Nobody wants to go through lifemessing up the get-gorgeous and look-polished fundamentals (i.e. incorrectly cleansing your skin, applying a boatload of products in random order, or doing your nails more harm than good with each swipe of a file). Instead, wouldn’t it be so much better to be a total beauty rock star? So, we consulted with leading experts in skin, hair, makeup, and nails, and created an easy-to-follow cheat sheet that’s going to completely alter how you get ready — be it for the office, a party, or coping with a beauty emergency. Read on.
How to layer skin care
—No matter what else you’ve got waiting to be slathered on, serums go first. “Always put the lightest thing that is the least occlusive on first,” says Dr. Brandt. Think about it — serums are made with such tiny molecules so they can get into skin, and if you put on a thick moisturizerbefore them, they can’t get through.
—Next up, face cream. Whatever it is you like — gel, lotion, or cream — take small amounts and dab them on your forehead, nose, both cheeks, and chin. Then, gently rub it in. This helps you not only get the moisturizer all over but also lessens waste.
—Finish with some eye cream and sunscreen. “Pat the eye cream in — don’t rub,” says Dr. Brandt. “Skin [around the eyes] is thinner than anywhere else on your face, so any tugging can help increase lines over time.” As for broad-spectrum sunscreen, it needs to go on last to do its thing. (If you have it laced into your moisturizer, then you’re already good to go.)
—The only exception? “At night, layer retinol first, then antioxidants or lightening creams, thena cream on top,” says Dr. Brandt. (Any acne spot treatments go on last.)
How to pop a pimple if you have no other choice
Do not — we repeat, do not — just go in on a whim. “If you can’t resist the urge to pop or squeeze a pimple, helping to even slightly bring it up to the surface a little more will greatly minimize the potential damage you might do to skin,” says Dr. Brandt.
“First, apply a clarifying mask that has retinol or glycolic acid,” says Dr. Brandt. “Let it dry and sit for 10 minutes, then wash with warm water.” Pat skin dry and use an extractor (not your fingers) to apply pressure surrounding the blemish. No matter how good you think you are at this, your fingers (and nails) are not able to get just under the zit and will, without a doubt, harm the already-sensitive skin all around that thing.
How to really cleanse skin
Cleansing is crucial. It not only preps the skin for everything you’re going to apply after, but also is the first step in keeping pores in the clear. So, do it right.
—Don’t wash your face with dirty hands. Cleanse them first, then move onto your face.
—When you’re washing your face, turn the temperature to neither hot nor cold (tepid), and wet your skin before you apply the cleanser. This helps it distribute it more evenly.
—Then, apply the cleanser all over using small circular motions. “If you are really working the cleanser into skin properly, you don’t have to wash for more than 30 seconds,” says Dr. Brandt. “If you wash for too long, you could end up drying out your skin.”
—If your full face of makeup is impossible to remove completely, then it might be time to bring in some backup, such as a washcloth or a Clarisonic cleansing brush. “The Clarisonic is going to exfoliate your skin more and it may be better for someone who wears a lot of makeup or has trapped grime that turns into blackheads,” explains Dr. Brandt. “The soft bristles are gentle on skin, but be careful with washcloths. If you reuse them too often, they can harbor bacteria.” Have sensitive skin? Then only do these extra cleansing steps two times a week, max.
How to deal with puffy eyes
Puffiness under eyes is common and annoying. It’s caused by a slew of reasons — from genetics to stress, to lack of sleep or diet. What happens is that excess fluid gets trapped in the area and is unable to flow freely. If it’s genetic, it’s harder to treat. (Sorry.) If it’s for any of the other reasons, there are ways to make eyes look more refreshed.
—Use a cool compress every morning. You’ve heard this a million times, and it’s legit. The problem? You have to take the time to do it. Soak tea bags or cucumber slices in cold water, put small spoons in the freezer, or simply wet a washcloth and lay them over eyes. Since cold temperatures help to lessen blood flow, the area flattens out temporarily.
