When no-makeup makeup became a trend, I was ready to put aside those standbys to achieve a more radiant and natural look. But it turns out that looking as if you aren’t wearing makeup requires a surprising number of makeup products. Beauty that appears “effortless” also demands much more work — and money — than the concept would suggest.
Why 'natural ' makeup?
In 2016, Alicia Keys released her single “Girl Can’t Be Herself” — “What if I don’t want to put on all that make up? . . . Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem” — and announced a #nomakeup movement. “I hope to God it’s a revolution.” she wrote in Lenny Letter. Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Gabrielle Union, Gwyneth Paltrow joined in with #nomakeup selfies.
By late 2017, no-makeup makeup became a major runway trend, with fresh modern takes from Victoria Beckham, Alexander Wang, Burberry, Etro and Calvin Klein (it’s still hot for 2020, too, if Chanel’s latest couture show is an indicator). At the same time, beauty YouTubers such as Sona Gasparian, Desi Perkins and Emily Jean began to rack up millions of views for their no-makeup makeup looks, and the trend made its way onto TikTok in 2020.
Cosmetics companies, too, are hyping a more natural aesthetic. No-makeup makeup is the ethos for emerging cosmetic brands: Glossier sells Lash Slick, Saie carries Dew Balm, RMS Beauty offers “Un” Cover-Up, Milk sells a Sunshine Skin Tint and Perricone MD has a No Makeup Skincare Line. One of the biggest stars to support the trend, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, even went minimal and clean on her wedding day; her makeup artist said she always wants to look as “real” and “natural” as possible.
The no-makeup makeup trend is a refreshing antithesis to the baked-on, contoured 2000s, says Mai Quynh, a makeup artist who has worked with such celebrities as Saoirse Ronan, Daisy Ridley and Sandra Oh. “Glam and heavy makeup for daytime became such a trend,” she says.
Makeup artist Pati Dubroff, who works on the faces of Margot Robbie and Priyanka Chopra, calls that phase “extremely cookie-cutter.” Although the powdered-on, airbrushed look still exists today in beauty, we’re seeing a “resurgence” of uncovered skin in “retaliation” against all the years when hiding one’s natural look was the “it” thing to do, Dubroff says. “Everyone was contouring their faces in the same way, whether it suited them or not. What resulted was a legion of overly painted faces. Freeing the skin not only keeps individuality at the forefront, but it is also much, much healthier for the skin — and I believe for the psyche, also.”
But there’s a catch: Minimalist makeup is not minimal effort.
Achieving the no-makeup look
“A big misconception about natural makeup is that it means not wearing any makeup,” Dubroff says. “Natural makeup is about fine layers, blended well, and using more sheer textures to define features.” The chosen products are lighter and dewier, meant to show skin and not hide it. But embracing and enhancing instead of hiding and distracting may require even more effort than you’re used to, especially for the unacquainted.
“The first element is to master the skin care,” Soleimani says. “The skin care is part of the makeup” — the dewy, glowy base to build upon. She says this look is about precision. “We all have different environments, stress, hormones that affect our skin,” she says. “Part of the art form is making difficult skin not look difficult, and using different products for different areas, not foundation all over the skin. It’s a little more work. Actually, it can be a lot more work.”
You’ll want to start with the right moisturizer. “Use a light, oil-free lotion if you have oily skin,” says Quynh, who likes Beautycounter’s Adaptive Moisture Lotion because it doesn’t add extra shine. “For dry to normal skin, I love Weleda Skin Food — something very hydrating. This makes skin look so healthy and dewy.”
Be strategic in your application. “You’re not slapping it on, and not putting it where you don’t need it,” Soleimani says. For example, “you don’t want to cover natural redness on cheeks, and then put blush back on. It’s a waste of your natural, gorgeous flush.” Got dark, tired eyes? “Instead of paling out eyelids and then doing a dark shadow, work some of the natural, dark magic into a smoky eye and conceal around it,” she says. “It ends up being mysterious with a sexier, moodier vibe.”
Don’t use liquid foundation all over your face. Use a small brush and go over the areas that need coverage with a creamy concealer, tinted moisturizer or a dab of liquid foundation. Cover a scar here, a blemish there. “Correctors are your best friends,” says Soleimani. “Use a green one, and layer concealer over it” for particularly tricky red spots. Try CoverFX’s green redness corrector followed by Bobbi Brown’s Corrector concealer, which Soleimani likes for its blendable consistency.
Dubroff says going very minimal on powders — making sure “skin has a skinlike quality” — is key. In fact, she said, skip powders whenever possible. But don’t skip eye shadow. “It’s important to give some shape to the eye, but in this case, I choose a creamy texture that will not read dense,” she says, such as a taupey crayon, which pops the eye without creating a thick swatch of color.
For natural lashes, Dubroff suggests picking smaller mascara wands and avoiding volumizing formulas. Quynh rakes through the lashes with a metal comb just after applying to leave clients with natural, feathered-out lashes. For brows, Soleimani recommends a shaping gel, such as Glossier’s Boy Brow or R+Co.’s Magic Wand.
If you don’t have a natural flush, Quynh says layering is your best friend. “I always do cream or liquid blush first, and then a powder on top of it for long wear,” she says. She likes Sunnies Face, a cosmetics brand from the Philippines. When applying the powder, use a brush with soft bristles for a “light dusting,” Soleimani says. This will keep the makeup from looking overly thick.
According to Dubroff, you can add almost anything to your lips — as long as you’re applying it correctly. “I could use a dense, matte lipstick formula, but applying it very moderately, tapping it onto the lips a small amount and creating just a wash [of color],” she says. But balms are also an option if you want a quick surge of hydration. “I love tinted lip balms,” Quynh says. She recommends those from Fresh and Armani.
Finally, don’t forget a setting mist, such as Soleimani’s favorite Omorovicza, for that dewy glow.
How doable is it?
To find out how easy or difficult it would be to pull off this “natural” look, I asked a makeup professional to give me a tutorial. I referred her to Hailey Bieber’s ultra-fresh looks as seen on the covers of last year’s Vogue and Vogue Hong Kong as color inspiration. I have some natural darkening to my upper eyelids after years of eczema there, which I asked her not to totally wipe out, as well, per Soleimani’s advice to lean into it whatever you’ve got.
It takes me about 15 minutes to do a full face of makeup on my own. For my no-makeup makeup, it took the pro about 25 minutes. In total, she used roughly $340 of product to create the look. As someone who is used to mattified skin and pops of color, the neutral sheen was a refreshing change of pace. Emphasizing my naturally dark eyelids did indeed create a moodier look, with minimal time and effort, and she picked a great nude for my lips — like my natural color, but more pink than pale.
I also tested the look on my own, using products I already own and the experts’ advice as guidance, to see whether it felt accessible to me. I focused on extremely moisturized skin and blurring my blemishes, and I skipped full-face foundation and powder as much as possible. Because the artists I interviewed said to use “restraint,” I didn’t apply any products I was unsure about using. Regardless, my personal application took 20 minutes of time and nearly 15 products, plus tools. That said, I felt more . . . well, me. I plan to play with more sheer, shiny products and natural color. Per Dubroff’s assessment, though, this look definitely does require blending skills I do not yet possess.
For those looking to finally show off some natural skin and the uniqueness of their beauty, the no-makeup makeup look might be worth trying; skinlike skin was refreshing to me, after coming of age in the era of contour and strobe. But the idea that natural-looking makeup requires less time and money? Nope. If anything, it takes more steps and more skill to pull off.