Whenever someone asks me what makeup I’m wearing or how I achieve such “perfect, glowy skin” (their words, not mine), I shudder. Not because I don’t appreciate the compliment or their curiosity, but because I’ve been condemned (if I may be so dramatic) in the past for the time, energy, number of products, and, heck, money I pour into my makeup routine. However, looking at the situation objectively, it’s pretty backwards. As a beauty editor and makeup lover, I should feel pride when someone compliments my hard work rather than shame.
When I’m admiring someone’s makeup, first and foremost, I’m admiring someone’s makeup. And if I’m wondering what products they used, I want to know each and every product they used—not an embarrassed, abbreviated response that nonchalantly feigns a lack of trying. I want to know the nitty-gritty—brush, gloss, blush, brow, everything—so, when I get flustered by someone’s curiosity and roll off only what strikes me as reading “low maintenance,” I kind of hate myself.
I want to respond with the truthful, 15-product details (because yes, my favourite daily makeup routine is quite in-depth and takes at least an hour), but memories of past roommates mocking how long it takes for me to get ready or a friend (mid-fight) attributing the ritual to vanity or subconsciously trying to “outdo” her haunt me to my core. I, like pretty much everyone else I know on this planet, fear judgment. Because a high product load or a high-impact makeup job almost always translates to “high maintenance” in our culture.
Here’s the thing, though. I’m exhausted. I’m sick of pretending like I can do my go-to look (which ironically earns me so many random compliments) in under 10 minutes. And I’m tired of acting like taking my sweet-ass time with my makeup doesn’t instil a soothing catharsis amid an otherwise chaotic day. It’s fun. Plus, I know I’m not alone. Everyone’s approach to makeup is unique, and that love can also be dynamic, ebbing, flowing and transforming depending on our mood or the season of life we’re in.
I often joke with friends and colleagues that my makeup aesthetic is, to an extreme extent, feast or famine. Either I’m 100% barefaced or I’m 100% made up, and sadly for my more minimal acquaintances, the three-minute makeup look just isn’t in my nature. (If you ever get brunch with me, prepare for either a two-second or two-hour wait time.)
And hey, that’s okay. It’s a quirky part of my nature as a human being, and I’m slowly becoming more at peace with it because honestly? There are worse things. The number of makeup products someones uses or the tally of hours it takes them to get ready should carry less weight than the number of fish we have to fry in other facets of our life. What’s wrong with trying, especially if it’s ultimately a vehicle of happiness?
I get a lot of compliments on my skin, and most often, it’s when I’m wearing my full hoard of product. As I noted earlier, though, I immediately feel embarrassed— automatically nervous to explain to my kind complimenter that, well, yes, my face may look pristinely glowy and airbrushed, but the effect required between 10 and 20 products start to finish. But now, I want to challenge that embarrassment and kneejerk creep of shame.
A lengthy, meticulously applied routine is simply my makeup truth. I have fun cultivating the look, it makes my skin look photogenic AF, and even though my skin might be peppered with products, I feel good in that pepper. It’s my spice of life. Plus, I know that I feel equally good sporting dark circles and a few acne scars at the grocery story post-workout.
I’m fine with both, and I think most other people (or at least the ones worth having in my life) are too. Here’s my ode to the part of my in-depth makeup routine that gains me the most glow-worthy of compliments—the 10 makeup products that seem to trick people into thinking I have glowing skin. Enjoy!
In 2001, Elle Woods’s prison care package to Brooke Taylor Windham contained Calvin Klein 720-count sheets, the entire Clinique Skincare Line, aromatherapy candles, a loofah and “The Bible.” Today, it would definitely include a Beautyblender. Or, like, seven. Quite simply, it’s the only way I can ever apply my foundation so that it looks like it’s actually one with my skin. Me and my supposedly “perfect skin” would be lost without it.
Primers and I have gone back and forth over the years. Similar to a sleazy ex, it’s almost as if every new formula I try inherently realises the second I fall in love with it before pulling a fast one on me (e.g., melting off my face, pilling, or just looking shockingly bad). However, there are a few that have left my heart unscathed, and this refreshing debut from Tarte is the latest and greatest. My makeup stays put all day, dewiness never treads greasy, and it feels remarkably lightweight on top of my skin—not surprising considering its off-the-charts ingredient list: algae and marine plant extracts, hyaluronic acid, kefir extract and turmeric.
