If you could write a letter to your anxious, self-conscious teenage self about your skin and the way you look, what would you say? We asked Sang In, Leomie Anderson, Cai Lee and Charlotte Wiggins to do just that – and the results are fascinating...
Dear 15-year-old me,
I know that, right now, your skin tone is not something the beauty industry is interested in catering to. When you go to your local Boots or Superdrug, you stand idly by as your friends swatch foundations and purchase their £6 concealers, something you cannot do – and not because your mum said you're not allowed, but because there's nothing available in your shade. And I know that right now you don't understand why you have to miss out on that after-school experimentation, which all your white and lighter-skinned friends get to enjoy, because the only brands that provide shades for you are available in black hair shops.
In just a few years' time, you'll take part in your first proper Fashion Week, something that I know you're already nervous about and, unfortunately, the struggles for your skin tone will persist. There will be professional make-up artists who claim to have been working for 20 years who will make you look grey on the runway.
Right now, your skin tone is not something the beauty industry is interested in catering to.
You'll feel embarrassed when you see a few of your first show pictures because your make-up looks so bad; you may even go to the toilet to have a little cry about the way you look, especially being the only black girl in the show. But you will learn how to do your own make-up rather quickly and bring your own hair and make-up products to save yourself embarrassment. A few years after that, you'll be in the news speaking about how little has changed backstage at shows – you'll find your voice and hopefully enable other black models to speak up if they feel their make-up isn't done correctly.
In general, though, you can look forward to a great explosion online for the black make-up community. You will be able to watch other amazing black women give tutorials and advice on how they perfect their make-up; you will even see some of these faces in big campaigns, encouraging make-up diversity.
You will have friends the same shade as you winning make-up contracts with huge brands and you will feel that, finally, girls like us are being represented within the beauty industry, even if it's just a few. More brands are starting to listen and cater to us, so now when our younger cousins get to 15, they will have a better chance of finding products in their shade when they go shopping with their friends after school.
There is still a way to go in the representation of darker skin tones within the fashion industry, but, trust me, things will be a lot better than they are now for you and girls like us.
Dear me, aged 16
Charlotte. Listen to me. You're not interested in your own face, I get it, but one day very soon it will be your fortune, so for the love of God, treat it nicely. In school, you never wear make-up – maybe a little lipgloss or something a bit cringe like that – but remember all the girls in the toilet wearing a base that is always two shades too dark and learn from them. The most subtle colour mistake will glow like a beacon on you.
Your skin is not perfect, it can get quite dry in the winter, but it's usually quite well-behaved. The thing is, when you get a breakout or sensitive redness (and I'm sorry to tell you, but you will still get that, even when you're shooting for Burberry or doing the shows and having your face scrubbed and made up and scrubbed again), you'll need some good coverage because your spots are literally the reddest red; you can see them a mile off. It's the contrast. When your skin is pale, colours show up on it, be it redness, blue under your eyes – you have that – or a yellow-toned concealer when you should have a pink-toned one.
When you have a hangover (you'll have quite a few of those), it will be fairly obvious. Your skin will be dull, you need an arsenal of glow-giving tinted moisturisers or BB creams, but you're lucky because pretty much all shades will work for your skin colour, so take advantage.
Buy some shares in Simple facial wipes. You're lazy and will develop a love for them that will see you go through hundreds of packs.
Sometimes you'll come in from a night out at 3 o'clock in the morning and won't take your make-up off, but sometimes you'll be really good. Please moisturise religiously, drink water and use a face mask when you've had a long week. The melanin (pigment) in darker skin helps protect it from wrinkles. You, my pigment-free friend, are out of luck. Drink. More. Water.
Please moisturise religiously, drink water and use a face mask when you've had a long week.
You're laid back but it's easy to be self-conscious when your skin is so changeable. But everyone loves a smile. It's about confidence, I think. if you don't feel that great, just fake it till you make it. It works for you in the end.
Dear me, age 18
In a year's time you'll be shooting a major beauty feature for ELLE, talking to them about your face, and you'll know you have your Haitian-African-American background to thank for how much you love your skin. When they ask you to describe your skin colour, you'll say 'a really nice caramel'. And you'll mean it, because it's a specific golden, warm glow that doesn't let you down.
Except that one time your mum tried to do your make-up. It was for a little fashion show, and mum, who is slightly darker than you, went out and bought new (wrong, way too pale) colours. It was so bad. You were, like, 'Mum! I look like this?!'
You have your Haitian-African-American background to thank for how much you love your skin.
No, Cai Lee, you don't, and since then you haven't dabbled in foundation too much, as make-up artists do the hard work for you, but you'll need some help with a couple of things.
For one, your face can get sweaty when it's humid: it's difficult to find a powder that's the right colour, so go with paper; blotting pads are the best thing and work perfectly for all skin colours.
Luckily, your skin has been pretty flawless for the past 18 years, but should you have a too-much-make-up-induced pimple that doesn't disappear overnight, be careful with your concealer. Practice (or professional advice) makes perfect.
Remember that time your cousin was going to throw hers away and you were like, 'Give me it to me, I need to start learning how to do this stuff', but you looked like a crazy person who put weird chalky paint on their eyes? You should've been in a shop trying make-up out with a professional. And do it in the daylight, or you have no hope of getting the perfect match.
When you start loving a red lip (which you will, soon), remember the darker deep reds are a way better colour on you. The bright ones are nice, but they're weird with your warmer skin colour and will wash you out.
All in all, you think you look good, right? You're lucky now there is more and more make-up that works for you, because darker-skinned girls, we like to look good, too!
Sang In Kim
Dear me, age 16
Right now, the acne on your forehead is letting you down, but in a few years' time your skin will be your thing. You'll get booked on jobs because of it, and your pictures won't even need retouching. The problem for now, though, is what the hell to use to cover it up.
You're more tanned than the average Korean, so of the two foundations you've found, the dark one is too dark and the natural one is too bright, so you need to mix them together. In fact, don't bother: you'll make the spots worse with too much make-up. Just cover them with your fringe. Actually, you shouldn't do that, as the oil will make it worse, but hey, you're 16, so you take the easy option. Soon, you'll start exercising to flush the toxins out and eating better, so it'll clear right up.
Where you're from, ageing skin isn't admired, so by the time you're 24 they'll think you're 28. But in London it's different – people there think you're about 18. That's why you move to London.
If there's one thing you'd change about your skin, it's the blackheads. You use a pore strip every day, as well as a scrubbing cleanser, and the combination works for your slightly oily skin.
You're learning make-up tricks now from watching movies or K-pop singers (surprise: burgundy eye shadow is great on you), but you cannot always copy the magazines, because no one's face is exactly the same as the model's. Have confidence and adapt your own look to what you need. You'll care about contouring because you'll love your cheekbones and jawline. Exaggerate them with contour and highlighter.
You might be jealous of your East Asian friends right now because they don't tan easily, like you do, and lighter Asian skin is sadly the beauty ideal. You're not a 'prototype' Korean model and you'll use whitening serum because you all think white skin is fancier, more like royalty. But give it a few years and you'll love your olive tone skin and unusual cheekbones (in Korea, they like an egg-shaped face). But since, in Asia, lighter skin is usually seen as preferable, make-up artists will still use a brighter foundation on you for jobs, and your neck will be a totally different colour. Don't go home like that.
Sang In x
For the models' skin kits plus the ultimate perfect foundation finder for EVERY skin colour, type issue and texture, check out April issue of ELLE UK