The term African-American irks me.

Yes, I know my ancestors are from Africa, but supposedly, Becky, yours are too. My white friends aren’t referred to as Irish-American or Italian-American, so I’ve never quite understood why the politically correct word for black people is African-American.

My grandfather is Chinese, the last three generations of my paternal family originate from South America, my great great grandfather was half Jewish and half Jamaican and born in Nicaragua, and his wife was half Spanish and half Native-American. The term is confusing, and I think it leads a lot of consumer brands to oversimplify and mistakenly lump together the various shades and textures that black skin comes in.

This is especially problematic for the beauty industry.


I’m a person who buys into hype. If there’s a new product, song, restaurant or store I’m there to try it out and give my two cents. As someone who’s always been obsessed with beauty and beauty products, this naturally means that I hopped on the whole BB cream craze that started last year, and is continuing this year with CC cream.

But why do all of these creams — despite being offered by so many brands — come in only two to five shades? Let me tell you, none of these work for my black skin tone. Even my favorite mainstream brands for ethnic skins, like Bobbi Brown and MAC Cosmetics, don’t have a shade that matches my skin tone. I admit that I haven’t tried every single BB or CC cream out there, but I shouldn’t have to search high and low for a product that is offered by every brand.

Bobbi Brown’s darkest BB cream shade is called Medium to Dark. It’s not. I have friends who are darker than me, and can only imagine what this cream would do to them when it makes me look ashy.

I was so excited to buy this product that one day I went to three different department stores (Bloomingdale’s, Saks and Nordstrom), only to find out that they were sold out in all shades. When my mom was finally able to get her hands on one of these pricy little tubes, I was so excited to use the product that for a week I went around town ignoring how ridiculous the light shade made me look.

My mom finally set me straight — “Sade, that color is not working for you.” MAC’s BB creams come in three shades, the darkest being “Light Plus.” What the hell is that?!? Who is “Light Plus” for? Certainly not for me.

BB and CC creams are not the only culprit though. Yves Saint Laurent’s cult favorite Touch Éclat concealer also does not come in my shade. It’s the chicest little wand, it’s touted in every major magazine and it’s one of the brand’s best selling products ever.

No matter how many times I tried it on in the store as a teenager, even in dreary of winter months, their darkest color would not match my skin tone. They finally added a Toffee shade, and most recently a Mocha. However, it still doesn’t quite work for my skin tone, and they have 10 shades for Caucasian women ranging from ivory to vanilla to peach! What about honey, brown and mahogany? Don’t those colors matter? Don’t I matter? Hello-o!

In the case of BB creams, most of them have some sort of SPF protection, and like most other skin products (foundations, primers and concealers), they have titanium dioxide in them. Titanium dioxide, also known as titanium white, can turn black skin a gray, ashy color when applied. This naturally occurring oxide of titanium is chemically processed to remove impurities, and what’s left is a white powder. See the problem?

Mainstream products are just not made for people with darker skin.

Look, as black women, we’re used to not being fairly represented in the media and other things. I’m used to Band-aids and mannequins that don’t match my skin, but can’t a girl get some BB cream?

I’m not saying I can never find a great concealer, foundation or tinted moisturizer. Like I said, Bobbi Brown and MAC are usually my go-to brands for skin products, and most recently NARS. In general, these companies stock a wide array of colors and I can usually find something (though not all of my friends can).

And yes, there are companies that cater specifically to black women, such as IMAN and black | Up cosmetics, but these brands aren’t carried everywhere and can be hard to find. Plus, they’re not regularly featured in mainstream magazines, and don’t usually make Allure’s Best of Beautylists, so it’s hard to know when they have a new product out or what’s good.


Some brands that are carried in specialty beauty retailers like Sephora or ULTA that have a good selection of color are Make Up For Ever and smashbox, but these stores aren’t in every city. For instance, neither chain has a store in Detroit, MI or Memphis, TN, both cities with large black populations.

And when brands like Giorgio Armani or Tom Ford do have a good hue selection for foundation, they usually fall short in other departments like powder or concealer. One dark color — or one broad term like “deep” — wedged on the end of a cosmetics tray does not apply to all black women.

Like the rest of America, and the world, we’re multi-cultural, and our skin comes in many shades. I’m not trying to be cheesy, but our skin tone really does vary. Don’t forget us when creating beauty products.


I’m not bitter. This really all started because I wanted some BB cream. However, while on my hunt, which failed miserably, I was reminded of all the other beauty products I wanted to use but couldn’t. Why does the beauty industry, and the BB community especially, ignore us black women?

I get that we may not, on the whole, have the same purchasing power as our Caucasian counterparts, and that we do make up a lot less of the population, but please expand your BB offerings. Let’s start there, and maybe the rest will follow.

Related from xoVain: “Wait.. This BB Cream Actually Matches my Skin Tone?”


This post originally appeared on XOJane. Republished with permission. Click here for more Sade Strehlke on XOJane!

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  • Miss

    I use Smashbox CC cream in dark and it’s a perfect match (and also amazing); but admittedly I am medium brown skinned. They do need to do better.

  • marthe

    Have you checkes out the CC Cream from blackup cosmetics? It is high end french makeup brand for women of colors! they have shades that go from the lightest to the darkest. blackupcosmetic.com

  • lecia p

    I think the primary frustration that she’s feeling is coming from the fact that she’s looking to the high-end primary Caucasian based cosmetics companies to address our Needs. I feel she doesn’t need to berate them for not offering her shade. what we should be doing is allowing other companies to emerge that address our varying color tones.
    to only focus on these high end Am& French based makeup companies to cater to our need seems to be a bit narrow minded of her.there plenty of black owned companies,Obviously not as many as the white but certainly enough that somewhere in those black owned companies are going to be shades that would be appropriate for her but she’s looking to companies that have primarily only had to cater to Caucasians and she’s wondering why we only get one two three shades?? it seems very naive when we have various brands like Shea Moisture, Queen collection, kiss,Black opal ,Black Radiance,Iman, etc.
    there are many that are out there but she seems to be narrowing down her options to the more pricey high end which is really makes it her fault that she’s frustrated.
    and certainly with the quality control that we now have with cosmetics there’s no reason why she can’t find her shade in a quality black owned company. she’s just not willing to consider them .maybe if she Broadened her options she would not be as frustrated! I know that I’ve finally found the perfect shade for me in the Black Radiance BB cream “brown sugar” & it is absolutely flawless on me!! but this was after trying Shea Moisture, Queen collection, Iman. I never tried Mac. I never tried NARS. and quite honestly I’m not willing to pay that much for a foundation anyway… for me it’s the ingredients that matters not the brand.
    there’s so many out there that are black skin focused. she shouldn’t need to look to these other companies expecting them to broaden their color palette.