Superfluity is outmoded, perfection is passé. These days it’s all about effortless chic. Not looking as if you’ve spent hours evening out skin tone and concealing bags and dark circles under the eyes has, of course, always been the holy grail of make-up, yet currently it’s an obsession. Celebrities have been snapped for charity wearing nothing but moisturiser; a TV beauty contest has championed naked-faced contestants; even the runways seem fixated on sending models out with the bare minimum of artifice. “Women now don’t want a full face of make-up,” observes Terry Barber, director of artistry at Mac. “It’s more about what you don’t put on than what you do.”
Rumour has it that Chanel’s creative director for make-up, Peter Philips, got the idea for Les Beiges Healthy Glow Sheer Powder (£38) from watching women on long-haul flights fixing their faces ready for arrival. While some were good to go after a few deft sweeps and a slick of lip balm, others – especially the paler-skinned – took longer to achieve a plausible liveliness. What if there were a single, discreet step to recovering a fresh-air glow that everyone, irrespective of skin tone, could exploit, he pondered.
Certainly, intelligent and expensive looks hinge on restraint and the tacit code that genuine chic never looks as though it’s laboured. Overdoing make-up is not only déclassé, it’s also perceived as deceitful – you’re not quite the real deal if you’re evidently faking a brave face. Yet true fresh-faced looks are youth’s luxury. If you’re a glossy thirty-something, you can probably still afford to brazen out the school run with little more than precision-threaded brows to detract from those night-before shadows. Yet as the years take their toll, it becomes harder not to be economical with the truth – and here’s the crux of the dilemma. They may be trending, but is the current crop of near-invisible bases enough to give older skins the cover and lift they need?
The slew of BB (blemish balm) creams that crowded counters last year would seem to point the way forward, were it not for the suspicion that many are simply tinted moisturisers given a marketing makeover. Strictly speaking, a true BB should hide irregularities (redness, dark spots) while delivering skincare benefits (treating and improving blemishes) – and without looking obvious. This year, CC (colour correction) creams are the buzz. Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream SPF30 (£28) delivers a hit of moisture along with colour-correcting optics that scatter light in a multidimensional way, so that redness, sallowness and general dullness are transformed into an even-toned luminosity.
Yet despite these complexion-adjusting credentials, confusion is compounded. Don’t BB creams claim to have all that covered, too? But let’s forget the semantics. If the aim is a flawless veil that still looks like real skin, some of the latest “discreet” bases come pretty near. Shiseido’s Perfect Hydrating BB Cream SPF30 (£28), for example, is another super-moisturising luminiser whose two tones adapt to a variety of complexions. An infusion of amino acids keeps skin looking dewy, while combined antioxidants augment sun defence. Those with more “challenged” skin may prefer Givenchy’s Hydra Sparkling Nude Look BB Cream (£28.50), which contains mineral pigments and colour-correcting optics to substantially deflect patchiness and bring back a glow. Although it settles to a well-behaved matte finish, its moisture-boosting actives keep skin looking luminously fresh.
Concealing pigment combined with light-reflective optics is also the key to Estée Lauder’s Invisible Powder Makeup (£29), whose ingenious gel base gives an even, healthy-looking, translucent finish. Also gel-based, Bobbi Brown’s Long Wear Even Finish Compact Foundation (£32) promises longevity even on oilier skin zones. A combination of two types of silica powder absorbs excess oil while soft-focusing wrinkles and pores. Georgina Pelosi, Bobbi Brown’s senior make-up artist for the UK, suggests buffing it over the face with a brush, building more cover where needed. “Skin should look like skin,” she says. “Layering gives you the customised cover you need, without it looking as if you’re wearing too much make-up.”
Personally, as a foundation-phobe who readily admits to needing help, I’m delighted about Lancôme’s Teint Visionnaire (£36), which ranks among the very best bases I’ve tried. Formulated to complement the brand’s bestselling skin-correcting serum Visionnaire and containing the same smoothing jasmonic acid molecule, the “tint” successfuly blurs imperfections and brown spots without accentuating wrinkles and pores. For extra insurance, the excellent creamy yet non-greasy concealer in the lid fixes dark circles, too. Because, and let’s be perfectly clear about this, in the real world only a great concealer will actually mask serious blemishes.
Even so, according to Barber, there’s an art to knowing what to hide and what to allow to show. “If you go too far towards perfect skin, it becomes conventional,” he says. “There’s a craft to natural make-up. It’s about taking redness from around the eyes and nose, but leaving a touch on the cheeks.” He achieves this with the yellow-, pink- and peach-based creams in Mac’s Pro Conceal and Correct Palettes (£35), custom-blending them to neutralise or brighten specific facial areas. Apply with a Mac Concealer Brush (£17) for seamless results, he advises. Too fiddly? Nars’ Radiant Creamy Concealer (£21) is easy to layer, won’t crease and comes in an impressive 10 shades.
Which leaves the quandary of how best to blush without giving Aunt Sally a run for her money. Pale skins desperately need brightening up, yet a slip of the brush can turn what should be a healthy flush into deep embarrassment. Barber suggests using the heel of a well-moisturised hand to press “reality” back into mattified cheeks, chin and forehead. This strategically lifts off a layer of foundation to reveal a natural rosiness, although it runs the risk of a patchy-looking base. Many make-up artists prefer to use cream blush to mimic an outdoors glow. Tom Pecheux dabbed lipstick on his model’s cheeks for the Marni spring/summer runway – a good, old-fashioned wheeze that still works so long as the lipstick is soft and not so highly pigmented as to leave an intractable stain.
A more controllable option may be By Terry’s Hyaluronic Blush (£28), in either coral-toned Peach Posh or burnt raspberry Blushberry, which infuses skin with shimmering colour and skin-plumping hyaluronic acid so even dry cheeks look youthfully apple-like. A little goes a long way: finger-blend a couple of dots under your base or BB cream for a low-key glow. Alternatively, Aerin’s Multi Color for Lips and Cheeks in Natural (£30) is almost impossible to overdo. Lightly buffed into the skin with a brush, it has a subtly diffused, urbane healthiness. As does the new Cream Blush from Bourjois (£7.99), the unassuming cult brand that for years has been the mainstay of professional make-up kits. Created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the company’s first rose-macaroon-scented baked powder blushers, encased in their round cardboard pots, this new powder-cream gives a pleasingly silky, translucent glow. Make-up artist Attracta Courtney suggests applying it on cheek apples with fingertips, lightly tapping around the edges to blend a seamlessly subtle, outdoors heartiness.
If you still find powder blusher easier to gauge, Sisley L’Orchidée Highlighting Blush (£60) comes close to a post-beach flush, while white lily extract moisturises and helps calm unwanted redness. Sweep your brush across the shades of peach, pink, taupe and gold, then buff the powder into the palm of your hand before you dust your cheeks and forehead. The result will be a more delicate, and therefore convincing, glow. You’ve overdone it? Multitalented Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Sheer Powder to the rescue. The texture is so velvety light and translucent that it mutes mistakes without dulling. Soft rose-tinted shade 10 is perfect for highlighting cheekbones and brows, and skin does look fresher and brighter for it. Believe me, I’ve tried it – and I’m good to go.