—Look for a gel eye cream with caffeine. Gel-like sticks and formulas create a subtle tightening effect that helps to make the area appear smoother. “Caffeine helps constrict blood vessels and reduces the appearance of dark circles and reduces puffiness,” says Dr. Brandt. “Also, look for anti-inflammatory ingredients to reduce puffiness and calm skin — like green tea extract, chamomile, and aloe.”
How to prevent a pimple from getting out of control
“If you feel a pimple coming on, gently exfoliating the area is crucial to helping unclog pores,” says Dr. Brandt. Use a glycolic pad, serum, mask, or a micronized benzoyl peroxide treatment (which is able to work its way into pores to kill bacteria). Or, use a manual buffing tool (such as an at-home microdermabrasion kit) to slough away the dead skin cells that are helping to keep pus lodged inside pores. “After cleansing or exfoliating, always rinse with cold water to help soothe skin and tighten pores,” says Dr. Brandt. (And, don’t pop it — it’s not ready yet.)
How to apply liquid liner like a pro
The most important thing: Don’t wing it. As in, don’t just think you’ll create the perfect line out of the blue. “First, draw the shape of the flick with a nude pencil,” says Molly R. Stern, a celebrity makeup artist in Los Angeles. “This way, you give yourself a road map to follow once you do the real thing.”
Choose the type of liner carefully, too. “Opt for those that have a very thin felt tip — like a Sharpie — not the kind with loose bristles,” says Stern. Then, keep it simple: “Start your line midway on the upper lashline and then [make] a slight flick at the outer corners. Don’t line the entire eye, which can get too messy,” she says. “For a more dramatic effect, start at the inner corners and gradually create a thicker line.” Got smudges? Simply fix that one spot. Dab a Q-tip in makeup remover and clean up mistakes.
How to cover up a pimple
Never, ever apply concealer on a pimple with your finger. The likelihood that it’s as big as your ring finger is small, which means you’re globbing on way more than you need to. Your best weapon is a tiny concealer brush. And, while you might not like this, you shouldn’t use the same concealer that you reach for to cover up dark circles. “Using a concealer with a slightly thicker texture is better for spots; if your product is too sheer, it won’t grab onto skin well,” says Stern. Always perfectly match your skin tone — don’t go too light so that instead of red, you see obvious lighter spots instead.
How to apply mascara
You probably think you have this one down, right? Yet, you don’t always love your lashes, or you’re always trying new mascaras in search of the perfect one. Here’s Stern’s easy step-by-step to master this makeup essential.
1. Always curl lashes first, even if you think you don’t need to. “It totally changes how your mascara lays on your lashes and the overall effect,” says Stern. “Mascara can lift lashes only so much.”
2. “Dip the mascara wand into the tube once and apply it to both lashes — left and then right,” says Stern. Then, re-dip the wand and do a second coat on the right first, then the left. This will prevent clumping.
3. Don’t forget the inner and outer lashes — they’re the hairs that create a natural lifting effect, so you want to make sure they’re coated. And, change how you apply mascara to create the effect you want. “For a more open, wide-awake look, concentrate the wand in the center so that you deposit more mascara there, and only wiggle out in both directions,” says Stern. “For a more doe-eyed or dramatic look, add more mascara to the outer corner of lashes and less in the center.”
How to make blush look totally natural
The general rule here is to apply it to the apples of your cheeks. “Smile at yourself in the mirror and where your cheeks pop out, brushing color up and out,” says Stern. “As that’s where you want your hint of color, this will look the most natural.” The biggest mistake: confusing color with where a highlight should go. “Keep the rosy application where you naturally blush, especially when using a cream formula, then dust a soft powder blush on top. This kind of combination is great and will keep your color on all day.”
How to do the perfect smoky eye
A smoky eye seems doable, right? Then you start layering a bunch of shades on until they’re all muddled together and you forgot what you were trying to do in the first place. Stern says to choose three shades and stick to them: “The best way to execute a simple smoky eye is to start with medium-toned colors and go from there,” she says. “People’s biggest mistake is starting too dark.” As far as how to do it like a pro:
—Keep the intensity of the color at the lashline and lid. Blend upward from there.
—Also, don’t be afraid to really smoke out the lower lashline. This step is key when going for a smoldering eye, says Stern.
