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Beauty, Represented

May/03/2024 / by Elizabeth Marglin

South Asian women are finally getting showcased in the beauty world. Here are some of the latest new brands, their founder inspirations, and how to achieve the trendiest looks of the season.

When it comes to representation for South Asian women in the makeup aisle, on socials, and in stores like Sephora, the industry has taken giant strides forward. The brown girl beauty looks previously seen by the mainstream beauty industry (and investors) as too “niche” are now popping up everywhere. 

In recent years, there are dozens of South Asian brands that have trailblazed their way into the beauty world and launched innovative makeup that serves widely overlooked consumers. In 2023, Kulfi Beauty was the first South Asian-inspired makeup brand to be carried at Sephora. Other visionary south Asian makeup brands include Mora, CTZN, Live Tinted, Mango People, Wander Beauty, Vasanti, and Samreens Vanity. The backstory of these brands is unsurprisingly similar: Many were launched after realizing that South Asian women are often woefully underrepresented in the beauty industry.

Putting on makeup can be more than a statement of protest, power and identity. For Samreens Vanity founder Samreen Arshad, creating a makeup brand was as much about personal self-expression as it was political. After her son was born, Arshad struggled with postpartum depression. “It was just a very dark time in my life. I didn’t understand what was going on,” Arshad says. “I just kept thinking this is the happiest time of my life, I’m not allowed to feel this way, right? That was ten years ago and we are more progressive now. Many women go through it. Still, nobody talks about it.”

During this time, Arshad stumbled upon makeup tutorials on YouTube and was soon hooked, experimenting with makeup looks after her son went to bed. She had never delved into makeup before, as a Pakistani immigrant who bought her first lipstick when she came to the States at age 20.

From there, she took a fashion makeup certification class in the Toronto School of Makeup, commuting from Buffalo New York to Toronto. She would leave on Monday at 4 am to make it to her 8 a.m. class. Soon she became a key South Asian makeup artist in the Buffalo area, doing a lot of brides and weddings. Although she loved it, she chafed at the lack of creativity. “Everyone wanted the same look,” she recalls. 

Next she set her sights on becoming a beauty influencer, but noticed she got very few invitations—as in none—to collaborate or work on campaigns. “I wasn’t even added as a token brown girl. There were no brown girls. If you were lucky there were some black girls and maybe one Asian.” 

Arshad pivoted to retail, thinking that might be a good way to work her way up into corporate. But one of the biggest beauty retailers wouldn’t hire her, despite open floor positions and seven submitted applications. Not even an interview. “The last time I went in there, I started looking at all the advertisements,” she said. “There was nobody who looked like me. I said to myself, I’m going to make my own cosmetic line. If they don’t offer me a seat at the table, I will make my own table.” 

While not everyone may have the wherewithal to create their own makeup brand, the moral of Arshad’s story is how tapping into beauty inspires agency, transformation and healing. Makeup can be a space where South Asian women can freely express themselves, defy stereotypes, and have fun. 

To that end, Arshad shared the top trends of the season—and how to achieve them for South Asian skin. 

Flawless base

One of the biggest beauty struggles amongst South Asian women is dark circles under the eyes. It’s a genetic issue, possibly related to increased levels of melanin, low iron, translucent eyelid skin, shadowing, increased pigmentation, blood staining, and visible underlying muscle. Whatever the cause, many women seek to address it  by using primer or concealer or both.

Try: Arshad recommends a color theory, two-step approach to dark circles. First, she says, neutralize the circles with an orange color-correcting concealer, such as Vasanti Liquid VO2 (Dark Circle Eraser). If you don’t use a color corrector and just use a normal concealer, it will make the skin under the eyes turn an ashy gray. After you use color corrector, do a layer of concealer. On the eyelids, you can use your concealer in lieu of a primer, which helps preps the eyes for eye shadow. 

