- Get some good makeup remover
When I started playing with makeup in my evenings after work, I used to have to be fastidious about removing traces of mascara and eyeliner (which can be stubborn). I made the mistake of just buying any old eye makeup remover. In hindsight it was terrible. The result was I’d have to keep going back over and over to remove everything, which of course irritated my eyes. I remember once my boss said to me “You look different… your eyes look funny”. It was the leftover makeup.
I eventually switched to the wonderful No.7 Eye makeup remover and it just comes right off.These days I don’t have to worry about being in the closet, but it’s a key part of my makeup table. Catch my mascara wand? Eyeliner smudge? One dip of a cotton bud stick and it can be surgically removed. And my going out mascara (the ludicrously named Mac In Extreme Dimension 3D Black Lash) can be stubborn, so it’s just really useful stuff.
- YouTube is your friend… Except when it isn’t
YouTube and Pinterest are full of amazing tutorials from makeup experts and beauty bloggers creating effortlessly perfect winged eyeliner or whatever.
I found most of them were just so far out of my reach. My hands were too shaky and imprecise because I hadn’t had a lifetime of practice. In reality, I found most of these tutorials to be disheartening rather than empowering. I found a few which were genuinely simple and they helped me.The point is don’t beat yourself up if a beautiful cis-woman with a lifetime of practice can make herself look more beautiful and somehow it doesn’t translate onto your face. Take what you can from all these “Simple” tutorials and don’t worry about the rest.
- About your skincare routine… Get one
Living as a man, my skincare routine was occasionally washing my face with shower gel as I washed my body in the shower.If you do nothing else, buy a good Day Cream and Night Cream and use them both every day.When I bought my first good car, my father once told me that’s it’s a nice ritual to wash it yourself as you’re spending time looking every little inch of the bodywork. I think of this occasionally as I moisturise in the morning – it’s a little ritual to care for my face.
This is going to look like No.7 product placement central, but I just really like a few of their products. I use No.7 Early Defense Day & Night Cream (though I think as of my next birthday I’m not sure I qualify for “early defense”).
- Try different products… But don’t cling onto them if they’re not you
There are hundreds, probably thousands of beauty brands out there, it’s easy to find one you like and cling to it. It’s not an exclusive relationship… It’s ok to see other people. Just because one brand’s foundation works for you, doesn’t mean that their mascara is the perfect fit.It’s also easy to buy the wrong thing and feel like you need to hang onto it or worse still use it up because you bought it. If it’s not right for you it’ll make you feel uncomfortable with your appearance. There’s actually a healthy trade of people selling makeup on ebay. I also had some amazing customer service at Mac where I’d come away with the wrong shade of foundation, used it a few times and they still swapped it for me. Either way, if it’s not right, get rid of it.
- Do something really scary.. Get colour matched
When I first started out, I was buying foundation from Amazon.com because I was too scared to go and ask someone. Incredibly I was ordering 2 or 3 from a range based upon the names of the shades. This approach was hugely hit and miss and very wasteful. I suppose I did try lots of brands out (see 4. above).Every time I read a forum post on this – the others would always say
“just go and ask one of the girls at <insert name> makeup counter to colour match you… honestly they don’t care and will not bat an eye lid”
The problem is that once you’ve done it, it was the least scary experience, but what these posts don’t acknowledge is that it’s really really scary. You imagine creeping into that fortress of femininity that is the makeup hall, being sniggered at or whatever. It is really scary. Let’s acknowledge that.
However all of those people that told me that were completely right. I made myself do it. I felt physically sick. I went to the Mac store. It was packed full of women who moved effortlessly between all the bewildering products. I’d promised myself I was going to do it. I asked one of the staff. They asked me a bunch of questions, to all of which my response was “I don’t know”. We decided that coverage was important to me, so they selected one of the foundations, then dabbed two on my neck and was really clear that I was an “NC20” and that was it. It was completely ok. I should call out the staff of Mac, who have always treated me extremely well and been super friendly. Mac is a very trans friendly company.
Having foundation that I knew was right gave me confidence that I was using the right product.
- Get a lesson
When I first went for my colour match at Mac, I found out they do 90 minute make up lessons for about £50 ($80). The amazing bit is that you get the money back to spend on product. I booked there and then.It was a few weeks later; It was an amazing experience. I was treated really well and with professionalism and discretion. I’ve written about how it made me feel it before.We took all my makeup off and she took me through everything with no presumed knowledge. As we went through the lesson, she noted down what she was using and gave me a sheet with the look that we’d made with the makeup painted onto the paper. I’ve long since lost it, but I used to use it for the next few months.
