Prometheus News


Is it time to stop using the term “nude” in beauty?

Dec 11, 2019 by William Lewis.

In the past two years, the beauty industry has become more diverse than ever before. So, why does it still insist on using a word that is embedded in cultural racism, asks Gena-mour Barrett.

Three years ago, I embarked on a quest to do the seemingly impossible. I wanted to find a nude lipstick on the British high street and, not only did I want it to suit my skin tone, I wanted it to be under £10. It shouldn’t be too much to ask. There are plenty of affordable lipsticks out there and almost every brand touts a section of salmon pink and muted beige that my fairer-skinned peers can choose from. So, I traipsed up and down the high street, chatting with sales assistants who used whatever “Match Made” technology they had to put me in a nude that made me look as if I’d dipped my lips in beige paint and then rubbed them across a chalkboard.

Needless to say, I’ve hated the colour “nude” ever since.

Of course, this experience is not new. Black women have long scoured the shelves of countless retailers like zealous archaeologists in the quest to find The Perfect Nude (or the Not Quite Perfect But It’ll Do Nude) and been sorely disappointed. Articles have been written exposing the misuse of the term, attempts have been made to reclaim the word by offering a wider range of shades and there was even a call to change the definition of “nude” in the dictionary. If there’s one thing many of us know, by now, it’s that the word “nude” is rarely an accurate descriptor, because it’s been used in the beauty industry for far too long to be synonymous with white skin. Even with recent attempts by make-up brands to rectify their mistakes and embrace inclusivity, the word “nude” still calls to mind a peachy-cream-beige colour that frequently excludes darker-skinned women. So, my question is: why are we still using it?

There is no one nude, there are several, and offering a limited shade of 'nude' to consumers of varying skin tones makes the term largely redundant

I’ll admit that I’m a little bit biased. After my terrible experience(s) searching for a “nude” that didn’t seem to exist (despite constantly being marketed as such), I decided to avoid all nude lipstick completely. I couldn’t hide behind a more muted colour because you could spot my pasty pout from about a mile away, so I turned to bold lipsticks instead. If it was blue or red or purple or green, I wanted it. And because I am 100% a parody of an indignant teenager going through puberty, I chose to rebel with the most stereotypically rebellious lipstick colour I could find, which meant I spent the majority of 2017 wearing black lipstick as my own version of nude.

But my aversion to “nude” is not unfounded. As a person who runs a lipstick Instagram (yes, that is a real thing, please don’t judge me!), I spend a significant amount of my spare time trying out lipsticks that brands purport to be for everyone. Within that bunch, I’ll regularly be promised a “lovely nude”, which could better be described as an “ashy yellow”, and I’ll wonder who exactly their “everyone” is. It’s not that I expect every colour to suit me, but how many variations of the same colour, marketed under a variation of the same name, do darker-skinned women have to try before understanding that “nude” actually just means… for white people? How many times can you alienate an entire demographic by offering up a “natural” look that doesn’t actually include them in what’s natural?

Look – I know there are plenty of people with fairer skin, pale skin, “medium-toned” skin, who also struggle to find their perfect nude. I know that I could probably find a decent nude among the sea of beige if I just bought one of the browner tone shades named “Sweet Cocoa” or “Mahogany”, and spent extra money on a lip pencil called “Chestnut” and called it a day. But I also know that, in reality, there is no one nude, there are several, and offering a limited shade of “nude” to consumers of varying skin tones makes the term largely redundant.

So, why don’t we just phase it out? Or, at the very least, be more mindful of the way we use it in the beauty community. While I’m appreciative of the attempts by make-up brands to diversify their nude shades (even though they’re kind of just giving me something I should have already been getting in the first place), it’s difficult to overlook a term that’s so embedded in cultural racism. Until baby-pink plasters and pinkish-beige tights and pale-coral lips aren’t the only images we immediately associate with the word “nude”, the term itself fails time and time again, and it fails darker-skinned women the hardest. Until then, I’ll be sticking with the bold lipsticks I know and love, and staging my own little quiet rebellion in my make-up bag in the process.



My go-to black lipstick is this from Urban Decay. I like a black lipstick that’s as pigmented as a liquid lipstick but without the dryness, so this “comfort matte” finish is perfect for a smooth application that won’t leave your lips feeling too dehydrated.

Urban Decay Comfort Matte Vice Lipstick in Perversion, £16.50


When the Balmain X L’Oréal Paris range was released, I immediately rushed to the nearest Boots to try on as many lipsticks as I could. Unsurprisingly, I fell in love with this gorgeous royal blue. It’s creamy, moisturising and a killer statement colour.

Balmain X L'Oréal Paris Color Riche Lipstick in 901 Rebellion, £12.99


This is the one lipstick I get comments on every single time I wear it. Not only is the formula rock-solid – it won’t crack or crumble on your lips, but it’s also quite difficult to remove – the colour is a gorgeous deep red. It’s the kind of colour I’d been searching for since MAC’s limited edition Living Legend colour was discontinued in 2014 (yes, I still remember).

Too Faced Melted Matte Liquified Matte Long Wear Lipstick in Drop Dead Red, £21


There are very few liquid lipstick formulas I love as much as Anastasia Beverly Hills and there are very few colours I love as much as this deep purple in Potion. This is the vampy lipstick every black girl deserves and I will spread the good word for eternity.

Anastasia Beverly Hills Liquid Lipstick in Potion, £20


Speaking of purple, the only thing better than a good purple lipstick is a purple lipstick with glitter in it! This one can be layered on top of another colour (like a black) or worn alone and it looks just as great.

Urban Decay Metallized Vice Lipstick in Voodoo, £16.50


While my heart is largely in darker colours, I also appreciate a bold red lipstick that’ll brighten up any outfit. This one by Jordana Cosmetics in Red Velvet Cake is a) the best red I’ve ever had and b) the cheapest! 10/10.