Thursday, January 02, 2014

Starting To Wear Makeup In Your 30s & 40s

I've been wearing makeup regularly since junior year of high school. I'll save you the effort of doing the math: that's 27 years of experimenting and practice. It also means that I've had plenty of time to make mistakes and look ridiculous without suffering the consequences. It's not always the case, though, as I've learned from several comments and emails written by new and newish readers in their 30s and 40s who haven't been wearing makeup until recently, and find themselves more than a little overwhelmed.

Makeup can and should be fun. It's something you do for yourself, a personal ritual that involves playing with color and texture. Makeup is about feeling happy, enjoying pretty things, and for me it's also a way to center myself and prepare mentally for whatever is ahead. What it shouldn't do is put on extra pressure and add to your stress getting ready; or even worse: make you feel inadequate because you have yet to figure out how to draw on your eyeliner.

Here are some points to consider if you're an adult who's just starting with makeup:

1. Before you even apply the first drop of a color product: Are you happy with your skin? Evaluate your skincare routine and see if it needs revamping. I know it's a cliche, but good makeup starts with a good canvas. Chemical exfoliants, a good moisturizer, and an effective SPF make a world of difference.

2. Start small. Don't rush out to buy products from every makeup category. It's tempting-- I'm one of those slightly obsessive types who wants complete sets, by-the-book routines, etc., but when it comes to your face and to learning new makeup skills it's just too much to do all at once (not to mention expensive). Add items gradually.

3. Start with your eyebrows. I know, it's not the most exciting and shiny thing, but this seemingly minor thing can make a huge impact on the way you look without appearing too obvious. And it's relatively easy to learn. If you're a 40 or a 30-something, there's a good chance that at some point you've overplucked your eyebrows. Maybe they never grew back fully, perhaps you're still doing that (please stop!). Getting your eyebrows professionally shaped is a good idea for beginners, but you'll want to do regular maintenance yourself. Unless you've never touched them AND that you're naturally well-endowed in that department, you'll probably need to gently fill in sparse spots in your brows and thicken them a little. Avoid pencils. Use a brow powder or even an eye shadow in a brown-gray color (for most brunettes. Redheads should go with an auburn and blondes are usually good with ashy colors) and an angled brush.

4. Avoid counter makeovers. It looks easy: you go to Neiman, choose a shiny counter, let the well-meaning SA go to town on your face and end up A) unrecognizable, B) $300 poorer, and C) still unsure how to get the look you're not entirely sure you like. It's one thing to go to the counter to learn how to use a specific product you already know you want, such as tightlining with a cake liner at a Laura Mercier counter,  but don't get sucked into highlighting and contouring just yet.

5. Speaking of makeup counters, when you do go there look at the sale associates and makeup artists and approach the one whose makeup look you admire. Avoid anyone whose sporting something you dislike-- what are the chances she shares your aesthetics? Also, state in advance exactly what product you want to try and stick to your guns. "May I also show you this wonderful cream highlighter and our new blush and 60 color eye palette? They'll make you look taller!" "Thank you, but not today. I just want the mascara".

6. While there's a school of thought that says beginners should buy the cheapest stuff to practice and experiment, I find that after a certain age this is counter-productive. You won't learn how to apply foundation when using something with a patchy texture, and your brush work will not improve if you use inadequate ones that don't distribute the color evenly and don't blend. You'll only end up frustrated.  Buy one or two items at a time, but invest in the best you can afford. You'll get better results and much more enjoyment.

7. Don't be tempted with full sets-- of brushes, of eye makeup, of anything, really. There are always duds, fillers, or simply stuff you don't need, so you're NOT saving money. You're actually paying for items you'll never use. Pick and choose your items a-la-cart. You'll get three brushes instead of ten, but these are the three you'll end up using every single day.

8. Despite marketing hype or various misconceptions, there's no such thing as a color that fits everyone. I know, they told you that NARS Orgasm blush is universally flattering. I assure you that it's not (not to mention that it has far too much shimmer which you might not like). You also read that taupe is the most perfect eye shadow color that looks great on everyone. Sadly, it's not. This elusive grayish brown color is beautiful on many people, but if your skin has a very strong yellow undertone it might not be a good fit. Don't feel like a freak and don't force it.

9. Shapes and techniques are also not set in stone. Your bone structure might rule out certain "standard" items.  Some eye shapes (such mine: very deep set) make doing a regular"kitten flick" pretty much impossible, so you might need to adjust. I extend the liner straight out instead of upwards, and enhance the shape I create with a dark eye shadow. Or maybe you have such high cheekbones and hollowed cheeks that you can actually use reverse contouring instead of the regular technique. Which leads us to...

10. Contouring in everyday life is neither mandatory nor is it recommended. It's a great trick for photos, but it doesn't look natural face to face, and requires way more product than you probably want to be sporting. You see all these photos of perfectly made up people, but looking pretty and  polished in real life doesn't mean Kardashianed.

Bonus point: YouTube is a great place to find makeup tutorials and learn some useful secrets from makeup artists (if you only subscribe to one, make it Lisa Eldridge). However, the fact that a person has a video camera and enough free time to upload and maintain a beauty channel does not always make them a reliable source of information. Go with your gut and don't feel compelled to follow the advice of anyone who calls herself/himself a "guru". B.K.S. Iyengar  is a guru. The 19 year old with 3lbs of fake eyelashes is not. Also, remember that bloggers and vloggers outside of the US are not required to disclose sponsorships and affiliations, and most of them don't mention a word of such thing.

Photo of the divine Christy Turlington via Tatler, UK.


