Back in August I had a video call with one of our recruiters at work. She had on a nondescript t-shirt and cardigan with a messy bun. But she had fully done her eyebrows (not in an “Instagram brows” way, but if you generally knew about brow makeup she’d clearly done a nice job filling them in) and had a semi dark lip color and mascara and I was just like, “why does she look so much sharper than me when I spent an hour fine tuning my outfit this morning that no one on zoom will even see?????”
Thus was sparked my latest makeup kick. It’s a relatively low-impact thing when it comes to my wide shot outfit photos on Instagram, but I have noticed that I now look much more in-focus and awake in person or in video calls. Nothing that warrants regular show-off FOTDs, but it was a nice change of pace to focus on makeup techniques the last few months instead of just clothes. I also remembered that I like makeup because there’s a lot more subtle creativity you can squeeze out of limited products compared to a minimal set of clothes. I thought it’d be nice to do a post to kind of round up where I am now for future reference, for fun in case anyone out there likes creeping on other non-influencer makeup routines, and to share a bunch of makeup related videos that I found helpful or interesting. My main interest still lies with clothes, but it’s a lot more common in makeup YouTube to show direct comparisons on how changing this or that affects a look, so I’ve been appreciating seeing that approach to another topic.
My current aesthetic preferences / general strategy:
- fresh – Light coverage (just reduce some redness in the center of the face), lighter and simpler color schemes. Brighten face, look lively. I prefer a cute/pretty vibe over sexy/sultry as I think it fits better with my usual vaguely 90s casual or cottagecore/storybook style outfits (though for 220% cottagecore it probably needs more blush, some fake freckles, fake lashes, and fake elf ears 😂). I don’t usually reapply makeup, so anything that’s going to start disintegrating from oil after a few hours needs to do so in a way that doesn’t look worse than a no-makeup face.
- framed – I feel like my face has pretty “low impact” features, which IMO work well with each other but can get lost among my bangs and glasses and especially if I’m wearing louder clothes. Or if I’m wearing black or beige. They also don’t show up well on zoom (or stage or anything like that). Since I have glasses and bangs (if they aren’t pinned up), that means that I focus on defining my eyebrows (for when they show through), applying a brighter lip color, and then using a darker reddish pink blush on the cheeks for some dimension. (My partner, on the other hand, has a strong jawline and nose, probably literally 5x as much eyebrow as me, and eyelashes thicker than some falsies. You can clearly see his face is doing from anywhere 😮)
I’ll branch out and do something heavier or more bronzey occasionally, but that’s the usual. The red lip is the main thing that’ll affect outfits from a medium distance, but I find that the fake it till you make it effect of looking more present helps me feel more on top of stuff, and having the morning routine in helps a lot psychologically especially since I don’t commute anymore. Plus, I like it as a sort of painting exercise and feeling all the different textures of stuff.
Feel free to skip this section but I always feel like “what’s on your face??” isn’t complete unless it includes base products, so I included it for completeness. Links are all to Beautypedia since I think they do a good job explaining the ingredients vs claims and pros and cons of packaging. (No affiliate links in the whole post as usual)
I have combination skin, with an oily t-zone and eyelids and average texture for cheeks. I get a few zits if I don’t get enough sleep or towards the start of my menstrual cycle, but nothing too gnarly anymore. I had a lot of acne in college. It cleared up after a year or so later, I think due to a combination of hormonal regulation from starting birth control pills and also no longer regularly wearing a nasty-ass never-truly-sanitized fencing mask. I don’t consider skincare a hobby.
Cleanser – Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser – Apparently Beautypedia doesn’t like this, but I’ve been using it since I was a tiny kid covered in eczema and a doctor suggested my mom to switch me over to it, and haven’t had any adverse experience with it, so I continue using it.
Chemical exfoliant – The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA – I found that using an AHA of some sort regularly at night keeps me from getting flaky skin. I used to use the St. Ives lactic acid pads, but they were discontinued. I then switched the Paula’s choice AHA gel, but when Nordstrom stopped carrying it I switched to this one (which was available through Sephora). It’s fine, seems to work, didn’t have any issues with it, and it wasn’t expensive.
