauty is more of a framework than a fixed idea. It is about femmes getting to express autonomy over their bodies and representation in a way that aims to do little to no harm. For me, I am looking for products that are ideally all or at minimum one of the following:
Cruelty-free is a label for products or activities that are not tested on animals. This is my minimum standard for any product I buy.
2. Natural or with Natural Ingredients
Skin is our largest organ, so it is important to read through the ingredient label on any product that you use on your body. I avoid ingredients like parabens, which are carcinogens, mineral oil (used in so many Black hair care products impairs the ability of skin to release toxins), and hydroquinine (used in skin bleaching products and has already been banned in Japan, the European Union, and Australia after being linked to cancer, reproductive toxicity and adrenal disruption). Do your own research to determine what ingredients you feel comfortable with. Everyone has their own standards and their own limitations.
- Inclusive and Accessible
By this I mean a color range that is inclusive of many different tones like Becca Cosmetics, but also other ideas of inclusivity including gender, ability and class (i.e. affordable makeup).
- Fair Trade
Whenever possible I like to support Black, Indigenous or people of color-owned businesses. Women-owned local companies like Ajani Cosmetics or global brands like Shea Moisture cosmetics utilize fair trade, sustainable and organic practices as well as give back to their local community. Their makeup, hair and skin care line are my all around favorites.
That’s why, earlier this fall, I was so excited to visit the opening of the new NYX store in Santa Anita Mall when I visited Los Angeles, California to be a speaker at the Amber Rose Slutwalk. I went with bae Mary of the LA Femmes Of Color Collective and I probably squealed from beginning to end. There was a line to the store, but we only waited about 20 minutes and they gave us cookies in line so it helped the time pass.
They had these mini train cases as a gift with purchase for $75, so I rationalized that it made sense to splurge because I would get to have a case to keep all the things I purchased in case I was out of space in my luggage.
I got 16 things in total, with no item over $10, including the case, and have been testing them out over the past two weeks.
- Cream Blush ‘Orange’
- Liquid Suede Cream ‘Stone Fox’
- Intense Butter Gloss ‘Toasted Marshmallow’
- Soft Matte Lip Cream ‘Transylvania’
- Eyebrow Gel ‘Espresso’
- Liquid Suede Cream ‘Amethyst’
- Micro Brow Pencil ‘Espresso’
- Simply Nude Lip Cream ‘Sable’
- Precision Blending Sponges Tear Drops
- Precision Blending Sponges
- Liquid Suede Cream ‘Sandstorm’
- Powder Puff
- Tinted Moisturizer ‘Tan’
- Liquid Suede Cream ‘Vintage’
- White Liquid Liner
- Train Case (gift with purchase)
Check out the pics below, all taken in direct sunlight. Some notes and highlights: Between the lipstick swatches, I used olive oil to wipe my lips, which when I didn’t wipe it off fully made it difficult for ‘Transylvania’ to be applied evenly, but I did get a nice opaque lip when I am showcasing the cream blush orange. The liquid suede creams are a dream. Not only did they leave my lips soft, they were long-wearing and makeout-proof with my partner. Eating anything oily definitely melts it off.
Top Left: Soft Matte Lip Cream in Transylvania & Powder Puff
Top Right: Liquid Suede in Stone Fox
Bottom Left: Liquid Suede in Amethyst
Bottom Middle: Simply Nude Lip Cream in Sable
Bottom Right: Intense Butter Gloss in Toasted Marshmallow
Since I only have one eyebrow, I stay buying different brow mediums. In the pic below, you can see that I only have one filled in. I am in love with how actually waterproof these brow gels are. I find that the staying power far exceeds Anastasia Dipbrow Pomade, which I also use. The white eyeliner I picked up to do some artsy design and start stepping my eyeliner game up.
People of color just look incredible in orange blush. The color might look intimidating in the pan, but it brings out a glow in brown skin. Deeper browns and black skin tones rock a jewel-toned orange like nobody’s business. Pigmented color is our world! The tinted moisturizer is light and leaves a dewy finish. I went to the gym after without washing my face and still was left with an even finish and all my makeup exactly as I applied.
Top Left: Soft Matte Lip Cream in Transylvania; Layered on cheeks: Cream Blush in Orange, Tinted Moisturizer in Tan
Top Right: Cream Blush in Orange
Bottom Left: Tinted Moisturizer in Tan
Bottom Right: Precision Blending Sponge (Not pictured; teardrop shaped sponges used to apply tinted moisturizer)
I also wanted to invite Mary to share her top five picks to give a sense of the range and limitations of the line, check out her choices below. I will also be beginning an ethical beauty series on my blog and YouTube channel. Let me know what you would like to see focussed on in the comments.
I’m so honored that Kim invited me to offer my top five NYX Cosmetics picks! As a dark-skinned Black person, it has been hard over the years to find affordable makeup that is pigmented enough to show up on my skin, let alone have any sort of lasting power. I have to say that it was hard narrowing down my picks to just five products, but these are my absolute new favorites.
The Stay Matte But Not Flat Foundation has to be my favorite surprise buy from NYX. Not only does it match my tone perfectly, but it feels so weightless when I wear it. NYX just has such amazing products and varying shades that look amazing on femmes of color.
Kim Katrin Milan is an award-winning internationally acclaimed artist, educator and writer. Living between two of the most diverse cities in the world, her work is deeply grounded in human rights, justice and equity.