A Face-Saving Guide to Male Makeup

With makeup becoming more popular among men, we asked an esthetician how to use it without looking like a literal clown.

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In Elizabethan England, a time when ruffs were hot and Shakespeare was composing an endless string of dirty jokes, dudes worshipped makeup, caking their faces with pearl-white powder to make themselves the height of style. And although 400 years have passed since this heyday of male makeup, it seems men are once again beginning to consider cosmetics to look their absolute best. 

“The stigma toward men interested in fashion or beauty has virtually disappeared,” explains esthetician and industry insider Gregory Dylan. “Looking good feels good, and more men are putting the best versions of themselves on display with bolder fashion and accessories, as well as individual haircare and skincare regimens. So why not a dab of makeup?” Dylan adds he frequently observes men applying makeup near his residence in L.A. “I see plenty of men pull out a concealer or bronzing powder for quick touch-ups on set or at auditions,” he confirms. “It’s tough competition, you need to look your best.”

It’s a popular topic of discussion for dudes on reddit, too [sic]: 

“I’m a guy, and I wear makeup every day. You don’t notice it, but it improves my look. I start with a tinted moisturizer, then a gel blush that’s well blended. It looks natural. I curl my lashes and use a colored gel on my brows.

“For special occasions, I use a very light coat of mascara and a very light, very fine line of eyeliner on my lower lashes. The key to mascara for men is to use one that doesn’t thicken, only colors, and then let it dry. Then, use a Q-tip to wipe off any boo-boos from your eyelids. When your lashes dry, use a dry spoolie brush to separate any lashes that clump.

“I also use chapstick. No one’s ever noticed. The key is ‘my face, but better’ no-makeup makeup. Go for it. Be your best. And if you want to look made-up, that’s okay, too.”

What a legend.

Really, the only problem with men wearing makeup is that most of us have little knowledge about what to use, let alone how to use it. If I were left alone to apply my own makeup, I’d almost certainly leave the bathroom looking like a literal clown, so I asked Dylan to walk me through the basics. 

“The misconception that makeup needs to be a full face of your mom’s makeup in the 80s is no longer,” he explains. “Lighter products can replicate the look of healthy skin and enhance your overall appearance, highlighting the good and minimizing what’s not so good without looking obvious.” In fact, Dylan says, one large makeup brand recently launched a full line of men’s makeup to help dudes make purchases that better fit their needs.  

As for what those purchases might look like, Dylan says, “A few guy-friendly essentials would be items like a concealer to hide any blemishes and maybe lighten dark circles, a matte bronzer for a nice, shine-free glow, and perhaps for skin that needs a bit more help, a tinted moisturizer to help even the skin tone and lessen the appearance of blemishes.”

If you have literally no idea what you’re doing, feel free to ask around at your local cosmetics store. “Express your concerns and goals — what you’d like to conceal or emphasize — and the sales associates or makeup artists will steer you in the right direction,” Dylan emphasizes. “I can almost guarantee you won’t be the first guy to ask, and they’ll certainly know which products will work best and look the most natural.”

As for actually applying these products, here’s a quick and easy routine. “Apply moisturizer or eye cream to keep the area hydrated and to keep the products from looking dry or cakey,” Dylan explains. “Warm a small amount of concealer on your fingertip (the ring finger is best for this) and gently pat the area you’re trying to cover. Continue to pat and work the product in until it melts and blends into the skin, then add more as needed — less is more, and it’s easier to add than it is to take away.”

Next up: Bronzer. “Swirl a fluffy brush over the bronzer, and gently tap to remove excess product,” Dylan says. “Then, sweep the brush over the face, adding product as you go. The more you add, the more intense the bronze effect. With one or two practice sessions for these, anyone can do it.”

One final thing to consider before I leave you stranded in the makeup aisle: While you should already be washing your face before bed, this is especially important when wearing makeup, which can cause breakouts and possibly even infections when left on overnight. “You don’t want to clog your pores or leave residue behind that could potentially cause more breakouts,” says dermatologist Anthony Rossi, who also recommends either applying sunscreen over your makeup or simply using makeup with an SPF of at least 30.

Bet they didn’t have that in Elizabethan England.