Arshad is a minimalist by instinct and loves versatility in a makeup product. Concealer can double as primer since they are essentially the same formulation, she says. For the makeup look Arshad created on Sabrina, she used one/size by Patrick Starrr Turn Up the Base Butter Silk Concealer in Light 3.

Updated smoky eye

When it comes to the quintessential South Asian beauty look, the eyes have it. Sultry, smoky and seductive, kajal (coal) eyeliner is the signature of all glam: soft glam, festival glam, bridal glam. Arshad, knowing how important kajal is for South Asians, went on a mission to create the best possible eyeliner. She contracted with a German lab “because they are known for making the finest eyeliners ever.”

Try: Hawke’s Bay gel eyeliner goes on gel but dries powder. “It just sticks, it doesn’t move, it doesn’t bleed, you can cry, whatever. I apply it on my top lid and then with the smudging tool, I can elongate it and make it a nice wing,” says Arshad. You can also use it as an eye shadow base to create a smoky eye.” She is a firm believer in layering gel and liquid eyeliner. 

For the finishing touch on the smoky eye, she uses Kolachi Nights liquid eyeliner, what she calls the “maddest, blackest eyeliner out there.” Apply it very close to the upper lash line to define the eyes.

Glitter lid

Nothing says Diwali, wedding, Eid, and Holi like a glitter lid. “We love our glam,” says Arshad. “The clean girl aesthetic? My people are not looking for that.” Arshad reassures people not to be afraid to play with color, because there is nothing that you can’t fix. After applying an eye-catching mauve/maroon base shade, Arshad layers a sheer glitter liquid eye shadow over it.

Try: Stila Glitter & Glow Liquid Eye Shadow in Kitten Karma is Arshad’s glitter wand of choice. It’s barely there but emits maximum sparkle; the perfect way to bring in any special occasion.

Nude lip

For Arshad, the best way to balance the high drama is to go subtle on the lips. “Usually, I say the attention should be one or the other. That’s just my preference. If you’re extenuating the eyes, I keep the lips like undertones more muted. If I’m doing a really bold lip color, I may stay with a more neutral eye palette.”

Try: “It’s so hard for brown girls to find a good nude lipstick that is made for their undertone,” says Arshad. “My hero product is called Nudie Patootie. It’s a lip stick and lip liner duo that is the most perfect nude for brown girls. It has light pink undertones, but it doesn’t flush your face.”

Multi-use color products

Arshad says she is strictly against makeup waste, as in having a million different products that never get used. “My biggest purpose is to show people how you can use the same product in different ways,” she says. “That goes back to my immigrant mindset, when I was on such a tight budget.” Many of her products have multiple uses, such as using her gel eyeliner for the brows, lipstick for cheeks and eyelids, and her blush for a bronzer or highlighter.

Try: Saffron Glow cheek charm, formulated to be moisturizing and high coverage, to give the cheeks a hint of warmth.

Layered makeup

Skin prep is the key to smooth, long-lasting makeup that doesn’t cake. For makeup to sit properly, Arshad says, you have to start with moisturized skin. After hydrating, apply your foundation, concealer, and other cream-based products, set them with a setting powder. You can use powder on your eyelids too, to prevent creasing. It removes the oil before you apply your eyeshadow. The powder sets the cream, locking it in place with a smooth, matte finish that doesn’t smudge or run.

Try: Huda Beauty Easy Bake Loose Baking & Setting Powder in poundcake is Arshad’s secret sauce for makeup that stays on and stays fresh, even through tears. When using a setting powder, it’s best to apply immediately after cream-based products, so they bond better and meld into even finish. 

Glowy glam

Arshad’s secret sauce is to create a look that can last all day and night without a smudge. By layering corrector, concealer, foundation and powder, going double down on gel and liquid eyeliner, using pencil, lipstick, and gloss, the effect is a radiant glam that doesn’t flame out.Try: For the final step, Arshad swears by Morphe Luminous Setting Spray, to impart a hydrated but humidity-proof glow. One spritz and the layers are set, so you can go about your business without the threat of a makeup meltdown.

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