Monday, January 31, 2011

Makeup Basics: Tips for Beginners

So much of knowing makeup is knowing your own face. What will work on someone else won't necessarily work on you. A good technique if you're just starting out is to look at yourself barefaced in the mirror in as much of an objective manner as you can. It's easy to start picking apart what you see wrong, but try as much as you can to avoid this. Almost see it like looking at a bare room and figuring out placement, what would look good where, etc.

Observe your face's bone structure: Are you round faced, oval, heart shaped? What is your skin type: oily, dry, normal, both? These will all dictate how you approach makeup. And if you're starting out, I'd advise against trying to imitate a celebrity's look. I look at their images for ideas and inspiration, but I've never aspired to look like any of them. The beauty of makeup is enhancing what's interesting about yourself - not about imitating someone else.

The very basics for a beginner are this:

Choose a foundation or tinted moisturizer that matches your skin tone. The best thing to do is go into a department store, where you can use the testers on the back of your hand. Don't try to alter your skin color with the foundation (a mistake so many of us made in our teens). You'll have an obvious line of demarcation against your neck. I apply it with a makeup sponge (available at any drugstore). I dampen it with warm water and wring out the excess: This sheers the makeup a bit, while the warmth helps it go on more smoothly. If you have dry skin, apply a light moisturizer first. If you have oily skin, you can try some of the mattifying products.

Another technique for beginners is to do half your face: you'll have a point of comparison. Especially when doing eye makeup, this is a dramatic and helpful technique. Start with a light hand, because it's easier to add more product than it is to have to wash it off and start over. A good beginner shade is to go with a neutral shadow a couple shades deeper than your complexion. There are so many taupe and brown shadows out there to choose from. You will see the effect adding color and depth to your eyes has.

When applying mascara, wipe the wand lightly in a tissue and apply layer by layer. This will help you avoid clumps. A technique is to wiggle the wand slightly side to side to ensure all lashes are coated.

For blush, look for a color that resembles the flush you get (i.e. when embarrassed or after working out). Darker complexions tends to look best with cool tones (brick reds or deep pinks), while light complexions look good with warm tones (peachy-pinks). Again, apply the blush sparingly with a fluffy brush. You can always apply more if you need to. If you go overboard, take a light amount of foundation and go over the area once.

Your lip color should be a couple shades deeper than your natural color. A tip I read is to look at the inner lining of your lower lip, where pigmentation is darkest. This is the color you should go for. Tinted balms are good for beginners. Some of the flavored chapsticks have a slight pigmentation that is flattering on everyone.

Upcoming Product Review: Exuviance Age Reverse Night Lift

I've been on a long quest for the right night cream. Overall, I'm happy with my skin, but my concerns are dullness and some decreased firmness, so I specifically look for products that promise to boost collagen. My latest test is Exuviance Age Reverse Night Lift. I bought it after a thorough online search and many favorable user reviews. I'll post a full review of the product in February, after using it for a month. I don't get freebies or paid to promote any products, so all my reviews are my honest take.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Valentine's Day Makeup Looks

I'll be doing two versions of Valentine's Day makeup: the classic romantic, and the sultry bombshell. These images will be posted in early February on this site and at With each, I'll include tips and techniques I used to help you recreate the looks. I hope you are inspired. If you're single, still embrace them as a way to celebrate your independence. I'm a complete advocate that this day shouldn't be enjoyed by just the coupled.

Review: Make Up For Ever HD Microfinish Cream Blush

I got this as a sample at Sephora, and it is everything I would expect out of Make Up For Ever: the dense pigmentation is almost shocking, but the flush you get from it is sheer and beautiful. Because it is so strong, you need only a tiny pump to apply to both cheeks. Warm a little by rubbing your fingers together, then apply with a light hand. Add more as needed. The blush is long-lasting and creates the most beautiful flush.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Win $100 in MAC Cosmetics

R/T and repost MakeupbyELM Tweet between now and Feb. 15 to enter to win. The poster with the most repost Tweets will win. Visit this site or on 2/12/11 for the winner to be announced. Good luck!

