How to get started with… make up

Once you’ve come out, make-up is likely to be near the top of your list in terms of tools that might help you pass more successfully. But make up can be a real dual-edged sword. Used well, it will help you achieve a really feminine look. Used poorly… it will really draw attention to your trans-ness, and you might find yourself getting clocked more than you hoped.

So obviously, getting it right is pretty important. Where do you even begin, though? First up, I recommend practising either on your own or with a friend you trust for a while before you head out with a full face of make up on. Going out looking good will do wonders for your self-confidence, while heading out before you’re fully ready will have a more negative impact on how you feel and pass to others.

Where to begin?

First up, don’t immediately jump to make up. If you’re still very much in the early days of your transition, or you haven’t yet come out to people, what you can always start doing (and it’s pretty much never too early) is to start nailing your skin care.

Start with your skincare

A basic, good skincare routine involves three steps: cleanser, toner, moisturiser.

Cleanser removes dirt, grime, oil and sebum from your skin’s surface. This helps to then prevent this dirt from getting into or blocking your pores and causing spots and acne.

Toner helps to provide additional cleansing of the skin while also closing the pores, creating a smoother appearance.

Moisturiser sort of goes without saying, but replenishes the moisture levels in your skin, creating a plumper, fuller and more youthful look.

Get a day moisturiser (with an SPF of at least 15 or more – ideally 30 and above), and a night time moisturising cream. Night moisturisers are typically thicker, contain more nutrients and help to provide additional plumping to your skin while you sleep. Apparently, skin ‘experts’ say, your skin is more absorbent while you’re sleeping. This might be true, or it might have been invented by people wanting to sell night creams. Whatever, it feels very luxurious and comforting to put night cream on your face before you sleep.

Other things you can start to add into your skincare routine are exfoliators – use a good exfoliator twice a week, normally after your cleanser and before a face mask. A face mask will provide a deeper cleanse for your skin – it sits on your skin for a longer period of time so absorbs more deeply, and therefore can pull out more impurities and dirt from deeper in your skin to reveal a glowing, plump skin surface.

Serums and facial oils are the next steps – you put these on just before your moisturiser, and these typically contain more nutrients and conditioning ingredients that help your moisturiser absorb more thoroughly and have a flattering impact.

But – if that feels like a big list, and you’re not sure where to start, get yourself a decent cleanser, toner and moisturiser, and start using those twice a day. You’ll want products that are geared towards your skin type – broadly these are dry, oily, combination or ‘normal’ (i.e. none of the above)…

  • Oily skin gets shiny and slick feeling by a few hours into the day; you’ll notice a bit more of a sheen to your skin or it might feel a little greasy.
  • Dry is essentially the opposite. Once you wash your face, within a few hours it feels tight and dry. It might also be flaky.
  • Combination is normally a combination of dry and oily (hurrah!) – your T-zone (forehead and down the middle of your face over your nose) will be oilier, while your cheeks will be drier.
  • Normal is basically fine, your skin is neither too oily nor too dry. You lucky, lucky thing.

Get skincare products that are geared towards your skin type as this will help. If you have other concerns about your skin such as redness or spots, acne or other blemishes, or sensitivities, look for products that will help deal with those.

