Reader Lydia e-mailed me this request:
Since you’ve been posting about the use of cosmetics recently, is there any chance you’d do a post on a gentle beginner intro to starting to wear make-up as an adult?
I’ve been back through the beauty tag and looked at the individual posts on cosmetics, especially the one about falling down the rabbit hole, but was hoping that you might do one that draws all the threads together. You made such a great transition from not wearing make-up to really understanding how to use it for the effect you want, and your posts on individual products have been really detailed and clear.
I’ve been trying to start wearing make-up as an adult, but, when I’ve tried going to a store’s beauty counter for help, I end up looking like a clown and being given a long list of products. Most online information seems to be aimed at the experienced make-up wearer, with even novice tutorials calling for three brushes and sixteen products.
I pointed Lydia to Sonja’s Makeup 101 series, which is really fantastic … but does go pretty deep into techniques. And uses an awful lot of brushes. So even though I STILL feel like a laughable novice when it comes to anything makeup-related, I will take a stab at this. Because I remember feeling just like Lydia as a 30-year-old woman, having those same experiences and frustrations, and wondering where to turn.
Of course, all I can really share is my own routine. It’s fairly simple, works for me, and doesn’t require loads of expertise or fancy tools … but I would never say it’s the ideal set of practices for anyone. Still, I hope it’ll be helpful for those of you just beginning to play around with cosmetics.
So first, the general:
- I have become fanatical about skincare, and I feel like having healthy skin makes for a great canvas. When I’m broken out or sore, applying makeup hurts and irritates, but more than that, it feels like a chore concealing stuff that I don’t want seen instead of highlighting stuff that I love. My skincare routine includes oil cleansing (posts here and here), using a Clairsonic every other day (info and review here), and many other tactics to manage my hormonal acne (full post here). I do NOT believe that my methods will work perfectly for anyone besides me! But I definitely recommend finding a cleansing and moisturizing routine that feels good and works for you. Any makeup you apply will work and look better on clear, happy skin. (Or as clear and happy as you can get it. Some of us struggle more than others with skin-related challenges.)
- I have had my makeup applied professionally and plied the artists with questions. I have paid for makeup tutorials. I hang out with Beauty Bets on the regular and am constantly hounding her. But as a hands-on learner, I STILL have had to do a lot of playing around and experimentation to find products and techniques that work for me. This just sucks. I wish I could say that this book or that class will help you find exactly what you need, but in all likelihood, you’re gonna have to spend the occasional evening trying out eye makeup techniques. In front of a mirror. And then wiping everything off and trying other techniques. Nothing beats trial and error, friends.
- I put a lot of stuff on my face to achieve the much-lauded “no makeup” look. This drives me up a wall. Just had to mention that.
- All of the makeup I use for the Sally version of a “full face” is shown at the very top of this post (minus BB cream and eyebrow fillers). All of the tools I use are shown below.
Next, the blow-by-blow:
Base layer: I don’t use foundation, have no idea how to apply bronzer or highlighter, cannot contour, and apply my entire base layer with my fingers. I do two things to make my freshly-washed skin look even in tone: I apply BB cream all over my face and under my chin, and I dab on some under-eye concealer. You can read my review of my BB cream here, a post that includes before and after photos. For concealer, I use the Glo Minerals palette shown above. I apply a thin layer of under-eye cream first to plump the area and prevent the concealer from settling into my winkles. Then I dab the light color on with my ring finger, and add a tiny bit of the darker shade to blend the edges. Ages ago, I was taught to use this wedge shape for concealer, and it is KEY to making my under-eye area look lighter.
Eyebrows: I get mine threaded every so often to keep them in shape. I’ve gone to fancy spots, but now I go to a gal at Ridgedale Mall who has a kiosk and she does a great job for $12. I pluck strays with Tweezerman tweezers, and generally have to do this daily, being a gifted Hair Farmer. I use a pencil and light strokes to create a rough outline, then brush some brown powder in there to fill any gaps. I actually use an eyeliner pencil and eyeshadow powder. Many makeups can multitask!
Powder: I use Neutrogena Healthy Skin. I get a little on my finger, and apply it to my undereye areas. Then I apply all over my face with a compact puff. I get very shiny without powder, and also keep a Neutrogena Shine Control compact in my purse and oil blotting sheets handy for touch-ups.
Cheeks: I tried powder blush for a while, but I really, REALLY prefer cream. (My favorites here.) I generally use the Elizabeth Arden shown above, so I’ll run my finger around the compact to get a thin glaze going, then dot it along my cheekbones, and blend upward toward my temples. Using my fingers. That’s it.
And that’s also it in terms of what I apply if I’m working at home or seeing friends or doing anything other than a TV or press appearance, event, or other fancypants activity. I don’t do eye makeup on a regular basis. I know it looks nice, but it makes me feel delicate and smudge-able and cranky so I am yet to make it a daily ritual. Considering how much stuff I use now and how little I used six years ago I won’t say “never,” but for now, eyes are a special occasion thing.
When I do eyes I do this:
Curl eyelashes: Une Femme taught me this one. Even if you hate mascara, curling your eyelashes can help those lashes look longer and opens your eyes considerably. I curl mine pre-mascara. I have no special technique. I grab as close to the lid as I can without hurting myself, and hold for 20 seconds. Do the other eye. Then another round of 20 seconds on each.
Apply “liner”: Audi taught me this one. When I attempt to apply actual eyeliner – especially in dark colors and black – I look like I’ve allowed a drunk toddler to do my makeup. So I use matte black eyeshadow and an eyeliner brush. I press the powder along the top of my lash line where liner would go, making it darkest where my lashes are thick. It creates a soft, dark line that is much more forgiving than eyeliner. The powder migrates throughout the day (even if I apply some sort of lid primer), and for much of the time it just looks soft and smoky. After 5-6 hours, it looks like a splotchy, greasy, weird mess and needs a touch-up.
Sometimes I will also use a black pencil to apply VERY light liner to the outer 1/2 or 3/4 of my lower lid, then blend with a finger or Q-tip. I’ve heard that doing liner on top only makes your eyes look bigger but my eyes can look a bit odd to me without a hint of lower liner, so I apply it, “rules” be damned. This also feathers and needs a touch-up after 5-6 hours.
Apply mascara: I apply to upper and a tiny bit to lower. Usually just one coat, but sometimes two. I use the brush on the far right above to separate my lashes if they stick and get rid of clumps. Right now I’m using Lash Domination. It is the second type of mascara I’ve ever used and it is better than the first (Benefit Bad Gal), in that it is more lengthening. The physics of this mystifies me.
And that’s it for eyes. My deep-set eyes mean that eyeshadow is meaningless so I just skip it.
Lips: For formal lips, I use Make Up For Ever in Rouge Artist Intense 44 (story here) and occasionally Bobbi Brown Creamy Matte Lip Color in Crushed Plum. Both of these are SUPER pigment-rich, which means that if I apply and blot, they will basically stain my lips for several hours. I can eat and drink and some color will remain. If I’m going to an event that is many hours long and involves eating/drinking, I use Sonja’s lip liner layering trick. Otherwise, it’s apply/blot/apply/blot. My lack of lip liner means that, if I don’t blot, the lipstick bleeds. But most days, I just use some combination of gloss or tinted balm and skip true lip color.
And we’re done.
I’m absolutely happy to answer questions about my choices and techniques, and will do my best to field other questions! But I definitely recommend talking with friends whose makeup application techniques you admire, poking around Pinterest for other simple tutorials, and lots of hands-on experimentation. Especially if you’re a novice and feel overwhelmed by beauty blogs and magazine tutorials. And I truly hope this was helpful!
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