Beauty Guru Makeup Techniques: The Real Deal

It’s amazing how quickly my brain will make connections between a movie I’ve never seen–like “The Love Guru–and what photo I should put into a blog post.

There are professional makeup artists and there are beauty gurus. Sometimes a person is both, but that’s not who I’m referring to here. I’m referring to the beauty gurus who do Instaglam makeup (which they often do on both Instagram and YouTube), primarily on themselves but sometimes on others as well. I’ve been looking through some of their Instagram posts and watching as many of their tutorials as I can handle, and I feel compelled to make sure everyone is aware of what is really going on a lot of the time.

This post is for those of you who follow gurus on Instagram or subscribe to their channels on YouTube. How things look in photos or on camera can be very different than what they look like in real life. Like shockingly different.

This post is also for beginner makeup artists, because after a decade in this industry, it is my duty to make sure you know the difference between beauty guru makeup techniques and professional makeup artist techniques. It’s fine to know how to do both if that’s what you like and you have a clientele who likes beauty guru makeup, but you have to know when to put on your professional makeup artist hat and when to do the typical guru type of makeup.

I’m going to go through some of the techniques and behind the scenes stuff so you know what’s really up. I can’t watch every video or story and comment on every technique, but these are the ones I see most often.

Baking. Baking is a drag makeup technique that calls for copious amounts of a lighter-than-your-skin loose powder to be placed onto areas you want to highlight. It is then left on the skin for 20 minutes to “bake.” This is HEAVY makeup (if you didn’t pick that up when I said “drag makeup.”) Mario Dedivanovic did this for a while on Kim Kardashian, but cautioned that it is not an everyday technique. Here’s the thing about powder: it sticks to texture. Dry patches? It’s grabbing onto them. Pores? It will happily fill them in and announce their presence to the world. Fine lines? Treats them just like it does pores, but has the fun effect of adding years onto your face.

Drag queens can get away with baking because they are performing, so they are far enough away where you can’t see any skin texture. But if you are baking your makeup then sitting outside for a lunch date with your friend at 1:00pm? She’s going to see everything. Unless someone has no visible pores or fine lines–so basically, infants–that much powder is super obvious in person. Most clients who sit in my chair tell me they don’t want their makeup to look caked on, which is why I stay away from baking.

Makeup baking
Baking leads to caking.

Tip of Nose Highlight. This highlighter craze has gone TOO FAR. This particular trend drives me insane, because it’s really common with beauty gurus, and it is bad. I believe it started because some gurus said it would make the nose look upturned and like, so cute. And I’ve seen some people say they do it because they have a bump on the bridge of their nose, and highlighting the tip makes the bump seem less noticeable in comparison. And others say it makes a flat nose look more narrow, which makes zero sense. Highlighting anything will make it stand out more and look bigger. Do you want the tip of your nose to look bigger or bulbous? I didn’t think so. Plus, part of this trend is to use shimmery highlighter, and shimmer makes things shiny. When did having a shiny nose become desirable?!?! Lastly, shimmer particles fit very nicely into pores, and many people already have visible pores on their nose. Why would you want to point those out? If you insist on doing this technique, fine. Just know that it is obvious and not flattering in person.

Tip of nose highlight
It’s hard for me to not powder this picture.

Tip of Nose Blush. This shit is baffling. It’s not unusual for a pro makeup artist to use some bronzer or blush across the bridge of the nose when doing a sunkissed or beachy editorial makeup, but tip of the nose? I don’t get it. I’ve always applied makeup to cover red or pink tones on the nose, not bring them out. Blush is meant to meant to mimic the natural flush you get on your cheeks, not your nose. A red or pink nose used to mean someone was sick, crying or had rosacea. I don’t know the reasoning behind this one, and I don’t want to.

She’s stunning, but I can’t get down with this trend. (And this looks like a tip of nose blush and highlighter combo.)

Contouring for One Face Shape. If you look up contouring and highlighting tutorials, 90% of them will be for an oval face shape. That’s great if you’re an Oval, but what about the Hearts, Diamonds, Triangles, Rounds, Oblongs and Squares out there? And what about those with features that they are better off not highlighting or contouring? If you are going to venture into the world of highlighting and contouring, you have to first identify your face shape then learn how to contour and highlight for that shape. If you are a Square with prominent cheekbones and you contour like you’re an Oval, you’ll be putting the focus exactly on the areas you don’t want to draw attention to. For more on face shapes and how to sculpt your’s in a flattering way, check out my Shape Up series.

If you’ve got a small forehead, prominent chin or full cheeks, this technique would not flatter you.

Product Dripping. I don’t know what this technique is called, or if there is even a name for it, but I’ve seen it in several tutorials. This is when the guru takes a liquid production (foundation, luminzer, primer, etc.) that comes in a bottle with a pump or dropper and dispenses product directly onto the face. I’ve been doing makeup professionally since 2008, and I had never seen anyone do this until recently. The pro artists I know will dispense product onto their hand or a palette before applying (as do I). I can’t imagine what the benefit would be of applying it directly from bottle to face. And in many of the tutorials I’ve seen with people who do this, they use a ton of product. When I use Armani Luminous Silk or Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundations, I dispense one pump–sometimes a pump and a half–to do an entire face. I’ve seen gurus use 4-6 pumps on themselves. That is bananas! That’s a crapload of makeup, and it’s completely unnecessary. There is zero chance of that much product not caking up on the skin, especially after powder is applied. And good luck blending! The skin can only absorb so much. It’s also a giant waste of product. Please do not do this.

