My mother, who was a dead ringer for Jackie O in her day, didn’t wear much makeup. A bit of red lipstick and a spritz of perfume was all she applied on evenings out. As a teenager, I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, but I did anyway — hiding my treasured mascara, blush and lip gloss in my book bag and secretly applying it in the high school bathroom. In college, I became a pro at applying liquid eyeliner, the blacker the better. Back then, I thought the cat-eye look suited me just fine, complementing what I imagined was my mysterious air. I wrote poetry. I wore black. It was a look.
Today, the cat-eye and liquid eyeliner are gone. As in so many other areas of my life, I’ve come to see the wisdom of my mothers’ ways. Like Mom, I’ve become a minimalist when it comes to makeup, believing that less is more and that the best things for my complexion are good food, fresh air and regular exercise. (And soft lighting.)
When it comes to products, I believe that once we reach the reading-glasses stage of life, it’s time to re-evaluate what we’re putting on our face. Everyone is different, and trends come and go, but as a career beauty editor, I’ve discovered three fundamental beauty truths. First: Like my cat-eye liner, what worked in our teens and 20s is probably not appropriate today. Second: How we look to others and how we think we look are usually two vastly different things. Finally: When in doubt about whether to apply another layer of makeup, pass.
Lay a good foundation
In the acne-prone years, we used to think it was a good idea to hide perceived flaws and imperfections with heavy foundation. In reality, thick formulas make themselves right at home on your face, settling into large pores and wrinkles. A wiser choice is a tinted moisturizer or a lightweight foundation in a light-reflecting formula that complements your skin tone. The best way to go easy is by applying a thin layer with a foundation brush.
“Formulations are made so much better now,” says Jane Iredale, the mineral-makeup pioneer with an eponymous makeup line. “Women have discovered that concentrating on a few good features is a more useful approach to makeup.” Because your face needs to match your neck, test-color along your jaw line in natural daylight.
When choosing a foundation, touch the product with your fingers so you can feel the texture. It should always feel silky and soft, advises Nevio Ragazzini, a makeup artist who has worked with such natural beauties as Lauren Hutton, Dina Merrill and Lynn Whitfield. He recommends Armani foundations, whereas I, ever the natural girl, prefer Liquid Minerals by Iredale and Ultimate Foundation by Ferro. Liquid Minerals ($48, janeiredale.com) is a state-of-the-art makeup and skincare combo with microscopic liposomes designed to penetrate your skin and release their antioxidant ingredients (vitamin C, algae extracts and Coenzyme Q10).
A nice bonus is that they may also help repair sun damage and protect and restore collagen. Ultimate Foundation ($29.95, ferrocosmetics.com) is an all-in-one concealer, foundation and finishing powder that contains pure silk and pure crushed pearl, whose amino acids and calcium are like food for the skin.
Don’t get too cheeky
If you’re like me, you probably grew up believing that the best way to accentuate your bone structure was to apply blush underneath cheekbones and then brush, with a wing-like flourish, up and out toward the ears.
Um … no! The incorrect application of blush is one of the biggest mistakes women make. You don’t want to look like you’re ready for takeoff, but you do want to brighten lackluster skin. “Too much blush makes us look old, but just enough makes the face come alive,” Iredale says.
Apply a brighter pop of color on the apple of your cheek and a light dusting of bronzer on your cheekbone. Lightly apply the bronzer first by starting underneath the cheekbone and subtly brushing up on to the cheekbone. Stop. Then smile. “The fleshy bit that protrudes is the apple of the cheek, and this is where a brighter pop of color goes,” Iredale says. Make sure to blend well so there’s no demarcation line. To find the blush that best suits your color, pinch your cheeks and try to match that hue. A few of my favorites are PurePressed Blush in Whisper, a good neutral color that works on everyone and gives a nice flushed glow ($27, janeiredale.com); and Invisible Touch Sheer Bronzing Blusher ($22, laurenhutton.com).
The eyes really are the soul’s window
There’s a common misconception that short of an eyelift, there’s nothing you can do to “wake up” your peepers. But learn the precision art of applying eye makeup and they will glow. An inexpensive must is a good eyelash curler. Curling your lashes not only makes your eyes appear bigger, but more awake. Apply shadow first on the lid: A light color with a subtle pearl-like shimmer will really waken the eye.
