Nothing about perimenopause has been gradual for me, and every symptom has come as a shock. I woke up one day and started having hot flashes — shock! I woke up another day to find myself on an emotional roller coaster — shock! When my longtime makeup routine no longer worked, this too came as a shock. It was clear by the time perimenopause skin changes happened, though, that my eyelids were sagging, my eyebrows were thinning, and my skin — which had always been consistently “oily” — was now dry, plagued with perimenopausal acne, and truly sensitive; I was even diagnosed with rosacea.
To update my makeup for my more, ahem, “mature” skin, I found myself in the position of consulting with dermatologists, makeup professionals, online beauty experts, and over-40-year-old friends, and of course, learning through that most abusive of teachers, trial-and-error. I’m excited to share with you what I’ve learned, so that you don’t make some of the mistakes I’ve made (such as the time I used red lipstick as a concealer. It was recommended… by someone or other), and so you too can look your best. After all, that's how I look after nine hours sleep and when I take all of my own advice, which has happened, oh, once or twice.
Use primer to look in your prime.
Many women skip this step, but primer (used after moisturizer and before foundation) is nice if not essential because it helps foundation go on smoother and last longer. Many beauty experts say that the main reason for women over 40 to do use primer is that primer helps reduce foundation from settling into fine lines and pores — thereby making said lines and pores look less pronounced. Sold?
Build a good foundation.
I had just spent what seemed like an entire afternoon and about three day’s wages having a consultant at Sephora in Madison help me find the perfect foundation for my oily skin, when (see above) one day I woke up to find my skin was now dry, not oily, and the expensive liquid foundation now sat on top of my skin like a flat interior coat of paint from Benjamin Moore. Not quite ready for another trek to Sephora, I went online, read reviews for “the best foundation for mature skin,” and bought Cover Girl & Olay Simply Ageless Instant Wrinkle Defying Foundation for under $12. I tentatively applied the foundation. My skin looked … good? Was that possible? I examined myself in the rear-view window of my car, which, as everyone knows, was invented not to see the cars behind you but to make middle-aged women feel insecure about their complexions. My skin, always Irish-ruddy, now especially so with this damned rosacea, looked even and smooth—plus, the foundation contained SPF 28. I liked this makeup! I will probably still go back to Sephora or a department store to find a too-expensive, time-consuming foundation to wear for special occasions (friends swear by Estee Lauder’s Perfectionist Youth-Infusing Serum Makeup SPF 25), but for a quick, everyday application, I’m happy with my drugstore purchase. My takeaway? Do use a cream-based foundation; don’t limit yourself to expensive brands.
After a lifetime of patting down my oily skin with powder every chance I got, I now find myself in the position of trying to make my skin look like it’s “glowing.” “Glowing” was what I tried to avoid for years; now, a symbol of youthful vitality, it’s what I want. Most beauty experts recommend that women over 40 or so don’t use powder, because it can make mature skin appear more matte, less dewey. I don’t know if it’s because applying powder is a habit I can’t kick or it’s because my T-zone is still shiny, but I’ve found myself reaching this compromise: I still do use powder. I just use it artfully, not everywhere, and I use loose rather than pressed, which makeup artists say is less likely to settle into fine lines. And then I follow it with a Glossier Haloscope highlighter across my cheekbones, thereby undoing all of the work I’ve just done with the powder, to make my cheeks “glow.” Whatever.
Make yourself blush.
I’ve always admired the way some women, no matter their skin color, can apply blush in a way to make them look as if they’ve just come inside from a rousing afternoon of ice skating on a frozen lake, even if it’s July and eighty-five degrees and there are mosquitoes. Whenever I tried to apply blush, I always ended up looking less like Sonja Henie and more like an underaged teen who has gotten ahold of her parents’ bottle of Jose Cuervo and a clown’s makeup kit. I’d reconciled myself to the fact that I would never have unnaturally rosy cheeks until I read Rank & Style’s List of “The 10 Best Blush for Mature Skin” and ordered Ilia Beauty Multistick in “Tenderly.” It’s made from a blend of organic ingredients, can be used on lips, and has a wide applicator that makes the blush easy to blend. Do check out the blushes on this list! And note that Rank & Style recommends that you don’t use a powder blush; do use a cream blush “for creating a youthful, radiant look.” The Ilya Multistick is an example of this; it gives my complexion a healthy glow, without making me look clownish. It is a wonder that no one has asked me where I left my skates.
