Well, we’ve come to the end of the line, ladies (and/or people who like to dress like ladies). I’ve told you my best tips for clothing, accessories, and now we just have the final touches: makeup, hair, and general grooming.
Makeup: It’s Like Face Paint for Grownups
I started wearing makeup regularly in my late teens/early twenties. In high school, I’d sometimes use concealer to cover my blemishes, but that was the extent of it. At the time I started wearing makeup, it was mostly because I was going through a period of high anxiety, and the ritual of putting on makeup and making myself look good even when I felt like crap was soothing to me. But then I stopped being anxious and kept putting on makeup, much to my family’s mystification.
I come from a very hippie, all-natural, no-makeup family. I don’t think my sister has ever worn makeup except for a formal event or a stage performance, and I’m pretty sure my mom hasn’t worn makeup since college. As a middle schooler I was so anti-makeup that my friends and I signed a no-makeup pact, vowing we would never wear any makeup unless it was tinted lip balm. Ah, how times have changed.
The way I explain makeup to my mother (who still finds my need to put it on before I go to work every day very strange) is that makeup is how I reconcile the image I have of myself in my head with the reality of what I look like. In my head, my image of myself is clear-skinned, with visible eyebrows and eyelashes and red-ish lips. In reality, I almost never look like that. So when I put on makeup, I finally look “right” to my own eyes.
There is a huge range when it comes to people who wear makeup. Some people spend at least a half hour every morning going whole-hog and painting every inch of their face. And for them, that is fantastic. For me, I found the key to makeup is developing a five-minute routine. And I don’t mean one of those routines that says they’re five minutes but actually takes a half hour unless you have been doing it for so long you can do it in your sleep. I mean something that actually takes five minutes. This is my five minute routine:
This is how I look when I wake up in the morning (without glasses). As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing really wrong with my face besides that I have zero color in it. Currently I am sporting no real acne except for a few pink spots on the sides of my face (#blessed). If I am, I put on a little liquid concealer, and if that doesn’t cover up the blemish, I also use a little cream concealer.
Here’s the great Catch-22 of concealers/foundation: they are meant to make your skin look blemish-free, but the more of them you regularly wear, the more they clog up your pores. There’s no way around this. You can use the highest-end, most recommended concealers out there, and they will still do this. Your skin just isn’t designed to wear stuff on it. There are concealers/foundations that claim to be “noncomedogenic” (aka, don’t clog pores), but that is bullshit. There’s no scientific standard that companies have to prove to say that their makeup doesn’t block pores, so a lot of companies just slap that claim on. Don’t trust them.
There is a spectrum in concealers/foundations in terms of heaviness, and the more heavy something is, the more likely it is to cause breakouts (but the better it works at covering breakouts that already exist). It goes:
Powder -> Liquid -> Mousse/Cream
Powder is the lightest. If you have oily/shiny skin and just want to even it out slightly or make it look less oily/shiny, just use a powder. Don’t do the heavy stuff. Powder is kind of like putting on very sheer pantyhose. If there’s a real blemish, you’re gonna still see it. But if there’s a slight discoloration, it smooths right over that. I never bother with powder, because my skin is pretty normal and powder doesn’t really do anything.
Liquid (which is what I use in most cases) is a nice middle ground, especially if you use something oil-free. It covers, but it doesn’t really cake. Mousse/Cream is the heavy-duty stuff. Only bring this stuff out for a big old blemish you feel uncomfortable with. It’s designed to basically sit on top of any and all types of skin and never come off or let anything through, and that’s exactly what it does.
Here’s the thing: I put on concealer/foundation “wrong”. There’s supposed to be steps. You’re supposed to primer your entire face, put different types of concealer on different parts of your skin, highlight and contour, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum. If you’re interested in how to do that, there are many tutorials out there. If you really want to cover your whole face, I fully support you in that endeavor. I don’t.
Like I said, wearing more makeup causes more blemishes, and what’s more, I’ve never been convinced it’s worth it. When I went to prom, I sat for an hour and my sister’s friend Allie did a beautiful job applying a million layers of makeup to my face. I looked great, but I didn’t look any different from how I normally look besides, like, fancier. Also, I don’t personally like the look of heavy concealer. I like seeing people’s pores and freckles. So I literally spot treat.