I bought a pile of new products and brushes, but the real thing I left with was the knowledge and confidence that I was doing it in the right order and that I was using the products in the right ways.
- Less = more… Up until a point
It’s a popular trope that less = more when it comes up to makeup. People are super quick to tell you that “too much makeup doesn’t look good”. I absolutely agree with them. I started of with the thickest foundation and now use the lightest I think they do.The trouble is that a lot of these people telling you this don’t have beard shadow to contend with. So yes, less is more, but if that means that you don’t feel like you have good coverage, it can ruin your confidence for the day.
There are piles of tutorials and tips for trans women on the subject of beard coverage and I’ll publish mine soon, but the point is use as much as you need to feel confident and no less.
Also I believe that telling a woman to wear less makeup (whether directly or through a micro aggression) is a colossal invasion. Her body, her decision. Women wear makeup for themselves not others. The choice to wear lots / some / none is a personal choice and nobody’s business but your own.
- It’s all in the brushes
I started applying by hand, then bought one or two of the wrong brushes on the internet, which helped massively. I now have a decent collection of brushes from Mac. It is a substantial investment when each one is about £30, but they all do something different and I love using them. I can’t really explain what a difference having the right tools has done for me, but everything’s just easier now. I’m sure opinions will vary greatly here, but if I could only have three brushes, I’d have a decent foundation brush (that’s appropriate for the type of foundation and the coverage you want which for me is Mac 196), a pencil tip brush (Mac 219) for applying eye shadow and a blending brush (Mac 224) for blending and finishing it. I also love my eyebrow powder angle brush with a spoolie brush on the end. Ok, so that’s four. Oh and I love my little powder brush in my makeup bag… And my blusher brush… Oh and I use a little foundation brush to apply concealer to my chin to cover my shadow. So seven. You need seven. But I did also buy a nice lip brush for applying lipstick… And a foldable one for my makeup bag… Anyhoo – you get the idea… new brushes = new techniques and new ways of playing with makeup that can greatly effect the result you get.It’s worth noting – some people are huge proponents of using your fingers… and I do for some parts of my routine, but it’s my blog and I’m going to just say that those people just haven’t met the right brush yet.
8a. Bonus tip: Clean your brushes with brush cleaner regularly. Faces are full of oil and bacteria. Makeup brushes can retain lots of crap which can be bad for your skin and also effect their performance. It takes less than a minute: A few drops on a tissue and swirl the brush around on the tissue until the fibres are clean.
- It’s all in the hours
OK – forget brushes. Or products. It’s all in the hours. After going full time, I had to do my makeup every day without fail.Hours and hours of practicing. I’ve had days when strangers have complimented my eye makeup; I’ve had days where I’ve caught myself in the mirror and been dismayed at how bad my makeup looks.My routine suddenly collapsed from 90 mins, to 60 mins and now is at 15 minutes if I’m in a hurry. I’m not a makeup expert by any means, but I think I am now at the level that most women are at… possibly a bit beyond (technically I just became a beauty blogger) :-)If your first few attempts, or even first 50 attempts are objectively pretty average – don’t despair – you will get exponentially better. Just practice every day.
- Always keep experimenting
One of the things I’ve heard cis women (who you’d think have had a lifetime to achieve mastery) say is that they don’t really know about makeup, they just do their thing and that’s all they know. I’ve started falling into this trap. It’s super easy and quick. I try to make the effort to try something different a few times per week. I normally use eyeliner in a pencil, so I’ll experiment with liquid, gel or powder. I’ve started trying other colours recently. I try different brushes. Less foundation. More foundation. No blush. I always make a mental note of what I think of the result. Allowing yourself to play and experiment is a great way of pushing your skills out of the usual routine.
- Don’t be afraid to ask or compliment
Sometimes I’m in a shop and the woman serving me has amazing eyeliner or a lovely shade of lipstick. I’ve started just paying compliments in those situations. Everytime, without fail the person will swell with pleasure and smile back and thank you. I’ve had a few good tips by paying compliments to strangers, but that’s not why I do it. It’s basically just a nice thing to do and I have this theory that we’re all just pretending and it’s a kindness that costs nothing and impacts someone’s day. But perhaps more significantly as a trans person who felt intimidated by this arena of femininity, just allowing myself to have the confidence to start a conversation about make-up is really empowering.
So that’s my 11 pearls of wisdom for someone embarking on this fun and slightly intimidating journey into the world of makeup and beauty products. I certainly am no expert and there’s lots I have still to learn (I’m talking to you, winged eye liner). Hopefully it is of some help to someone setting out.
Love Amy x