—Apply a slightly darker shade close to the lashline both top and bottom to add intensity.
How to look amazing with zero makeup on
One word: brows. “Nothing frames the face like a beautifully groomed brow,” says Stern. The three rules to get gorgeous arches:
1. Don’t over-tweeze.
2. When in doubt, have them professionally shaped.
3. Choose a brow pencil that’s one shade lighter than your hair’s natural shade. “This way, you can have intensity and fill in spaces, without looking too harsh,” says Stern.
4. Brow gel is non-negotiable. “If your brows are unruly, get them into shape by using a brow gel,” says Stern. Go for a clear to simply make them look polished, or try a tinted gel to define and perfect them at the same time. (Just be sure to wipe away excess color on a tissue first).
How to make lipstick last
You’ve heard it all — fill in lips with old-school lip liner and pat translucent powder on top. Yet, you never do those extra steps because they’re, well, annoying. The simple way to lock color on for as long as you can:
1. Moisturize lips with lip balm to create a smooth surface. After that’s soaked in, apply color.
2. Take a tissue and pat lips in quick motions a few times until it resembles a stain and all the waxy finish is gone.
3. Then, apply a final coat of that same color or one a shade lighter on top. “This keeps your lip color looking fresh and prevents it from appearing cakey or fake,” says Stern.
How to do a perfect blowout at home
You separate small sections, you apply heat-protecting spray, and carefully wrap hair around a brush. So, why doesn’t your hair ever look as good as when you pay the $40 at DryBar? “Most women don’t let their hair cool down before they unravel it from their brush, so the smooth shape doesn’t set and hold the volume and movement you’ve created,” says Adir Abergel, a celebrity hairstylist in Los Angeles. Plus, you might not be using the right brush — size does matter. “Don’t use a super-large round brush unless you have really long hair,” he says. “Use a medium-size round so that hair can wrap around it a few times and you get more volume — or a paddle brush for a sleeker effect.”
How to shampoo and condition like a pro
You know how nothing is better than a scalp massage when you sit at the sink in the salon? While when you DIY, it might not feel as good as when someone else is giving you a root rubdown, the truth is that you can recreate the circulation-boosting benefits every day. Focus on roots when you shampoo to create tons of lather. Then, when you apply conditioner, first squeeze out excess water. Then, rub the product through hands, coating from midway through the hair shaft and down (and be sure to wring out extra water first). “Hair is like a sponge, so it soaks up whatever it comes in contact first,” says Abergel. “If it’s already saturated with water, then it has no room left to absorb much needed moisturizers.” Allow even daily formulas — not only hair masks — to soak in for a few minutes. “This gives the hydrating ingredients some time to seep in before you rinse,” he says.
Master the must-have hair styling essentials
Styling Cream: Always make sure you remove as much water as possible before applying styling products — use paper towels or a T-shirt, which absorb more H20 than your hefty towel. “Apply a dime-sized amount into your palm and rub your hands together like you would with hand cream,” says Abergel. “Start raking it through hair starting in the back and working to the front. This way, if you apply too much it’s in the back, not around your hairline.”
Dry Shampoo: “Put your head upside down, and focus product at the scalp and roots,” says Abergel. “This will help really get the product where you want it to, without having to lift up sections of hair. Plus, [it] secures extra volume.”
Hairspray: “Always use a medium hold, never super hold, so that hair is never stiff and still has some movement,” says Abergel. And, keep the nozzle further away than you’d think you’d need to — around 14 inches. “This creates a finer mist that helps to hold hair in place better,” he says.
Finishing Oils: “You need such a small amount, and you never want to put them anywhere but at the ends,” says Abergel. “They can be very heavy and make hair look greasy — but on ends, they’re amazing because they seal splits and make dryer tips glossy.”
How to create the perfect ponytail
One crucial step that most women forget when they want an office or party-appropriate (not gym-appropriate) ponytail: creating texture. Take a two-inch section of hair and lift it up, then spray a little hair spray or texturizing spray on the roots prior to teasing the hair. “This will give it great traction and hold the hair in place,” says Abergel. “You want to see the definition come through when hair is pulled back.” And, while most of us grab plain elastics, the pros always use the bungee kinds. Why, you ask? “Unlike regular elastic, the hair bungee is a single piece of elastic with hooks on both ends — this elastic lets you wrap precisely without any snags or bumps and it helps create a more polished look,” he says. To complete the look, after your pony is in place, take a one-inch section of hair from the length of your ponytail and wrap it around the elastics. Secure the end with a bobby pin underneath it (crisscross two if your hair is thick).
