Keke Palmer’s Beauty Evolution Is A Testament To Unbridled Self-Expression

She’s all about the fun factor.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Keke Palmer brushed out natural hair and smoky makeup at Met Gala 2021

They say the universe doesn’t give with both hands, but clearly, an exception was made for Keke Palmer. Not only is the 29-year-old star a beloved (and well regarded) entertainer, but she happens to be equally personable and aesthetically adventurous. It might seem impossible for one person to juggle acting, singing, hosting, motherhood, and still manage to kill it on every red carpet graced, but Palmer’s beauty evolution proves that true versatility does indeed exist.

Palmer’s one of those rare child stars who commanded true artistic respect from her earliest roles. Just two years after her first on-screen appearance, a 12-year-old Palmer dominated award show nominations for her big breakthrough role in Akeelah And The Bee — how many preteens can hold their own against industry giants like Angela Bassett in their very first dramatic role? Palmer’s true gift, though, is in her ability to pivot. She can just as easily switch into high-energy, teen-friendly roles, sing for a massive festival audience, and get vulnerable on her podcast. Her red carpet looks — and her real-life preferences, for that matter — are just as wide-ranging. She’s not even 30 yet and already Palmer’s a certified beauty icon.

Ahead, take a look back at her journey from precocious tween to self-possessed woman. Baby, this is Keke Palmer.

Braids & Bows In 2005

Albert L. Ortega/WireImage/Getty Images

Adorable beyond words at her very first Screen Actor’s Guild Awards, an 11-year-old Palmer was already setting a sweet tone for her next few decades on the carpet.

So Fresh Faced In 2006

Michael Tran Archive/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Just a year later, Palmer was a newly-minted teenager on the brink of her big breakthrough. She looked every bit the young, fresh-faced ingenue at a 2006 premiere, wearing a bit of bright but yet very age-appropriate blush and some breezy, face-framing layers.

Burgeoning Teen Idol In 2008

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Palmer’s career growth after her acclaimed film roles was matched only by the 14-year-old’s blossoming sense of style. She looked every bit the aspiring teen queen the year she took on the titular role in Nickelodeon’s smash kids’ series, True Jackson, VP, with radiant skin and some swoopy side-bangs.

Full-Fledged Stardom In 2010

Jeff Kravitz/KCA2010/FilmMagic/Getty Images

By 2010, Palmer was a certified star with the red carpet bonafides to prove it. An award show regular at this point, she slowly started experimenting with colorful makeup and more mature hairstyles, but maintained her signature beyond-her-years elegance.

A Bold Blonde Moment In 2012

Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage/Getty Images

As Palmer entered adulthood and wrapped her final season on Nickelodeon, she shed more than just her child-star image. Her red carpet hair and makeup combinations became her space for self-expression, like this beachy blonde hair color transformation in 2012.

Experimenting With Length 2015

Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Give Palmer some serious style credit — she’s tried just about every hair length, style, and color under the sun, and she did lot of that experimenting in 2015. While she wore quite a few standout looks that year, but nothing beats the deep side-parted pixie and smoky eye makeup she debuted at Diddy’s birthday party.

Burgundy Braids In 2017

Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Palmer’s love for testing extreme lengths goes both ways, too. Though they’re gathered up into a luxe topknot for the Academy Museum Gala in 2017, her glossy burgundy braids fall all the way to her hips. Paired with a subtly smoky eye makeup and the perfect amount of highlighter glazing her cheekbones, she looks like a million bucks — at least.

Trying Out Trends In 2019

Bravo/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

First of all, let it be said: so many of the very best celebrity beauty looks come out of Watch What Happens Live — why? Regardless, the late-night talk show was a perfect vehicle for Palmer to show off her quick wit and extremely trendy flipped-out hairstyle.

Jaw-Dropping Glamour in 2021

Arturo Holmes/MG21/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Ah, a choir of angels sing when this photo surfaces. Palmer’s stunned on the Met Gala steps a few times not, but her fluffy, brushed-out Afro and brilliantly-shaped cat-eye makeup are just too perfect — especially against her jewel-covered gown. It’s timeless, glamorous, and so Palmer.

Expecting & Radiant In 2022

NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images

Every young millennial already feels like Palmer is their parasocial bestie, which made her big Saturday Night Live pregnancy reveal all the more exciting. Her sleek bun during the now-legendary monologue is stunning, but the light-reflected radiance bouncing off her bump really made the moment.

Sultry Hairstyles In 2023

Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

These days, Palmer is on a near-weekly roll of unveiling new, exciting hairstyles (her faux bangs are still everything), but they’re almost always a copy-worthy blend of effortless and sultry. The philosophy is perhaps best exemplified by this tousled, curtain bang-accented updo.