Monday, January 06, 2014

How To: A Makeup Look When Your Face Is a Mess

What do you do when your skin is a mess but you still have to show your face in public (so a paper bag isn't an option) and look like a functioning adult? Here's how to apply your makeup and create a good and flattering look that minimizes the war zone without looking all caked up and covered in layers of sticky foundation/concealer.

My recent skin disaster was the result of a severe reaction to Biotin. I've been taking it successfully for six months but all of a sudden the supplement turned me into the pimply teenager I never was, and it took me a while to figure out what was the culprit). Then there was the aftermath of getting rid of those breakouts and the red spots that were left behind. I dealt with the problem quickly and efficiently (basically, the worst was gone within two days of identifying the problem), but instead of hiding under the bed when things were at their worst, I had to attend a couple of industry events. Beauty/perfume industry, that is. Worst.Timing.Ever. I had to put makeup on a face that had some dying zits as well as patches of molting skin.  But I've learned a thing or two over the years and from this experience, and I'm eager to share it with you.

1. Skin. Obviously, that's the core of the problem.
Use Your favorite balm (yes, even a medicated fragrance-free lip balm or Neosporin) on a very soft washcloth to gently (GENTLY) wipe away any flakes and loose particles (don't I paint a lovely picture?). Wipe away any residue with a damp towel.

The only thing I put under my makeup in this situation is a completely oil free yet super hydrating gentle serum. That's where hyaluronic acid comes into play, and unlike the other acids you're probably using to deal with the issue at hand, this one does nothing but acts as humectant to trap and hold moisture in your skin. It makes a visible difference right away. Hada Labo Replenishing Hydrator ($17.99 at Ulta; I was sent a press sample) or Mandom Barrier Repair ($19.52 on Amazon) work great for this.

2. Base. In which you have to go against your instinct.
Yes, I know that you want to coat yourself with an impenetrable layer of foundation that will hide everything, but we all know that it doesn't work. Foundation looks horrible over problem skin and accentuates flakes. So this is going to be a patchwork kind of thing. Apply foundation sparingly over redness and things that absolutely must be covered. Use a damp sponge to stipple it, not a brush, because you're trying to get the most natural and (healthy) skin-like finish known to man. Blend the edges with your fingers and make sure it's seamless.

Dot a heavy-duty concealer (Kevyn Aucoin, Dermablend, Laura Mercier, Keromask-- whatever works for you, in the most minuscule amount) only on the spots that absolutely require it and press it again with a damp sponge until the coverage is even on your problem areas and the concealer is one with the skin. Set those patches with your favorite fine translucent powder (I use Laura Mercier), but avoid the rest of your face where powder will only make things look ten times worse.

Now that your skin feels a little better and appears as even as possible, you can move on to the fun part. There are two things to keep in mind: a) Don't use anything that brings out redness, and b) Create a strong focal point to distract from problem areas.

3. Eyes. That's the focal point.
This is where you'll go all out even if usually you're actually a one swipe of beige eye shadow kind of person. I'm not telling you to go completely out of your comfort zone, just to take things as far as you're willing to go: a strong eyeliner, a bold but tasteful eye shadow-- this is the time to use the  navy, khaki or purple that you rarely bring out, or use more of them if they're part of your regular routine. Curl your lashes and apply the blackest and glossiest mascara. You want all eyes on your eyes and nowhere else.

4. A very strong eyebrow to frame it. 
Still within reason, and don't over draw it, just make sure that your eyes are emphasized and nicely framed.

5. Lips and Cheeks. Keep it neutral.
That's where not doing anything that brings out redness comes into play. Choose neutral beige-leaning colors. Nothing with a red or purple base and use as little as possible. My favorite combination is Armani Sheer Blush #6 and Hourglass Femme Nude pencil topped with a little gloss, either coralish or pink. Something like Dior Addict in Diaboltine works beautifully.

A whisper of finishing powder (Guerlain Meteorites, Hourglass Ambient Lighting) applied with the softest brush you own can help pull it all together. It's not an absolute necessity, but it works for me.

Do you have more tips and tricks for applying makeup in emergency situations? Please share!

Image: Cecilia Paredes- Camouflage.


  1. Everyone's skin is different. f Personally I find washing the face with a mixture of cetaphil and baking soda will reduce inflammation and exfoliate pretty much anything at all almost immediately. The very fine texture of the baking soda opens pores, exfoliates without irritating, and starts reducing the inflammation almost immediately.. Then a cotton washcloth wrung out of very warm water with a few drops of antiseptic lavender essential oil, laid on the face, seems to heal the skin almost within a matter of an hour or so. Then I would use tinted moisturizer and fine powder over the shiny spots. I think you are so right to bring the decorative elements up to the eyes.

  2. I just had the same issue last week from taking biotin. I'd been taking it for a while then suddenly my face flared with red and angry zits all over the place. I will say I made the mistake #2 and covered it with thick foundation, and you're right it didn't help just drew attention to the issue. After a week it's finally starting to calm down. I'm going to save this article for sure!

  3. OMG. I too had the same reaction to biotin. I've stopped taking it and my skin is back to normal (which luckily for me means not inflamed). Is this reaction that common?

    These are all great tips. I skip the red lipstick and blush when any inflammation occurs.

    And it never fails. This sort of stuff ALWAYS happens before an event. I can go months with great skin but as soon as something is scheduled, something will happen - allergic reaction to a new face products, health stuff...never fails.

  4. My skin gets absolutely furious with anything that physically exfoliates my face so definitely a balm or even a cleansing oil like Tatcha's makes it feel far better. I find for my skin that Meteorites have a magical effect applied delicately after foundation and/or concealer. It's not that that they wipe away "flaws" but they definitely blur the look of my upset skin. Definitely thick foundation on me looks terrible, it always looks like a mask.

  5. I find that gently exfoliating with honey and baking soda work well to hydrate and knock off the flakes. In regards to makeup, less is more. I apply a soothing serum after cleansing, and mix a touch of foundation with my moisturizer to even out my skin tone, but not over do things. Give it a light dusting with a translucent powder (I like Laura Mercier's translucent loose powder) and I'm set.

  6. Whenever I wake up looking not so great, I make sure to keep my eyeshadow light (a pale peach or champagne) and do winged eyeliner, adding lots of mascara. It keeps my eyes looking bright and awake, not tired and sick (which I usually am in these cases). A bright yet soft colored blush usually helps, too! Great tips.

  7. Haha - that's not an emergency in my case - that's my usual routine for the past nearly 40 years...;) Tactical foundation and minimal gunk on the spots themselves is key, I agree.

  8. Thanks for this post Gaia. It comes at a perfect time. I don't know what's going on with my skin but I'm broken out, blotchy and a red hot mess. So depressing. I will try your routine tomorrow.


  9. I have small patches of psoriasis near my brows and hair line. I use a gentle cleanser and warm washcloth to gently lift flakey skin then follow with a humectant serum and moisturizer i.e. SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel and Emollience. I use bareMinerals Bisque concealer with the maximum concealer brush to cover any red areas. I thought that a powder product would emphasize the flakes but it works better than any cream based product I have tried. BM Bisque is my holy grail product for covering up patches on an almost daily basis for the past 20 years.


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