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Putting Your Best Face Forward After 50

How women can update their look without resorting to snail slime

By Patricia Corrigan

Face parched and dry? Unsure which moisturizer to choose? Eyebrows disappearing? Lips thinning out? Tired of your favorite liquid foundation? What color blush is best?

We asked skincare experts and makeup artists in New York, St. Louis, Houston and San Francisco to help women 50 and older put their best face forward. None of them promoted the new “anti-aging” creams made from snail slime (ask the Internet). But they had plenty of great suggestions, including shopping tips.

Does Any of This Really Matter?

It matters to the American Academy of Dermatology, which states, “The skin is the largest and most visible organ of the human body. It protects your other organs, warms you up and cools you down, and reflects how healthy you are inside.”

Whether or not you are skeptical about “miracle” creams — and no matter how you feel about makeup — skin care is a legitimate health issue, and you do your face a favor when you nourish it. Besides, many of us follow this cheeky maxim from a friend's mother: "Put on some lipstick — you'll feel better."

‘If You Look Hard, You Look Old’

When it comes to makeup, apparently a lot of us are stuck in the past.

“So many older women who looked great in their 30s are still wearing the same makeup decades later,” says Robin Kaiser, a New York City makeup artist for ABC World News, 20/20, Nightline and “What worked when you were 30 won’t work when you’re 60. We all need to progress with the times — and you can still punch up your look without being garish.”

Kaiser knows a thing or two about the subject. She won four Daytime Emmys as head of the makeup department for All My Children and has taught makeup courses. “As older women, we can still wear it all — eyeliner, shadow, lipstick, blush — but over time, you must lighten it up and choose your colors judiciously,” Kaiser says. “Otherwise, you look hard. And if you look hard, you look old.”

Kaiser once favored dark, plummy-brown lipstick, a great Bohemian look in her younger days, but no longer. “Except for a special evening out, now I like a look where no one sees your makeup,” she says. “That means you put it on really well.”

Avoid Harsh Lines

Kathy Ferrrara, a commercial makeup artist for over 25 years, agrees. “You want to embrace your features, accentuate your natural face,” she says. “You want people to say ‘You look beautiful,’ not ‘Good makeup!’“

“You go for definition, but with no harsh lines,” says Ferrara, who is based in St. Louis. For aging facial skin, Ferrara favors light, tinted moisturizers over thick liquid foundations, which can make skin look dull. She also is a fan of concealer. Applying it can be tricky, but she says it evens out skin tone, which changes as we age.

“Choose a shade lighter than your skin, dab it on in a triangle from the outside of your eyes down to outside of your nose and then up to the inside corners of your eyes,” Ferrara says. “With a cosmetic sponge, smooth it out. Then wrinkle your face so you can see where the concealer is in your facial lines. Smooth it out again, and then dust a little translucent powder over your face.”

The Case of the Disappearing Eyebrows

Because our eyebrows frame our faces, it’s disappointing when they become thin and scraggly and lose pigment. Options include having your brows tinted at a beauty salon or hair salon or finding a permanent cosmetics expert to tattoo them.

Alternatively, you can fill in the sparse places using a thin, angled brush and a powder eye shadow. “Choose a powder that matches the darkest color of your hair,” Ferrara says. “For gray hair, get a medium-toned brown.” She favors the powder over eyebrow pencils.

Darcie Teasley, a makeup artist in Houston, prefers the pencils, especially the self-sharpening ones. “An eyebrow drawn on with a high-pigment pencil is waterproof, and requires no touch-up,” said Teasley, who has done makeup for a dozen years for films, television, photo shoots and opera and ballet performances.

Teasley cautions against using dark pencils. “Think lighter brown, even if you are of African-American descent, with black hair and dark skin,” she says. That advice stands regardless of current trends, Teasley says, because “older women shouldn’t follow trends.”

Just Say ‘No’ to Shimmery Eye Shadow

Mascara and eyeliner are fine for older women, our experts say, when applied with a light touch. For eye shadow, Teasley and Ferrara recommend neutral colors; they both say shimmery eye shadow ages older women. (Farewell, beloved sparkly Sugar Plum shadow!)

“Pick a neutral palate based on your hair color,” Teasley suggests. “Blondes can wear champagne or wheat-colored shadows, brunettes look good in coppery browns or cocoas and gray-haired women can try gray with a darker gray for contour.”

Still using a powder blush? Kaiser recommends cream blush to achieve a dewy, fresh look. Teasley preaches that peach, not pink, is best for most women. Ferrara counsels: “Smile, find the apples of your cheeks and concentrate the blush there, blending it back. Sometimes, a little blush is really all the makeup you need.”

Kaiser believes older women can (and maybe should) wear red lipstick for special occasions. Ferrara likes pinks and corals, with gloss applied over lipstick. “The gloss reflects light, and that’s an easy way to plump up thin lips,” she says.

Teasley prefers a neutral, creamy color. “Dark lipstick makes thin lips look even thinner,” she says. She suggests choosing a shade close to the color of the inside of your mouth below your lower lip. Teasley also recommends a clear lip liner to help keep lipstick from feathering, or running into your wrinkles.

Where to Buy Makeup

Trained professionals staff cosmetic counters in department stores and makeup salons and makeup artists will recommend products at workshops or private consultations. That said, the quality of cosmetics sold in drugstores has improved greatly — Ferrara swears by drugstore mascara and lip gloss  — and our experts all say there is no harm in mixing and matching makeup from different lines.

Though you can’t try on makeup sold at the drugstore, you can afford to experiment when you shop there. “Buy different shades and don’t be afraid to try something new,” Kaiser says. “If you buy a cheap lipstick and you hate it, just give it away.”

What do makeup experts splurge on? The answer is unanimous: Foundation. Kaiser says, “I spend money on my foundation, because I’m all about skin.”


Caring for Your Skin Is Crucial

No matter how good your makeup looks, it will look even better if you take care of your skin. Our experts, along with Janet Perhac, a longtime licensed aesthetician and a certified permanent cosmetic makeup artist in San Francisco, all agree.

They offered these reminders:

  • Wear sunscreen every day – there is no “safe” tan
  • Smoking causes facial wrinkles
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Cut back on sugar
  • Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables

What other favors can you do for your face? Perhac recommends a five-step daily skincare regimen:

  • A cleanser that’s right for your skin type
  • A topical Vitamin C serum to help keep skin from sagging
  • A retinol product for exfoliation, either by prescription or over the counter
  • A moisturizer that’s right for your skin type
  • Eye cream

If you are unsure which products to buy, consider scheduling a facial with a licensed aesthetician or see a dermatologist. Either can recommend products proven to benefit aging skin — even if snail slime is not for you.

Beware of Marketing Hype

“Professional products that aren't sold in drugstores or department stores often are better quality,” Perhac says, “but always read labels carefully, whether you’re looking at a $500 moisturizer or one that costs far less.”

Perhac recommends spending more on skincare products than on makeup (“It’s just about color”) but cautions against falling for fancy packaging and exaggerated marketing claims.

“Skincare is a multi-billion dollar business,” she says, “because everyone is looking for the fountain of youth.”

Photograph of Patricia Corrigan
Patricia Corrigan is a professional journalist, with decades of experience as a reporter and columnist at a metropolitan daily newspaper, and a book author. She now enjoys a lively freelance career, writing for numerous print and on-line publications. Read more from Patricia at Read More
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