It's getting easier for darker skinned women to find makeup that suits, but equal choice is still a work in progress.

When Auckland doctor Pooja Chitgopeker married a Chicago millionaire in spectacular style last month, the bride carried her own concealer.

Never mind that she had a makeup artist on hand to prepare her for the lavish ceremony. Three days of festivities, with guests flown in from around the globe, were filmed for a reality show called My Big Fat Indian Wedding. Unsurprisingly, Chitgopeker had had a few sleepless nights before the extravaganza, which is expected to draw 150 million viewers, but like any bride she was intent on looking her best.

To combat under-eye circles, the former beauty queen and model knew she needed to use a particular orangey shade of concealer.

Makeup artist Carolyn Haslett who has plenty of experience custom blending colours for all sorts of faces wasn't offended. When she worked in Paris years ago the black models carried their own kit to ensure they were properly catered for. These days, with more ethnic diversity on the international runways, makeup artists are better prepared for all faces, but Haslett says there's no doubt there are particular demands to making up darker skin.

"For them going out to find something [in the shops] is difficult."

Skin tone variation across a darker face can be considerable and standard foundations and concealers, if dark enough in the first place, tend to leave an ashy cast. "They have to get exactly the right advice ... someone who knows about their particular skin tone," says Haslett.

Between Chitgopeker's old faithful Bobbi Brown concealer and Haslett's wizardry blending her favoured M.A.C Pro face colours, the new Mrs Vikram Aditya Kumar was ready to face her future.

If only she'd waited a month longer to get married, the icing on the cake might have been a television product tie-in with a purpose-designed cosmetic range specifically developed by an Indian makeup maestro. The launch next week of that range - developed for M.A.C by Mickey Contractor, the man behind many a Bollywood beauty and credited with introducing the nude lip to India - prompted Viva to look today at what choices are out there for women with darker skin.

A quick wander round a suburban mall for an unscientific survey underscores the multi-ethnic face of Auckland and underlines the frustration many women find shopping for makeup.

In half an hour, I meet women who have given up on foundation, despair of finding the right shade or a sympathetic ear. Others helpfully recommend or dismiss brands.

A beauty consultant at one counter points me towards another, where she happily discovered more choice for her darker skin. I'm told a big brand has just deleted its darkest shade because number crunchers overseas decided not enough was being sold, despite its having a loyal following among Indian women.

Most of the women I speak to say product choice has improved over recent years. Unsurprisingly so do the beauty companies, but clearly word-of-mouth rather than easy retail access is how many find their best options.

Global makeup companies are increasingly using women of all ethnicities to front their ranges, but look beyond the celebrity spokesmodels and for every Aishwarya Rai (for L'Oreal Paris) or Halle Berry (for Revlon) there's another planeload of East European blue-eyed blondes.

Fair-skinned women undoubtedly get the widest range of face-base colours to choose from. Polynesian and Asian women can generally find suitable colours in the main ranges, but for women with darker Indian, Middle Eastern, Melanesian or black skin the choice can be much trickier.

Prestige brands generally import a limited range of colours to New Zealand, sometimes as few as six shades of foundation. This can also effect the very fair as sometimes a European brand's palest porcelain option doesn't make it here either.

Mid-priced mass market ranges usually have a wide selection of colours, but in the cheaper self-select ranges choice often narrows again.

Revlon educates its staff on the differences in dealing with European and Polynesian/Indian skin and L'Oreal says it is constantly reviewing what is on offer.

"As a global cosmetic company Revlon does cater for all ethnicities," says training manager Christina Fairhurst. "Although we don't range the darkest shades of foundation available in[to] NZ, we do have trained beauty advisers who can advise on different products within our NZ range."

Fairhurst, who has worked in Fiji, says she has matched products for the darkest skintones.

Tone, as much as depth of colour, is key to finding a suitable skin match.

This is where the expertise of specialist brands founded by or favoured by makeup artists have a particular awareness of diverse ethnic needs.

A dark shade developed in America for Latina skin might be quite wrong on an Indian, although a Maori women might see it in a more flattering light. Within specific ethnicities there is also a big variation in colouring, so what suits one woman won't suit every one. Indian women for instance can be anything from golden, though olive to berry brown.

Asian women's skin varies widely also, but consistently benefits from yellow-based foundation, however pale it is.

Bobbi Brown and M.A.C are obsessive about colour choice and offer way more than the usual one or two dark foundation shades. Napoleon Perdis, who says his Greek mother struggled to find foundation to suit when she emigrated to Australia, has a couple of good ones that several of the women I spoke to rated highly.

Shades not available in New Zealand can sometimes be bought online, but unless you know from experience that they suit, be cautious and do order only through reputable sites. Cosmetic counterfeiting is widespread.

Bobbi Brown's sales and marketing co-ordinator Heyam Berima says: "I have dark skin (African); people don't think I wear foundation most of the time because of the formula and right colour match."

Colour matching is central to Bobbi Brown's ethos and she stands out in consistently using ethnically diverse models in her books, of which her Makeup Manual is particularly informative for women wanting to learn more about skin undertones and how to disguise flaws and create a flattering natural base.

Making the match
* Always test colours on the face. To find the right foundation shade, swipe two or three in a stripe on the cheek: the one that disappears into skin is the best, most natural choice. If skin looks pasty the colour is too light.