“Toner” – Trader Joe’s Rose Water Facial Toner – Beautypedia hates this stuff but I originally bought it to use more as a filler step to feel like a Fancy Lady™ during the whole skincare/makeup ritual in the morning for the fragrance. I don’t think it’s made any difference in a practical sense and it’s cheap and accessible, so I just keep using it. I spray it on and then let it dry up so I smell nice while I brush my teeth or floss.
Moisturizer – Trader Joe’s Oil-free Antioxidant Facial Moisturizer – it’s easy to get, apparently antioxidants are good for you, it feels nice and light.
Sunscreen – Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Liquid Daily Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 70 – this was the first liquidy matte sunscreen I was aware of that you could buy at drugstores. Not shiny at all and I didn’t find it left an ashy cast even when I was significantly darker than I am currently.
Makeup remover – Clinique Take the Day Off Cleansing Balm – This works and is less messy than using a straight up oil. Tried and true all the way up to removing stage makeup.
General application (actual face photos at the end of the section):
- Brows and eyes first to let the skincare stuff sink in and so I can clean up any fallout from the eyeshadow before doing face makeup.
- I don’t use foundation because in my previous experiences, literally every single foundation oxidizes aggressively on me. My skin doesn’t have a ton of angry red zits on it constantly anymore, so I’m a-okay with just a light coverage look.
primer – Trader Joe’s Antioxidant Facial Serum Usually just one pump, applied with fingers to the center of the face and spread outwards. This isn’t the grippiest primer I’ve ever tried. I mainly use it to give the concealer something to spread into. I’m interested in trying a setting spray under makeup at some point to see how that helps with reducing oil later in the day.
brow pomade – I have very sparse brows and just fill in the existing shape. I use a really really really light hand. Just barely tap an angled eyeliner brush into it, then get excess off on the underside of the cap and start filling in brows using small strokes in the direction of the hair growth. If I need more then I pick it up from the cap.
brow gel – Wipe off excess product into tube, apply starting from the middle of the brow to the tail, then go over everything from the center to the tail. I like to use this in addition to the pomade mainly so there’s more dimension to the brows. It can look more makeup-y if there’s only the color wash from the pomade.
eye primer and eyeshadow – I have monolids and not a ton of lid space, so I usually just do a wash of one or two colors, usually something shimmery and lighter on the lid and a matte or shimmer brown color on the outer half and/or crease.
I’m still working through a crusty ancient Urban Decay Naked original palette (discontinued, but I really only use “buck”, “half baked”, “smog” 75% of the time, occasionally “toasted” and “sin” if I’m doing a red/pink eye look.
For a fun color, I love their rust-turquoise duochrome single “lounge”. My first eyeshadow palette was the Wet n Wild “Comfort Zone” 8-pan but I didn’t want to buy a whole new one just for the duochrome shade (and their packaging is so brittle!!) so I just shelled out for the single.
I’ve tried bigger and heavier looks but I always feel like they make me look really ragged and by the time I shrink them down enough to work with my eye shape, you can hardly see it anyway and it’s just not worth the effort vs the single-wash style.
Go-to color is Urban Decay “half baked” which is a light gold, or Urban Decay “buck” which is a slight contour on me if I’m doing a more natural look like this one
Sometimes I’ll also use whatever cream blush I used on cheeks to do the low-key contour eyeshadow. It’s faster because I’ll only use a tiny bit, but it weirdly works.
eyeliner (often omitted) – I use a softer pencil liner in a dark brown as I find it looks less shitty as it smudges compared to stuff meant to be applied precisely like liquid liner. I used to use the Maybelline gel liner set with a black eyeshadow, but I just can’t be bothered with that now. I also found that I prefer lighter eye looks in general, as I usually go for a bright look, not a sultry or dark style, which is suited for less and more diffused liner anyway. I apply only to the outer 1/2 or 2/3 of the eyelid without much of a wing.