For liquid concealer I use Neutrogena Skin Clearing Liquid Makeup (Natural Ivory), and for cream I use Maybelline Dream Matte Mouse (Light Ivory). Also, fun tip, if you have a kind of concealer that you know matches but want a different brand, there’s a site called Findation where you enter the concealers/foundations that have worked for you in the past and it spits out a list of every other brand’s equivalent to that same shade. The magic of the internet!
As you can also see if you go back to the first picture, my eyelashes and eyebrows are white-blonde. If you’ve ever seen a golden retriever’s eyelashes (long but almost see-through), you know exactly what mine look like. The only thing I really and truly consider essential in my makeup routine is my next step: putting on my eyebrows. I do not leave my house (unless I am sick or in a very big hurry) without eyebrows. When I go to the gym not straight from work, this is the only makeup I put on.
I discovered that I could actually have eyebrows when I was eighteen, and I was getting ready for prom, and my sister’s friend Allie was doing my makeup and brought me a brow pencil, which I had no idea up until then was a thing that existed. She did my eyebrows for the first time and I was like “holy crap, my face looks right for the first time in my entire life”. I have never looked back.
Shaping eyebrows is an arduous task. I actually have quite bushy brows, but you can’t see them because, again, they’re white-blonde. I am not the right person to come to when trying to figure out what the exact right calculus for your brow shape v. your face shape is. I use a pretty basic, universal shape, which is basically a parenthesis turned on it’s side. But instead of literally being half an oval, it’s ever so slightly tilted so that it curves more slowly coming to a head (around where your temple is) and then curves faster downward from there. Also, if you’re like me and draw on your brows, it’s better to draw them up and down rather than side to side, because that’s the direction your hair grows.
I’ve been told that I have nice eyebrows, which is good, because I truly and honestly never have any idea about what the “right” shape is, I just put on whatever looks right to me at the time.
I used to wear a very heavy brow pencil (which looking back makes me wince because I looked like Groucho Marx), but now I use Maybelline Define-A-Brow (Light Brown). It’s much, much, much more natural looking.
My eye makeup goes in two steps: liner and then mascara. Again, most people who do makeup spend a lot more time on their eyes than I do. I don’t for several reasons.First of all, because I wear glasses, you can’t see if I spend more time on my eyes or not. I could literally construct the most perfect rainbow eyeshadow gradient that has every been created by human hands, and as soon as I open my eyes and put on my glasses, you will not be able to see it. The second reason is that I am a pale redhead, and as any pale redhead knows, the only eyeshadows you can really and truly get away with without looking garish or clown makeup-y is nudes (occasionally you can use a little gold). Nudes are hella boring. You spend a lot of time applying all sorts of shades to get your eyelids to look exactly how they looked in the first place, and then, again, you open your eyes and/or put on your glasses and no one can tell. For special occasions like weddings I will put on some eyeshadow just to soften the line of my eyeliner, but for every day, nah. When I do use eyeshadow, it’s Revlon Illuminance Creme Shadow (Not Just Nudes palette).
I took a long time for me to even get with putting on eyeliner, but once I started using it, I really liked it. Again, I keep things simple – I literally draw a line from the inside of my eye to drag out slightly past the outside corner of my eye. I do not line my lower lid. (I am told this is called the “classic bar” style. I call it being lazy.) The reason I don’t do more than that is I have very sleepy eyes with deep under-eye circles that no concealer in the world can disguise (because it’s not a color thing, they’re just… deep), so this just sort of perks them up. For eyeliner I use Revlon ColorStay Eyeliner (Brown). I don’t fuck with liquid eyeliner. Liquid eyeliner is for wizards and/or girls who can concentrate on fine motor skills without giving their hands the nervous shakes. I am neither of those things.
Next step is mascara. Mascara’s pretty self-explanatory. The only confusing thing about it is there are so many dang varieties that all swear to you they’re the best most volumizing thing out there. I have literally no standards when it comes to mascara besides that it’s brown (you’ll notice I use brown mascara and eyeliner where most people use black – that’s because I’m a pale redhead and blacks are way, way too harsh). I’ve used every brand and variety under the sun and never noticed a difference between any of them. The one trick I will say with mascara is this – once you use up your mascara (or, more likely, it dries out), don’t throw it away. New mascaras are always clumpy and put on too much at first. So when you have a new mascara, just put it on like normal, and then use your (old, dry) brush like you’re applying mascara again, and it’ll remove the clumps.