For more definition, use an eyeliner pencil to apply a thin line of a neutral color, like taupe. Make sure the wax is not too hard, as that will only pull on skin. If you can, test the pencil on the back of your hand first to make sure it’s soft enough. Now it’s time to curl lashes and follow with two coats of mascara. For a more natural curl — if you have the manual dexterity — press the curler in different parts of your lashes: first against the eye, then slide outward a smidge and press again.
Iredale recommends playing up the color — subtly. To complement blue eyes, choose a shimmery bronze or gold; for brown eyes, a champagne or plum shimmer; green-eyed gals look best with a lilac hue. When applying liner, look down into a good-quality makeup mirror with a strong magnification to make sure you’re applying it as close to your lash line as possible. This will make your eyes appear larger and more alert.
For an even application, celebrity makeup artist Krissy Ferro, creator of Ferro Cosmetics, suggests applying a light layer of moisturizer to eyes first to keep the skin plump and to smooth things out. Then raise your eyebrows and, keeping skin tight, apply shadow with an oval eye-shadow brush. Good products include Gogo Instant Natural Volume Mascara ($22, josiemarancosmetics.com), PurePressed Eye Shadow in Oyster (janeiredale.com), Single Pressed Eye Shadow in Champagne and Luminous ($16 each, mineralogie.biz); Eye Definer pencil in Taupe ($11, thebodyshop-usa.com).
Can we talk about under-eye circles? Camouflaging them with concealer is no easy feat. Because there are different shades of dark circles — and causes — you must first determine whether yours are a result of hyperpigmentation, allergies or just a lack of sleep. While you can treat the latter two causes, hyperpigmentation (brown circles or spots) is harder to cover than other colors. A peachy orange works best, Iredale says.
First apply a light layer of eye cream under your eyes. Then gently dab a few dots of a light cover-up with a good concealer brush and use a crisscross motion to get it into the skin’s crevices. The brush helps distribute the concealer, but you still need to blend it — with a light touch from your ring finger. Good concealers don’t come cheap, but you use so little that they last a long time. Consider Biolift Concealer ($69, chantecaille.com) or Dark Circle Defense and Brush ($32, tartecosmetics.com). Make sure to follow the concealer with your foundation shade on top.
Two of the biggest lip lies are that all you need is a little gloss to perk things up, and that you have to tone down the color as you age.
At a certain stage in the game, “just touch of gloss” won’t cut it when you’re leading a meeting or making an acceptance speech. If you do prefer this route, get a good pencil liner to keep the gloss in place. In fact, you need a good liner, period. Fill your lips in first with light, feathery strokes with a nude lip pencil; then apply gloss in the middle of the lower lip and smack your lips together.
When it comes to colored lipstick, the pros recommend using a sheer cream formulation. It’s longer lasting and moisturizing. You don’t have to succumb to the seasons’ ever-changing palette. If you don’t want to give up your classic red, don’t! But, Iredale says, the best grown-up red has both a little blue and a little yellow in it, what’s called a neutral red. The shade that makes your teeth look the whitest is the right shade of red for you. And whatever you do, don’t be heavy-handed. Iredale likes to apply lipstick then thin it out with her finger, blot with a tissue, and finish with a little gloss on the lower lip.
For more natural-looking definition, outline your lips in a pencil that’s as close to your natural lip color as possible. And consider investing in a lip brush: It’s good for applying the right amount of color as well as for removing excess color. Nice options include La Bella Donna lip pencil in Naturale ($22, labellaadonna.com); Mineral Light Lip Color in Mindful Red and Beloved ($24.50 each, labelladonna.com); Argan Natural Volume Lip Gloss ($20, Josiemarancosmetics.com) in Soledad, a sheer light apricot, or Freedom, a warm, shimmery pink.
The makeup bag I carry today is a well-edited version of products I’ve suggested here: mascara, champagne eye shadow, taupe liner, blush, pressed mineral powder, concealer, lip liner and gloss. Maybe a few more items than my mother had, but nothing that ever makes me look “done up.” Because after all, mother really does know best.
Mary Bemis, founding editor of Organic Spa magazine, is an authority and consultant on beauty, spas and green living.