Grin and bare it How to do minimal makeup… without looking like a hot mess

Versace Spring 2011 makeup How to do minimal makeup... without looking like a hot mess

Quick! What’s the hardest look to achieve with makeup?

If you said winged-out liner, or maybe an elaborate smokey eye… then you’re wrong. (In my opinion—but hey, Calvin Klein agrees with me, okay?)

It’s actually minimal makeup that’s trickiest of all to master.

Think about it: You want perfect, even, blemish- and shine-free skin. Long, luscious lashes. Radiant, softly glowing cheeks. And ripe, plump lips. All without looking like you’re wearing any makeup. Yikes! No wonder we get it wrong so often. (Raise your hand if well-meaning but etiquette-challenged colleagues/friends have ever asked you if you’re sick… when you’re not. Just not wearing any or enough makeup. Balls! That’s not good for a girl’s ego.)

Happily, the models at Versace, Dolce & Gabbana, D&G and DSquared² demonstrate how to get it RIGHT. And I’m going to spill a few of their secrets.

The first thing to remember is that the look starts and ends with great skin. And maybe the best skin I’ve seen so far on the runways this season is from Versace (see above and below):

Versace SS 2011 beauty 2 How to do minimal makeup... without looking like a hot mess

The skin of the moment (because as silly as that may sound, there IS a definite trend) is fresh and dewy, as opposed to matte and/or contoured or highlighted.

Now of course you should be doing all the things they tell you to do regarding skincare—getting enough sleep, not smoking, wearing sunscreen, etc.—because you can’t rely on products alone to do the heavy lifting. (And I’ll put a small plug in here for cod liver oil again, because it makes your skin glow like you would not BELIEVE.)

But to get that smooth, glowing, and most importantly, POLISHED look, you’re going to need a couple of prodz:

1. A great primer. Because primers kick butt at preventing shine, evening out your skin tone and diffusing imperfections. Here are a few that I love.


2. A creamy (not powdery) foundation in your perfect-match shade. Test the product on your jaw—not your wrist or hand—to make sure it’s the right colour for you. (And don’t be afraid to ask for help… I’ve been corrected many a time by pros when I *thought* I was wearing the right shade.) And definitely give your powder a time out in favour of something with a creamy texture, which is going to look more soft and dewy, like your natural skin finish. If you’re afraid of becoming an oil slick, layering the primer underneath should take care of that problem. If you must use powder, I recommend one of these, which won’t go cakey.

Next up is blush, and it was nowhere more radiant than at D&G:

DG SS 2011 beauty How to do minimal makeup... without looking like a hot mess

A healthy flush is key to the natural look, because otherwise you’re just inviting those “are you sick?” comments.

I know I keep talking about the Blushing Fabric Blush from Giorgio Armani…

Giorgio Armani Blushing Fabric Second Skin Blush How to do minimal makeup... without looking like a hot mess

… but I must mention again here because it is simply magnificent: it melts into your skin and is there, without looking like it’s there… if you know what I mean. AND! I’ve just heard the news that it’s no longer limited edition—it’s a permanent addition to the product line.

YSL also makes a quite nice cream blush. In general, I’d err on the side of creams, not powders, for a more “lit from within” type of flush.

Now let’s talk about eyes. Here’s the look from DSquared²:

DSquared SS 2011 beauty How to do minimal makeup... without looking like a hot mess

Ignoring the lack of blush and slightly too matte skin, aren’t the eyes pretty?

Your best friends here are black or brown mascara and a nice, medium brown eyeshadow applied from lash line to crease, and then underneath the lower lashes.

OR you could do my favourite, favourite trick, which the clever makeup artist behind the Dolce & Gabbana show also knows about:

Dolce Gabbana SS 2011 beauty How to do minimal makeup... without looking like a hot mess

See how great her lashes look? That’s because the liner was applied along the waterline of the upper lid. As in, underneath, NOT above the lashes. (And you can even extend it out a bit at the edges to get the subtle winged-out effect shown here.)

It’s a Jedi Mind Trick, this one. Because it makes your eyes/lashes stand out like crazy.. and yet, nobody can really tell why because you can’t actually SEE the liner. Genius.

