As a Black woman, nude lipsticks have always been a pain point for me. Since I fell in love with makeup in high school, it took me years to find a flesh-tone lip product that blended seamlessly with brown skin, much less one with a formula I truly loved. As a teen, I often found many of the affordable drugstore lipsticks labeled “nude” were not brown-girl friendly. Some skewed bubblegum pink on my skin, making it more of a statement lip than a traditional nude. Other shades made my lips look I had just bitten into a powdered donut. Even worse, some made me look really pale, as if I was auditioning for the reboot of Casper the Friendly Ghost. Not cute.
In college, I discovered YouTube, where I learned genius makeup tips from the likes of beauty gurus like Jackie Aina and Patricia Bright, who taught me how to make certain nude lipsticks work for my brown skin by lining them with a lip liner beforehand. While the hack doesn’t apply for all lippies (sometimes a hue is too gray-looking or light to work with at all), I can typically make certain cool-tone nudes work simply by utilizing that trick. Still, I continued my quest throughout high school and college for that perfect nude that didn’t require any finessing.
After so many years of hunting for stellar nude lip products that work for my complexion, I found the one, which I still adore to this day, at the tail end of last year... 365 miles from home. At the time, I was exploring Toronto, Canada, for work. While exploring the city’s bustling Queen West strip — a major shopping destination — during some downtime, I stumbled upon Lip Lab by BITE, a store where customers can create their own bespoke lipstick. “Lip Lab by BITE is a highly unique and fun experience designed for all — from beauty novice to beauty expert — to create custom lipstick tailored to their exact preferences,” Christie Jack, Lip Lab by BITE’s General Manager, explains to Elite Daily.
In addition to the location in Toronto, there are Lip Labs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. At each location, customers can choose from several packages: one customized lipstick from pre-selected pigments for $40; one bespoke lipstick for $60; or two bespoke and an exclusive Lip Lab Kit for $120.
After seeing shoppers' eyes light up when they found their own dream lip colors, I was eager for the chance to have my own shade made. BITE invited me to do just that the next day, offering me a free appointment. When I came back, I was paired with one of their Lip Lab Color Artists, Austen, who inquired about the colors I was looking for and how intense I would like them to be. I was also given the option to choose from four different finishes — matte, satin, luminous, and sheer.
I decided I wanted to have two lipsticks made: a nude and a bright pink. For both lipsticks, I wanted something I could wear on a daily basis with a formula that wasn’t too drying, so I opted for the satin finish, which has a mix of 12 oils so it’s ultra-hydrating. For my nude option, specifically, my goal was to strike the perfect balance between a color that looked complimentary on my complexion but didn’t disappear into my face when applied. Keeping those points in mind, my consultant went to work, mixing a couple of pigments together with a spatula to come up with a formula that catered to my needs.
Austen's first concoction was gorgeous, but the shade was a bit too spot on — you could barely tell I had anything on my lips. So, we decided to add a bit more pink to the formula. By the second try, we nailed it, and my perfect nude was born. It was love at first sight. A classic beauty, we locked lips, and at that moment, I knew she was the one. She’s everything I’ve been searching for: pretty, easy on the eyes, and with just the right amount of sheen.
We repeated the process for my second pink lipstick, which was just as seamless and quick to finish. In the end, it took about 15 minutes to create each formula. Once we decided on the lipstick shades, we scented them with a wild berry fragrance. (Lip Lab also offers several more scents you can pick from, like vanilla and cherry.) Then, Austen melted down the mixtures, poured them into a metal bullet mold, and placed the mold on a frigid cooling plate for a couple minutes so the bullets could harden. Once the formula turned solid, Austen placed the lipsticks in a sleek, magnetic, black lipstick bullet with my initials carved on the top. I was also given a card with my personalized formulas listed, so I can bring that card into any Lip Lab to recreate my lipsticks once I've finished them.
To this day, it brings me joy to swipe on my custom BITE Beauty lipsticks, especially the nude one. For years, I struggled to find flesh-tone lippies, and now, I have one that was lovingly made for me, by me. I’m also pleased to see how many nude lipstick options there are on the market now, compared to when I just started to develop a love for makeup. It's clear the beauty world has made leaps and bounds since my high school days when it comes to when it diversity and inclusivity — and fortunately, it's still going.
These days, more and more brands have begun carrying upward of 40 shades of foundation, and thanks to brands like Fenty Beauty, it’s quickly becoming the standard. In fact, Fenty Beauty is among an increasing number of companies that are also making a point to carry a wider range of shade options across their product categories that people of all ethnicities can wear — and that extends to lip product offerings. While conceiving Stunna Lip Paint in “Unveil,” Fenty Beauty announced on Instagram that Rihanna had "tested SEVERAL shades before landing on this rich chocolate brown that looks good on EV👏🏼ERY👏🏿BODY👏🏽!" Then, they posted a video of the color being swatched on four different skin tones.
L’Oréal Paris is another beauty brand that's made it a priority to carry a diverse product range. They were one of the first brands whose nude lipsticks I was able to use on myself without the aid of a lip liner. I particularly love their Les Chocolats Ultra Matte Liquid Lipstick collection, as it has a stunning assortment of hues for brown and black women like myself. The matte finish is also long-lasting for those days when I can’t be bothered to touch up my makeup multiple times throughout the day.
“Our Women of Color Lab at L’Oreal works tirelessly to make sure everyone can find their shade, no matter what the category of makeup. People of all skin tones should have access to accessibly-priced, high-quality makeup formulations that actually match their skin tones at stores that are accessible all over the US," Orrea Light, Vice President of Global Marketing Product Development & Beauty Innovation at L'Oreal Paris, tells Elite Daily. "That's what you call makeup equality."
While it's certainly refreshing for more and more brands to expand their shade offerings, in foundations, lip products, and beyond, there’s something to be said, for a custom-made lipstick. It’s one-of-kind creation uniquely made for you. And for that, my BITE Beauty lipsticks will hold a special place in my heart (and my makeup vanity).