When it comes to makeup, lighting is everything. Chances are, you learned this lesson the hard way, applying what appeared to be perfectly appropriate makeup in your bathroom and, a few minutes later, catching a glimpse of yourself in another mirror, another place. Suddenly, your carefully blended undereye concealer looked spackled instead of subtle. The foundation that was supposed to even out your complexion now manifested a mean streak. And your cool peach lipstick took on the four-alarm heat of Tabasco sauce.
There's an easy antidote to such scenarios: sunlight. Applying makeup in natural light preps your face for fluorescent tubes and candles alike, rendering colors and skin tone with absolute accuracy. "Any time between dawn and dusk is fine," says makeup artist Bobbi Brown, "but it's best to capture the light streaming through a window so it's hitting your face indirectly." After the sun, the next best source of light is a full-spectrum lamp that closely mimics natural daylight. New York City makeup artist Liz Michael prefers Chromalux bulbs, which are made of a special glass that cuts down on the distorting yellow tones cast by fluorescents.
Makeup artist François Nars favors long-lasting halogen lights, which also emit white light. Both come in ordinary A-line household bulbs and can be found at most hardware and lighting stores; 40 to 75 watts work fine. Ideally, Michael says, "make sure you have even light on the right and left sides of the mirror. Overhead lights are the absolute worst," she says. "They create or exaggerate undereye circles, and you'll overcompensate with concealer." The experts cringe before magnifying mirrors, which can make pores look the size of footballs and emphasize other minor imperfections. "Unless you're blind, don't use them," Michael says.
Once you're working with the right light, color issues resolve themselves. For daytime, most makeup artists recommend warm colors like taupe and brown on the eyes and a light-colored blush and lipstick. "You don't want a heavy texture, so avoid shading and contouring to make your nose smaller or your cheeks thinner," says makeup artist Laura Mercier. At night, when the light is more forgiving, there's room to play with cooler shades like blue, gray, purple, violet-pink, and dark reds. "Use a gray shadow if you want to accentuate your eyes," Mercier says. "And black eyeliner will make them stand out more."
She advocates exercising caution when using light-reflecting foundations and powders. These formulations have tiny particles that can irritate sensitive skin or settle in pores and make them look larger. "They can brighten the face, but they might make you look shiny," Mercier says. "You have to calculate where you want the light—the high point of the cheekbones, the center of the lips—so that it reflects there and nowhere else." Even so, the shimmer that dazzles at night might be overkill by day. Restraint may be a debatable virtue, but when it comes to makeup, too little is definitely better than too much.
Apply Your Makeup Perfectly, Every Time