Makeup 101: A Reluctant Girl’s Guide to Face Editing

Real talk: makeup makes me feel weird. I’m not generally super into wearing it, and I’m also not very good at wearing it. After a really nightmarish period around age 13 — when I powdered my face orange and blow-dried my hair straight every day in an attempt to seem like less of a weirdo at school — I realized I was never going to not be a weirdo and also that I looked like an Oompa Loompa who had accidentally grabbed onto an electric fence, and felt like I could put away the Avon utilikit.

NOT LIKE THIS OH GOD

For the rest of my short life after that, I was happy with stuffing greasy hair into a hat for 9 am classes or occasionally attempting Shane levels of eyeliner for nights out, which don’t matter anyway because it’s so dark that really you’re doing great if you can make out the vague blurry shapes of other human forms. Honestly, putting on makeup kind of feels like drag — not in a critical or derogatory way, but very much in a “performing a gendered identity that I would never wear if I weren’t in front of other people” way. But the past two years I’ve had jobs where I’ve felt not required, exactly, to wear Grownup Makeup but like I would feel more comfortable if I did. There are situations where you feel like you’re taken more seriously, and where you yourself feel more assured, if you look as made-up as all the other ladies in the room. This is what I’ve learned about how to do that without feeling like I am wearing clown makeup. Perhaps it will be useful to you also!

1. Put some stuff on your face, maybe.

If you are fresh-faced and glowing with perfect skin like Freja Beha Erichsen or Mulan, then fine, skip this step. For the rest of us, in my experience, you feel less like you are standing naked before a judge-y world of judgers if you put some stuff on your face.

That said, however, I really can’t get behind foundation. I’m sorry! I know people wear it every day and probably a lot of you do, but to me it feels like painting a house except the house is my face and when I’m done it doesn’t really look like my face anymore. The exception, if there is one, to this rule may be this weird stuff from Lush called a “color supplement.” I think the darkest tone they have is “dark pink,” which may not work if you are darker than “dark pink,”(am I wrong in thinking that is not a color??) but the nice thing is that you can mix it with moisturizer to make it less intense to put on. So if you’re in a similar place, maybe do some of these things instead.

Concealer: This is the easiest and best. Find something in either a stick or a liquid, roughly the same shade as your skin color, and dab it underneath your eyes and/or any weird blemishes. Laneia has some specific directions as far as undereye circles go: “Even if you have dark circles under your whole entire eye, it’s best to only apply concealer to the part nearest the bridge of your nose and maybe the outside parts of your eyes, if necessary. Concealer under your whole eyeball will possibly make you look like an oppositely colored raccoon. ”

Even if you don’t have any weird blemishes, it’s amazing how much less tired and upset about being alive you look when the area under your eyes isn’t purple. You can get concealers in weird colors like green or blue that are meant to offset red or discolored skin, but that sounds like voodoo witchcraft to me and I don’t recommend it. I use Whatever Is Cheapest At CVS but am told that Bobbi Brown’s is “the best.”

Tinted Moisturizer: This can be used in conjunction with concealer. It’s neat because probably you should use moisturizer anyway, I’ve heard it’s a good idea, and this one is not quite like makeup/foundation but makes your face look more all the same color-ish. It’s like the Shirley Temple of face makeup.

NOT LIKE THIS. THIS IS TOO MUCH. (VIA NOWNESS.COM)

Powder: The utility of this is not entirely clear to me. Some people, I believe, use it as a layer on top of their other, more liquidy makeup situation to “set” it. Also though it can be used on its own to make your face less shiny, if that is a concern you have. Bare Minerals Id Escentuals Whatever makes this makeup that is a powder but sort of performs the basic function of foundation but also doesn’t really look like you’re wearing any makeup? If you like touching your face with a soft brush, this is a good option for you. Riese echoes that Bare Escentuals is the way to go, and they have a starter kit that Alex got for her and I think someone must have gotten for me at some point because it would explain why I own so many of these things. They also have kits for your eyes and stuff, so I don’t know, you can probably stop reading this article and just buy those.

