Makeup and I go way back. While my schoolfriends were preoccupied with which member of Busted they'd snog, marry or avoid, I spent my time scouring the aisles of Superdrug for a foundation thick and heavy enough to blanket my sudden acne. Puberty isn't particularly kind to anyone but alongside raging red spots, it gifted me excess facial hair (thanks, PCOS), acne scarring and pigmentation issues.
It's fair to say that makeup was something of a crutch. My initial goal was a flawless base but bold lips and Instagram-worthy eye makeup became a distraction tactic. I learned how to do a killer contour and fashion a feline flick sharp enough to do some damage. Being seen without makeup made me nervous. I'd even sleep in it at friends' houses.
When I started earning, makeup soon became a fun hobby. I landed my job as beauty editor at Refinery29 UK and it turned into a lifestyle I adored – and still do. Up until March this year, not a day went by where I didn't rock a full face. I'd wear the latest game-changing foundation (that'd be Kevyn Aucoin Nude Skin Tint, £36), dip into the coolest eyeshadow palette (currently Dior Backstage Amber Neutrals, £39) or habitually swipe on a great lipstick (always Max Factor Colour Elixir, £8.99). But when the UK was placed under lockdown, my hourlong makeup routine went out the window. Dates and face-to-face meetings were cancelled. I woke up a lot later than usual. I felt lazy and I just didn't see the point.
Of course you don't need me to tell you that the idea of having to wear makeup for other people, or to be seen as 'presentable' to the outside world, is redundant. But wearing a full face out and about made me feel more put-together and self-assured. Delving into my beauty bag just to sit at home felt like a waste – and I'm not alone in thinking this. It made me question who I really wear makeup for.
At first I thought I looked a little peaky without my trusty Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Bronzer and Glossier Lash Slick, and I'd constantly apologise for my lack of glow in professional Zoom meetings. Then two months in, something changed. I didn't do a double-take whenever I caught myself in the bathroom mirror or shrink away from 9am video chats with a bare face. In virtual catch-ups, no one commented that I looked tired or sick. In fact, friends, colleagues and family barely noticed a difference. I very slowly got used to seeing myself without the camouflage – and actually, I didn't hate it.
Invest in these three simple makeup staples
My everyday approach to makeup is now minimal, not mask-like, and I vow to keep it up. Not just because it's much cheaper or feels liberating to save so much time in the morning but also because it's about time we thought of skin texture as entirely normal. I've written about the #skinneutral movement usurping skin positivity and encouraging people to accept their skin gripes, such as acne, but I struggled to get on board. Now I know its power, as ditching the heavy makeup has made me confront my skin head-on – the first step to acceptance.
I've weaned myself off foundation and instead look to a good concealer for quick and easy touch-ups here and there. Tarte Shape Tape Contour Concealer, £20, tucks away spots and dark circles without leaving a trace. Also try Uoma Beauty Stay Woke Luminous Brightening Concealer, £21, a light yet substantial concealer which blurs blemishes and blends in seamlessly.
Most days, mascara is all I'll wear to look (and feel) alive. Gucci Beauty Mascara L'Obscur, £30, lengthens and thickens in a single swipe but makes lashes look natural and fluffy, not spidery. And don't underestimate the power of a good eyelash curler like Laura Mercier Artist Eyelash Curler, £20, for opening up eyes without the need for any product at all.
A consistent skincare routine makes a difference
People who rarely wear makeup often tend to have seamless skin but by no means is mine perfect. Up-and-down hormones means I'm constantly battling the odd breakout but a handful of smart skincare products have helped nix skin worries and make me less reliant on makeup as camouflage. The key is using them consistently. According to dermatologists, it can take up to 12 weeks to see a difference from a new skincare routine or product. One upside of lockdown is that I could try all the exfoliators and retinols on my list without worrying about the side effects, like flaky skin or purging.
The first brilliant product is under-the-radar skin treatment, Medik8 Blemish SOS Rapid Action Target Gel, £19. It contains 2% salicylic acid, which experts tout as the gold standard acne ingredient. It unclogs pores and brings down red spots in next to no time. I use this with The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Cleanser, £10.99, morning and evening to improve skin texture. Once or twice a week, I'll enlist Reflekt 1 Daily Exfoliating Face Wash, £40, to help smooth and refine my skin. For eyes, Curél Moisture Eye Zone Essence, £22.50, is a featherlight gel-cream that doesn't clog pores or make skin puffy. Instead, it plumps out fine lines and works as a great barrier for acne products, like exfoliators and retinol, which can irritate sensitive skin.
shop 6 products
For stubborn whiteheads and under-the-skin spots, dermatologists and GPs recommend a nightly retinoid treatment. Try Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, £70, No7 Advanced Retinol 1.5% Complex, or a prescription treatment such as adapalene gel, which can be prescribed by an online GP. Of course, SPF is a must. Look for non-comedogenic versions, like Ultrasun Sun Protection High SPF30, £22, which is less likely to clog pores.
Makeup is a fun luxury
Now, the thought of going back to wearing a full face doesn't really appeal. It became something quite mindless, which is a shame considering how fun makeup can be. If I ever miss the feeling of getting ready and putting on a face to meet the world, I'll take the chance to experiment: Saweetie's cloud eye makeup, vinyl lips, '00s emo...
One makeup brand I'm looking forward to using more of is OPV Beauty, in particular its Spotlight Palette, £29. The shades and pigments are on par with Anastasia Beverly Hills and Pat McGrath Labs, with affordable price points. Trinny London is another one to watch, and allows you to mix and match lip, eye and cheek products depending on your skin tone and personal style.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.