Review: Nars Highlighting Blush in Albatross

This is a pearly white blush put out by Nars that is meant to highlight the face. Instead of it being applied like a regular blush, apply it on the high points of the face: the tops of the cheekbones, down the center of the nose, the chin, the forehead. In the package, the highlighter looks snow-white. Like any Nars product, the presentation isn't delicate. On the face, however, it's subtle and casts more of a candlelit glow to the face. It's sexy and romantic at the same time: A good product to use for a date or a night out.

Use it sparingly, as the product can cake. Overall a good recommendation.

The Great Beauties of Our Time

For those not familiar with them, Google them and get inspired. Not only are they beautiful, but many of them advocate good causes and have depth.

1. Christy Turlington: Like cashmere, will never go out of style. When I was a teen, I thought she looked a lot like a cat and couldn't quite tell her race. Her beauty has evolved into a more pared-down style, which I love. A heavy smoker for many years, she is now a strong anti-smoking advocate. Her father died of lung cancer, and she herself had a health scare several years ago.

2. Iman: Super-genes is all I can say. She is now in her 50s and has nary a wrinkle. With those eyes and that bone structure, she gets more gorgeous with time. Coming from an industry that worships youth, she advocates women of all ages supporting each other. I'm constantly inspired by her makeup: She knows how to highlight and contour so that the face just radiates.

3. Jaclyn Smith: A 70s and 80s icon, she remains a beautiful woman who has an aura of grace hardly seen anymore. Her beauty doesn't scream at you. It beckons you quietly. She has long moved out of modeling and acting and into business for herself, developing a clothing line.

4. Niki Taylor: She was huge in the 90s, and I remember being blown away by her beauty. Her mole drew comparisons to Cindy Crawford. In 1995, she lost her sister suddenly and a series of bad events followed, including a car crash that nearly killed her. She has since recovered and gone into business developing perfumes.

5. Cindy Crawford: To paraphrase her, she once said the modeling industry uses, so she uses them back. Even in her modeling days, she didn't passively let the industry control her; she took control, branded herself, and has moved on to become a very successful business woman. Her fitness videos drew criticism, and her Meaningful Beauty line has its critics, but she represents a thinking woman's beauty.

6. Kelly Hu: The first time I saw her, I was taken. There are so few Asian women in the entertainment industry, they are memorable just by making an appearance. Her career has had its dips and never really blew up, but she exemplifies Asian beauty that doesn't attempt to be Westernized.

7. Kate Moss: She is almost supernatural looking, with extremely wide-set eyes and glacier-like bone structure. Somehow, though, the features all come together beautifully. She's now approaching her late 30s and remains a style-icon and active in the modeling industry. Her hard living somehow hasn't managed to dethrone her as one of the great models of our time.

8. Naomi Campbell: I'm hesitant to mention her, because as a person, her reputation is horrible. She's been long known for anger-management issues. When Tyra Banks was coming onto the scene, the idea of another black supermodel reportedly threatened her, rather than encouraged her. Still, her figure and face have remained one of the greatest of our time. Compare a photo of her from 20 years ago and today and you can barely see any time elapse.

9. Paulina Porizkova: She came onto the scene in the mid-80s and was the face of Estee Lauder for years. Her beauty was so remarkable, she once gave Cindy Crawford a complex when they met at a fashion show. She was known for being irreverent to the industry and her beauty in many ways: she chain-smoked and didn't work out. She has one of the most symmetrical faces I've ever seen, which is one of the markers of beauty.

10. Monica Bellucci is one of the few high fashion models to successfully transition into a career as a respected and honored actress. She epitomizes Italian beauty: curvy, ultra-feminine, and unabashedly sensual. Unlike many American actresses, she appears to enjoy pasta on occasion. Now in her early 40s, she is the current face of Dior, whose ad campaign featuring her extends into America. Her beauty has been described as ethereal, and one look at her shows it's no hyperbole.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Makeup: A Love Story

This past year has easily been the hardest of my life. I won't get  into the details, because many of us have had trials beyond measure  recently. Still, it tested me professionally, personally, physically,  and emotionally all at once.

This year, as my resources  were tapped out, I turned more and more to makeup. Why that, of all  things? For one, I've always been a very visual person: I've loved  studying the nuances and symmetry - even the quirks, the battle scars -  of each face.  Makeup has been an escape for me since I was about 13.  Escapes aren't healthy, right? Perhaps.

