Pure and Simple: Secrets to Perfecting No-Makeup Makeup

In beauty, there’s no illusion more contradictory, or coveted, than “no-makeup makeup.” Even Alicia Keys, advocate for unadorned rawness, gets a little help. Her long-time makeup artist, Dotti, recently revealed the singer’s game plan: a dedication to plant oils, masks, and facials; a self-tanning serum in lieu of foundation; a sheer, mattifying finishing balm; and a brow pen to enhance freckles.

Naturally, you shouldn’t notice the work—only the individual beauty shining through. Such pared-down gorgeousness was having a moment on the spring 2017 runways, too. At Dior, Peter Philips expressed a sense of purity, eschewing a colour message in favour of primer, a pore-refining foundation, illuminator and a delicate dusting of a hybrid blush/blurring powder. Makeup maestro Pat McGrath wanted the models at Prada to look just as they are, but the result is ethereal when you put primer, foundation and highlighter in her deft hands. Meanwhile, at Oscar de la Renta, Tom Pecheux didn’t do much more than prep faces with moisturizer and spot-fix strategically with concealer.

Consider it a counterpoint to Instagram beauty’s lookalike artifice; after so much contouring, overlining, and “spackling,” the pendulum’s swinging back to a more minimal mood. “No-makeup makeup has been around for a while, but it seems to be [gaining more traction],” says Toronto-based editorial makeup artist Simone Otis, who has worked for glossies like Vogue and Vanity Fair.

For this latest iteration of elevated “natural,” there’s an abundance of clever trompe l’oeil products to choose from. Loose powder, for instance, seems basic next to multi-functional, hybrid innovations like Shiseido Ibuki Smart Filtering Smoother, a “photogenic” blurring serum that goes on post-makeup to soak up shine for eight hours, while also helping tame the causes of acne blemishes.

Of course, a perfected canvas always “starts with the best skin you can possibly make out of your own,” says Otis, who believes the current fresh-faced aesthetic has “moved forward in tandem with the whole Korean beauty explosion.” Credit K-beauty for convincing us to invest in elaborate, multistep rituals in the quest for a dewy, baby-soft complexion. It’s also fueled the popularity of skincare obsessed with texture and tone, like Dior Capture Totale Dreamskin. This year, the line grew to include the 1-Minute Mask, as well as Dreamskin Advanced, a revamp of its star treatment, featuring a next-gen mica for soft-focus flattery.

K-beauty has also set the bar high for base makeup: the best must feel like air (à la cushion compacts), look utterly real and pack skin-loving technology, too. “Consumers want the luxury category to offer instant results and long-term effects. It has to look perfect now, it has to last all day, and it has to give even more benefits the longer you’re using it,” confirms Sara Delaney, regional trainer with Giorgio Armani Cosmetics in Canada. What’s more, “the products coming out are more glowy and soft, and you’re seeing that in makeup generally.”

Take Power Fabric, the new foundation Linda Cantello used to achieve radiant gorgeousness at Armani Privé spring 2017. After prepping skin with Armani Prima Glow-On Moisturizing Balm, the artist applied the velvet-matte liquid, which delivers full yet undetectable coverage by suspending micronized, luminous pigments in non-greasy oils. “You can hide the flaws but still see a freckle—so skin looks like skin,” explains Delaney.

Similarly, Shiseido Synchro Skin Glow Luminizing Fluid Foundation keeps it real using transparent correcting polymers and see-through colour pigments, then nourishes skin with argan oil and yuzu seed extract. The highly anticipated NARS Soft Matte Complete Concealer gives full but featherweight coverage via advanced powders that can interlock while laying flat. It, too, offers side benefits: hyaluronic acid to hydrate, and collagen-boosting peptides to smooth wrinkles and pores.

Flawless skin will never be #wokeuplikethis effortless, but with the latest beauty tech doing the heavy lifting, it’s easier than ever to pretend.

By Wing Sze Tang.