mascara – For a long time, I gave up on mascara. My eyelids just kind of eat my lashes when my eyes are open, and then you can barely see them through the glare on my glasses anyway. But I found that if I wear mascara, I will always wash my face at the end of the day, so I apply it more for that than any actual effect it has on the look. I like the Full n Soft brand because it’s the least crunchy waterproof one I’ve tried. It doesn’t hold curl as well as others, but since my lashes are so short anyway I’d rather just go with the texture I like.
concealer – I apply small amounts of concealer around the lower edges of my nose/nostrils and on the tip of my nose and then pat it out with my finger until it’s diffused. Same under the lip and between the brows. I go back and layer more if it seems like it could use more coverage.
I use the same product for under eye concealing/brightening and follow the method in this Robert Welsh tutorial, where he puts a dot of product on the inner and outer area under each eye and then pats it out to diffuse, rather than doing the initial application in a triangle shape. I find this doesn’t crease and generally degrades more gracefully than heavier applications. (Demo starts at 3:55)
blush – I apply just on the lower edge of the cheekbones and slightly into the apples of the cheeks. Sort of splitting the difference between the “hot” placement and the “cute” placement (see video). For me at this point I care more about making sure that it’s blended well over the exact placement.
If there’s extra I put it on the outer/upper areas of my eyelids, which adds some cohesiveness to my face’s color scheme. I’m not religious about this though. I usually go back and add more to the center of the application. More if I feel like having it show up on video calls or photographs. I make sure it doesn’t get blended too close to my eyes or nose.
I think I have mostly neutral undertones, maybe slightly on the warm/yellow side. At least, I never feel like I look too pink in photos, just sometimes too pallid. I’ve also never felt like I looked like the pinker person next to people in photos (a good tip from this OG blog post from musicalhouses on how to tell your undertone for Asians). I don’t look noticeably better in warm vs cool tone colors or gold vs silver metals. Generally since I have lighter skin and black hair, I find what makes the biggest difference in looking awake is wearing higher contrast / saturated colors for clothes. I always feel like adding a red blush and lip makes everything look better all the time because it works as kind of mediator between my hair and skin in the same way. On a related note, this was an interesting demo on how the right blush can mostly correct for using a base product with the wrong undertone:
This looks like a good exercise, though I don’t own face paints anymore so I haven’t been able to try it.
bronzer – I don’t use bronzer most days, just sometimes a bit under the blush towards the edge of my face if I feel like spending more time on makeup. If I feel pasty and I have more of a bronzey eyeshadow look I’ll add a bit around the more prominent areas on my face to make the colors more cohesive.
lip primer, lip pencil, lipstick – So, I’ve always had an overbite. To the point that I have to actively keep my lips over my teeth, if that makes sense. I had braces as a kid and the dentist said that the primary goal for the braces was to make it easier for me to close my mouth, but it only did so much. My theory is that at night I end up drooling and mouth breathing, drying out my lips no matter how much moisturizer and aquaphor, vaseline, bag balm, etc I put on and how hydrated I was to start with. The end result of this is that over the years all the skin on the inner half of my lips has totally flaked off, leaving a two textures and two tones of skin, and it’s basically impossible to get product to adhere properly to the center of my lips because the skin is the wet type.
I just accept that short of wearing an ungodly amount of (applied, blotted, applied, blotted, applied, blotted) lip pencil as the main pigment and touching up constantly, lip colors don’t stay. I love red and deep berry lip colors generally, and since my lips are pretty pigmented I just try and stick with colors that don’t look so gross when they start wearing off (so, sadly no black-based purples, bright pinks, etc for everyday when I can’t be arsed to touch up). I basically only use the lip liner and lipstick/cream product, and just sheer it out to different intensities like in this video. I ordered two of the high end Lisa Eldridge lipsticks this month but they haven’t arrived yet, it should be interesting how much of a difference there is from the Wet n Wild brand staple. (Update: this post made me check the tracking status, and USPS says it was delivered over a week ago. I’ve been checking the mail every day and haven’t seen it, so at this point I’m assuming it was stolen 😭)
I apply Aquaphor when I start doing my makeup and then wipe off any excess when I’m about to apply lip color. I fill my whole lip area with lip pencil and then go over it with lipstick. If I’m in a rush I don’t do the lip pencil, but I like the blended color better and it stays slightly longer with the pencil.
