Not long ago, the reigning trends in the makeup world were sharply contoured cheekbones, blinding highlights, and complexions "baked" in loose powder to keep them smooth and matte all day. Dipping into the techniques of drag queens, makeup artists on YouTube and Instagram focused on the transformative illusions that blending some powder in the right places could provide. A slimmer jawline, more prominent cheekbones, and even skin tone were achievable with the right techniques.
Lately, though, the minimal look has become more prevalent in the makeup-loving community. Cult-favorite brands like Glossier and Milk Makeup emphasize that your natural skin should be the focus (Glossier’s tagline is "skin first, makeup second"), and their makeup only enhances what is already there. A little sheer foundation blended in with your hands, a dewy highlight dabbed on the cheekbones, and you’re good to go.
Many of the brands’ products come in roll-on or squeeze tube form for quick applications. It’s all about efficiency and effortlessness, because we have lives to live, dammit! These brands tell us that our hands are the only tools we need, our faces are beautiful on their own, and a little blur, iridescent shimmer, and blotted lips are fun to apply–nothing like a chore.
This message sounds appealing on the surface, and even liberating and empowering. The pervasive trend can become isolating, though, when you don’t want your natural skin to show through. Those of us with acne and scarring often take comfort in the fact that a beauty blender and some full-coverage foundation can mask our redness. Using makeup to cover my skin takes my mind off of blemishes and insecurity, and that – spending a little extra time, not less – let's me focus on living my life and getting shit done.
I definitely understand the excitement surrounding these brands and the minimal makeup trend as a whole. Milk’s holographic stick evokes early 2000s Zenon vibes, and Glossier’s balm dot com is an all-purpose skin salve that I use daily as a lip balm and a remedy for dry hands. As for the entire package they’re selling, though, clear skin is a prerequisite, and I do not have that. Buying in wholeheartedly to every trend that pops up would be exhausting, expensive, and impossible, but when a look comes along that I’d love to try and feel I can’t because of my acne-prone skin, it’s hard not to feel frustrated.
Popular culture led me to believe that my adolescent blemishes would disappear in my late teens to early twenties. While the worst of my skin woes dissipated after my senior year of high school, I still get consistent breakouts at twenty-two, and they leave scars on my face even after they heal.
Some of my friends can come home after a night of partying and fall asleep in their makeup, then wake up with clear skin. Others are like me, and our evening skincare regimens are essential to not setting our faces off in rages. Acne is caused by a multitude of root issues, and not all of them can be helped. We are individuals, and our skincare and makeup routines are as varied as we are.
This cycle of makeup trends reminds me of the double standard makeup-wearers have often faced: none at all and you look too haggard, too much and you look caked on and "fake." But this minimal makeup look appeals to the middle ground: it’s just right, but only if the canvas you’re working on is nearly perfect to begin with.
When I first started wearing foundation, it felt freeing to go all out. Makeup is an illusion? Fuck yes it is, and that’s what’s so fun about it. One day I can wear periwinkle winged eyeliner, and the next I’ll wear just mascara for work. I find joy in playing with color and glitter, and I find comfort in the choice to conceal my skin flare-ups in the morning. My makeup routine is a ritual I look forward to, a ceremony that wakes me up and prepares me for the day ahead.
This minimal makeup trend is just that, though - a trend. People have been wearing barely-there makeup and full-face makeup for as long as cosmetics have existed, and they will continue to do so. It’s not like the dramatic, all-out looks have stopped. There are plenty of people out there joyfully painting on their faces. Our unique aesthetics come from choosing what excites us, whether that means duochrome highlights or tinted lip balm. We have agency over our looks with brushes in our hands, and we should never shame ourselves for enjoying or even relying on that.
Anna Szilagyi is an editor by trade and a recent graduate of Binghamton University, where she studied English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Feminine Inquiry, The Fem, Bustle, and elsewhere. She uses her lipstick as a mood ring and spends her train commutes buried in feminist fiction and poetry. You can contact her and find more of her work at annaszilagyi.wordpress.com.