BONUS POINTS: Blush

Blush is sort of an optional makeup thing and I think for many people (me included!) it is the product most likely to leave you feeling like you are wearing clown makeup. But it can be really easy and totally not a big deal and also really bump your makeup-self up a notch if you just go easy with it.

Here is how I like to Do Blush: I put some on a brush, smile really hugely and fakely and horrifically like I’m being photographed with Mother Teresa, and run the brush over the bulge-y parts of my cheek that are now all big because I’m smiling. Then, usually without putting anything more on the brush, I run it quickly over each eyelid, and then the top of my forehead and temples. This makes your face look like it has some color, it puts a little bit of subtle color around your eyes without you actually having to worry about “eye makeup” or what that even is, and it gives you an overall more “done” look. Also if you are pale enough that you were frequently sent to the school nurse as a child even though there was nothing wrong with you just because teachers thought you looked ill, sometimes it feels nice to be more rosy. Just hypothetically speaking.

Riese: Has anyone ever told you to smile and put blush in the parts of your cheeks that puff up when you smile?

Rachel: Yes! That is the only way I know to put on blush. Are there other ways to put on blush?

DOUBLE BONUS POINTS: Blush as Bronzer, by Laneia.

Bronzer is terrifying. If you are very pale but want to look like you go outdoors sometimes, buy a blush that is a little more on the brown side (don’t go crazy here). To apply, think of which parts of your face usually get sunburned (nose, forehead, tops of cheeks just below sunglasses). Put just a wee little bit of blush on your brush and then blow on it to remove any excess. Really super lightly brush the blush like, straight across your face from cheek to cheek, nose included. Do the same with your forehead and maybe also your chin. It’s really important that you only put a little bit of blush on the brush when you do this otherwise you’re going to look insane. You should instead look like you were outside for an amount of time yesterday and have the mild face tan to prove it.

2. Put some stuff on your eyes.

Mascara: Put mascara on. Just do this part. It is so fucking easy, and also whatever grown-up-professional-pretty-person-who-knows-how-to-use-makeup look you’re going for will be like 35% done after just this one step. It works exactly the way you think it would. Sort of stick the wand part sideways up against your eyelashes and draw it through them starting from the bottom (your eyelid) to the tip of your lashes. If you do it slowly and sort of move the wand back and forth gently like you’re brushing your teeth, there will be less chance of clumping. If you are not a raven-haired beauty like Pocahontas or Lisbeth Salander (except for the part in the movie where she’s blond for a while?) and are in fact a near-albino like me, then I would recommend getting a brown or “brown-black” mascara; it will look less like HEY THERE NICE EYE PAINT ON YOUR EYES. Otherwise, go for it, get mascara that is black like your heart. I have no thoughts re: brands. I feel like many people own the pink one with the green cap. Open to suggestions.

Laneia’s note on waterproof mascara: Do not under any circumstances ever ever wear waterproof mascara. EVER. Maybe to a funeral but only if you anticipate crying so hard that people will volunteer to carry you out of the place, which, at that point, I don’t know why you’d be worried about mascara. Waterproof mascara has to be removed via eye makeup remover, which is a pain in the ass and will maybe also irritate your eyeballs.

Eyeliner: I feel this is optional. Obviously Shane and Effy disagree, but I always feel like I’m coloring on my eyes with a crayon like a four-year-old, and it looks like it, too. If you’re a more positive-thinking person than I am, this is maybe cool! Drawing with crayons is awesome. Go for it. Enjoy. Jezebel says that Revlon Colorstay is where it’s at; other people have said Prestige is the best I think. (Riese agrees w/r/t Revlon Colorstay, and strongly recommends it.)

EFFY TAUGHT ME THAT EYELINER IS A GATEWAY DRUG

Eyeshadow: What even is this. If anyone has insights on this that they feel my people, the makeup-illiterate, really need to know, please share in the comments. Otherwise I will continue using the Blush Method as described above.

