Staring at the sea of lipsticks sprawled out on my vanity, I see a kaleidoscope of colors—various hues of red, pink, nude, and purple that I'd accumulated over time. With every new purchase, I had hoped to find that one magical lip shade that would blend seamlessly with my South Asian skin. Yet, time and again, I was disappointed. The reds felt too dark, the pinks looked like cotton candy (and not in a good way), and the nudes disappeared on my complexion.
The greatest frustration was that lipsticks that looked so alluring on Instagram failed to translate to my South Asian skin. There have been countless occasions when I settled for "trendy" shades that made me feel like I was forcing a color that didn't work for me, and in discussions with friends and peers, I learned that this experience isn't unique to me: I've spoken to countless South Asian women who have historically faced similar struggles in finding lipsticks that work for their complexions.
Thankfully, the process is starting to get easier, with an increasing number of South Asian beauty brands entering the US. "How are there over 2.1 billion South Asians in the world and we barely have any representation in the global beauty industry?" asks Samreen Arshad, founder of Samreen’s Vanity, a makeup line she designed specifically for South Asian women to fill that very gap in the market. She's perfected a nude lipstick for South Asian skin tones with her famous Nudie Patootie shade, a dual-ended lipstick and lip liner with an earthy, warm hue and semi-matte finish designed not to wash out South Asian skin tones.
"We can wear any color if it’s made with us in mind." —Bina Khan
According to Samreen, the biggest reason why traditional shades don’t work on South Asian skin is due to a lack of understanding about the nuances of different skin tones and undertones that apply to these complexions. South Asian women fall under a large umbrella of “brown” skin that can range from caramel to espresso to deep brown, usually with warm or neutral undertones. However, the products with the most marketability are geared towards the masses, which doesn’t always include South Asian complexions.
"We can wear any color if it’s made with us in mind," says Bina Khan, co-founder of Just B Cosmetics, another South Asian makeup brand that launched in 2021. "Just B understands the need to create products that are inclusive to South Asian skin and combine rich pigments and saturated tones with vibrant depth, and we aim to stop people from being reticent about trying different shades. They’ve been let down for so long so we want to encourage them." The brand's lip "spectrum" is made up of dual-ended lipsticks that feature a brighter shade on one side and a deeper shade on the other so that you can tweak the color until you're content.
Though there are more and more options out there that work for my skin, I decided to take my quest for the perfect lipstick into my own hands on a recent trip to New York City's Lip Lab. Since its inception in 2012, Lip Lab has been at the forefront of the customizable beauty space, trailblazing a path where every beauty lover can become the architect of their own lip creations. The studio (which has 13 locations in major metropolitans, including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Las Vegas) allows guests to go through the entire process of creating a personalized lip formula, mixing shades until they find their perfect match.
During my visit, I was greeted by a color expert who explained that the lab's fusion of technology and artistry would help me find a nude lipstick that would glide gently onto my lips, leaving behind a creamy finish without the sort of ashy undertones that I've experienced with other nude formulas.
She walked me through the spectrum, and explained that the ideal hue should be darker than my natural skin tone with a hint of pink or brown to keep my complexion looking radiant and bright. Because I have warm undertones, she recommended opting for a lipstick with blue tones to balance them out and prevent my skin from looking flat.
When it came time to start mixing the pigments, she stopped every few minutes to let me test the sample to ensure we were on the right track. I even had the chance to add a flavor to the lip nourisher (I went with no flavor) and personalize the formula for a sheer, matte, or creamy finish. I picked a sheer finish on one tube and a balm finish on the other, and was then able to customize the names and final look of the tubes. “My Lip But Better” lipstick and “Kiss Me in Soho” balm were formulated with me in mind.
For the first time, I feel like not a spectator but an artist. The best part? I have a nude lipstick that I actually love.<
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