The modern beauty shopper expects inclusive color ranges. Though some brands are making headway over the past couple of years by adding more shades to their collections, is that enough? With Black History Month in full force, we’re committed to furthering the conversation around diversity this month — and all year long. We chatted with Marsha Page, a makeup artist, and beauty expert who has worked on various films such as The Week Of and The Photograph as well as TV programs like BK Live!, which earned her an Emmy nomination. She explains the nuances of melanated skin, her own journey to self-love as a person of color, and the changes she hopes to still see to improve representation in the beauty industry after spending over 20 years in the biz.
What inspired you to become a makeup artist and enter the beauty industry?
Marsha Page: It started from a place of low self-esteem. I went to college and I gained the Freshman 50 — let’s just say I broke a record. It did a number on my self-esteem at the time. I wasn’t even super-confident about myself before then, but I had gone away from home to school and I gained all this weight and I was unrecognizable. Up until this point, I had only explored makeup just a little bit at a time. I’d fill in my eyebrows in high school or maybe put a little lip gloss on. I was invited to a holiday dinner at the home of my boyfriend at the time. I turned to makeup to help me feel better about myself. I went to the pharmacy to buy some products and at the time, makeup for my skin tone was very limited. There was Black Opal and Zuri. I applied what I thought would work for me and it was a disaster. I didn’t think I knew what I was doing, but I became curious and started to explore more. Eventually, I discovered I had a talent for makeup.
I went to the Christine Valmy International School to take courses in cosmetics and I got a certificate there. I learned how to apply makeup and I learned about skin tone. I learned from an excellent artist, Craig Lindberg, and we later worked together on a lot of major things. He’s a special effects artist and in my union now.
Did you feel like cosmetics school prepared you with the knowledge about how to cater makeup to deeper skin tones?
MP: I had to really learn about that on my own. They touched on it in a basic way in school. The industry operates in a way that our skin tones — deeper ones like mine — are not talked about. They’re not explained when you learn about color theory in school. They more or less talk about the undertones of people with fair skin. I knew about Sam Fine, who is a Black makeup artist, and had written a book [called Fine Beauty: Beauty Basics and Beyond for African-American Women] that helped me learn more about a wider range of skin tones.
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Since at the time there weren’t many brands that were up to speed on including people of color in their shade ranges, how did work around it?
MP: Well, there was MAC Cosmetics. After I graduated from Christine Valmy, my instructor, Craig, mentioned how MAC had a wide range of colors. I think their tagline at the time was “all ages, all races, all sexes” — it was so inclusive, especially for the times. I went on to work for them and I stuck with them for a long time because of their range of color [and philosophy]. Then, over the years in my career, other product lines started to follow suit. But the problem is now there’s a benchmark of foundations coming in 40 shades. It’s great that companies have expanded their ranges, but often the formulation for deeper skin tones is still not right. People that are of my complexion and darker are experiencing ashiness or as if the foundation wasn’t blended properly. But it’s not formulated for us properly. Melanated skin is so nuanced, so it’s not about just saying you have 40 shades and calling it a day.
Which brands do you find go the extra mile for their formulations for deeper skin tones — and not just using “40 shades” as a marketing tactic?
MP: Still in this day and age, people of color have such a difficult time finding products that work well for our skin, but there are strides. Though L’Oréal is not Black-owned, they’ve done a lot for inclusivity. Pat McGrath Labs is very good. [Makeup artist] Pat McGrath is one of the people in the industry that I really respect and I admire her art. I definitely enjoy Juvia’s Place. I’ve used their foundations and lipsticks and they have a great range of colors there. The formulation of the foundation has enough red in it — a good balance of red and yellow. I also love The Crayon Case as another Black-owned company that has a wonderful range of colors. Their lip colors, eye shadows, and pencil are all really, really good.
What do you think brands need to start addressing more?
MP: I would say it’s a formulation and who is in the lab creating these products. Companies should be dedicated to making sure they have people on the team that understand different skin tones [and advocate for them]. Otherwise, [consumers] with darker skin tones are left thinking that makeup is not for them because they can’t find the products that will work.
What’s the meaning behind your nickname, the Melanin Therapist?
MP: Whoever sits in my chair, it becomes an experience. I always think about how people feel. I listen to them. When I worked at the beauty counters, I listened to a lot of people that looked like me and heard so many stories that were similar to mine. In the beginning, I was still in that space of thinking that I needed makeup to feel like I was beautiful or that my skin was acceptable. So I had a lot of conversations with people that would share their shame and how they think they’re not able to pull off certain types of looks or lipstick shades. I get them to think about why they feel like that. It’s because of the society that we live in and feeling less than or not feeling like the beauty industry sees us. When a client gets up after I’ve completed their makeup and they say, “thanks for making me beautiful, Marsha,” I always tell them they were beautiful before they sat down. It’s the truth, but they don’t feel like that because we live in a world that doesn’t really celebrate our beauty. It’s changing, but it’s still, a lot of people of color don’t feel seen, but I help them work through it. Someone said to me that getting their makeup done with me is like makeup therapy — I’m not a clinical psychologist — but it’s about the experience. I’m able to connect with people that way and when they put their trust in me, I can help my clients look like an enhanced version of themselves.
Was there a moment that comes to mind where you could really feel the impact of your “therapy” and affecting a client’s confidence?
MP: When I was working at MAC Cosmetics in the earlier days of my career, I had a young lady come into the store with a similar skin tone to my own. I was wearing their most popular lipstick, Ruby Woo, and she complimented me on it. When I told her she should wear it, she said she was afraid she’d look like a clown. I gently showed her that it could work on her and she felt good about herself when she tried it. She was afraid to wear it at first but saw that we were similar in skin tone and it encouraged her to try it. It reinforces that it’s important for companies to have a diverse staff.
Are there any Black female leaders in the makeup industry who you consider a mentor?
MP: My mentor is legendary and I was one of her last mentees. She’s a Black makeup artist named Toy Van Lierop. She is a trailblazer and I sought her out. She worked on many, many films and she showed me set etiquette when I came into this business and how to be a team player — she’s the ultimate professional and she put that in me. She would say “makeup is foreign to the skin. So, it’s going to move around. It’s going to do things since makeup is not supposed to be there.” I never heard anybody speak of makeup like that. She would teach me different ways to keep it in place whether it’s during kissing scenes or different climates. I’ve carried her lessons with me throughout my career. Now, I believe in paying it forward. Maya Angelou once said, “When you learn, teach, when you get, give.” So, I share information all the time and it doesn’t take away from me at all. I love to do it.
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