3. Put some stuff on your lips.

I feel like this is actually the easiest and most fun part of makeup. I guess it can seem intimidating, if you have nightmarish thoughts of grandma-pink lipstick smeared all over your face that makes you look like a slightly senile, possibly kleptomaniac person who needs to be returned to the nursing home. On the other hand, though: there’s also Molly Ringwald in The Breakfast Club. Also, bottom line, unless you go all out with lip liner and like a tiny lip brush (which I guess people do??) this is super easy and will accomplish at least 45% more of your “looking like a grownup” closet.

VIA EYESHADOWLIPSTICK.COM

The easiest thing by far is tinted lip balm. I mean come on. You already own 87 different chapsticks and lip balms, both in “stick” and “tiny round tin” and possibly even “squeezable tube” form, this is totally no big deal. A tinted one will just be slightly pinker than your cherry chapstick, and will conveniently not make you think of Katy Perry every time you use it. As far as I’m concerned the best one of these is Burt’s Bees Tinted Lip Balm; it makes me feel like a pretty pretty princess and also like my lips are the lips of a pretty pretty princess. If you feel the need to move slightly farther down the spectrum of lip balm —> lipstick, Burt’s Bees also makes a less sheer lip tint, Lip Shimmer, that is for some reason like the thickness of a pencil, but otherwise works well. I like the Rhubarb one. 

For people who are Ready To Do Lipstick albeit sort of tentatively, I’d recommend Lipstick Queen’s “Medieval.” It is really the tinted lip balm of lipsticks. The idea behind the name is that it’s a throwback to the “makeup” of medieval women, who “used lemons to stimulate the lips and stain their lips a see through blood red.” So, makeup that’s like non-makeup. It’s super sheer and makes you look good without making it look like you’re wearing lipstick. It looks good on literally everyone, regardless of skin color, outfit, or religious affiliation. There are other good options, too — Sali Hughes, who is like the only beauty/makeup writer in the world who doesn’t make me feel like I should move into a cave or a red tent in the desert for not using ‘eyeshadow primer,’ has a list of six lipsticks that look good on everyone.
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That’s it! That’s literally all I have. Everything I know about pantomiming as someone who knows how to put makeup on her face is contained here. Any additional wisdom will have to be provided in the comments. Anyone who knows how to paint my nails so they don’t chip within 24 hours, please, share.

Rachel is Autostraddle's Managing Editor and the editor who presides over news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1129 articles for us.

122 Comments

  1. BEST nude lip comes from using your foundation brush after you’ve done your face, lightly lightly tinting your lip with the foundation residue and then matte gloss over the top ^^

  2. I love Bare Escentuals stuff, it’s done wonders for my face in general. But pricey, pricey tsk tsk. But all I really wear for everyday use is their foundation and Well Rested (meant for under-eyes but I use as a general concealer of spots too because BE concealer is way too pinkish for my skin tone) which are all SPF 15 and 20 and last for months at a time.

    Depends if you think it’s worth it to spend that much. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, most of the mineral powder foundations you can buy at the chemist’s are pretty good.
    The liquid and mousse type ones just feel like your face has no room to move under a mask, plus they encourage the spots like nobody’s business.

    I tend not to bother with eyeliner and mascara, but if you don’t want your eyes to look swallowed up as they can sometimes do with foundation or concealer on you can try a pale line of brown eyeshadow powder along your bottom lash line with a thin brush, makes them stand out but only a tiny bit. Make sure it’s a good brand though, otherwise it’ll be migrating down to look like a dark shadow. Body Shop is the best I’ve found

  3. I’m probably as clueless about make-up as a fish out of water, never worn it and never took to wearing it. Reading this article and watching Brandy and Julie’s make-up tutorial for butch lesbians has convinced me that maybe I shouldn’t avoid make-up like its the bubonic plague and to try it out again.

  4. Would you believe that this is literally the first article about makeup that hasn’t made me have the beginnings of a panic attack and made me want to cry under the blankets (or actually cry under the blankets)? Just for that, I’m super impressed. I don’t know if I’m actually willing to TRY any of this (I have an eyeliner pencil. It makes me feel like a twelve year old who’s trying too hard), but maybe someday.

    (Seriously, eyeshadow, what even.)

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