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18 Makeup Rules You Should Know by the Time You’re 40

Makeup trends come and go (blue eye shadow, anyone?), but these classic beauty techniques will help you radiate health and vitality at any age.

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The world of makeup is always changing, with new trends gracing our screens and the covers of magazines all the time. But there are a few makeup tips that remain constant, despite the big trends. Whether you’re going for a more natural makeup look or an easy makeup look, these secrets from makeup artists should always stay in the back of your mind. And regardless of these makeup tips, make sure you’re up to date on the best foundations and best makeup brushes to get the most flawless look.
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Remember that less is more

“We have all seen the woman who wears too much makeup. If you look in the mirror and see makeup rather than you, it may be too much,” says Cindy Joseph, a makeup artist turned supermodel who founded the makeup line BOOM! “Instead of trying to conceal what you believe are flaws, accent what you really love about your face. Others rarely see your brown spots, dark circles, or uneven skin,” she adds. Check your motivation for wearing makeup: Is it fear or fun? Go for fun, Joseph advises, and the joie de vivre will show in your face.

In addition to layering it on too thick, find out other makeup mistakes the pros wish you’d stop making.

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Step up your skincare

Collin Adams, beauty advisor at Paul Labrecque Salon & Spa in Palm Beach, Florida, warns, “As skin ages, we start to notice fine lines and wrinkles, which are often due to dehydrated skin.” The solution: Keep skin moisturized and exfoliated. Not only will this help your makeup go on more evenly, it will also help fade fine lines, even out skin tone, and plump your skin, he says. Adams recommends Biologique Recherche Lotion P50V, a vitamin-enriched exfoliating lotion that removes dead cells and regulates the skin.

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Partner your foundation with your sunscreen

“Women shouldn’t have to choose between wearing sunscreen and having bright glowing skin,” says Marcia Williams, beauty expert and owner of Embellish Beauty. Her solution: Mix the two together. “Blending foundation with a lightweight sunscreen will not only combat the dull residue left by sunscreen, but it can also cut out an added layer of product, which is helpful since too much product can build up and seep into fine lines.” Black Girl Sunscreen, made without titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, won’t leave behind a dull gray film. Finding a sunscreen that you’re happy to wear on your face can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Here are our top picks for powder sunscreens.

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Never skimp on primer

By the time you’ve celebrated 40 or more birthdays, you’re likely to have collected some souvenirs, like acne scars and other random uneven spots, and you may also have dry, flaking skin. Primers are like the spackle you’d use when repainting a wall—they create a smooth base that ensures all makeup stays put and doesn’t crack. Primers also help diminish the appearance of pronounced wrinkles and fine lines, leaving you with a silky smooth finish. Dr. Brandt Skincare Pores No More visibly minimizes pores and blurs imperfections for a flawless makeup application.

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Say yes to foundation, no to powder

The first order of business is to toss out powder, which reliably makes you look older. “Powder adds way too much texture, looks cakey, and takes the life out of your skin. Skin is alive and should look dewy and touchable,” says Joseph. “If you feel you must use foundation, don’t put powder over it. Wait for it to dry, then dab moisturizer over it,” she says.

Be sure to choose the right foundation—the color should match yours even before it’s blended. Make Up For Ever HD Skin Undetectable Longwear Foundation provides an undetectable finish and is available in all kinds of shades. Note that wearing a shade too light or too dark is one of the makeup mistakes that will age you.

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Don’t go overboard with under-eye concealer

A thick layer of under-eye concealer is extremely likely to crack and cake, which only draws more attention to the area. To avoid applying too much, use a lightweight formula (such as Benefit Cosmetics Boi-ing Cakeless Concealer) and apply it with a brush, which will help distribute the color evenly. And only put concealer onto the darkest areas that truly need coverage. These home remedies for puffy eyes and dark circles can help too.

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Reinforce your concealer with moisture

When it comes to covering more mature skin, concealer benefits greatly from the assistance of added moisture. “Most women in their 40s have had their fair share of exposure to polluted air, the sun, and computer/TV/telephone screens, all of which diminish the texture of the skin around the eye,” shares Taymour Hallal, makeup artist at Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa in New York City. Hallal recommends “layering eye concealer between a light eye gel like Clarins Eye Contour Gel and a more emulsified eye cream to ensure even coverage and proper hydration.”

He suggests starting with a thin coat of the eye gel and allowing it to absorb, then smoothly applying the concealer before sealing with a light layer of eye cream. These anti-aging eye creams will help with maintaining youthful-looking lids.

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Avoid “long wear” labels

Foundation, concealers, and lipsticks intended for “long wear” typically contain matting ingredients that are dryer in texture. Joette Balsamo, makeup artist and brow guru at the Marie Robinson Salon in New York City, cautions: “Because of its dryer consistency, matte makeup tends to settle into wrinkles and accentuate them.” She recommends women over 40 “opt for more pigmented creamy formulas, which leave the skin looking fresher, younger, and more dewy.” It Cosmetics Color-Correcting Illuminating Full Coverage Cream is a velvety full-coverage foundation that delivers a flawless, radiant finish.

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Know which lip colors work best with your skin tone

As you age, you naturally lose definition in your lips, so you want to avoid dark colors like deep reds, purples, and browns, which make your pout look even smaller, less highlighted, and less plump. “Choose a color that blends into your skin tone color palette,” Joseph suggests. “You can find the best hue for yourself if you look at the color tone of your lips, tongue, and gums.” Find the right lipstick colors for your complexion by letting your natural palate guide you. Fenty Beauty by Rihanna has an array of lip colors suitable for women of all complexions.

