By Caroline Goldstein
Makeup can be a creative outlet, a mode of self-expression, and even a political act. So no one should be telling you how you should or shouldn’t do it (if they are, don’t listen to them), and there’s really no such thing as a “mistake” with your makeup unless you’re not happy with whatever you did to your face. And even then, those mistakes are easy to fix with a bottle of micellar water and some Q-tips.
That said, there are a few not-quite-best practices you might be adopting when you’re doing your makeup, and which might be preventing the full force of your makeup’s statement (and your gorgeous face) from shining through. Here are just three of those habits, and how to kick them.
1. Not prepping your skin before makeup.
For your makeup to apply seamlessly, you need to start with a clean, even canvas. Everyone’s pre-makeup skin care routine will look different, depending on your skin type and product preferences; but across the board, we should all be cleansing, toning, and moisturizing our skin.
Focus your product choices on deep hydration and glow, and avoid anything that might irritate or generally overwork your skin. Oil cleansers or micellar waters are super gentle and nourishing ways to cleanse any skin type, and any toner free of harsh ingredients, like salicylic acid, will work beautifully. Not required, but highly recommended: Mix a drop of hyaluronic acid serum into whatever moisturizer or facial oil you’re using to hydrate your skin. Hyaluronic acid is one of the most powerful hydrating ingredients in existence, it’ll smooth away fine lines and inconsistencies, and it makes your skin look immediately plumper, dewier, and feel more elastic.
An optional step is to lightly exfoliate your skin after cleansing, which’ll slough away dead cells on your skin’s surface and reveal smoother, brighter skin beneath. Getting rid of that top layer of dead skin also allows your hydrating products to penetrate your skin more thoroughly. Look for cleansers or toners containing gentle chemical exfoliants, like lactic acid or PHAs for this step. And if you have a little more time on your hands, it can’t hurt to apply a brightening or hydrating sheet mask, too.
Follow everything up with a rich lip balm, and consider a lip scrub if you’ll be wearing a matte lip color later. Then give all your products a few minutes to sink into your skin so nothing pills, clumps, or streaks under your makeup.
2. Not cleaning your tools.
Regularly washing your brushes and sponges rids them of bacteria that can cause breakouts, which is probably the thing you care about the most. But another benefit is that a routine cleanse actually makes your tools work better and last longer. No one likes to take the (honestly negligible) amount of time it takes to clean your brushes, but you’ll be saving your skin and your money.
Just add a drop or two of brush cleaner into a bowl or glass of warm water, swirl your brushes around to work the cleanser into the bristles, then leave the brushes to soak for a few minutes. When they’re done soaking, squeeze out the excess water, reshape the bristles, and lay them flat on your counter to dry. If you don’t have a brush cleaner, any gentle soap, baby shampoo, face wash, or other cleanser will do.
Cleaning makeup sponges is a little less time-consuming: Wet the sponge, work a few drops of liquid soap or cleanser into it (or rub it directly into a bar of soap), rinse, squeeze, and leave to dry.
Experts recommend washing your makeup brushes once a month, or more often if you’re especially prone to breakouts. In between full-on washes, it’s a good idea to use a spray brush cleaner to rid your brushes of excess product every week. But no one’s stopping you from doing that every day, if you’re so inclined.
3. Never switching up your products.
Product loyalty isn’t strictly a bad thing. It is, however, pretty boring. Sticking with the same formulas, shades, finishes, or even application methods can turn doing your makeup into a chore, when it can just as easily be an act of self-care or self-expression (or both, ideally!).
If you’re very averse to change, ease yourself in by swapping out one element of your makeup routine for something kind of like that thing you love, but mostly different. If you typically use powder eyeshadow palettes, opt for a cream formula. If you wear lip gloss every day, go for a lip stain. If you always wear a lacquered black cat eye, try a liquid or gel liner in blue, plum, green, or a glitter or metallic finish. You can always incorporate products into your usual regimen, too: See what you’d look like with blush, or contour, or highlighter, or just a pat of glitter in the center of your eyelid.
Worst case scenario, you hate it and take it off. Best case scenario, you unlock a whole new dimension to your look and your creativity. I think that’s worth the risk.
Caroline Goldstein is a commerce beauty writer for Bustle Digital Group, and her freelance writing has appeared in HelloGiggles, Refinery29, Men's Health, and other publications. Based in New York, she received her MFA in Fiction from New York University, where she taught creative writing to undergraduates and wrote her first novel.