Why Makeup Has Become A Form Of Self-Care’

Beauty journalist Shannon Peter explores the sweet spot where makeup meets self-care.

Ever since my first (mismatched) pot of foundation, makeup – for me – has been about function. In fact, for years I hardly ever left the house without it, spending a good five minutes buffing my face with numerous creams, balms and powders before I stepped foot outside. But in 2020, something shifted. Call it the lockdown effect (or the fact a full face felt a bit OTT against my new uniform of sweatpants and slippers) but my entire approach to makeup changed completely.

That’s not to say I ditched the stuff entirely. Far from it. I just started to change the way I look at makeup, turning my attention away from its primary function, instead leaning it to all the fun it has to offer. And in the process, I’ve realised it’s one of the most powerful tools in my self-care arsenal.

Rewiring The Confidence Connection

Beauty began to include wrinkles, freckles and blemishes. And heavens - were those really 'laughter lines'?

Shifting makeup into the self-care space meant I first had to pick apart the role it plays in my self-esteem. You see, the beauty conversation has long decreed that makeup is a certified shortcut to confidence. You get the idea: a bold red lip will make you more assertive in the boardroom; a slick of mascara will give you composure on an awkward first date. Nice, poetic ideas on the surface, sure, but what I didn’t quite realise was that by granting makeup such superpowers, I actually started to hinder my ability to live without it.

My cosmetic crutch? Concealer. Pre-lockdown, I’d cake my hereditary dark circles in an industrial-strength formula, convinced I needed it to look put-together and professional. “When makeup is seen primarily as a sort of spackle to correct ‘flaws’, we lose sight of our ability to have impact on the world in our existing form,” explains psychotherapist Rebecca Newman. “It doesn’t fundamentally change who you are. When you look at it that way, makeup gets to be an addition, not a corrective agent necessary to feel adequate.”

Sure, shaking off centuries of cosmetic conditioning won’t happen overnight, but: as soon I started to view makeup as an add-on – an accessory to be applied and removed whenever I fancy – I found myself caring less about the days spent without it.

The Return Of Play Time

So, while my urge to apply a full face every morning waned, my makeup bag was never left to gather dust. In fact, as others turned to their sketchbooks and embroidery hoops to curb lockdown boredom, makeup became that all-important creative outlet for me.

I know I’m not alone. Just look to Instagram, where the pixels once occupied by skin-masking tutorials or face-altering how-tos have largely been replaced by selfies celebrating the joy to be found in makeup.

Buoyed by this refreshing new approach, I’ve spent hours turning my eyelids into miniature Jackson Pollock artworks courtesy of Stila’s brilliant liquid eyeshadows, or doodling my face with swirls, hearts and stars with Shiseido Kajal Ink Artist, € 31,05 in Sumi Sky. I’ve even tried facial finger painting, daubing my eyes in the punchy pink shades of Nars Mini Orgasm Eyeshadow Palette, € 25,20. My one piece of advice to anyone tempted to take this approach is not to hold back. The beauty of makeup is that if it goes wrong, it can be removed within seconds.

Finding The Self In Self-Care

Besides allowing me to unleash my inner artist, this newfound approach to makeup has also helped me nurture a little self-intimacy – something we’re all gagging for in this no-touch era.

“Anything we do for ourselves that fills our metaphorical ‘bucket’ (as opposed to expenditures of energy that drain it) falls into the category of ‘self-care’,” says Newman, who believes makeup can certainly count. “It's an investment in ourselves, and when done in an empowered way, keeps us in-tune with our skin.”

It’s true. Whether it's pummelling my face with Votary Super Seed Facial Oil - Fragrance Free, € 68,70, massaging my limbs with the heavenly Kiehl's Creme de Corps, € 12,23 or giving my scalp some love with Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub, € 40,00, I’ve always thought beauty was a brilliant tool for self-connection and makeup is no exception. Now I’m no longer looking for ‘flaws’ to disguise, the very ritual of sitting up close and personal with my face, examining every pore, freckle, crease and spot feels oddly soothing. You, of course, might get that from meditation or mindfulness, it just so happens that it’s makeup that does it for me.

Words by: Shannon Peter

Image Credits: Rachel Bailey


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