However, there  was a day that I can remember most vividly when my armor was a mess and I  thought sadness alone could be terminal. In that moment, I forced  myself to put on makeup. I don't know what drew me to it, but the act  alone helped restore something I thought I'd lost. It was acting as-if:  as-if I felt good about myself, as-if I still had that confidence, as-if  I still felt self-respect and demanded that back from the world. That  as-if feeling began to restore the real feeling.

The  inner and outer selves are more connected than we think: We radiate  physically when we feel good on the inside. The reverse can work for us,  too - even if it initially feels like faking it. Makeup done right  isn't purely about technique. Sometimes when I walk by a makeup counter  and see the giddy expectation in a young girl's eyes, I wonder what it's  really all about. I recognize that want.  For me, in the darkest  moments, it was about more than reaching for the perfect color lipstick.  It was about reaching for myself.

My Makeup Work

A Day at the Makeup Counter

Today was one of the coldest days on record in Boston, so cold that all sense of vanity went out the window. I had a morning meeting, then had a couple hours to kill before meeting someone else. Just staying indoors and relatively warm was my main objective.

To kill that time, I did something I never do: I went into Saks Fifth Avenue, the only department store in the area to carry MAC Cosmetics. I ended up in the chair of an Yves Saint Laurent salesperson named Lilly Alekel, someone so invisibly good at what she does, you quickly forget that she's a salesperson. It could be training, a natural ability, but most likely it's that magical combination of the two.

Saks has always intimidated me: It is so high-end and expensive, I've imagined the doors would instinctively lock upon my approach: "Too poor for us. Go away." They have valet, for pete's sake. Or if I was lucky enough to get in, I'd get a little posturing as they tried to send me back to Target.

Lilly asked me to take a seat with such polite ease, I sat down as if at at friend's for tea. As we talked, I could see her looking me over with a subtle but skilled eye. Then she asked if she could do some touch ups and took a bare foundation brush to my face, just whisking at the makeup I'd already applied. "I knew the weather would be so bad, I didn't bother putting much makeup on today," she said. I took note of my faux pas.

She held up a mirror, and I gasped a little: I looked so much more polished with that simple step. We talked about colors that would suit me. She pulled out Yves Saint Laurent's Rouge Volupte in #4, which is the perfect nude I've searched for all my life. It looks like silk; it feels like silk. For a woman, this is like solving the Sphinx's Riddle. It is such a tricky find: Bare enough to blend in, but contrasting enough not to erase your mouth.

Then she pulled out the famed Touche Eclat, a highlighting pen heralded in many beauty magazines. She went straight for her target: around the eyes. Her demeanor and technique were as delicate as the product itself. Once finished, she held up the mirror again.

All signs of a bad day - a bad year, even - were erased.

I'm a huge advocate of saving money, especially when it comes to cosmetics. But I will say with all honesty, the YSL products I tested gave such a polished, refined finish, all sense of Yankee pride went out the window and I wanted to buy the line out. Lilly has been selling this high end line for years and can explain its virtues without pretense. Her natural ability with people makes it feel like you're chatting with a girlfriend who just happens to run your credit card after the conversation.

Will I go back to Saks or Lilly anytime soon? Should an addict hang out in a bar? Still, the consultation and the products were the balm to a bitterly cold day.

Disclaimer: I paid full price for the products, wasn't paid to write this, never met Lilly before, and am in no way connected to Saks or YSL. Believe me, they wouldn't want me to be.

Creating a Good Canvas for Makeup

A lot of makeup artists will take steps to prep someone's face prior to applying makeup. The better the canvas (your skin), the better the makeup will look and the less you'll need.

Some basic tips to prep your skin:

Use a light physical (scrub) or chemical (alpha hydroxy, glycolic acid) exfoliant: This will remove dead skin and create a natural blush.

Depending on your skin type, apply a hydrating or oil reducing mask. A good trick for a moisturizing mask is to apply it and wear it in the shower: the steam will help the ingredients sink in. After the shower, apply a cream containing hyaluronic acid lotion to seal in moisture.

