With the help of makeup artists (and two very game models), we’ve illustrated common beauty blunders, from meager brows to harshly lined lips, that can make you look older than you are. All are easy mistakes to make—but just as easy to correct.
Using makeup is a double-edged sword. Apply it correctly, and it can make you look youthful and fresh: Witness our well-made-up models, both in their forties. But use too heavy a hand or dated techniques, and it can just as easily add years to your face. See the 10 errors makeup pros singled out for us, plus the easy fixes to make.
1. Mistake: Skipping Foundation
You may think that the older you get the more makeup you need to “youthify” your face, but the opposite is true. Pack on the makeup and you run the risk of looking older than your years. But one makeup item you should never skip in the name of lightening up your routine: foundation. The right one may be your best friend. “No foundation is better than bad foundation, but good foundation is best,” says Maybelline New York makeup artist Melissa Silver. Shown without foundation, the model’s skin tone is dull in places, shiny in others, and noticeably ruddy. But the sheer, translucent finish (note: not a mask of makeup) that a good foundation provides not only corrects those issues but livens the skin. Want proof? See the next slide.
Solution: Wearing the Right Foundation
With foundation, her tone is even, with a youthful glow. A powder foundation, like Laura Mercier Mineral Pressed Powder SPF 15 ($35, lauramercier.com), is best for oily skin; sweep it on with a fluffy brush for a soft finish. For dry skin, apply liquid foundation or a tinted moisturizer with a slightly damp sponge (try Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer SPF 20, $42, sephora.com). If you have normal or combination skin, “use the formulation you feel most comfortable in,” says Silver.
“When trying out a new foundation in a department store,” she advises, “wear it for a few hours and check it out in natural daylight to see how it settles. Cakey? Try again. Looks natural? It’s a winner.” A trick she likes, especially for women who shy away from foundation altogether for fear that it will settle into (and highlight) any fine lines: “To sheer out a foundation that you feel is too opaque, mix it on the back of your hand with a drop of moisturizer—which also creates your own customized tinted moisturizer.”
2. Mistake: Going Too Natural
Even the loveliest skin needs foundation to even out the tone—note the ashy patches when the model goes without—plus smooth the skin and give it a flawless, polished look.
Solution: Covering Up
To find the best color for your skin, test the foundation on your cheek, close to the jawline. “This area will give you the truest match,” says New York City–based makeup artist Tanya Rae. When in doubt about the best shade, choose one that’s slightly darker—rather than lighter—than your complexion, so it warms your skin; going too light can make you look ashen. Blend with a damp sponge (or a brush) so the foundation lines disappear into the skin, says Rae.
3. Mistake: Applying Blush Incorrectly
A frequent makeup mistake: adhering too literally to that old adage about putting blush on the apples of your cheeks. The clown-like rounds of makeup that can result flatter no one. Another no-no: brushing on blush too far below the cheekbone, which visually pulls down the face, making you look jowly. Applied correctly, blush should look like, well, a blush. Rather than concentrating it on the apple of your cheek, brush it—sparingly—up along the cheekbone, using the center of your eye as a guide for your starting point. The upward sweep also gives the illusion of pulling your face upward, slimming it. One blush to try: Chanel Joues Contraste Powder Blush ($43, chanel.com).
Mistake: Choosing Blush in the Wrong Color
When blush is not harmonious with your lip color, it looks harsh, as the blush here—which is too dark, too blue—does: The blue-purple undertones almost make the skin look bruised. Choose colors that are soft and sheer, giving the cheeks a fresh glow.
Women with fair skin look best in rosy pinks and peaches, “nothing too brown,” says Silver. Pinks and peaches work well on medium skin tones, too—even something slightly mauve will flatter those with cooler skin tones. Corals, oranges, berries, and rich bronzes complement darker complexions; avoid anything too blue or too light, which will look ashy. Silver recommends Three Custom Color Specialists’ Crème to Powder Blush ($22.50, threecustom.com) for all skin types. “It applies easily and is totally controllable, never going on too heavy, and comes in all the right shades,” she says.
4. Mistake: Overdoing Lip Liner
Here’s a trendy look. . .back in the Clinton Administration. Dark, heavily lined lips will date you as fast as a pair of stirrup pants. And then there’s this: Go too far outside your lip’s natural line, and your lip color will get caught in the fine, feathery lines around the mouth and emphasize them.
Solution: Softening the Look
To keep lip liner from looking severe or jarring, match it to the color of your lipstick. Another way to avoid telltale lines is to match the lip liner to your natural lip color. Use a creamy pencil for best results (one to try: Lancôme Le Lipstique, $24.50, lancome-usa.com)—if your lips have any dry patches of skin, a dry pencil will adhere to them, so the makeup will look patchy, not smooth.