So, make up…

Photo by Anderson Guerra from Pexels
  • Once you’ve got your skincare down, you’re ready to move on to make up.
  • If you’re not yet ready for a full face of make up, find a tinted moisturiser or BB cream in a shade that matches your skintone. It’s much more subtle than make up so you can wear it and not look like you’re wearing make up – it’s a good way to practise the skills and build your confidence before you make the next step up.
  • When you’re ready for that next step, you probably want to start with a good primer. Primers help to get the skin ready so that make up sits more smoothly on top of it and lasts longer. Primer can also even out the skintone underneath the foundation, meaning you don’t need so much foundation and will look less ‘caked’.
  • If you have beard or five o’clock shadow, you will need to use a colour correcting concealer. Bobbi Brown does a really good variety. To conceal your beard shadow you want a concealer in a red, peach or orangey tone to counteract the blue-green-grey tones of hair growing back through. Take a brush or use your fingers and stipple the concealer over this area before you put your foundation on top.
  • For foundation you want to choose one that matches your skin tone. I would suggest a liquid foundation in medium to heavy matte coverage, especially if you are pre-HRT as this will help to counter the fact that male skin is thicker and more heavily textured than female skin. Matte textures will also help avoid the foundation looking too caked on or seeping into lines and wrinkles on your face, while more ‘dewy’ textures will emphasise those issues. To apply, sweep the foundation over your face and use a brush, sponge or your fingers to blend it into the surface so there aren’t any harsh lines. Blend down your neck as well so that there isn’t a big gap between your face and the rest of your body.
  • If you aren’t sure what shade you need, and you’re too shy to go into a shop to find it yourself, your best option is to order what you think might be the right shade online from somewhere really cheap, or try some samples and see what works. Alternatively, many brands (particularly in the UK) are becoming much more trans-friendly so if you live near a biggish city you will almost certainly find a store that will be super happy to help. Take a friend or trusted support with you if you’re feeling nervous. MAC deserves a lot of credit here – they are really supportive of the LGBT community and their salespeople are often quite well trained to help trans women or AMAB people who want to buy and look good in make up.
  • For eye make up, don’t use super harsh shades or liners. Use a light, creamy eye shadow on your lid, and maybe sweep a medium brown shade lightly along the line of your eye socket to create a bit of soft definition. Take a fine eyeshadow brush, and brush this along your lower lash line to create definition without a very harsh look.
  • Get an eyelash curler, especially if you don’t have naturally curly or thick lashes. Use these to curl your eyelashes upwards and open out the eye area. Yes, these look like medieval torture devices, whoever invented them clearly had some other questions he or she needed to answer, but they work.
  • Once you’ve curled your lashes, brush a dark mascara on from the lash line upwards. Wiggle the brush slightly as you go, as this helps the lashes look thicker and more defined. Mascara will open your eyes out and emphasise them. It’s really helpful.
  • For lips, find a colour that is one shade darker or lighter than your natural shade. Blues, purples, anything particularly unnatural or ‘snazzy’ won’t look good on you to start with, and will unfortunately draw attention in a way you don’t necessarily want. Use a lip liner in the same colour to define your lips and then – using a lipstick brush if you prefer having a bit more control – apply lipstick. You can use a slightly shimmery lipgloss in a similar tone to your lipstick to create a bit of definition and plumpness to the centre of your lips.
  • AMAB people tend to have slightly flatter cheeks than cis women, so to highlight this area, you want a shimmery blush that can be both a bit like a highlighter, and provide some extra colour in the area. Smile a lot so that the apples of your cheeks get pushed out, and then swirl blusher onto this area, sweeping it upwards towards your temples as well. Make sure it’s blended in and doesn’t create a particularly harsh line, as this will give your face a bit of definition without looking too ‘drag’.

A word of caution

Make up is a struggle. It takes a while to get it right and to feel like you’re doing the right thing. Take it slowly and experiment with each step in turn until you feel like you’re starting to get there. Don’t expect to look great straight away, as the practice you need to do will only come with time. Be prepared to spend lots of time practising in the mirror at home without going out – allow yourself the time to completely nail it before you take your new look public.

Probably not your goal look…

My main tip is to figure out a basic look that you just always do as standard, and then start experimenting with more dramatic looks or different styles. A common mistake I see trans women doing is to wear really harsh make up around the eyes – as in, very thick, dark black eyeliner, and thick eyeshadow – along with dark, unflattering and harsh lipstick or lip colour shades. If your foundation is also the wrong shade, this will make your make up stand out, rather than enhancing your natural features.

If you really don’t know where to start, and want some more personalised advice – contact me, I’m more than happy to set up a consultation and help you figure out where to go next.

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