If you want to take the extra step, apply an eye mask to reduce puffiness. You can also freeze spoons and apply gently to your under eye area.

Drink a lot of water earlier in the day, stay away from heavy carbs, and eat lean protein.

Lesser known vitamins that are great to take for the skin: Alpha Lipoic Acid (a super antioxidant), Coenzyme Q10, Omega 3s, and Vitamin D (necessary for skin healing).

Creating the Dewy Makeup Look

There is a fine line between that coveted dewy, glowing look and a shiny face. Makeup trends go back and forth between matte and dewy, but the glowing look ultimately seems to be esteemed for radiating health. Here are some steps for achieving a glow to your skin that doesn't look oily.

If you have oily skin, start off with an oil-free moisturizer. Apply a mattifier to your T-zone, as it's never the desired effect to shine in these areas. Normal or dry complexions can get away with a richer moisturizer, even mixing it with a luminizer for an extra brightening effect.

Use a cream blush in flattering shades - soft pink or peach for light skin, tangerine or reddish tone for dark skin - and apply along the apples of the cheeks. Applying the blush before foundation gives a more natural flush, as if radiating from within.

Use a cream foundation only in areas where needed and keep your application light: the ultimate goal is to achieve the look of a bare face - just evened out. Stipple a moistened makeup sponge around the face to keep the coverage as sheer as possible. Spot-apply concealer to the typical areas: under the eyes, around the base of the noise, or where any other discoloration occurs.

Apply a light sweep of a powder blush in a matching shade as the cream blush: this helps enhance and set the cream blush, adding more dimension.

To set your makeup, apply a light dusting of translucent powder to the T-zone: nose, forehead, and chin. Avoid the cheeks, or keep the application there as minimal as possible. This is where you will emphasize an element of radiance.

Next take a highlighting pen and apply the product to the tops of the cheekbones, making sure to blend in. This will reflect light, making the cheekbones appear higher and giving your skin added luminosity.

Take a shimmery white shadow and apply it to the tear-duct area of the eyes, the brow bone, and a little over the brows. This has a similar effect of brightening and opening up the face. Take a slightly off-white eye pencil and line the inner rims of your eyes, known as the waterline, which will open them up. Curl lashes and apply a single coat of mascara. The focus should be on your skin, not your eyes.

Optional last step: Apply a spritz of mineral water to the face.

What Cosmetics Can't Accomplish

I read a quote once that at a point, one pretty woman seems as pretty as the other and the effect is numbing. There are millions of beautiful girls and women out there. Cosmetics promise to enhance what nature offered us and nature can take away. If you read any Buddhism, you will note their anti-physical beauty mantra: There is always another more beautiful face out there, so the attention you receive for it now won't last. The ego that seeks this attention will ultimately be disappointed.

Paradoxically, I love the idea of what cosmetics can accomplish: on a very surface level, they can eliminate perceived flaws, enhance interesting features, and just make us more visually appealing. But I also know this pursuit is fleeting: For anyone who lives into her 80s, about a quarter of your life will be spent epitomizing the youthful beauty our culture so admires.

I don't advocate endlessly chasing efforts to maintain that look, cosmetically or artificially or desperately. The challenge is to see each phase of your changing physical self as a new opportunity: You are beautiful in your 30s in a way you weren't in your 20s; actively look for and appreciate these new qualities. The same goes for your 40s, and so on.

I've thought a lot about enduringly beautiful women and why our fascination with their beauty has long outlived the women themselves. Marilyn Monroe is a great example. There have been thousands of blond bombshells since she died, but she still epitomizes the ultimate sex symbol and inspires imitation to this day. Why? It goes far beyond the artifice: the breasts, the red lips, the mole over her lip. Marilyn was also a talent as an actress. She could not only be sexy but also hilarious and self-deprecating. She was kind, vulnerable, human. We see all of that in her images, and it touches something primal in us to this day.

So the ultimate lesson is to remember that your outer self reflects your inner self: There is nothing uglier to me than a physically beautiful person with a terrible personality or a mean spirit. Cultivate your interior like you do your exterior. The character you build with time won't fade, cost you tons of money at a department store, or become mind-numbingly forgettable.