Last Updated on November 20, 2022
Put a finger down if you’ve heard any of these beauty myths one too many times…
When it comes to looking our best, melanated folks know how to show up and show out. In our world today, we’re inundated with images and viral posts that make it clear that the top beauty trends are often inspired by people of color.
With so many brands and consumer eyeballs hyperfocused on diversity, it makes me think about the myths and misconceptions surrounding beauty norms amongst people of color.
In this post, I’ll sort out the facts from the fanfare and highlight ten beauty myths that need to be nixed, once and for all.
Myth #1: People with dark complexions don’t need sunscreen
As a mocha-skinned mama, I can fondly remember the summers of my youth in Florida. As soon as a beach day was declared, I would scramble around my closet to find the right bikini top that matched my bottoms. I eagerly dressed into my trendy swimsuit, I neglected to put on sunscreen. I left my precious skin unprotected, ripe for the UVA/UVB wolves to devour it.
After hours in the Florida sun, my skin was left visibly darkened, but not in a way that was flattering. In retrospect, I cringe to think of the permanent sun damage made simply because I didn’t wear sunscreen.
For decades since the advent of SPF, people of color continued to operate with the false notion that our melanin is the only sun protection needed. Can I just scream from the rooftops, like right now, that we are people first. And people have skin–skin that needs SPF protection no matter its color.
Brands such as Buttah and Black Girl Sunscreen are breaking down the barrier in the melanated community about skin protection. I can personally attest that Black Girl Sunscreen lives on my vanity and is used often. I love that the formula is smooth and doesn’t have the white cast commonly associated with sunscreen.
To Debunk, yes babe, you need sunscreen. Rub it on your face, your legs, everywhere! Even in the winter months, it’s still important to apply a daily SPF.
Myth #2: People of color with larger lips should avoid red lipstick and lip gloss
Ok, this myth has got to die, here and now! It’s fair to say that American culture has come to appreciate a fuller pout. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) 2020 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report published annually by plasticsurgery.org, there was an 84% increase in lip augmentation procedures between the years 2000 through 2020. The desire for fuller lips is an ever-climbing beauty trend that’s here to stay.
People of color have long battled with how to adorn our full lips. The long-standing myth is that we did not look flattering with a bold, red, glossy lip. A bright red lip on a person with dominant lips was not the beauty norm back in the day.
When I look around my apartment for photos from my childhood, I see a focused beauty standard that hallmarks the 1980s and 1990s. Fuschia lips were all the rage. So were frosted lips (let’s not bring that one back), and bold, red lips. The women in my family that posed in those photos wore their luscious, hot pink pouts with pride. They abashedly smiled with joyous glee and they all looked beautiful.
Make-up artist innovators like Pat McGrath have revolutionized luxury cosmetics that flatter the melanin’s complex tones. Whether you choose a bold matte (I’m eyeing the Pat McGrath MatteTrance lipstick in “Elson”–think blue red), or perhaps you’re feeling a Lil Mama moment and reaching for the gloss! (My brain cannot stop thinking about Pat McGrath’s LUST: Lip Gloss in “Blood 2”), you can be sure to look as gorgeous as ever.
Finding the right shade of lipstick changes with our mood and our outfits. And one thing that true – people of color can absolutely wear bold, red lipstick. Our voluptuous lips look fabulous and sexy, so show them off with a kiss!
Myth #3: Black people don’t get Botox
The tentacles of the “Black don’t crack” narrative are far-reaching. While the social stigma surrounding people of color getting cosmetic procedures is softening, there is still a myth that we don’t go under the needle. This myth could be due to the stigma of speaking openly and honestly about cosmetic procedures.
According to ASPS’s 2020 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report, African-Americans accounted for 1.78 million cosmetic procedures, Hispanics accounted for 1.985 million cosmetic procedures, and Asian-Americans represented 1.2 million procedures.
The fluidity of today’s beauty norms is opening doors that were previously closed. The choice to use Botox or injected filler shouldn’t be gauged by someone’s skin color. It should be measured by their desire to look their personal best and always done through board-certified practitioners.
Myth #4: Natural hair is unprofessional
This beauty myth drives me crazy! In this day and age, some of us are still molding our hair to suit the desires of corporate tastes. The notion that afros, braids, and dreadlocks are unkept and therefore unprofessional is, in my opinion, another barrier in the corporate landscape set up to disenfranchise people of color.
Alas, the tide is turning when it comes to redefining what is professional in the workplace. In the past, wearing cornrows or rock a bright red ‘do might result in a visit to the HR department. Nowadays, corporate culture is turning a new leaf. Savvy brands and corporate spaces are making strides to educate their employees on proper diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) practices. As the corporate landscapes aim to diversify their staff, aesthetic choices such as hairstyle, color, and texture are now welcomed where they were shunned before. The next time you interview for that new corporate position, feel free to show off your curls, braids, and locs.
Myth #5: People of color do not experience body dysmorphia
It’s normal to feel a bit alien in your own skin, sometimes. However, living with body image issues can leave you feeling like a sideshow freak. According to graduate research from the University of South Florida, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a psychological disorder characterized by excessive concerns about one’s appearance. Simply put, it’s hyper-inflating cosmetic concerns with one’s body which can lead to severe body image issues and lowered self-esteem.
It’s easy to excuse BDD as a disorder that other races experience. People of color, especially Black people are known for our confident demeanor when it comes to our bodies. However, a closer look at the beauty norms of African-American women reveals a different reality.