finishing powder (often omitted) – Honestly I think that just blotting more regularly throughout the day is the real answer to managing the moderate amount of oil I have. I’ve tried a few different powders and I mostly use this one because I like the packaging and smell and feel very fancy dusting a bit of it onto my t-zone at the end. This one’s currently retailing 50% off for $11 because Besame is rereleasing them with a refillable packaging.
setting spray – Mac Prep + Prime Fix+ Setting Spray I feel like this is more effective than the powder and has a more natural finish, but I don’t like the smell as much.
Minimal version: (in order of application)
- brow pomade (if not in a rush)
- brow gel – If I’m not using brow pomade, get fuller coverage by brushing it on the “wrong way” from tail to center of brow before brushing brows out the normal way.
- setting spray
Anyway, all that just to look….. fairly pedestrian. It’s been a lot of work to look unremarkable instead of washed out but not in a way that ends up looking worse than no makeup at the end of the day 😂
Here’s more of a “no-makeup makeup” look
Here’s an example of a look halfway between the two above on a good day in Zoom (which ends up looking a lot smoother even with the beauty filter off). This blush is pretty heavy in person but will show up in phone photos and the laptop webcam. You can kinda see what’s going on with the lip color not adhering to the (lack of) skin towards the center of my lips.
I live in a 425 sq ft castle of trash so I’ve been searching for a favorite zoom background for ages (even though my team at work opted to switch to the background-less google hangouts for most meetings 😪). At this point I feel like it’s basically an extension of clothes and makeup for a “look” (though only for fun, as no one NEEDS a fancy creative video chat background). The one above is my absolute favorite. It’s so happy and I like the framing effect of the flowers. I also like that it feels vaguely plausible, like you’re chilling at a little table just outside in your cottagecore fantasy yard 😂. I first saw this just searching “cottagecore background” but after some digging I found the full res version over on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/httpwwwflickrcomphotosbobrad/27737989216/. That whole photostream is the jackpot of British countryside wallpapers if you too have gone completely basic and all-in on cottagecore/mori/fairytale/storybook etc etc escapism.
I only use this one for smaller social chats but for a different mood, there’s the blank background of the “this is fine” comic
Anyway, it’s been weird coming back to makeup. I find that learning to pump out consistent makeup applications that I like tailored differently to IRL, photographs, and video calls is a lot more finicky than just slapping on a bunch of Mehron paints and some cheap eyeshadows for a big Halloween look like the ones below. It uses a lot of the same principles as the face paint makeup or even just normal painting, but I find it takes more technique to apply normal makeup well considering the oiliness and smudginess of real life.
I think for me the top 3 things that made the biggest differences for me in my recent practice kick (again, I know not too helpful without before photos) were
- finding the right combination of brow products for a defined (brow pomade) but not monotextured look (brow gel)
- using blush
- learning that concealer technique where you just put a tiny amount on each end of the under eye and blend inward instead of applying the concealer in the center of the under eye and blending outwards
The red lip color is the highest impact, but I’ve been doing that for a while 😊. My top 3 things I’d like to work on are
- calibrating my blush intensity and placement better for each of irl/photos/zoom
- consistently and quickly applying false lashes (not for everyday, but it’d be nice not to stress about it if the occasion calls)
- working out some more intensely pigmented but still small in terms of eyelid area eyeshadow looks.
Mostly I’m just going to keep trying out slightly different applications each day and referencing the Dusty Old Bat’s Guides on the makeup discussion subreddit.
Anyone else here on the makeup practice train despite quarantine? What techniques or tips have you found most impactful?