Makeup Monday: Face Makeup, The Basics

Welcome to Makeup Monday, my weekly series on makeup; academic and postacademic job market and productivity posts will continue on Tuesday and Friday as usual.  For the story of how the #MM series came to be, see Why Makeup,Why Now?

[Weekly Reminder: I’m not going to engage in discussion of why any academic should or should not wear makeup. I have no interest in that debate. If you feel strongly that makeup is a tool of the patriarchy, I hear you, and I understand where you’re coming from. However, I don’t agree with that as a blanket statement. I believe that makeup can be for some people a means of self-care and creative expression that is both empowering and pleasurable. I would request, for the purposes of this post series, that anyone who dislikes makeup, disapproves of makeup, or wants to argue that no academic woman should be judged on the basis of makeup (which nobody is claiming anyway), please, keep it to yourself. I will not engage with makeup-shaming here or on any Facebook or Twitter comment threads. I support your right to not wear makeup, and suggest you come back for my other posts on other topics.]

About ten years ago I was standing in a Borders Books (remember them?) leafing through a makeup guide, and came across the line, “put down this book, and run, do not walk, to your nearest makeup counter and buy yourself some makeup primer. Primer is that essential. You will thank me later.”

Primer was new back then, and seemed a bit excessive. Now of course, no makeup routine is complete without it. (Here’s the Huffpo Beauty Editor telling you why). Marketing wins again. Indeed, I am bemused at the passion around makeup these days. Is it the fault of Sephora in Penneys? Or is that just another effect? All I know is, I’ve never seen makeup get the kind of attention it’s getting now.  I know this plays a role in my current obsession; I am often susceptible to the consumerist zeitgeist.

And now this week it turns out the Wall Street Journal wants to interview me. Not for my decades of work on the Ph.D. job market and academic careers. No, they want to interview me about makeup. Ie, “about how YouTube makeup tutorials are no longer just for millennials.”  Do I laugh or cry?

Today, I’m going to talk about primer, foundation, concealer, and blush – ie, the basics of face makeup.  Next week I’ll talk about contouring, highlighter, and finishing spray.  Today is about makeup I use at home; later in the series I’ll be devoting an entire post to what I put in my travel bag.

First: my criteria. I want to make these explicit in each post, because I don’t want you to take recommendations for products that don’t serve you if your goals are different than mine. So, I like a light to medium coverage; I do NOT like a heavy makeup look, and would feel weird about that in academic settings. For years I wore BB cream or tinted moisturizer, but as I’ve entered middle-age, I realized I wanted to pump up the coverage a bit more, while still aiming for a natural look.  I’m pretty light skinned and freckled. When I was young I’d be in the Light tones (ivory or bisque) shades; these days I’m in the Medium ranges, with a pink/peach undertone. I steer clear from any brands or colors that lean yellow/gold in undertone, and that has a big impact on the brands I end up buying. I also have bad allergies, so have to regretfully dismiss many excellent products because my skin won’t tolerate them. I insist on ultra-long-wear in all products because I dance or do yoga 5 days a week, and when speaking on campuses, usually end up in 12 hour+ days.  Any product that doesn’t last 12 hours, regardless of how great it is in other respects, won’t make the cut.

And last:  Please be aware, I wear expensive makeup. I mentioned this before, but I’ve found that aging skin doesn’t respond well to drugstore brands. Also, because of my skin allergies and my demand for long-wear, I am picky, and invest in and stick with products regardless of cost if they work for me. I haven’t run comparisons of high end and low end products, so I will not be recommending budget alternatives to products.  Anyone who has done comparisons of this nature, PLEASE feel free to share your recommendations in the comments. In fact, if a set of consistent recommendations emerges from the comments, I’ll be happy to combine them into a new post.

Foundation: I am utterly obsessed with Becca Aqua Luminous Perfecting Foundation.  For years I wore Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer, which was great, but when I went to replace it, I ran across Becca, and I’ve never gone back. This stuff is magic. First off, Becca is in pinker/peachier tones than LM, so all of its color options match my skin both summer and winter.  It is a light, natural coverage that covers what you want covered while retaining the sense of your own skin. It has the wonderful glow of all Becca products (it’s their main claim to fame) but translated to a grown-up effect appropriate for the academic workplace. My only issue with this product is its utterly annoying dropper delivery system, which took ages to get used to and still drips product around my dresser. But, honestly, I’ll tolerate that for the outcome. I guess it won some awards too.

Applying foundation:  Close your computer, and run, do not walk, to your closest TJ Maxx, and buy yourself a silicone makeup sponge. You will thank me later.  You have NO IDEA how much foundation you’ve been wasting with your sponge or your brush. Really, it’s scandalous. I think the whole sponge trend was a scam by the makeup industry to waste foundation. Anyway, go ahead and use your sponge or brush for final blending, but for the application: get the silicone sponge. And, get it at TJ Maxx for $3.99.  No need to spend $15 or whatever at Ulta. When you use the silicone sponge for the first time, only put on a TINY drop of foundation – trust me, it’ll be enough!

Primer: All primers are better than no primer; primer really does what it claims: it provides a base for the rest of your makeup to make it go on smoother and last longer. And these days, primers also address various skin issues, like pores, or redness, or lines. So, use a primer.

