Makeup for dark skin tones: 4 expert tips from Oprah and Michelle Obama’s makeup artist Derrick Rutledge

makeup tips for dark skin Derrick Rutledge
Photography courtesy Derrick Rutledge
makeup tips for dark skin Derrick Rutledge
Photography courtesy Derrick Rutledge

Read on for Derrick Rutledge’s makeup tips »

If you’re looking for expert advice on applying makeup to darker skin tones, Derrick Rutledge is the man to talk to. With more than 25 years experience as a makeup artist and a portfolio that includes Michelle Obama, Beyoncé and Janet Jackson, Rutledge is well-versed in all the tips and tricks for accentuating deep skin tones. It’s this expertise that landed him his most recent gig as Oprah Winfrey’s head makeup artist—after seeing the makeup he did for Michelle Obama when she appeared on the cover of TIME in 2009, Oprah came calling.

Earlier this month Rutledge came to Canada with Oprah and I had the chance to talk to him about some of his beauty secrets. You can truly tell that he loves what he does and why—despite working with some of the most powerful women out there—he’s still so humble: “I do it for the art and the reaction I get after I make them up. Everything else came [with] my passion for it.”

And that passion is about to pay off: For the past 10 years Derrick Rutledge has been working on his own cosmetic line called Ü Lifestyle (pronounced OOH). Rutledge was tired of mixing and matching existing products to achieve the right results and thus, the idea for his own beauty collection was born. A hair care collection will launch first, in May 2013, followed by a makeup collection in the fall. While details are still under wraps, the Ü Lifestyle makeup will include both cream and liquid foundations in a range of 24 shades. As for his beauty expertise, read on for Derrick Rutledge’s top tips for makeup for darker skin tones.

makeup tips for dark skin Derrick Rutledge

Always start with beautiful skin
One thing Derrick Rutledge excels at his ability to achieve flawless skin on women of colour. It’s evident with his work on high profile clientele such as Michelle Obama. His technique always looks dewy and natural. He achieves this by using three shades of foundation: “One light, one medium and one dark.” All of these colours are used in combination to match the different pigmentation which is found on most dark/deep skin tones. I love how he uses the lighter foundation on areas such as the chin and under the eyes to highlight areas that are usually “kissed by the sun.”

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Finding the right foundation shade for the first time can be difficult. Out of frustration and general lack of knowledge, most people usually get it wrong on the first try. Why? Rutledge explains: “A lot of times that colour that is on the card is very difficult to see in the package.” (I can certainly relate to that!) He is a firm believer in going to a store that can match and apply the foundation for you. If they can provide a sample as well to take home and try, that’s a bonus. foundation and concealer picks, clockwise from left: Bare Minerals Ready Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 20 in “Medium Deep” ($29,, Make Up For Ever Liquid Lift Foundation in “Caramel” ($45,, Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra 24H in “540 Suede W” ($50, and Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer in “Cacao” ($30,

makeup tips for dark skin Derrick Rutledge

Everyone needs a well-structured brow
We all know eyebrows can make or break a makeup look. Before choosing an eyebrow shape, Derrick Rutledge suggests looking through magazines and visiting a professional. For upkeep he has some great tips: “Get a white pencil and draw your brows.” It may look funny but it’s the best way to map out your eyebrow shape. Once you have done that, Rutledge suggests that you use tweezers and “take out all the hair outside that white area and below. Once you take it out you will see you have a beautiful arched brow.”

Bring some dimension to your red lip
Rutledge believes that a red lip “needs depth.” The best way to achieve that is by mixing different shades of red. His Oprah-approved lip look involves first lining your outer lips with a brown-red liner. Then, fill in your lips with a blue-red lipstick. Finally, apply an orange-red in the centre of the lip and blend outward. Top it all off with a shiny coat of lip gloss.

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