Cosmetics finally get a makeover



With the support of a makeup artist and Iman, African-American women are getting more options for foundations, skin care

The self-described "groupies" gathered in a dark room of a Northwest Washington hotel, eagerly awaiting the man some had traveled from Philadelphia or New York to see.

The celebrity was handsome as a Hollywood hunk, charismatic as a pop music star. But these women couldn't care less whether he had any singing talent or an ability to cry on cue.

He was Sam Fine, makeup artist to such stars as Vanessa Williams, Janet Jackson, Tyra Banks, Mary J. Blige, Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey and Iman. And he was there, at the Westin Grand on M Street, to show them how to make themselves beautiful.

"Makeup is a symbol of femininity, of womanhood," says Dana Williams-Johnson, 27, of Upper Marlboro, who came to see Fine with her older sister, Anne Williams. "As a little girl, I used to always play in my mom's makeup."

Now that they're grown women, though, the Williams sisters don't consider makeup a plaything anymore. And dear old mom just doesn't have the answers today's women -- like the dozens who traveled to catch the Washington leg of the Sam Fine tour -- need to put their best face forward.

"A lot of us are still in a quandary when it comes to skin care, when it comes to makeup," says Fine, in an interview before his recent Washington appearance. "That's why I went on tour in the first place. Because there's a lack of information out there for African-Americans about makeup and beauty."

For many years, Fine says, mainstream beauty companies did not make products with African-American women in mind. Consequently, their mothers and grandmothers found makeup to be mysterious, scary or inappropriate for black skin.

"That's why I think women are afraid of it today," says Fine, author of the 1998 how-to book, Fine Beauty: Beauty Basics and Beyond for African-American Women.

"Because we didn't have the information. So we grew up hearing things like, 'Wearing too much makeup is a bad thing. Men don't like it. It makes you look fake. It makes you look phony,"' he says. "Women today are waiting for you to give them permission to wear makeup, and wear it the right way."

African-American skin is not Caucasian skin. But until very recently, makeup artists and skin-care experts say, manufacturers who recognized that fact were few and far between. Most cosmetics companies' foundations, for example, were pinkish, or the color of pancake-mix -- more suited to lighter skin tones.

Supermodel and cosmetics-maker Iman is famous for telling the story about how -- as a sought-after cover girl in the 1970s and '80s -- she often had to bring and blend her own foundations on photo shoots, because top companies had nothing on the set to complement her bronzed and sun-kissed skin.

So, 10 years ago, Iman started her own cosmetics company. Her deeply pigmented products are available at Wal-Mart, Target and Walgreen's stores nationwide.

While many companies offer women of color only three to four shades of foundation -- a key part of any makeup regimen -- Iman's line offers 18 to 20. She also sells a popular item called Undercover Agent, an oil-control lotion (for black women's tendency toward oily skin) that minimizes pores and reduces shine.

Iman also has released a new book on black skin care: The Beauty of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide for Skin of Color.

"It has literally every information that you could possibly need on skin care and cosmetics," Iman says.

Lately, it seems, the various cosmetic companies have developed a new awareness of black skin care and makeup issues.

"More and more now, almost everybody wears makeup," says Romero Jennings, senior artist for M.A.C. cosmetics, a richly hued makeup line that started close to 20 years ago for professional makeup artists and quickly became popular among lay women of all skin colors. "What M.A.C. did in the early years is they said, 'We have to have something for everybody.' It was weird. No one was thinking this way back then. We've been doing it a long time. I think what you're realizing is that the other companies are finally doing that."

According to marketing research company Target Market News, African-Americans spent $1.1 billion on cosmetics in 2004.

That may go a long way toward explaining why many mainstream beauty companies are beginning to get on board.

In addition to Fine's groundbreaking tour -- he's one of the first African-American makeup artists to bring his talents on the road in an educational format -- and Iman's cosmetics line and book, many mainstream companies have recently launched, or plan to start, lines especially for women of color.

L'Oreal will soon release a line of color-saturated makeup called HIP, or high-intensity pigments, which is for darker skin tones, says Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure magazine. Beyonce will be the spokeswoman.

Cover Girl is coming out with a "Queen Latifah" foundation, Wells says. Lancome is getting on board, too.

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