Currently I’m wearing Maybelline’s Pumped Up! Colossal Volum’Express in either Glam Brown or Classic Brown – I forget which and it doesn’t say on my tube. Point is, it’s brown.
And that’s it. That’s my basic makeup look. I know what you’re asking – where the heck’s the lip color? And the answer is, I don’t wear that every day.
This is how I look when I add lipstick. I have two lipsticks – this is Rimmel London Moisture Renew (Coral Gardens). I love this lipstick, but it wears off in about an hour, so I never bother wearing it unless I’m going out for a short amount of time (or I just want to take pictures of myself and am going to wipe it right off after). And this is a picture I took of myself Friday in the lipstick I actually wear:
This is CoverGirl Outlast (Eternal Flame),and I wear it about every other day. It’s great in that it stays on literally the entire day with no wearing or re-application (if you follow the directions and go: 1. put on the color/gloss and let it sit for a minute and then 2. apply the waxy balm stuff on top), but it’s bad in that it dries out your lips if you wear it too much.
In case you’re wondering how I chose a lip color that flatters me (assuming you think that lip color flatters me), I… can’t really answer that question. I just knew what I liked/wanted and chose what matched the idea in my head. There is an entire magical alchemy dedicated to finding what lip colors are most flattering for you based on your coloring, but frankly that is a level of makeup voodoo that is way too advanced for me.
I know what you’re saying, which is, “that’s great, Julia, but that’s a highly personalized regime that works for you, what about what’s going to work for me?” The problem is, I can’t tell you that. Everyone has different things they want to get out of makeup and different levels of time, money, and effort they’re willing to invest. If you’re a total newbie to makeup, here’s how you start:
- Have either a makeup-competent friend or a department store do a free makeover on you. People who actually know and have invested time into makeup will know the best pointers to give you and start you in the right direction. If you like a look someone’s done on you, take notes.
- Go to the drug store and buy a whole bunch of makeup to try. I use drug store makeup, but I’m fully aware that in terms of quality, it’s not the greatest. The nice thing about it, though, is it’s way, way cheaper than going to, say, Sephora or a department store, so it’s way easier to experiment. Buy whatever suits your fancy and try it. You don’t know how things look on you until you try it.
- Browse makeup tutorials and figure out what tips and tricks you can use to help up your game. The best place hands-down for a master post of makeup tutorials is Reddit. r/makeupaddiction/ is a treasure trove, and they have things like a master list of tutorials. They also have a spreadsheet of makeup bloggers subdivided by skin tone/skin type so you can go to their blogs and see what they do (and copy it, if you like it).
- When you find what works for you, stick to it. If you like something and it’s worth your time/money, keep doing it! If it’s not, stop!
General Grooming: Looking Good Without Makeup
There is an entire industry telling women that their bodies are naturally disgusting, smelly, ugly, and hairy, rapidly aging/sagging, and we must immediately fix all of that by buying all sorts of lotions and potions.
This is bullshit.
Being a girl and grooming yourself is not inherently that much different than being a guy and grooming yourself. Take showers. Shave (if you want to). Wear sunscreen when it’s sunny and put on moisturizer when your skin is dry. Wear lip balm if you need it. Wear deodorant as a kindness to others.
Skin care is what I would say is easily and 100% the most bullshit industry. There are legit people with legit skin problems (bad acne, psoraisis, etc, etc, etc). Most people do not have these problems. Stuff like BB Creams, CC Creams, or whatever the heck those types of anti-aging creams are are totally pointless and don’t really do anything medically necessary. (Don’t believe me? The Mayo Clinic agrees with me.) If you have a legit skin problem, go to a dermatologist and they will give you a cream that actually works. For most people with normal skin, here’s what you need:
Stuff for cleaning your face every day. Basic soap and water works fine for this. If you wear makeup, get makeup-removing towelettes (oil free is better) and just wipe your face off. I did not believe in this for a very long time and just let my makeup wear itself off (it was mostly gone by the end of the day! Why waste money on a moist towelette?) But I would constantly get pimples. And not, like, nice little pimples, but the deep, under-skin pimples that would erupt horribly and leave a giant crater in my face that took a month to scab over. Finally, my mom got sick of it, threw a pack of makeup removing towelettes in my bag and said “try it”.
