How to Wear Natural Makeup

Earth-tone makeup can be subtle and sophisticated. But there are things to know about wearing it.

By: Yelena Moroz Alpert

Trends come and go, but one look is always in style: makeup that makes you look as if you’re not wearing any. Though the neutral or “natural” look may appear effortless, you can’t just swipe on beige eye shadow and call it a day. Do it wrong and you’ll look washed out. But, says Suze Heydt, owner of Suze Makeup Studio in Ellicott City, “when applied correctly, natural makeup unveils the best version of you.” Here’s how to put your best face forward.

Find your match. What is a neutral palette? Think of a desert landscape. But how do you know if you should use beige or “greige” shadow? Carl Ray, resident makeup artist at George at the Four Seasons Salon in Georgetown—who is also Michelle Obama’s makeup artist—recommends that you first determine your skin’s undertone. Look at the veins on the inside of your wrist: A greenish tint means warm; bluish veins mean cool. If you’re warm-toned, try makeup with a yellow base, such as gold, peach, and bronze. Cool tones look most radiant when you use makeup from the pink family—pastel rose, taupe, and gray palettes are good options. When trying samples, Ray says, apply a bit to your neck to find the best match.

Prime yourself. The oils in skin can alter makeup colors. “I’ve seen foundation take on an orange hue because of this,” Heydt says. So invest in a good primer, such as Smashbox’s Photo Finish (from $36).

Add dimension. For the most natural results, you’ll want to use a range of shades in the beige-to-brown spectrum. Makeup palettes are great starter kits—Urban Decay Naked2 ($50) offers 12 shades that work for both cool and warm skin tones. Light shades draw attention to features (apply under the brow bone for a lift and inside the corner of the eyes to look alert), while dark shades create a receding effect (give almond eyes depth by working some into the crease; just be careful if you woke up with under-eye circles). Invest in a set of brushes and learn how to use them—Sephora artists are excellent tutors. If you get only one, go for the MAC Cosmetics 224 Tapered Blending brush ($32).

Honor the seasons. Your skin changes with the weather, and so should your makeup. Ease into fall by stocking up on cream-based products, particularly blush; as chilly days pull moisture from skin, matte formulas can look cakey. Heydt likes Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer highlighter in No. 7 ($59) for giving cheekbones a natural pick-me-up.

Pay attention to lips. Leaving lips untouched will result in an unpolished appearance, Ray says. Bring life to your pucker by emphasizing your natural hue. Look at the inside of your lip, then stick to shades in that color family. Heydt says Clinique Different lipstick in Raspberry Glace ($15) is “universally flattering.” Keep in mind that lip color should correspond to cheek color.

Don’t apply makeup in the bathroom—unless your bathroom gets natural light. Overhead incandescent bulbs are heavy on green and yellow light, which Heydt says make you apply more makeup. Your best bet is to work near a window or invest in a backlit beauty mirror. Either way, it’s usually safe to stop applying makeup when you think you need one more layer.