How to get the haircut you really want
When you have the urge to get a chop, instant gratification is often a driving force. But, Abergel warns, the consultation is key. “Spend a few minutes with your stylist,” he says. “Tell them about your lifestyle, job, hair type, even how much time you put into styling your hair everyday.” And, you know how you went on and on to your BFF about exactly what you were envisioning before you made the appointment? Do the same for your stylist. “Be very descriptive,” says Abergel. “Explain exactly what you are looking for and use terms that a stylist understands — heavy bang, side-swept bang, pixie cut, and so on.” To cover all your bases, bring visuals. “It’s really important to show what you want as well as what you don’t like,” he says. “I always create inspiration boards for my celeb clients when we are creating a new look — it’s a helpful tool to see the desired outcome for everyone.”
How to do the perfect DIY mani
You’re no newbie to pro manicures, so you know the drill. The problem is that one step most salons do isn’t actually good for nails. The best thing when you take mani matters into your own hands: Don’t soak nails in water. “Salons do that to soften the cuticles so they’re easier to push back, but instead, I prefer to use a gentle cuticle remover,” says Simcha Whitehall (a.k.a. Miss Pop Nails), a nail technician in New York City.
And, while it’s tempting to just throw on some color and be done with it, don’t. “One of the key reasons you should always use a basecoat is because it will provide a layer over your natural nail’s oils to help the polish adhere,” she says. “Basecoat is to nail lacquer what primer is to powder foundation — not only will it help your mani last, it also protects from staining and helps the color pop.”
Also, never, ever cut your cuticles. “Cutting the seal at the base of your nail leaves you open to infection, especially when you leave the salon,” she says. “There is no reason to nip your cuticles — all you need to do to maintain them and have them looking gorgeous is to simply push them back gently.” It’s okay to cut hangnails, but keep the cuticles lining the base of nails intact. “If you have been cutting your cuticles, it might take a few months for them to get back in shape and form a nice ledge at the base of your nail,” she says. “But, hang in there, keep pushing them back. They’ll eventually look perfect again.”
How to fix chipped polish
First, let’s start off with what you shouldn’t do: Apply a clear topcoat every other day. Unlike popular belief, it will actually exacerbate chips faster. “I know a lot of women constantly reapply topcoat because they think it will help their mani last,” says Whitehall. “The truth is, much like any other kind of paint, too many layers will only encourage it to flake off faster.” If you do have a chip or two, no, you don’t have to start from scratch — and don’t repaint the entire nail, either. “Get a good bead of polish on the brush and plop it on the space, allowing it to also cover the edge of the chip and camouflage it.” Another option? Add some sparkle. “To create an ombré, paint a corner of a makeup sponge with your fave metallic polish,” says Whitehall. “Tap it down from the tip to the center of the nail and your chip is covered — and extra fabulous!”
How to make nails look groomed in a pinch
You know when your manicure looks dull and your cuticles are a hot mess, but you have zero time to remove it, reapply, and all that? “The quickest way to look like you just stepped out of a salon is to apply cuticle oil,” says Whitehall. “Keeping your cuticles and hands moisturized, especially in the harsh winter weather, is so important to prevent cuts and tears in your skin. But, a little cuticle oil can freshen up your parched skin, revive old polish, and even make nails look groomed if you don’t have any lacquer on.”
Have zero polish on to begin with? A super-fine buffer is your new BFF. It will smooth the nail’s surface and creates shine, plus it can remove any dry skin around the nails. “The most important part of filing is that you stroke in one direction — a back-and-forth motion will rough up the edge and encourage splitting, peeling, and breaking,” says Whitehall. “And, if you do have peeling, buff those flakes down by stroking in one direction — with the flake, too.”
Illustrated by Giacomo Bagnara
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