WHY

Emphasizing All Features. I went over this in my Which Team Are You On? post, but here’s the recap: editorial makeup (and pro makeup in general, up until social media) focused on one feature, but Instaglam makeup does them all up. Full coverage foundation, heavy contour, blinding highlight on several features, cut crease eyeshadow, winged liner, thick brows, false lashes, overdrawn lipliner and matte or intense lipstick colors. It is essentially drag queen makeup, which I love when done well on actual drag queens. But drag queens are men who transform themselves into ultra-feminine women. Women already naturally have some of the features and bone structure drag queens emulate, so putting extra emphasis on those features can backfire and make a woman look masculine. (Fine if that’s your thing, but I have a feeling it’s not what those following beauty gurus are going for.)

I see a beautiful woman there, but what stands out? Skin? Highlight? Contour? Eyebrows? Eyeshadow? Eyeliner? Lipstick? Lashes? Or all of it and therefore none of it at once?

So Much Product. With the emphasis on all features, beauty gurus are already using a lot of different makeup products. And the actual amount of product they use is insane to me. Let me break it down.

  1. I’ve already covered drip foundation, and this triangle-of-concealer-under-eyes application makes no sense, as Wayne Goss explains. Every good pro makeup artist I know works in thin layers of concealer and foundation, which allows them to blend easily and use only as much as they need to blur any imperfections and let the skin show through.
  2. The amount of powder used by many gurus–whether or not they are baking–is borderline obscene. Powder is meant to set foundation and minimize shine, using the least amount of product you can. Lots of any kind of powder product is guarantee to cake up on the skin.
  3. You don’t need to use three contour products and a bronzer. If you want to sculpt, a cream contour and a powder contour are the absolute most you would need to use. I’ve seen gurus use concealers, stick foundations or contour sticks, powder contour and bronzer layered over each other. Unnecessary!
  4. If you think layer upon layer of glittery highlight will look like anything other than a stripe of shimmer on your face in natural light, you are mistaken.
  5. Overdrawn lips plus lipstick plus lipgloss plus highlight over and under the liplines? Again, drag makeup. If that’s your goal, proceed.

If you want to use as much product as many of the gurus do, be my guest. But know that a) It’s going to look super heavy in real life and b) Your beauty product spending will increase, as you are using way more product than you need to.

And now for the behind the scenes stuff. Beauty guru tutorials and photos can be very deceiving. I was talking to a friend of a client at a bridal trial recently, and she said she went to a meet and greet for a well-know guru, and could not believe how much makeup she had on. I wasn’t surprised at all! It’s because of those things I just mentioned, as well as:

Lighting. I’ve worked on a several films, commercials and television shows over the years.  So I can tell you from experience that lighting makes a huge difference. If a person is lit well, their skin will look smoother, younger and more even toned than it really is. You can absolutely manipulate lighting to be mega-flattering and soft on camera. But beauty gurus don’t have a lighting crew on set! you say. True, but many of them use ring lights, which can make even the most hack blending job look gorgeous on camera. If they did the same makeup in your bathroom that has those yellow lights you hate, things would look at lot different.

Lighting it up.

Filters. You probably know about Instagram filters, and the editing you can do there. There are also digital filters that many beauty gurus use to make the skin look impossibly smooth and perfect in videos. Don’t feel like reading anymore about this? Then watch Wayne’s video on what he calls live Photoshop.

I call bullshit on some of y’all gurus.

Editing Out Steps. A full face of makeup–especially the way some of these gurus do it–often takes way more time than the length of the video. Application steps, blending and product absorption time can easily be edited out. Sometimes a guru will tell you that, but other times they keep it to themselves. A winged eyeliner alone can take the length of some of these tutorials, so don’t think that you’re doing anything wrong if you can’t do a full face and lashes in 10 minutes and 19 seconds.

Some things take time.

If you are aware of all of these factors and you love guru/Instaglam makeup, then do you, babygirl. I’m not trying to dissuade you from doing looks you like on yourself. I just want you to know the reality of what you see so you don’t think you’re doing it wrong when it looks heavy or unflattering on your own face.

However, if you are a pro makeup artist and you try to do this type makeup on a commercial, film or at a corporate shoot, you’re probably going to get fired. If whatever you are working with is filmed in HD, heavy makeup is going to be magnified and it will not look good. Think back to the last movie or show you watched. Did you see obvious contour? Tons of disco ball highlight? Heavy, dark brows? Nope. You have to know how to do clean makeup if you want to work in on those types of shoots.

I could go on and on about this topic, but I think I’ve covered the basics. If you’ve got questions or comments, you know what to do.

Have a beautiful day 🙂

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