Wake up and sparkle.
I was only thirty-five or so when I found myself unable to wear powder eyeshadow anymore. It made my eyelids crease. So I have been in the don’t wear powder eyeshadow; do wear cream eyeshadow; and do use an eyeshadow primer camps for some time. Beauty consultants further advise that women over-40 do wear warm shades to make our eyes look well rested, and do use white in the inside corners to look wide awake. I am sure that on any “normal” person’s list of makeup “do’s and don’ts” for mature women, any product with glitter would decidedly fall into the “Don’t” category. But I grew up near Disneyland, wanting to be a princess the way other people wanted to be teachers, and my favorite color (well, besides pink) has always been glitter. Therefore, I was absolutely giddy when Stila came out with Glitter & Glow Liquid Eyeshadow. It glides on smoothly! It makes one’s eyes sparkle! It’s beautiful! I know what you’re thinking: We have hot flashes and dry skin! We are not princesses! Well, you’re right about that. We’re queens, and queens sparkle… (If you have reservations, you can always apply only in the inside corner of the lids, near the tear ducts; even celebrity makeup artist Amanda Ramsey admits that for women over 40 shimmer placed there “perks you up.”)
Bat your lashes.
As for eyeliner, if you don’t want any harsh lines (and we don’t), don’t use liquid liner; do use gel or pencil liner, such as Sephora Collection Matte Gel Eyeliner, and instead of black liner, consider lighter hues, such as brown, charcoal, tan, sage, or gray. Most beauty experts and friends advise using an eyelash curler, but I have never mastered the art of this medieval-looking torture device, and so I was personally pleased when I read an article in Consumer Health Digest that admonished readers “for the life of you” do not use eyelash curlers, as they can cause eyelashes to thin (due to tugging). Of course, whether we’re 25 or 75, we should opt for black mascara, as that is the color that makes our eyes pop. I’m sure every middle-aged woman has her own personal favorite brand by now. But if you’re still searching for the perfect one, makeup artist Vanessa Valliant, whose clients include celebrities and fashion models, says that there’s no need to buy a mascara other than Maybelline. “You’ll find one in every professional makeup artist’s kit.”
Turn back the clock for $3.
Before I talk about eyebrows, I just want you to know that I am not a spokesperson for e.l.f. and I don’t own stock in the company (though maybe I should). I just like to tell people when I get excited about something and that something only costs $3. If your experience with thinning eyebrows is anything like mine, then the only product you need is the e.l.f. eyebrow kit. It takes about ten seconds to use and makes your eyebrows look ten years younger. I keep a kit in my bathroom, in my car, in my purse, and I have two stored away, unused, in case the product is ever discontinued. The very thought of this has made me put another in my Amazon cart. You’re welcome.
Read my lips … naturally.
Obviously, I am not above putting all kinds of chemicals all over my face in the name of beauty. But I tend to draw the line at my lips, as I’ve read that the average woman eats 7 pounds of lipstick in her lifetime. Personally, I just don’t want to eat 7 pounds of chemicals I can’t pronounce and minerals such as lead and aluminum I can if I don’t have to, so I try to keep my lipstick and gloss as natural as possible. I love the Burt’s Bees line, and so does makeup artist Jamie Greenberg, who counts Rashida Jones and Tracee Ellis Ross as clients. "Finding affordable all-natural products can be a struggle," Greenberg says in a Refinery 29 article. "Burt's Bees came out with a full lipstick line that is fabulous. I'm a bit obsessed!” Do try the Lip Color Trio as a “starter pack” if you want to try two lipsticks and a balm from this company for under $15.
And whether you “go natural” or not, do wear a pink, mauve, or rosy hue if you’d like to create a youthful appearance. Most beauty experts recommend that we don’t wear matte lipsticks in dark hues, as they make our lips feather. I have to say, though, that I’ve seen stylish older women pull this look off with flair. I think it all depends on your confidence level … and your outfit.
For if you’re walking around with your head held high and a kick-ass outfit on, is anyone really going to notice if there are lines in your lips? Or if your eyeliner is charcoal or black?
Maybe that’s the irony when it comes to makeup and women over 40. Updating our routines will give us the confidence to feel even better about ourselves, so that we really don’t care what anyone thinks about us and our makeup choices. In other words, Do follow these guidelines if they ring true to you! But above all, to thine own bad-ass mature self, be true!
This essay was written by Kelly Dwyer, a published novelist, playwright, and freelance writer.