  1. Thanks for such pertinent pointers! And great timing because, thanks to months of reading your blog I have finally decided I really should change up my makeup and skin care routine (I'm in my late 30's too, better late than never...). Living in a Mecca of beauty products it is so overwhelming to even consider where to start but, with your posts and the tip of not trying to get everything all at once I will try to slowly build up a great new regiment. Thank you!

  2. This was my situation, and my advice is: read, look at swatches, think before you buy. Before the Internet, I would always end up frustrated with a frosty pink lipstick or turquoise eyeshadow some SA would push me. Now I go shopping with a list of things to try, and I' ve been bringing home true gems, such as Dior Grège palette and Urban Decay Stash eyeliner. Thank's for trying stuff so we don't have to and have a great new year, Gaia!

  3. It's funny you should mention the taupe eyeshadow thing. I started wearing makeup regularly a few years ago, in my early twenties. After many trials and tribulations, I discovered that "natural" brown eyeshadow is not at all natural or flattering on me. All the bloggers were singing the wonders of taupe, so I thought it might be a neutral that worked. I tried, but sadly, the magic taupe just turns to brown on me as well! Warm grays (with no brown!) and colorful eyeshadows turned out to be much better.

  4. Great great post. I'll share it right now with some of my ladies :)
    Happy new year!

  5. This is such a wonderfully informative post, Gaia! I've been wearing makeup for fifty-five years and so I've seen lots of trends come and go, I've witnessed a fantastic evolution in the quality of cosmetics, and I've seen us embrace products we never anticipated. I've learned that not every "look" is going to suit me and not every color, texture, and finish is going to work, but that is OK because there is such an abundance that will look great on me. My technique surpasses that of most pros and I am able to easily replicate looks as well as create new ones. That facility with makeup comes from years of practice, experimentation, and yes, mistakes. LOL So, no one who is just starting out should ever feel overwhelmed by all the choices or intimidated by self-proclaimed "gurus" who insist you need this, this, this, and that. Makeup should be fun and not an ordeal. If I were advising someone who was just becoming interested in makeup, I couldn't think of a better way to do it than by referring them to your post. Well done!

  6. I'm not the target demographic here (I'm 30 and have been wearing makeup routinely for 10-12 years) but I'm just delighted that there's another person out there whose eyes are simply incompatible with the standard "eyeliner flick." It's nice not to be alone.

    1. Me neither! It was so frustrating at first, but now I'm ok with what works on me.

  7. I like to think of makeup as art for adults. I can put whatever on and wipe it off if it doesn't work for me - that include rules like not wearing shimmers after a certain age (which I am at or getting too I supposedly). Shimmers look great on my eyes so there. lol I'm glad I'm not the only one who is not thrilled by Orgasm blush. Taupes, I really do love them but the color is so variable that some look good but yes, some do turn brown for me as well. Wear what makes you look good.

  8. Such awesome advice! I also think it's very easy to get a bit stuck with makeup; especially for us who have been into it since junior high (or whenever!) doing the same routine using the same shades and textures for the past 10-15 years...I took a long hard look at all my makeup and myself and asked questions like; "is this eyeshadow making me look tired or rested?" "how do I want my skin to look; satin-y, matte, dewy?" and the ever so important; "will I actually spend 15 minutes every day applying *this*?" Being specific made me decide easily what to ditch and what to keep; and taking photos of myself helped too; it's far easier to spot the wrong shade lipstick/eyeshadow/weird blush placement this way. I am happier with my makeup now after letting go of a sea of taupe that did nothing for me.

    1. Hi Gaming Nails,

      You bring up an excellent point and that is that it is important to update our looks so that we look relevant, fresh, and modern. Nothing is more aging than doggedly following the routine that worked when we were in our twenties despite the fact that we are decades older. We grow, we develop, we change. Aging and living life shapes us in myriad ways so that what was once suitable no longer works to our best advantage. We need to keep up with the current styles but be realistic and learn how to adopt the trends without looking foolish. And that, as you wisely pointed out, begins with an honest appraisal of our features and lifestyle. I love the creative joy of makeup even more at 69 than I did when I started at 14.

  9. Love this post!! Esp the point about buying fewer but good quality products instead of cheap full adulthood, not many drugstore brands work well and it's just frustrating, not to mention a waste of money.

  10. Great post, Gaia. I don't agree on the drugstore point though. I think when you want to try colors, it's great to pick up cheaper drugstore options at first, to see how it would work for you. Having it at home, rather than trying the colors at counters, allows ample time to experiment. For example, I wasn't sure how a gray taupe shade like Chanel Notorious would work for contouring on me. I picked up a drugstore option and experimented in various wasy. Although it's a nice alternative, I think I will stick to the browns for that, and I am glad I did not get sucked into the hype.

  11. Great advice! I also fit the target audience, having picked up blue and purple eyeshadow in junior or senior high, then giving up in disgust and rediscovering makeup slowly in my early thirties when a friend suggested Bobbi Brown's tinted moisturizer as an alternative to what I considered heavy foundation.
    I'm one of those people for whom taupe shadow doesn't work at all - I guess it must be the yellow in my skin.
    I think that as one experiments, some waste is inevitable - especially with mascaras. I spent a lot of money on pencil eyeliners until I figured out that liquid liners would actually stay on my lids.
    Starting small is also great advice - I wasted a lot of money buying various products that I turned out to have absolutely no use for.

  12. Ooh! Ooh! This is me, yep. Trying makeup for the first time at not many years before fifty.

    Now, I'm extra beginnery, because my responses were, "What skincare routine?" and "Pluck?" My "makeup" use stops at chapstick and the occasional cover stick when I seriously break out. Sometimes I apply a brush to my very plentiful eyebrows. But, hey, that makes it all the more fun.

    Actually, I did recently try using a sugar scrub, then applied a shea butter moisturizer when it made my face announce its intention of falling off. So that's a (rocky) start.

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