BGF? Nomad Cosmetics’ California Surf Shack Palettes

Originally Posted: Mar 7, 2021

Author’s Note: I’m aware of the controversy surrounding Nomad Cosmetics and the Shanghai Palette. Scroll to the bottom of the page to read my thoughts.

I came across Nomad Cosmetics’ California Surf Shack palettes on Instagram and I thought to myself – I wonder if these colors will look good on brown skin; or in other words are they Brown Girl Friendly a.k.a BGF? Having used make up for a while, I know that some colors just look muddy and awful on brown skin, but look amazing on black or white skin. This collection is special because I’m a west coast girl and it reminds me of the days of eating shrimp on the Santa Cruz beach or walking down to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.

The collection includes two, mostly matte, 4 pan palettes. They are inspired by the surf shacks of Encinitas and Malibu, and contain Hemp Seed oil. According to the Nomad website, these are the colors:

Encinitas palette:

  • Hang: Coffee brown
  • Chase: Ocean blue/Pacific Blue (closer to a teal).
  • Carve: Rose Pink
  • Chill: Mahogany Brown

Malibu palette:

  • Cabana: satin light sand/beige (the only non-matte shade)
  • Hideout: dark Khaki
  • Bungalow: sea foam
  • Shack: Dark brown

First Impressions:

What I liked:

  • The packaging and packing were amazing. The palettes were packed in a Holo bubblewrap envelope! Needless to say, I’ve decided to keep the holo envelope. The boxes and the palettes are made of cardboard. Encinitas has a floral pattern and Malibu has palm tree motifs. Both are tied to the collection with a brown surfboard design element that’s common to the palettes. The surfboards are textured and that adds a nice textural surprise. I’d love to wallpaper my room with the floral pattern from the Encinitas palette The pans are pressed with a surfboard design on three pans and the brand’s logo on the fourth. Be warned though, these palettes are bulky.
  • The number of ingredients in the palettes is the least I’ve seen so far and that’s probably because it’s a matte palette
  • Communication from the brand team/owners. They sent me an e-mail and a cute little postcard with a personalized message with the order.

What I didn’t like:

  • It’s manufactured in China. While it’s manufactured in their own lab in China, I’ve been consciously trying to purchase from local brands. I’d like to contribute to job creation within the country. I’m waiting for Vesca to drop a cream blush similar to Quo or Rare. Right now, I try to purchase from brands that are either local or black owned or are a small business
  • The shipping time was pretty long – it took 15 days to reach

Eyeshadow Formula

The general pattern that these palettes follow is 2 shades of brown + 2 colors. They are very powdery, so for color payoff, you need to begin by patting the shadow first. The Hemp Seed oil makes the shadows chunky when you pick them up but you can pat out the chunks.

On me, the lighter colors had to be built up, these are not one swipe shadow by any means. The darker shadows especially Chase and Shack ended up staining my arm when I swatched them and my eyes after the eye swatch. But the stain did not last long.
Swatches of the palette
L to R: Malibu – Cabana, Hideout, Bungalow, Shack | Encinitas – Hang, Chase, Carve, Chill

My favorite shadows are Hang and Hideout because they performed the best and looked the best on me. I was excited to try Bungalow because it reminds me of Nyx’s Horseradish, my daily favorite for months before I discovered I was allergic to Parabens. Unfortunately, the shade doesn’t suit me because it’s a powder formula as compared to Nyx’s jumbo pencil cream. I’ll be trying this shadow on primer to see if it looks better.

Eye Swatches

Remember I don’t use an eye primer, with a primer I’m sure these shadows would perform better.

Eye swatch
L: Bungalow (M), R: Cabana (M)

Eye Swatches
L: Hideout (M), R: Shack (M)

Eye Swatches
L: Carve (E), R: Hang (E)

Eye Swatches
L: Chase (E), R: Chill (E)


When I first saw these palettes I expected them to be similar to the Essence destination palettes. I pulled out my essence palettes and found some similarities with the Salut Paris and Ciao Venizia palettes. The essence palettes aren’t very pigmented and their browns tend to be muddy.

The teal from Ciao Venezia is a shimmer shade. The green-brown from Salut Paris look like a light khaki in the pan but looks brown on the skin. I did find a few similar shades of pink and brown from Salut Paris, but they’re not identical.

So, is it BGF?

Well yes and no. Some colors, especially the darker shades, unsurprisingly translate really well on brown skin. I usually hate khaki but Hideout looks really good on me, and that’s a shade I see myself using a lot in the summer. The lighter colors Carve, Cabana and Bungalow may show up better with a primer, and you’d need to build them up.

Would I buy it?

Yes, if I were a brown skinned girl just building a collection and figuring out what works for me. If you have an existing collection of palettes, this could be an easy miss. While the browns are unusual shades of brown that I don’t have in my collection, I don’t use browns often. I use pinks on a daily basis because they look good on my neutral brown skin (and that’s why Naked 3 is my favorite palette).

Addressing the Shanghai Palette situation

This is my opinion of what took place; and as I write it, I’m well aware that it could get me cancelled even before I am heard. I’m open to a conversation on this topic; there is always room for me to learn.

The palette was released at an unfortunate time. The Asian American community is hurting from racist attacks in North America, especially in cities like New York and Vancouver. Unfun fact: when the pandemic began, my friend, a Taiwanese- Canadian, was glared at when she travelled on a Go train to work just because she was Asian. This was at a time when cases were reported in Toronto, but before the lockdown was announced in March 2020. As an Asian myself, I know the fear that we minorities face in North America.

But the Shanghai Palette wasn’t cultural appropriation. Was it a bad execution of an idea? maybe, I’m not Chinese, I can’t comment. How do I know that this doesn’t feel like cultural appropriation? Because I’m from a similar culture and elements of my culture are used in industries ranging from food to home decor. According to Nomad (in some of the deleted Social Media posts), it was designed by a team member from China. What they’ll consider the next time, I’m sure, is testing their palettes with audiences outside the country; because the experiences of a Chinese person living in China differs from that of a Chinese person born and raised outside the county.

And that brings us to the question, can a white person or a person from a different culture use or sell cultural symbols from another? Yes, but it depends on the context.

For example, wearing a Qipao for Halloween vs wearing a Qipao for a Chinese wedding or an auspicious occasion. (Ps: I enjoyed this video on cultural appropriation by a YouTuber called Shaaba). Another example, one of the best pizzerias in Toronto is run by a Vietnamese couple.

Something that I’m surprised no one talks about is Tatcha. It’s a makeup line created by a Taiwanese American but with Japanese ingredients and methods. In this day and age of blurring cultural lines how do we feel about that?

Regarding their PR response: I think, what got people ticked off more than the palette itself was their horrible PR response on Social Media. It was dumb to double down by add more images to your Instagram and try to justify what you did. First rule of PR, be thoughtful in your response. All they had to say, instead of posting about their design inspiration or pushing back on the feedback, was to hide all the palette related images and post a message on the lines of, “we value your feedback and we’re looking into it”. Then, after a few hours, after you’ve read all the feedback and understood it, put out a detailed and logical statement starting with an apology! Simple.

This is where I’ll end this note: While we should call out people who appropriate our culture, we should also welcome people who are inspired by it. We need to be measured in our cancellation. More rigid the cultural lines get, more divided the society gets. And before you join a social media mob, get your critical thinking hat on.

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