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Apply blush in places it occurs naturally

Many women apply dark blush or bronzer beneath their cheekbones in the hopes of slimming their faces. However, this attempt at contouring often ends up looking dull, muddy, and unnatural. Instead, your blush should match your natural flush, and you should apply it in places where it would naturally appear—not in a line down your cheekbone or highly concentrated onto the apples of your cheeks. “Women blush when they’re happy, so place your blush where you naturally get color when you’re having a good time,” Joseph says. “That would be where the capillaries are close to the surface, meaning your lips, cheeks, outer eye crease, upper forehead, and neck.”

To choose the right shade of blush, pinch your cheeks and pay attention to the color that emerges—that’s what you’re trying to match. Nars Pressed Powder Blushes offer healthy-looking colors that flatter every skin tone. Make sure you also stock up on these waterproof mascaras.

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Skip the contour, and highlight with cream

“Contouring [with powder] often mimics the dull, flat ‘shadowy’ appearance women over 40 may already be experiencing thanks to wrinkles and dark spots,” warns Balsamo. Instead, she uses a cream highlighter, which “immediately leaves skin looking brighter and slightly lifted.” A cream highlighter can be applied to bare skin or layered on top of concealer foundation by “lightly tapping on top of your cheekbone, in the bow of the lip, and in the inner corner of eyes to give the face an instant boost without dulling the skin,” she shares. Merit’s Day Glow Dewy Highlighting Balm is a highlighter that will visibly illuminate your skin. 

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Never let your lipstick migrate

Your natural lip line will begin to fade as you age, which makes lipstick more apt to bleed and feather. To avoid this unfortunate makeup migration, be sure to trace your lips with a clear lip liner, or one the same color as your natural lips. This will create a barrier between your lips and the surrounding fine lines, helping the color stay put. A creamy, smudge-proof clear lip liner like Maybelline New York Color Sensational Clear Lip Liner is a great option for keeping lipstick squarely on your kisser. Check out the other inexpensive beauty tricks only stylists know.

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Stop applying eyeliner to your lower lashes

Lining your bottom lids can make your eyes appear smaller, dragged down, and overall older. The eyes already start drooping with age, so you don’t want to accentuate this process with lines beneath your eyes. Joseph recommends lining only your upper lid (and not too thickly), to open up and brighten your eyes. If you must apply eyeliner to your lower lashes, stick to the outer corners and make sure the top and bottom lines connect. Urban Decay 24/7 Waterline Eye Pencil is a demi-matte waterproof pencil that glides on smoothly and stays put all day.

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Always fill in sparse brows

Eyebrows become thinner due to natural hair loss as you age, so filling in sparse sections is an absolute must. Brows should always be kept defined, well-shaped, and fairly full, as this looks youthful and healthy, according to Joseph. Plus, eyebrows frame your face, so without a nice, fully shaped brow your face is likely to look heavier, rounder, and wider. We’ve gotten great results with the L’Oréal Paris Brow Stylist Prep & Shape Pro Kit, which comes with a pigmented wax, setting powder, miniature tweezers, an angled brush, and spoolie.

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Avoid sparkles

Sparkles that settle into wrinkles are not a glamorous look. Sparkles are especially aging on the eyelids because they magnify and bring attention to every fine line. If you’re feeling festive and really want to glam it up, add limited sparkles to the inner corners of your eyes with a shimmer pencil like Pixi Endless Silky Eye Pen, which glides on seamlessly and creates a jewel-toned effect.

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Find the right brow pencil color

When filling in brows, don’t just grab a random brown that seems neutral enough. The fact is that your eyebrow color gradually fades to gray, white, or so fair that the brows are practically invisible, so it’s imperative that you choose a pencil color that matches. Joseph recommends going with a brow pencil or gel with brown undertones. We love L’Oreal Brow Stylist Shape and Fill Pencil for precisely outlining and evenly filling in brows.

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Befriend brow gel

By the time most women hit their 40s, gravity has already begun taking its downward toll on the face, including the brow line, which can have a drooping effect on the entire expression. Since brows tend to naturally curve downward, “making them appear thinner to begin with,” Balsamo recommends “brushing brows with a taming gel for a quick and easy way to get a more lifted, youthful look.” Elf Wow Brow Gel is a buildable brow gel that deposits hair-like fibers to create fuller-looking brows that can change your appearance.

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Set your makeup with spray not powder

“Powder can clog pores and irritate the skin if applied too often throughout the day,” alerts Schenika Quattlebaum, founder of Washington, DC–based Natalia Megan Beauty. Instead, she recommends a setting spray like Morphe Continuous Setting Mist to support the longevity of your makeup. “A light mist of setting spray can make a world of difference in your makeup. It goes on evenly and lasts all day without clogging or dulling dark skin.” P.S. Don’t forget to stock up on makeup remover.

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Use a pearly, not frosty highlighter

Stay far, far away from frosty or iridescent highlighter shades, as these light-reflecting effects actually accentuate fine lines and creases. “For highlight and radiance, avoid frosts and use creamy pearlescent textures instead,” Joseph says. A multitasking highlighting stick like the Westman Atelier Lit Up Highlight Stick should go beyond your upper cheekbones, and onto your eyelids, brow bone, cheekbones, even shoulders, clavicles, and more. Next, find out which makeup sale to shop.

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Nicole Young
Nicole Young is a respected lifestyle journalist who has written exciting and engaging articles for The NY Post, USA Weekend, the Daily Mail, In Touch Weekly, Life + Style weekly and Honeysuckle magazine. A lauded voice of authority in the lifestyle space Nicole hosts and produces on-air content for outlets including: E! News, ABC World News Now, The MSG network, The PIX11 Morning News, Good Day Philadelphia, Let's Talk Live, NBC11 Atlanta & Co and The Morning Blend. A healthy lifestyle advocate Nicole believes wholeheartedly in "treating our bodies to nothing but the best".