I’ve used a lot of brands, and they’ve all been decent. But for a couple years now, I use only Dr. Brandt Pores No More Luminizer. This stuff is the bomb. It smooths out the skin, and it lends a very subtle glow that gets with the “glowy” trend, but again, like the Becca foundation above, in a subtle, understated, grown-up way that works for older skin and professional settings. Covered over with foundation, it just adds a tiny bit of brightness.  But it’s also great alone, especially in the summer, over a tan, etc.  You can get a similar item from Smashbox, Becca, NYX and other brands. I’ve tried the first two, and they are nice, but I always come back to Dr. Brandt for its particular combination of shimmer, weight, and scent.

Before I started investing in intensive skin care, when my skin wasn’t as good, I used to like Tarte Timeless Smoothing Primer, which is a bit like spackle for your pores, lol.  It claims to work on lines, but I did not find that to be true; it was great as an overall smoother though. I really like the Tarte brand in general.

I have experimented with green color correcting primer to correct for reddish skin, but I haven’t found it to do anything special.

Concealer: I don’t like concealer and don’t use much of it.  I think it’s the main culprit of the over-made-up look that one sees a lot of now, and I don’t aim for a flawless mask effect. One of the things I’ve learned from makeup tutorials is that it’s usually better to play up your good features than it is to try and cover over your bad ones.  Heavy coverage usually just cakes up and ends up drawing more attention to the problem you were trying to hide. I find this to be especially true with undereye concealer, which is almost inevitably too pale, conspicuous, and creasey.

However, having said all that, there are occasions when a bit of concealer is helpful around the nose or mouth, or even very carefully under tired eyes, and for those times, I use It Cosmetics Bye Bye Undereye Corrector, or Amazing Cosmetics Hydrate Concealer.  I’ve used the It product for years, and only just recently got the Amazing Cosmetics one.  Both of these contain hyaluronic acid; I can’t speak to any lasting effects, but I can say that they both smooth on in a very elastic, flexible way that blends well into the skin, rather than sitting on top like so many concealers, and they are totally non-drying and non-caking. Because of this, they absolutely do not settle into wrinkles. I also like that the one is a stick and the other a cream, rather than the usual concealer applicator. I find they both offer more control; I use them with a mini-sponge.

The It product provides a bit more coverage but these are not the most heavy-coverage concealers out there; to get the elastic, natural effect you sacrifice a bit of coverage, which is fine with me.  The trick to concealers is to get them in a darker shade than you might expect. The temptation is to get a really light shade to try and lighten shadows, but I actually find that a shade just like my foundation achieves the effect I’m going for.

Before I understood all this, I went for the classic Nars Creamy Concealer. It is a great concealer, but it’s too heavy for my taste now.

Blush:  As you can see above, I am pretty loyal to products when I find them.  Being so picky and so allergic, I don’t do a ton of experimentation once I find the good stuff. But, blush is the exception. Mostly because of my daughter Miyako’s Ipsy subscription, I have an endless collection of different small-brand blushes, plus a few others I’ve picked up here and there, and I use them all, and don’t really have much investment in any of them. The Susan Posnick is a surprisingly nice blush I got at RiteAid! I switch them out mostly based on my level of summer tan, with bronzey options in the summer and peach/rose options in the winter.  Blush is the one area I haven’t gone completely high-end; I recently got a Nars liquid blush sample which I loved, but not enough to inspire me to go out and buy the full size.

Of course I apply all blush with a big poofy brush. The blush brush is such an animal pleasure, is it not?

Speaking of brushes: I don’t spend a ton on brushes. I don’t see the point. I tend to buy them at TJ Maxx for $5-10 a set!  If anyone has brush recommendations and can explain why a person might want to spend $20+ on a brush, do comment below!


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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.


Makeup Monday: Face Makeup, The Basics — 6 Comments

  1. What about sunscreen? I know precious little about makeup, but the one beauty tip I learned from my mother and continue to swear by is using daily sunscreen. Easier to keep the wrinkles at bay than to smooth them over later. Do you incorporate sunscreen into your routine?

  2. “Of course I apply all blush with a big poofy brush. The blush brush is such an animal pleasure, is it not?”

    This is the most delightful sentence I’ve read in a long time.

    I totally agree; the only exception being Benetint (the original translucent formula, haven’t tried the new ones). The applicator and bottle resemble nail polish packaging, and it instructs you to paint three lines on the apple of your cheek and blend quickly. It took a while to get the hang of it, but the color works so nicely on me for a pale rosy-cheeked look. As for powdered blush, MAC is quite nice, but so is the Wet-n-Wild ColorIcon line for a much more affordable option.

  3. My skin can get quite oily, and primer sometimes makes that worse. I’ve found a great product that acts as a primer (evens out the skin before foundation or powder), but reduces shine. It’s called Shine Stopper by Paula’s Choice. In general I like that brand–it’s less expensive than other brands (more than drugstore, but faaaar better imo), and everything I have from them works really nicely.

  4. I can’t thank you enough for this. I am about to defend my PhD, am teaching as a contract instructor, and on the market for tenure-track positions, and I started reading The Professor is In on the recommendation of senior faculty in my department. Between teaching in fashion and communication – fields in which, let’s face it, people think about appearance – and planning my wedding in the past few months, I somehow channeled my anxieties into a still active search for the perfect sensitive skin primer. To see this post come across my feed when I felt like I’d been frittering far too much time away on the Sephora website offered this odd but thrilling sense of validation.

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