I did. The upshot was that moms are always right.
Every so often (I do this roughly every other day when I’m in the shower), use a gentle acne wash (I use Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Wash). That’s all most normal skin needs. If your skin is extra oily and/or dry, talk do your doctor about what they recommend. Chances are, it’s probably not that intensive.
Moisturize when you’re dry. Wear sunscreen when it’s sunny. I hate moisturizers (they make me break out in the sweats because my skin can’t breathe) and I only use them on my elbows in the winter when they achieve what is approximately the texture of a fine cheese grater. My parents both swear by the Kiss My Face Olive and Aloe 2 in 1 Moisturizing Lotion (my mom gets a dry face and cracked hands in the winter, my dad gets psoriasis).
A lot of places recommend you wear a light SPF sunscreen every day. I don’t do this (even though I’m very pale) because I work in an office and honestly, what is the point. I’m outside maybe 20 minutes a day tops. But if you’re going to be, say, walking around town all day or at the beach, put on sunscreen.
My family used to use Neutrogena and I really liked it a lot. (I don’t know what Neutrogena because they’ve since changed the packaging so none of it looks like I remember.) Then everyone started freaking out about Oxybenzone and I think we went to Coppertone, though honestly I cannot remember. Here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say about choosing sunscreens. The rest is up to you.
Avoid chapped lips. If you have mildly chapped lips, everything you have ever heard about Burt’s Bees is true. They really are the best. I have two lip balms from them. The first is their Nourishing Lip Balm with Mango Butter (lightweight but soothing and delicious). The second is their Lip Shimmer in Rhubarb (for when you want a very light bit of color on your lips but still need lip balm).
When your lips are really, really chapped, the greatest invention that mankind has ever created is Blistex’s Medicated Lip Ointment. It goes on and you immediately feel it tingling/cooling/stinging (which is how you know it’s working), and then it does a really, really, really good job soothing and healing. The only bad thing about it is if you have it for too long, the cream ointment separates from the liquid medication stuff. Mush it around before you apply it and it’ll mix right back together.
Wear deodorant as a common courtesy. Everyone needs deodorant!!! EVERYONE. Especially if you ride public transportation in the summer. My family is a Tom’s of Maine Long Lasting Deodorant family. I’m sure other brands work too.
I’m just going to go ahead and apologize for the next section because I have the world’s best hair.
That’s how it looks naturally, without any curling or straightening or product. I am honestly the worst.
If you are black (or have textured hair), I as a white woman know absolutely nothing besides that a) I think your hair is awesome and b) I support you and whatever choices you must make in order to feel happy with yourself. For people who can give you actually good advice, there are tons of blogs like AfroBella, Black Girl With Long Hair, Curly Nikki, and Naturally Curly.
Go with something easy to maintain. If that means you cut your hair short, cut your hair short. For me, that means keeping my hair long, because if my hair gets short it gets much more curly and unmanageable. Consult with your hairdresser and be honest about your level of investment in your hair. They generally know what’s up.
Never, ever, ever backcomb/tease your hair. Backcombing or teasing your hair is combing upwards instead of downwards, causing your hair to get tangled or bunched up to mimic volume. Literally every tutorial you will ever see will be like “to give your hair volume, backcomb/tease it!” DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. This is awful for your hair. It causes tangles, it causes breakage, and if you have already thin hair, it causes your hair to fall out faster. There are millions of volumizing products on the market. Use literally any of them. Do not backcomb.
Comb, don’t brush your hair. You’ve probably seen this video:
A way better alternative is to, when you get out of the shower, comb your hair gently with a fine-tooth comb, part it or push it around however you want it, and then let it dry. If you get tangles in the interim, work them out gently with your fingers.
Save the flat-ironing/curling for special occasions. Heat damages your hair, not to mention using it to fuss with your hair takes forever (and is miserable in the summer). There are a million tricks to get nice hair without heat (unless you’re really into the pin-straight look but don’t have straight hair) and/or updos you can do to disguise the fact that when you let your hair down it looks like crap. None of them are universal (depends on the hairstyle/type of hair/face type/etc), but google ’em. They’re out there.