Black culture glamorizes “Coke bottle-shaped” bodies, long hair, voluptuous curves, and shades of brown skin that lean lighter than darker. Many Black women wear uncomfortable corsets and waist trainers daily to achieve a “snatched” waistline. BDD also shows up in the way Black women enhance their natural curves. Within the last decade, cosmetic procedures amongst African-Americans and Latinos skyrocketed with the rise in butt implants. Simply flip through any magazine and look at the bodies of top celebrities–they all have small waists and large bottoms, and it’s not by accident. As the Black body has been commodified in today’s culture, it’s no wonder some of us chase enhanced versions of ourselves.
Body dysmorphic disorder amongst people of color also shows up in how we perceive our skin color. African, Indian, Asian, and American cultures have long used skin lightening creams to brighten and change the complexion from a dark hue a lighter one. The fact stands that body dysmorphia is not a disorder that people of color are immune from. If anything, it shows up in the ways we as a culture identity beauty—through our body shape and what we deem an ideal skin tone.
On the bright side, society as a whole is widening their view of what body types and skin tones are beautiful. People of color are also opening their mindset to seeking therapy to deal with body dysmorphic disorder in healthy ways. Our melanin is a superpower and the barriers—be it societal or psychological—are breaking down. And, our beauty is finally being accepted, celebrated, and appreciated around the world.
Myth 6: People of color can’t wear nude makeup
The beauty myth that people of color cannot wear nude makeup is simply tired and untrue. It first started with pantyhose (remember those?) in the 80’s and 90’s. There were three colors available: black, coffee (a Crayola crayon shade of brown), and nude, which was a dishwater taupe hue. It was weird and awkward finding the right “nude” back then, and when the nude lip trend happened, Brown girls around the world felt like they were again, not being represented in the beauty space.
When the nude makeup trend rose to popularity a few years back, makeup brands flooded the beauty aisles with the same peachy-tan hue of lipstick and marketed it as “nude”. The problem is, “nude” for me is not “nude” for you. So, when major beauty brands label a color as nude and it doesn’t match a darker complexion, it simply doesn’t speak to the melanated diaspora.
Luckily for those who are fans of a nude makeup look, beauty brands–both luxury and mainstream–have diversified their “nude” color swatches to include a range of nudes that are more inclusive. Many brands are doing the Lord’s work when it comes to diversifying nude and natural makeup tones. Shades like Fenty’s Slip Shine Sheer Shiny Lipstick in “Goji Gang” is a rich rosy mauve that is made for cocoa skin tones. For glamorous 90’s nude eyes, I am currently crushing on Charlotte Tilbury’s Luxury Palette of Pops eyeshadow palette. It features four heaven-sent shades that will add that it-factor pop to our eyes.
Let’s not forget that Mented Cosmetics is out here delivering the nude nails our skin can appreciate. Their nude nail collection comes in a set of 3 luscious colors: “Pinkish”, a traditional soft pink nude, “Yes We Tan”, a warm, cocoa shade, and “Brown & Bougie”, a rich dark chocolate lacquer that truly serves as a nude for those who are blessed with melanin.
IMO, the word “nude” should be wiped out of the beauty vocabulary. It’s a limiting word that really doesn’t mean anything and causes more division than inclusion. Melanated people can and do wear nude makeup. The color swatches of nudes may be warmer than those with the official name of “nude”, but it’s a shade that suits our naked skin.
Myth #7: Black hair is unclean because it is not washed daily
I remember conversations I had with classmates in the past. My Caucasian counterparts cringed at the thought of me only washing my hair 1-2 times a week. The fact is hair that is kinkier in texture produces oil at a slower rate than straight hair. To combat the extra oil production, one would need to wash their hair frequently. And that’s ok.
However, black hair simply has different requirements to maintain it. The myth that Black hair is unclean because it isn’t washed as frequently as other hair textures is unabashedly false.
Myth #8: Red nails don’t look good on dark skin
Let me get out my megaphone. “Attention people of the world–Black people can wear red nails!” I don’t know the origins of this false tale, but I remember this misconception ran wild amongst my aunties and friends growing up.
Bright red nails look amazing on people with darker complexions. Full stop. Whether one decides to wear their nails long or short, a bright shade of red is classic, sophisticated, and sexy. The warmth of both the red and a deep complexion play off and accentuate each other.
The next time you’re at the nail salon, don’t hesitate to try a vibrant, cherry polish. (Ps. I recommend Revlon’s “Fearless”). You’ll find that it will look fabulous, no matter what skin you’re in.
Myth #9: Black don’t crack
This myth is a mainstay in the Black community. It is disguised as a compliment that implies no matter how Black people age, it doesn’t reflect in their appearance. Our high levels of melanin definitely serve to protect and even preserve the youthfulness of our appearance. However, it can imply that we do not need to care for and maintain our skin.
All skin ages, and deep skin tones are not exempt. While darker complexions tend to look younger for longer, it still benefits from the use of skincare ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and squalenes. With everyday pollutants, stress, and a high-caloric diet, everyone’s skin can benefit from some help to keep it looking its best. Melanated skin will “crack” or age, if it is not properly hydrated, cleansed, and moisturized. This myth needs to go deep into the garbage can.
Myth #10: All people of color have the same hair texture
This myth needs to be banished immediately. A look at the African diaspora will reveal a wide range of hair textures. Even within a family, relatives can have 4C hair and 2C hair. Black hair care products often cater to the 4C hair texture, with the exception of very few brands, like BREAD, who recognize that one can be Black and have a softer hair texture. This myth is rooted (no pun intended) in falsehood.
Beauty standards amongst people of color vary between cultures and ethnicities, but one thing that is true is that our melanin is beautiful and a source of pride. Let’s dispel these antiquated myths and seek the beauty that makes us glow, no matter the myth.