Emmys Style: How Record Number of African-American Nominees Will Glam It Up

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Kerry Washington

Hollywood's top pros reveal the beauty secrets of stars like Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson and Uzo Aduba.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Actresses and their teams know all too well how the life of a red-carpet photo is virtually endless, flying into an infinite loop of social media and gossip sites minutes after a photographer fires off a shot from the sidelines. Luckily, top A-listers have their red-carpet pros for makeup and hairstyling to rely on. Between contouring, combating shine and complementing vary­ing skin tones, the glam squads to the record number of 12 black actresses nominated for Emmys (compared with last year's record high of 11 nominees, including men) share their perspective on how best to showcase African-American beauty on the red carpet.

Lighting is key: Makeup artists must mind the 1,000-watt kliegs because "darker skin absorbs more light than lighter skin," says red-carpet photographer Stefanie Keenan. "If someone with darker skin is wearing too much makeup, it will look heavy." Yet "African-Americans tend to have unevenness to their skin and darker areas and spots, especially around the mouth and under the cheekbone," says Carola Gonzalez, makeup artist to three-time Scandal nominee Kerry Washington, who uses Kevyn Aucoin Skin Enhancer. "Because of that, darker skin tones do need more coverage."

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Matching foundation to undertone is critical so that no matter the lighting, an actress' skin color reads accurately in photos. "People think because we're dark, we're cool — but our general undertone is on the yellow side," says Ashunta Sheriff, who works with drama series nominee Taraji P. Henson. Janice Kinjo, makeup artist to Orange Is the New Black supporting actress nominee Uzo Aduba, is one of several artists to commend Armani foundation for having a gorgeous finish and wide color range.

Makeup artists tend to use more than one color for subtle contouring. Says Autumn Moultrie, How to Get Away With Murder drama nominee Viola Davis' makeup artist: "I shade her hairline and contour with a much darker color under the cheekbones and then put the foundation on." Moultrie turns to Dior and Make Up For Ever as trusted brands for red-carpet base. Bobbi Brown, Ben Nye and Black Up are other brands mentioned as having depth and a range of shades.

Shine also is a factor, particularly under the carpet's barrage of lights and sometimes sweltering temperatures. "African-American skin tends to be oily in the T-zone," says Kinjo. "It's all about mattifying and oil-free primers." Gonzalez agrees and preps with an oil-absorbing lotion from La Mer. Bessie nominee Queen Latifah's makeup artist Sam Fine sets makeup with CoverGirl Pressed Powder in Ebony to give a semi-matte finish.

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Since all-matte can look flat, Moultrie applies Jouer cream highlighter to tops of cheeks before foundation, so it looks like the glow is coming from within. "When highlighter sits on top of foundation, it doesn't look effortless," she says. "You can get away with that more on a lighter skin tone, because the colors are closer in tone, but with darker skin it works better underneath." Adds Fine: "Contouring is more important with darker skin because it brings out the features. It's not about slimming the nose, it's about defining each feature." He likes CoverGirl's Ebony powder for contouring around temples and beneath cheekbones and gave a compact to fellow artist Nick Barose to use on Lupita Nyong'o. Adds Oslyn Holder, Regina King's makeup artist: "There's a finesse to contouring — you want to celebrate features versus trying to make them more Westernized or European."

When using color on eyes, lips and cheeks, makeup artists say that deep, warm tones work best. "I use a bronzy-gold plum from Le Metier de Beaute with a lot of pigment," says Moultrie about her go-to shade for Davis' cheeks. On lips, makeup artists agree that the choice of hue depends on what the actress is wearing — but across the board, lipstick or gloss should have depth and high pigment. Charlotte Tilbury, NARS and Tom Ford are brands they cite for dimensionality in photos. But "if it's too bright, it doesn't look organic," says Moultrie.

"Organic," "natural" and "individual" are words makeup artists and, particularly, hairstylists drop when describing black beauty. "I think there was a time when African-American actresses felt they had to conform," says Sheriff. "But look at Viola arriving with her gorgeous natural hair to the carpet, or Taraji wearing braids on the side of her head, or Rihanna in Bantu knots on major carpets." Hairstylist Kim Kimble, whose clients include Beyonce and Mary J. Blige, agrees: "There's a whole natural movement." Styles like curls, close crops and braids showcase natural hair and signal a shift toward healthier, more effortless looks. But "curly hair doesn't reflect light," says Nyong'o's hairstylist Ted Gibson. "For Lupita, I use more products to add shine because curly hair absorbs shine." Washington's hairstylist Takisha Sturdivant-Drew advises going minimal: "The key is not to use too much product, otherwise it looks greasy. Try a leave-in conditioner [her go-to is Neutrogena Triple Repair] so it's not weighed down."

Kimble is a big proponent of wigs: "Wigs have pretty much taken over. People can change up their style more. We still do see quite a bit of weaves, but they can cause so much damage, as can extensions." Custom wigs, which range from $3,500 to $12,000, also allow women to avoid the heat and pulling of the straightening process. Roberta Robbi Rogers, hairstylist for nominee Niecy Nash, is just relieved straight hair isn't the only option anymore: "For so long, everyone pretty much had the same hair — everything was stick-straight. Now you get to play with texture. And now, every time Lupita comes on the carpet, you're wondering what it's going to be."