I was sitting opposite a friend having lunch at a local bistro – the first restaurant outing post lockdown for us both. The tables were spaciously arranged, the waiters poured rosé with a socially-distanced outstretched arm and the diners looked around apprehensively when removing their masks. There was both a fear of being near each other and a contained, I’m-so-excited happy dance to be together again. Having spent many days confined to our homes and with faces hidden behind masks when out, the novelty of actually seeing a smile behind the surgeon facade was therapeutic and familiar. The practice of applying the makeup for this out-of-the-house excursion was altogether more foreign. And yet my friend; a perpetually kind but honest woman incapable of a false compliment surprised me with her opening line. “Your makeup looks nice today.”
While letterbox deliveries of beautiful new makeup launches brought an occasional spirit-lift during those bleak days of isolation, the practice of actually applying makeup became less and less frequent. Who could be bothered with mascara removal at the end of another 24 hours spent chez moi? Why try and hide that chocolate-induced spot that took up residence on your chin when you could let her live in the fresh air, concealer free for a day or three? Why try contouring cheekbones when, let’s face it, 2020 has been more about elasticised pants, sourdough baking and honing fresh pasta skills than finessing your plank. Those that completed a couch to 5k deserve a Princess Eugenie-deep curtsy.
I was surprised by my friend’s compliment not because it was overly fawning (not her style) and not because I had perfected a winged eyeliner or was styling a bold red lipstick. I was surprised because in fact, I was hardly wearing any makeup.
Now, that is not to say that I was wearing no makeup. It’s just that during lockdown I became really good at applying hardly any makeup – and yet just enough to matter. The trick is locking down on the things that bother you most. Don’t get self-loathing about it, we all have our niggles. If you deal with those one or two things first you’ll feel one hundred times better, and won’t overload your face in unnecessary heaviness. You’ll look good, because you feel good. Simple.
Welcome to my post lockdown minimal makeup bag.
Personally, as long as I tone down the darkness beneath my eyes, get my dryness-prone skin looking dewy and have a bronzy tint to my pale complexion I’m happy. The rest is just extra. While various times in my 20s called for more cover-up, I get complimented on my skin most often now when I’m foundation-free. I understand how frustrating it is when you’re dealing with acne to read just use a dab of concealer. Trust me, I get it. Almost all of us will struggle with spots at some stage in life, be it teen years, university days or pre and post pregnancy. It’s not just you.
Part lifestyle, part internal health, part good genes, my tips for those struggling with spots: remove your cleanser with a cloth, find a proper facialist, be gentle with your skin, check your hormonal contraceptive, stop stressing, drink more water than you tell people you do and change your pillowcase more often than you think. The more time you spend getting your skin in good condition the less makeup you’ll feel like wearing to cover it. Acne is such a confidence killer so don’t accept a doctor or dermatologist’s dismissal or gung-ho high strength prescription. Make it your priority to learn about gentle, holistic ways to treat your skin and suss out any ingredients or food groups that trigger flare-ups. Most of all, go easy on yourself, a smile stands out more than a spot.
Eye-cream was once a novelty for me but these days it’s very much a necessity. If your concealer is looking cakey or obvious, get yourself an eye cream. I’m not loyal to one in particular but am currently enjoying the Biossance Squalane + Peptide Eye Gel. It’s light in texture and layers well with makeup.
I use a tiny touch of a pinky corrector under my eyes; Bobbi Brown is still a classic, and the Tarte CC Corrector, despite being pathetic in shade range is my current go-to. The only reason I even mention Tarte’s is in the hope that they’ll take on the feedback and work on their shade inclusivity. I forgo brushes here, they only seem to make things streaky and your ring finger or pinkie is perfectly formed for application near the corners of the eyes. The more pressure or more product I use the worse it looks, so try a light hand and minimal fussing. I also take it right along the lash-line, where some blueness creates a tired-eye shadow. I’m convinced this tiny step makes a huge difference.