5. Mistake: Underapplying Lip Color
Remember: Lip liner is meant to define your lips and lip color, not act as your lip color. Though admittedly 20 years back this look had its moment, women have since wised up: On its own, lip liner looks way too hard.
Solution: Coloring Between the Liner
What lip liner is really meant to do: Hold your lipstick in check, preventing it from bleeding. After lining your lips, use the pencil to fill them in, then apply lipstick on top. The lip liner (Rae recommends Stila Long Wear Lip Liner, $18, sephora.com) will give your color something to hold on to, so it stays on longer.
6. Mistake: Going Too Heavy on the Concealer
Many women cake on concealer in a mistaken attempt to cover up fine lines and wrinkles around the eyes. But Spackled-on concealer actually highlights lines and wrinkles as it dries and cracks. A better approach is to keep the delicate skin around your eyes moisturized, which will plump the skin to “fill in” the wrinkles. Use a minimal amount of concealer on the inner corners of your eyes only, where your skin is naturally darker. Choose a product with luminosity (like Maybelline’s Dream Lumi Touch Highlighting Concealer, $8, walgreens.com), which has the added benefit of lighting up your face, giving it more radiance.
7. Mistake: Applying an Off Shade
Choose a concealer in the wrong color—going too light, for instance, to counteract those dark patches under your eyes—and you could end up with these distinctive reverse-raccoon half-moons. In general, match your skin tone or go just a shade lighter, but no more than that. If you have under-eye circles, a concealer that has a yellow or peachy tone will neutralize the circles’ purplish cast, warming and brightening the area. Be sure to avoid anything with a green base, which will only accentuate shadows.
8. Mistake: Lining Just the Lower Lid
There’s something to be said for sticking with an approach that works. But sticking with a look you’ve sported since high school…not so much: Severe liner on the lower lid is a rookie mistake. And instead of opening your eyes, it makes them look small and bottom heavy, dragging down your face.
Solution: Doing Both Lids
Use a soft pencil on both the upper and lower lids, applying it close to the lash lines, then gently smudging it to lighten the look. As for shadow, “a soft gray or bronze will make any eye color sparkle,” says Silver. “Apply it lightly and blend it out with a small, firm brush for a subtly beautiful look.”
9. Mistake: Going “Look at Me!” Bright for Impact
Unless you’re going clubbing (are you?), take a pass on shadows and liners that smack of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach circa 1962. More understated shades—like brown, navy, or violet—are far more flattering. One way to add a hint of bolder color without going over the top, says Rae: Apply your usual shadow to your top lid, then dip an eyeliner brush into your statement color and trace over the shadow at your lash line. But in this case restrict the color to your top lid; skip the ring around the eye.
Solution: Pump Up Your Lashes Instead
A subtler way to draw attention to your eyes is to frame them with lush lashes. But a quick swipe won’t give lashes presence. Instead, wiggle the mascara wand back and forth from the roots to the tips for maximum coverage, separation, and length.
Nothing kills a look faster than clumpy mascara, though, and the smudges it leaves under the eye (a look your grandma may have sported?). If your mascara consistently creates spidery lashes, check the brush: It may be too big for the smaller lashes, especially on the lower lid. (Clinique’s Bottom Lash Mascara has a tiny brush that grabs the small lashes on your lower lid and coats them with just the right amount of color; $10, clinique.com). You may also be applying too much mascara, so before touching the wand to your lashes, dab its tip on a tissue to take off any excess. Mascara that’s drying out also has a tendency to clump; never pump the wand in the base before applying, which introduces air into the product and dries it even faster. Use a Spoolie brush (try one by Sonia Kashuk, $2, target.com for stores) to free lashes of clumps.
10. Mistake: Skimping on Your Brows
As women age, their hair can thin, and a pale, sparse brow—like the one shown here—can visually convey that message. An easy way to give your face a youthful lift is by keeping your brows well-shaped and well-defined.
Solution: Penciling Them In
To give a meager brow some oomph, fill it in with quick, short strokes using a pencil in a color that’s slightly lighter than your natural hue (the makeup will look darker when it comes in contact with your skin). Silver recommends MAC’s Eye Brows pencil, which has an easy-to-use slim-line applicator ($15, maccosmetics.com). Use a brow brush to blend and soften the color, them keep it in place with MAC Brow Set brush-on gel ($15, maccosmetics.com).