Growing up in suburban New York City, Val Monroe believed, like many young girls, she was one of the least attractive and most awkward children in her town. She knows firsthand how important it is for women to feel beautiful. From primers to lipsticks, concealers to shadows—here are the answers to Val's most asked beauty questions.
Q: What's the best way to get rid of facial hair once and for all?
A: I've suddenly gotten an abundance of e-mails about facial hair; it's a vexing, persistent problem, as you obviously know. If you're looking for a permanent solution, laser is it, says Tina Alster, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at Georgetown University Medical Center. Red and infrared lasers selectively heat dark hair to damage the shaft without also damaging the surrounding skin. (The treatment doesn't work on blonde or white hair. And the Nd:YAG laser is best for dark complexions because it won't affect skin pigment while destroying the hair.) Three to five sessions will generally reduce hair growth by 50 to 80 percent at a cost of $250 to $600, depending on the number of areas treated.
Keep in mind: The new Tria Laser Hair Removal 4X, an at-home laser device, was recently FDA approved for use on the face, though it works only on light to medium skin tones ($449; triabeauty.com).
Q: Help! My eye makeup never looks right under my glasses—and that's not just me being myopic.
A: How did you know? I was just casting about for an excuse to phone my favorite bespectacled makeup artist, Sonia Kashuk, creator of Sonia Kashuk Beauty. She says the main thing to remember about makeup under glasses is that less is always more. If you load on dark liner and eyeshadows, your eyes will look hollow. Instead, create definition with eyeliner right along the lashline, curl your lashes, and apply two coats of black mascara (see page 80 for a great new one). If you wear eyeshadow, choose only neutral tones and apply them lightly. (Naturally, Sonia suggests her own Instructional Eye Shadow Palette in Eye on Neutral, $20; target.com. I have one myself; all 12 shades work beautifully under specs.) Because glasses magnify any imperfections, undereye concealer is also a fine idea.
Keep in mind: If you want to add a little kick to your look, try tinted lenses. Sonia's are a light amber, but pink can be pretty, too, she says.
Q: Come on. Do makeup primers really do anything?
A: You're sounding mighty skeptical; have you been burned lately by hot marketing? A primer—which you apply to your whole face before foundation—can be very useful in helping makeup last. Silicone, one of the most common primer ingredients, provides an adhesive surface for pigment, says cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson, vice president at Cosmetech Laboratories in Fairfield, New Jersey. A primer also absorbs oil—so makeup is less likely to smear—and fills in fine lines and wrinkles.
Keep in mind: A primer's benefits are cosmetic; when you wash off the product, you also wash off the perfection.
Q: What's the best way to apply foundation?
A: I like to use a sponge, because I wear only a tiny bit of foundation around my nose and on my chin, and I've found that the kind of small sponge that comes in a foundation compact is easiest for dabbing, which is how I apply it. (And I wash the sponge frequently.) But many makeup artists, including Troy Surratt, prefer using their fingers and suggest you do, too, because your hands warm the foundation, helping it melt into your complexion. At a beauty industry event not long ago, we were given a foundation brush, which I tried, partly because my hosts were so encouraging and partly because I didn't want to seem like a stick-in-the-mud. Now I know why you might want to use a brush: It's contoured so you can reach areas like the corners of your nose (I never knew the nose had corners; did you?) and right up under your lower lashes, which can be hard to get at evenly with your fingers or a sponge. So what am I saying here? I use a sponge, but a brush is good, and using your fingers gives a more even application.
Bottom line: There's no best way to apply foundation. Try them all. Find what you like best. Have fun.
Keep reading: How to choose and use the right foundation
Q: How do I find a concealer that works with my skin tone?
A: Finding the right concealer has long been one of the great mysteries of the beauty universe: Like theories about dark matter, theories about concealer have been legion (if not quite as mind-blowing). Is the perfect concealer lighter than your complexion? A quarter shade darker? Do you test it on the pad of your thumb or around your nose? You'll be relieved to know that if you have about an hour (including travel time) and a hand mirror, you can find exactly what you need at a department store. It's deceptively simple. But first you must find the right foundation shade, says makeup artist Bobbi Brown. Take your freshly washed, unmade-up face to the store and swipe several shades of foundation just above your jawline. Now slip out to the sidewalk with your mirror and, in the natural (probably unflattering) light of day, see which swipe disappears into your skin. That's the foundation to call your own. Head back into the store for your concealer, which should be just one shade lighter than the foundation.
Keep in mind: Dusting the concealer with a sheer, translucent powder will set it and help blend it into your complexion.
Q. Whenever I try to conceal a blemish, I always seem to accentuate it. What's the secret?
A: Being the kind of person who has trouble hiding anything, I empathize. Usually, midway through an effort to cover a blemish—or an undereye shadow, or whatever—I think, "Oh, what the heck, who am I kidding?" and give up. Take it or leave it, but you better believe it, that's my motto. On the other hand, once in a while a more formal complexion is required. So here's the secret: Never use only concealer on a blemish. As you've unhappily discovered, the lighter shade of the concealer draws attention to the spot. Instead, follow up with a stick foundation—sticks have more pigment—that exactly matches your skin tone. Then forget about the blemish completely and be your kind and charming self.
Q. What's the difference between a tinted moisturizer and a light foundation?
A. Only about three minutes ago, we in the beauty department were asking ourselves the very same question—we were trying out lots of tinted moisturizers so we could recommend our favorites to you. We came up with plenty of similes, such as: A tinted moisturizer is like a fancy espadrille, and a foundation is like a patent leather pump. Meaning the former gives you just a little less polish than the latter. In fact, a tinted moisturizer, like an untinted one, delivers humectants—often along with a range of other ingredients, like antioxidants—but it also contains iron oxides and possibly titanium dioxide at about 3 percent to deposit color, says Yoram Fishman, founder of 220 Labs, which develops health and beauty products. A foundation contains iron oxides and titanium dioxide, too, but in the range of 14 to 15 percent, which delivers more color to the skin.
Bottom line: A tinted moisturizer hydrates and evens out the complexion; a foundation covers the skin with a layer of color and gives it a flawless finish.