I layer just a touch of concealer on top and during lockdown I gravitated towards RMS and Glossier. But on the day life returned to a quasi normal I picked up Cle de Peau’s concealer. This stick concealer is versatile and can do full coverage if you want it to. I, however, go so lightly that I fear we may have a reigning King George before I get to the bottom of it. I also don’t apply it straight from the stick but press a fingertip onto the product and then onto my skin. I’m not aiming for full coverage but just to tone down the tired look. Keep it just to the dark area – you really don’t need concealer all the way from your inner corner to your temples, despite what YouTube would have you believe.
I dab any leftover concealer on the apples of my cheeks and chin where I’m redness-prone. This mightn’t be enough for everyone. If acne was an issue, I might try an oil free tinted moisturiser just to knock it back a bit. In my mind there’s no point burying spots behind thick foundation – the texture will likely still be visible and your skin won’t have as much freedom to breathe and heal. I’d try to diffuse, but not mask.
By this point I just need to bring back a healthy dose of colour. Enter a light dusting of bronzing powder with a fluffy brush – Tom Ford’s Terra and a Rae Morris powder brush do the trick perfectly. For something even more subtle, I’ve been enjoying Milani’s Illuminating Face Powder. More illumination than bronzer, it gives just a hint of colour.
Finally, the glow. I have two absolute favourites in Chanel’s Baume Essentiel in Golden Light and RMS’ Living Luminizer. The Chanel adds an extra bronzy tint across the cheekbones and over my nose. I also add a touch on the temples where I have natural pigmentation. It’s where the sun has hit me from years on the water and there’s no hiding it. Mantra: We must embrace what we cannot control. Or was it relinquish? Regardless, my skin looks beachy afterwards and I love the travel-friendly but oversized, luxe stick packaging of Baume Essentiel.
The shade transparent is also a wonderful clear highlighter. It’s not really a cream product, and not quite a gel – no gloopiness. Think of it as a solid balm, and it makes me feel alive.
I dab the RMS Living Luminizer sparingly just on the very top of my cheekbones for a light, dewy highlight, and a tiny touch on my brow bone. It’s almost nothing, but it’s something. The newest addition to my makeup bag that is competing hard with these two is Jones Road Miracle Balm, which I gushed about last week. After an essay-length review there’s not much more to say other than I love this stuff and will be carrying it with me for life. While these products from Chanel and RMS feel like makeup, Miracle Balm feels like skincare – with a tint. When it’s available where you live, try it. It’s perfect for a minimalist’s makeup bag.
One coat of mascara (I have a tube of Chantecaille’s Faux Cils Longest Lash on the go), a brush through brows with a spoolie, a layer of clear lip balm (Pat McGrath’s Lip Fetish Balm still feels special) and a swipe of RMS eye polish in Lunar (the perfect shade of light champagne) concluded it. Written down perhaps it sounds a lot but in reality I spent barely a few minutes – and a very light hand – on my face before rushing out the door. It wasn’t dramatic, but I felt good – better.
This simplified, minimal makeup routine was all I needed to look fresh, put together, pretty.
It’s minimal, it’s back to basics, and it’s all about finding the few products to target your little issues (that likely only you notice) and enhance your skin. When you address that one insecurity first, you’ll realise how little makeup you actually need.
It’s hard to imagine going back to the way things were, pre-pandemic. As I sat enjoying lunch in a very covid-safe bistro, weeks and months without seeing family and friends, lipstick and foundation-free, it became clear just how much beauty is about a smile, a friendly face (preferably mask-free, once it’s safe) and feeling happy. When you feel good, you look good. And vice versa. Perhaps that’s all that’s needed to garner those you look pretty compliments – that, and a little bronzy glow.
If you’re still in the midst of lockdown and need a distraction, read about my lockdown beauty favourites.
If you need help getting into the festive spirit, I’ve put together my favourite sparkle eyeshadows.
Find Biossance at Sephora
Find Tarte at Sephora
Find Milani at Beauty Bay
Find Chanel at Selfridges
Find RMS at Mecca
Find Jones Road at Jones Road Beauty
Find Chantecaille at Mecca
Find Pat McGrath at Sephora