* Women with the common problem of skin that is darker on the forehead and hairline than the centre of the face and the cheeks need to pick what depth of shade they prefer. Blending several may be necessary if tonal variation is pronounced. For a lighter look, match the middle more golden zone and blend another shade or bronzer into the darker areas. For a darker, warmer look, choose a shade a little lighter than the darkest tones so it can be diffused into the lighter central panel.

* Avoid highlighters that are silver or gold, you will need a warmer pinkish or bronze shade.

* Bronzer can be a useful way of adding warmth to skin year-round. It counteracts sallowness in winter.

* Pigmentation and areas of differing colour under the eyes or around the mouth will benefit from a concealer. Concealers that come from ranges with just standard light, medium and dark colours often won't be right, however dark. This is because they are designed to combat bluish discolouration, whereas darker women can have purplish or greenish-toned discolouration. This may need a special corrector with a warm peachy or even pink tone from the opposite side of the colour spectrum. A concealer one or two shades lighter than the ideal foundation can then be blended over the top to provide a more even tone that leaves skin looking fresh not patchy.

* Bright eye and lip colours look fantastic on dark skin. Don't be scared of experimenting with metallics either, especially in coppery tones or even magentas for black skin.

* Women with naturally dark lips generally don't look great in very pale lipsticks, which can look gray or ashy, though the right brownish nude has become a Bollywood favourite.

* To avoid natural lip colour showing through and to keep lighter shades colour true try a little concealer on the lips (or M.A.C's specialist Lip Erase product). This helps women wear a bigger range of colours successfully, with the likes of peach a flattering choice.

* If lip colour is uneven, either play up the pinky lighter colour with a matching lipstick or go for a dramatic deeper shade. Both will suit because they are within your natural colouring.

(- Advice from Bobbi Brown, M.A.C and Carolyn Haslett)
The dark side
Bobbi Brown Stick foundation $90
Espresso, Bobbi's darkest shade of stick foundation suits a dark African skin tone and is suitable for all skin types. There's seven dark shades to choose from and another half-dozen different foundation formulas catering for darker skins from the American makeup artist. Next month the brand's big range of concealers and correctors are being relaunched with a new texture.

Napolean Perdis China Doll foundation in No. 6 $77
This liquid-to-powder formula is particularly suited to oilier skins. Perdis also makes a foundation stick ($70) with a creamy texture that blends well. It comes in two dark shades and works well as a concealer. Exclusive to Farmers.

Revlon New Complexion Sun Powder $38.95
Revlon recommends this one colour for the darkest skintones. It gives good coverage and finish. For those with medium to deep skin tones the following are good options: PhotoReady Makeup ($40.95), a light-diffusing barely detectable liquid formula, in Golden Beige and Rich Ginger, also available as a compact makeup in Rich Ginger; Age Defying Makeup ($43.95), suitable for mature skins, in Golden Beige and Early Tan; and ColorStay Makeup for Normal/Combination Skin ($41.94), a longwear formula, in True Beige and Natural Tan.

M.A.C Select Moisturecover Concealer Coral Corrector/Yellow Corrector $50
A double-headed attack on uneven skintone. The orangey tones combat purplish under-eye areas and the yellow helps blend back into the face. M.A.C also has a vast foundation choice.

Other options
Here's the darkest shade in several other ranges: Max Factor, Bronze; Covergirl, Tawny; L'Oreal Paris Matt Morphose in Amber.

Check out compact foundations from Shiseido and Moisture Mist and mineral powders from L'Oreal and specialist mineral makeup companies. Clinique Superbalanced Powder Makeup coming out next week including a darker shade, and its April launch of tinted moisturiser coming in in three darker shades.

Remaking a nation

"In India - unlike Paris - you don't do looks that are so nude you look like you just got out of bed," says Bollywood favourite makeup artist and the man behind M.A.C's new makeup range developed for Indian skins.

"I wanted it to look modern, more real, and more today. Closer to what Hollywood does, it makes it more believable," The look was eagerly adopted by former Miss World Aishwarya Rai and Bollywood stars.

For six years Mickey Contractor has juggled film, fashion and advertising campaigns with the role of M.A.C's directory of artistry for India. Three years ago he came up with foundation shade for the Middle East and Indian market. The new collection takes the offering global, adding intense shades for eyes and lips, supplemented with a deep neutral brown-based eye palette and nude lip glosses that won't look washed-out. "For me, beauty is about a natural looking woman who wears makeup, but wears it so cleverly that it doesn't actually show."

M.A.C staff here are expecting a lot of interest in the collection and have been having extra training in it. Senior makeup artist Amber Dreadon - soon off again to work at the international fashion shows - says once the shade is found, women can get good coverage without a heavily made up look. "They need to correct - very rarely will one colour do the trick."

* The Mickey Contractor collection is available from Monday exclusively at M.A.C's stores at Chancery and Westfield St Lukes or by phone on 0800 MAC SHOP.

* Technique classes will be offered next week at a cost of $120 per person, $100 redeemable on product on the day. A class will be held at St Lukes on Wednesday and another at M.A.C Pro, Chancery Square, on Thursday. Contact stores for details.