Nail polish: Totally Unnecessary, Totally Awesome
I’ll be honest, for 90% of my life, I was not on the nail polish train. When I was in school I took art classes, and so my nails were constantly dirty with paint or charcoal, and it was easier to just keep them as short as possible. I painted my nails sometimes, but it was never really my “thing”. My sister and I have a tradition where every 4th of July we paint our nails red, white, and blue, but htat’s it. Then about three years ago, painting your nails fancily became much more of a trendy thing, and I thought it looked so fun I would try it. I have never looked back.
Here’s what I like about nail polish, it’s a totally girl-centric grooming thing. Most guys will not notice if you literally ripped your fingernails out, let alone what color or if you paint them. And no one says mean stuff about your nails, either. There are no “essential” colors or rules. You can do whatever the heck you want. It’s just a fun, totally you thing that you can do however you want, and no one’s bugging you about if it’s “sexy” or what it says about you. It’s just fun.
Some people are very into nail art, but I’m not one of those people. I know a few tricks (scotch tape manicure, using the head of a pin to make polka dots, a “french manicure” but with whatever two colors I want), but as I’ve mentioned before, I have hands that, if I concentrate on them too much, get very shaky. And while I have improved my manicure skills since that post in 2012 (at least with my dominant hand), I’m still pretty bad at it. Mostly, I stick to solid colors. And my trick to making it look like I’m actually good at painting my nails is to overpaint, wait until it dries/sets totally and completely (usually takes about an hour), and then wash my hands in warm water. The polish on your skin will come off, but the polish on your nails won’t. Ta da!
I also don’t put too much stock into finding a proper nail shape (my nails are naturally round so I keep ’em round) or any of that nonsense. I just paint my nails. And all you need for that is a solid nail polish collection, which you can either get online or from your local drug store.
The CVS stores near me mostly only stocks Sally Hansen (variable, I’ll get to that later), the CVS brand Spoiled (terrible, there’s a reason it’s only $1.99. Good only for when you’re starting and testing what colors you like), and a small selection of Essie. The big brands most people like (for good reason, I’d say these are the best) are Essie, OPI, Orly, Zoya, and China Glaze. There isn’t a huge between-brand difference that I can tell from those five, but those are the five in the top tier. Like I said, of the five best brand, my CVS only stocks Essie, so Essie was my first love.
My Essie nail polishes are:
When I first started trying to paint my nails, the first nail polish I got was Revlon’s Copper Penny. I loved the color, but I hated the texture, which was grainy, not smooth. I quickly abandoned that for Essie’s Penny Talk. Penny talk is described as copper, but I found it to be more of a very warm rose gold, and I loved it. Sadly, I loved it so much that it’s almost gone, and I decided to replace it with Good As Gold, mostly because I wanted a truer gold and less of a pinky-gold. Good As Gold is still a gorgeous color, though I’m so used to Penny Talk I’m not completely sold on it – it’s more greenish/grayish, which isn’t quite as flattering on my skin tone. But it’s definitely the true gold/(Pittsburgh Penguins gold) I was going for.
It’s always good to have a good, basic black nail polish, and Essie’s Licorice is mine. Unlike the cheap brand I tried at first, it’s not tar-like or sticky, or watery (like past blacks have been). It’s smooth and buttery and great.
Before I had black, though, I had navy, because navy is probably my second-favorite color (we’ll get to my first favorite later). Bobbing for Baubles filled my navy niche nicely for a while. It’s just not exactly what I was going for. If you like a more muted, stormy navy, this is it. But if you want a blue-er navy, well, we’ll get to what I found.
As you will notice as we go through my nail polish stash, I am not a girl who’s a big fan of traditional colors or neutrals (though I’m getting more into them). The only red I own is Wrapped in Rubies, which in the picture of the bottle on Essie’s site looks like it’s the color of turd, but in reality is a very dark, rich red. I’m also almost out of it.
Though mine is currently glued shut, As Gold As It Gets is a really fun effect that looks clear if you do it alone, but painted over a flat nail color adds some sparkle/shimmer to it. Also, nail polishes with sparkle or foil in them are notoriously much more difficult to remove, this is not at all.