For years, I serenely rotated between a few favorite foundation formulas, rarely altering my routine. Fast-forward and I now have a brand-new crop of beloveds that win me many (tbh) undeserved compliments. (I only say that because when people commend the way your skin looks, and you know the pigmentation, circles, etc., lurking underneath, it feels a bit… odd.) This long-wearing foundation from Laura Mercier, however, has to be my absolute number one. Not only is the finish smooth and velvety, it’s satisfyingly durable, which I’ve found to be clutch. After all, the key to having “perfect skin” is having consistent skin, aka a complexion that looks the same at 8 p.m. as it did at 8 a.m. This one fits the bill.
I never wear foundation without concealer (my dark circles are next-level), and I never wear concealer without foundation (just feels wrong in my book). Alas, I’ve accumulated quite the collection of circle-changing formulas over the years, and I could write a sufficiently stuffed story on every single one of my favourites. Recently, though (and if we’re tallying and taking into account random compliments from strangers), this cult classic from Nars has settled in as my favorite. With just one swipe of its doe-foot applicator, circles, acne scars and discolouration are effectively erased. Plus, it lasts all day with minimal creasing. Call me crazy, but as it settles and warms into my skin, I think it continues to look better and better.
Powder gets a bad rap. In fact, the majority of people I know (beauty editors included) think powder is dead. I, however, love it and actually depend on two different formulas to keep my makeup perfectly intact—not too dewy and too matte—regardless of my environment. The first, this wonder from MAC, I’ve used for years. I basically use it to set wherever I’ve applied my concealer and to keep those areas just a little lighter than the rest of my face for some extra dimension—think under-eyes, chin, and T-zone. Essentially, it’s like a filter I can dust all over my face.
I’ve made it clear by now that I have some gripes with my under-eyes. Well, in addition to those aforementioned dark circles, they also have an infuriating habit of creasing. Of course, I’ve found concealers and foundations that crinkle much less than others (see above), but it will never be 100% avoidable. C’est la vie, but that’s where this targeted brightening powder comes in! To achieve a creaseless, poreless finish, I swirl a smallish brush in the ultra-fine powder and apply a little bit right where I know I’d normally discover 12 p.m. lines and creases. I also apply it to my smile lines near my mouth. It doesn’t prevent my foundation from settling into them completely, but the outcome is much sunnier.
Okay, so I’m not huge into contouring—I’ve never baked my face, nor do I ever plan to. That being said, I’m not blind to the wonder a little bit of strategic shadowing can do for the shape and overall appearance of my face. And hands down, this perfectly chocolaty powder from TheBalm is the only product for the job. Despite how light my skin is, it never looks overdone, and it just applies smoothly. I never have to worry about it looking uneven, smudged, or muddy, and it goes in all the expected places: under my cheekbones, on the sides of my nose, underneath my jaw, and lightly atop my chin temples and hairline. It’s more about adding a shadow for dimension than imparting a glow—that comes later!
There’s roughly one thing I have in common with Kylie Jenner and Emily Ratakowski: We’re all obsessed with blush. Seriously, why do so many people hate on it? Not wearing it is a complete dealbreaker; I just don’t feel like myself without it. It instantly makes me feel more alive, healthy and just put-together. I pretty much swear by every single shade from Nars. I’ve been loving this new colour Free Soul especially. I usually concentrate it on my apples (the smile trick is so spot-on), and then blend it up and out over my cheekbones towards my ears.
This is the best highlighter I’ve ever laid my radiance-itching hands on. I’ve used it for years, it’s gifted me with more compliments than I can count, and I’m not sure what life would be like without it. As I said, I like to layer, and after years of trial and error, I’ve found whenever I use any kind of creamy formula, I also usually have to set it with some kind of powder. I love the way this flattering champagne—it’s not too gold, not too silver, contrasts with the creamy rose shades and is basically like the cherry on top of a sundae smorgasbord of glow-enhancers. Is it necessary? Not entirely? But does it make a difference in the overall aesthetic and end result? 100%. I use Mar-Lou, but depending on your colouring, you might be a Betty-Lou or a Cindy-Lou. (TheBalm also always wins points for having the best and cheekiest packaging.)
Last but not least comes one of my favourite products in the world. If you didn’t think you’d find the likes of a plumping lip gloss in a glowy-skin story, well, think again. Our lips are an important part of the overall look of our faces and skin, and if you want them to look plump, glossy, and hydrated, this clear version from ModelCo (an under-the-radar Australian beauty brand we’re obsessed with) will be your new BFF. I wear it every day, and it works wonderfully both under or over whatever else I want to wear on my pout. It’s also great alone, obviously.