Notice also the lips on all of these looks: they’ve got a soft, balm-like texture and are never, ever glossy. (If you feel the need for a hint of colour, the most you could do would be a lip stain, perhaps, with your lip balm on top. I recommend Joe Fresh lip stain in Pale Pink.)

So now tell me…

Do you like the minimal makeup look?
Which runway interpretation of it is your fave? (My vote goes to Dolce & Gabbana, obvs.)
Have you ever had the “are you sick?” question when you didn’t wear makeup? HOW RUDE. Bet you won’t get asked that now. You’re welcome.


Monday, September 27/2010 at 4:09 pm

Jeez, Lindsay Wixson looks INCREDIBLE in that first photograph.

I don’t think I could ever pull this look off, but I am intrigued by the eyeliner on the waterline of your upperlid thing though…. Pencil liner is best? Does it require constant reapplication?


Monday, September 27/2010 at 4:23 pm

Michelle would know best, but definitely a pencil liner. I recommend a pencil liner of your choice. There are some that more people seem to favor (I’ve heard MUFE’s Aqua Eyes is good, still want to try it; I use Lancome’s Le Stylo Waterproof). It’s definitely a hassle to reapply, as you need a mirror and good light (at least for me), and usually you would just go with a liner that has staying power anyway. I have oily skin so nothing really stays on me for more than 4-5 hrs, but that’s okay.

I *think* this technique is called tightlining–not sure, though. The great thing about it is like Michelle says–it makes a huge difference, but it’s also one of those *Is she or isn’t she wearing…?* types of things. So if it does wear off, it’s not obvious.

Thanks again, Michelle! Now I’m in Makeup Godzilla mode and want to get the hourglass primer. I’m on a skincare regimen that’s been good to me but is way too shiny. It seems pricey BUT I’d much rather spend money on a product that performs. I’ve tried the Smashbox primer but I’ve always felt so-so about it; too silicone-y for me.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, September 27/2010 at 5:02 pm

Thanks Skybluesky! And yes – tightlining is the term :-)
You’re right about MUFE Aqua Eyes, I haven’t tried it either but supposed to be VERY good… check out this post for some more reader-tested options:

As for primers – well I have to warn you that the Hourglass one is still silicone-y, but I found it more effective than the Smashbox at stopping the oil. HOWEVER – if oil is your main concern, the best primer I’ve ever used for that is Shu Uemura’s Under Base. Not silicone-y at all and leaves a very matte, long-lasting finish. Probably because it contains lots of chemicals :-)


Thursday, September 30/2010 at 6:26 pm

Thank you again Michelle! I have a question, though…is the Shu Uemura under base clear or is it a light beige color? I looked on their website and it says the color is beige.


Thursday, September 30/2010 at 7:28 pm

PBI- the Shu Uemura Under Base is beige. It comes out of the can as soft almost translucent beige mousse, but is sooo sheer it just gives a subtle tone that is almost invisible once applied.

Thursday, September 30/2010 at 10:10 pm

Thanks, Jane!!! I’ll have to try it! I love Shu Uemura’s mascara basic, it is natural in a fantastic way. I’m afraid of anything that leaves a white cast on my face (I’m olive/tan) but they probably added the beige color to make sure it wouldn’t…thank you for clarifying and reassuring that it’s sheer!

Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, October 1/2010 at 11:14 am

Jane is correct—there is a slight beige tint. Because I’m so fair it’s hard to tell whether it leaves a whitish cast. I *think* it just becomes invisible once it’s applied, but if you have very dark skin, I’d recommend testing at the counter first.

Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, September 27/2010 at 4:56 pm

You could totally pull it off! Here’s a post where I got some recos on liners to use for this (you want one that’s waterproof for sure).

I like pencil but I know some people are fans of the gel liner… you just need to make sure you have a good brush as otherwise it could be a bit ouchie in that sensitive area!

In general the look doesn’t last more than a few hours just because of the tears your eyes naturally produce…they will gradually wear away the liner. So count on touching up, yes.


Monday, September 27/2010 at 4:16 pm

I’ve recently discovered primer and I feel like it’s changed. my. life. Although I never use foundation or powder, I shudder when I see my shiny forehead in pictures and primer has totally taken care of that for me. It *really* makes my skin look flawless. J’adore.