My other favorite brand I use frequently is Zoya. They aren’t usually sold in drug stores, so even though their prices are comparable to Essie’s, the shipping kills you. But the great thing about Zoya is a couple times a year they have sales where you can get three bottles of nail polish for “free”, and the only cost is the shipping (which is usually $12-$15). In fact, they are having one right now, and you should go sign up for their e-mails immediately to get the code (though GMail often filters them into Spam for some reason, so be sure to check that frequently).
Wednesday is my favorite nail polish of all time, because it’s my favorite color ever. It’s a bright, cheerful turquoise/robin’s egg blue that’s extremely fun.
As I’ve mentioned before, navy is my second-favorite color, so having a navy nail polish was a must for me. I like Zoya’s Sailor much more than I liked my Essie, because it’s a richer, blue-er blue. (Also,I am wearing it right now, and by “wearing” it I mean “it’s horribly chipped and I need to re-do it”.)
Zoya’s Neely is a really beautiful, creamy spring green, the only problem with it is I just don’t love how it looks with my skin tone, (it makes it look very pink/red) and also I’m not as fond of pastel nail polishes. The problem with pastel nail polishes is that they require many more coats and much more careful brush application, whereas darker/richer colors are much more forgiving.
My favorite non-Essie or Zoya nail color is OPI’s Ski Teal We Drop, which I saw once when I was browsing with Pinterest and immediately fell in love with. It goes on much darker than it appears in the bottle, so in dimmer or non-natural lights it looks almost black, but in sunlight it looks dark teal. I can never decide if this is a good or bad thing, sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t. (Usually I like it.)
I like Orly’s Boho Bonnet, but it’s not exactly what I wanted when I got it. I was looking for a muted powder blue, and instead I got a muted periwinkle. Which is fine! Just not what I intended. That being said, I still like it (and when I get off my ass and re-do my nails today, it’s what I plan on switching to).
I saw China Glaze’s Agro (part of their Hunger Games collection) when I was browsing nail art blogs one day, and I totally fell in love. It’s a rich, olive-gold color and I had to have it. My mom hates this color and thinks it looks like pond scum. After a few month’s consideration I do think she’s right and yes, it does kind of look like pond scum. Or, if you’d rather, like the color of your fictional pet dragon. (I cannot be the only person who has a fictional pet dragon.)
As I’ve mentioned before, Sally Hansen is sort of middling in quality. I have two Sally Hansens. The first is Pedal to the Metal, which I got after seeing Michelle Obama rock a silvery lilac and went “that is the coolest color I have ever seen“, forgetting that Michelle Obama and I have very different skin colors, and also that I do not like how I look with most purples. It’s still a really awesome and fun color to keep around though. I also have Sally Hansen’s White Out, not because I ever actually paint my nails white, but mostly for when I feel like doing nail art, in which case a good white is essential.
I also have a nail polish that I got for Secret Santa from work that’s called Nuance by Selma Hayek and it’s in a color called “True Azul”. I can’t find any great pictures of it online, but it’s basically a bright, royal blue.
That’s my stash (not including the old/dried out nail polishes that I need to throw out), and my wish list is:
Zoya: Freja, Marina, Hermina
Orly: Rage, Blend, Chantilly Peach, Terra Mauve
OPI: My Car Has Navy-gation, I Don’t Give A Rotterdam, Jade Is The New Black
China Glaze: Kinetic Candy, Choo Choo Choose You
(I don’t need all of these and most of them are similar to each other. I just want all of them.)
In the end, though, there’s no such thing as a “wrong” color to paint your nails, just one that doesn’t work with your skin tone. Go nuts!
End Notes: Thank You For Bearing With Me
I won’t say by reading all of this you are more equipped to handle the world. Honestly, the world’s a shitty place to be a girl and it’s a constant battle to find what makes you happiest and most comfortable in your own skin. I don’t know all the answers. The real best place to get advice is not from me, a random blogger on the internet, but from the women you love and trust.
Whatever makes you happy, do it. Whatever makes you feel beautiful, do it. Remember that your self-worth or value as a woman is not based on how attractive other people find you. Be kind to other women. Don’t apologize for your body, for taking up space, or for being yourself. Ever. You are wonderful exactly the way you are. If you want advice, there are always people to give it to you. But the only person whose opinion ever matters is your own.
Shine on, you crazy diamond.