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The Many Faces of “Natural” Makeup

Written By: Brigitte on September 12, 2012 4 Comments

Have you ever tried to describe what a natural makeup looks like? I mean, there are as many versions of “natural” makeup as there are Inuit words to describe snow. Yet, for lack of a better definition, this is how most customers will describe the makeup application they prefer. On set, the art director, the celebrity, the stylist and the fashion designer will all use “natural” to describe a look that is in fact so varied that it basically means “don’t use red lipstick, don’t use blue eye shadow and please avoid the tranny-or hooker-look”.

Yesterday’s perception of what’s true to nature doesn’t necessarily work in 2012. As a matter of fact, the 80″s sculpted version of “natural” was so heavy by today’s standards that the models sometimes looked like carved pumpkins – albeit all done up in fabulous earth tones.

So what defines a natural makeup? Well, avoid shades that create too much of a contrast with the face: strong colors on the eyes and bright, thick lipsticks. Another thing to avoid is opaque foundation that erases every hint of life from the skin, as well as smudgy charcoal eye shadows and liners, which are better suited for a sexy look.

We still have to learn to better describe what we mean by “natural”. In my daily studio life I have come to separate them into three “types” that I call: the Polished, the Fresh, and the Bare. Each are in a decreasing amount of visible makeup. Let me show you what I mean with the help of some of my work pictures.

The 'polished' look.

The Polished Look

What most women (and clients) want is a neutral, classic makeup that visibly plays up the skin, eyes, and lips. Overall effect? Safe, elegant and groomed. The rallying cry for this look is: Not too much! The Polished Look is a basic makeup meant to “dress up the face” so it doesn’t appear tired or dull, yet the makeup isn’t strong enough to add up to a major style statement. In other words, there is just enough definition to the eye, the cheeks and lips to look “put together”.

Tip: use all the makeup you want as long as the skin looks natural and glowy, the eyes are not too dark (lose the black eye shadow for this look) and the lips stay neutral.

The 'fresh' look

The Fresh Look

This is a sleek and pared back look that plays up dewey skin, features discreet eye-makeup, a healthy cheek and a bit of lip. It’s definitely a younger look, yet it is so neutral it would pass muster anywhere. The emphasis is on looking fresh, healthy and sporty. A bit of bright blush and a lip stain or sheer lipstick is perfect. If you need to give the eyes a bit of definition, stick with medium tones like taupe.

Tip: careful of thick-looking foundation and chalky powder. If you need lashes, only use individuals. Because we’re avoiding the black or dark eyeliner and eye shadow, it works to use a touch of color on the eyes or the lips for this look.

The 'bare' look

The Bare Look

As the name would indicate, this a no-makeup, minimal look. The overall message for this approach is: “even if there is makeup, it shouldn’t be noticeable”. In order to preserve the purity of the face, one only emphasizes the beauty of what’s there, as opposed to altering proportions or carving out the cheeks, for example. I find myself frequently doing this look for editorial fashion shoots. In the real world, this look works best for women who do not want to look “commercially” made up. The key is to give brightness to the face and a glow to the skin. On fashion shoots, this look is often paired with a stronger lip. The nudity of the eye makes a nice contrast to a pop of color on the lips.

Tip: only improve what’s really necessary. This might entail touching up the skin with dabs of concealer, a wash of foundation and using clear mascara on the lashes. Rub a little cream blush on the cheeks for a cheerful complexion and apply lipstick with your finger. The eyebrows become an important feature in the “bare” face, so don’t forget to groom them and perhaps even making them stronger.


Next time you find yourself in a discussion about what the makeup look du jour should be, and the description wanders into the vagueness of the “natural” makeup world, you’ll actually be prepared to offer a description of what it could look like. Good luck!

photo credits:

Polished 1) Erin Wasson by Do Gyu Lee 2) Gisele by Patrick Demarchelier 3) Alessandra Ambrosio by James Macari.

Fresh 1) photo: David Roemer 2) photo: Helena Christensen 3) Michael Thompson.

Bare 1) Philippe Salomon 2) Jean-Francois Campos 3) Philippe Salomon

thumbnail image: Angela Lindvall for Allure, by Norman Jean Roy

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4 Responses to “The Many Faces of “Natural” Makeup”

  1. Michelle Coursey on: 12 September 2012 at 9:50 pm

    This is great Brigitte! My MUA friends and I always have the conversation about what constitutes “natural” for different clients. One client said she wanted “natural” makeup and when I asked her to show me a picture of what she meant, she pulled out a picture of Pamela Anderson with a full-on smoky eye! It turned out she thought it looked “natural” because of the nude lip, lol. Pictures always help!
    Thanks for writing this blog- I love it!

  2. Brigitte on: 12 September 2012 at 10:00 pm

    Thank you Michelle! Same thing happened to me the other day. Client says they want natural makeup but in fact it ends up meaning something completely different.

  3. Bre on: 18 September 2012 at 11:52 pm

    Beautifully written, I love how you were able to analyze “natural” makeup in all its subtleties and create a clear and insightful breakdown in varying degrees. A wonderful read for me, thank you Brigitte!

  4. Brigitte on: 19 September 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Thank you so much Bre. Hopefully this will make it easier for everyone to describe THE most common makeup out there.

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