Also, “Balls!” I love you.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, September 27/2010 at 5:05 pm

Balls is the new amazeballs.

And wow, I can’t believe your skin is so perfect that it only requires primer… nothing else. That is mighty impressive. I’m not a huge foundation person but concealer and I are BFFs.


Monday, September 27/2010 at 5:53 pm

I’m pretty sure I have never attempted a no makeup look. I agree — it is the most difficult to do. Sounds like a challenge, and I’m up for it. :)

P.S. Love your Fashion Week coverage. I need that Armani blush ASAP, kthx.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, September 30/2010 at 10:44 am

I LOVE the Armani blush – afraid I’m going to run out soon, I use it so much now. So happy they made it a permanent product!


Monday, September 27/2010 at 7:00 pm

oh goodness i am apparently very “on-trend”! i tried the “no makeup” look today… and i got a million compliments! i should probably try it more often!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, September 30/2010 at 10:46 am

You know what I think it is? Sometimes we look younger without so much makeup on. Tori Spelling is a good example. Saw a photo of her the other day with zero eye makeup and she looked so good! Way prettier than when she piles it on.
Just a thought! Not that I’m suggesting any of us give up makeup altogether… that would be boring! :-)


Monday, September 27/2010 at 9:42 pm

No make-up is my go-to look ;)

Tightlining is the way to go to help give you an open eyed look without looking like you are wearing eyeliner. Sticking to browns helps as well. I have super oily skin and everything melts on me- everything. The best waterproof eyeliner I have found is Lancome Le Stylo waterproof eyeliner pencil. It doesn’t need sharpening & has a smudger at the end.
My fave primer for oily skin- ie gives a glow without being shiny- is the Shu Uemura Under Base Mousse. Minimizes pores (witch hazel) and is perfect for the no-make up look. Add the Lancome Effacernes waterproof undereye concealer & you are good to go. Could not be without either of these!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, September 30/2010 at 10:47 am

I’m a HUGE fan of the Shu Umeura Under Base too! I find it’s the most mattifying of any primer I’ve used, ever.
Will have to try the Lancome prodz! thanks for the recos!


Thursday, September 30/2010 at 10:53 am

I know right? I usually buy my Shu in the US but was happy to see it at Holts in TO this past weekend. And, the Under Base is now SPF 30! The one I got at Neimans in the spring is SPF 10. Bravo to Shu Uemura for upping the SPF


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Friday, October 1/2010 at 11:16 am

Oh! I thought it was a new product this year… maybe it’s just new to Canada and that’s why they sent me a sample. To be honest I wish it didn’t have the sunscreen as I’m not thrilled about those ingredients (petrol I think?) but it’s something I’d probably buy again just because of the amazing performance.


Tuesday, October 19/2010 at 5:01 pm

This post is going in the Hall of Fame …. or at least in a prominent spot in my bookmarks list :)

I’ve gotta master the dewy look. It always looks so great, but it seems like it would be an uber fine line between looking dewy and looking greasy. I have probs with oily patches and have been a powder addict for most of my life, so trying to lay off will be hard!!! I need to switch back to a cream foundation instead of a powder one I guess — Ack!!!!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, October 20/2010 at 2:55 pm

Agreed – dewy is hard. But I think it’s better to err on the side of being slightly shiny than having a face that looks powdery, flaky and dry. I think if your complexion is on the oily side and you want to do cream-based products, primers *really* need to be your friend!


Jess Toscano
Tuesday, November 2/2010 at 9:27 am

OMG i just found ur blog and i gotta say i LOVED IT!! Specially this post.. :)) im a big fan of “natural” looks, and yea i have heard the “are u sick?” before –’, specially cos my dark circles. Anyway thanks a lot for the tips!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, November 2/2010 at 10:21 pm

My pleasure! Hope they help! I just realized I forgot to talk about concealers…oops. So for that my main tip would be this one: Very important!


Wednesday, October 16/2013 at 4:23 pm

I suffer from acne and this is why i always use bare minerals powder foundation… but you are right the look is not as flawless and it dosent leave me the skin glowing…. what creamy foundation you recommend??? something that will NOT give me acne? thank you so much


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