Hong Kong's makeup neglects people with darker skin tones, and that's not fair

Struggle to find makeup that matches your skin colour because you're on the darker side? You’re not alone

Heidi Yeung |

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There’s nothing new about fairer skin being preferred over tanned skin in Hong Kong. What is new is that there are now more brands willing to stock makeup in shades other than porcelain, ivory, and beige. (Also known as super fair, really fair, and fair.) More brands – though still not enough and still not stocking a wide enough range for the diversity that makes Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

“Here, beauty products mostly cater to very fair-skinned people so you never know how the makeup will actually look on your skin,” says Mallika Laul, a 15-year-old Indian Island School student who moved to Hong Kong when she was a toddler. “I definitely think the availability of makeup that goes well with my skin colour is very limited, and I don’t think that’s very fair. All the ads show people with much lighter skin than mine, which doesn’t help with [my] confidence.”

The city’s limited selection not only affects the average consumer, but also professionals. Local make-up artist Natasha Moor, whose parents are Sindhi Indians, was born and raised in Hong Kong, and always finds it difficult suggesting products for her clients.

“I give makeup workshops and lessons to people, and there’s nothing here I can recommend to them,” Moor says. “Every time I recommend something it’s like, ‘you can get this from this brand in this country.’”

In this city it seems the only brands that care to carry darker shades tend to be the more expensive ones you’d find at Lane Crawford. Moor’s favourite brands for their range of shades are Mac Cosmetics, Make Up For Ever, and Urban Decay. But she thinks that students shouldn’t feel the need to splash out on something as basic as foundation.

YP Junior Reporter Taina Puddefoot finds it hard to find foundation in her shade in Hong Kong.
Photo: YP junior reporter Taina Puddefoot

“Being a mixed-race student in Hong Kong I’ve found it incredibly hard to find any cheap foundation that matches my skin tone,” says 17-year-old Taina Puddefoot, a Hong Kong International School student who is Jamaican-British. “My only option is to buy from top make-up brands or wait till I travel abroad to get anywhere near a colour that suits me.”

And even though the high-end brands carry more shades, they still don’t stock to their full potential in Hong Kong.

For example, Studio Fix Fluid from Mac Cosmetics is one of the brand’s star foundations. And while the product itself carries up to NW58, a deep, warm brown shade, in Hong Kong we only get up to NC55, a lighter, cool-toned brown. Similarly, if you head into a Nars shop or counter in the city, they’ll tell you they don’t carry the darkest shade the brand makes.

Another example of narrow-minded local beauty standards: The Body Shop released Shade Adjusting Drops earlier this year, one for darkening and one for lightening, so you can customise the shade of your existing foundation to match your skin tone if it’s not quite perfect for your complexion. But Hong Kong only carries the lightening shade, and not the darkening shade. Go figure.

And it’s not only the ethnic minority population in our city who finds it hard to find make-up that works for them, but ethnically Chinese Hongkongers, too.

Theodora Yu, a 22-year-old University of Hong Kong graduate and avid rower tells Young Post that because of her tan, “friends jokingly comment that I look ‘dirty’ with darker skin. But I feel that people with tanner skin tones are beginning to have our own niche too, as we’re being taken as the sporty type.”

Theodora Yu’s skin is tanner than her friends thanks to her outdoor activities.
Photo: Theodora Yu

Until Hong Kong ups its game and caters to all skin tones, Moor suggests customising what you have available to you. Get a drugstore foundation in a formula that works with your skin type in the shade closest to what you need and invest in the darkest concealer you can find, which will most likely be from a high end brand. Concealers are typically cheaper than foundations, and you can mix it with your drugstore foundation to get a shade that works for you.

There’s still a long way to go until Hong Kong finally makes a more realistic range of shades available to shoppers, but the fact that more affordable brands like H&M and Kiko are carrying darker shades is promising. Until then, it’s not impossible to make what we have work for us.