Val Monroe
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;

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; 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.
Q. Rose. Peach. Tawny. Can I trust the woman at the counter to tell me what shade of blush I should buy? 
A: Yes, if you also trust her to tell you what color dress you should be wearing and what color your hair should be. To put it another way: "Absolutely not," says makeup artist Sonia Kashuk. It's best to try a blush the same way you try a foundation: Bring a mirror to the store, dust a different blush on each cheek, and then go to a window or outside to see how it looks. At the drugstore, where you can't test it, look for a shade that is likely to be wearable on a variety of complexions, like a translucent pink stain or a muted pink.

Keep reading: Val's guide to blush and so much more

Q: I'd like to try a little powder bronzer, but I'm not sure where to apply it. Can you help? 
A: Gladly. Though bronzer is one of the quickest ways to warm up your complexion, if you use it incorrectly, it can make you look as if you'd had your face lightly coated with fine sand, rather than spent a relaxing afternoon at the beach. To avoid the former, start by sweeping a blush brush across the bronzer, and shake off excess. Apply it to the apples of your cheeks, making circular motions toward the temples, says makeup artist Ashunta Sheriff. Dust a bit over the bridge of your nose. Maybe you'll want to stop there. But if you're feeling bold, brush a bit across the top of your forehead, just below the hairline.

Keep in mind: Use a bronzer like a blush but with a much lighter touch.

Keep Reading: Val's guide to buying the right beauty products

Q: When is the best time to tweeze my eyebrows? And why do my tweezers get dull after a few months? 
A: Tweeze after a warm shower or bath, if you can; the steam softens the hair follicles, making hair easier to remove. Natural light is the best for seeing fine hairs, says Anastasia, the celebrity brow expert. (I take a little magnifying mirror over to the window. And when I'm through tweezing, I put that little mirror right back under the sink so I don't terrify myself with a random peek when I'm unprepared for it.) Starting at the inner part of the eyebrow and working out toward the temple, tweeze any strays in the direction of hair growth. When you're finished, apply some witch hazel or aloe vera gel to soothe the area.

Tweezers get dull from excessive use, or from using them for purposes other than eyebrow shaping, says Sania Vucetaj, owner of Sania's Brow Bar in New York City. So if you're using yours to open soda cans, quit it (or buy another pair for your grooming needs). Sania likes the Tweezerman slant tip tweezer ($20) because it's precise and lasts a couple of years. Anastasia (naturally) likes her own slant tip tweezers ($28); she says the angle makes it easier to tweeze on the browbone than needlepoint tweezers, which can pinch or puncture the skin around the eyes.

Bottom line: Have your brows shaped by an expert first, then tweeze only the strays after a shower; and don't use your tweezers as a household tool.

Keep reading: Dos and don'ts for achieving—and maintaining—perfect brows

Q: Why do I always sneeze when I tweeze my eyebrows?
A: I called Cynthia Boxrud, MD, assistant clinical professor at the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA (she's an ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgeon) on the off chance she'd shed some light on your—bless you!—odd predicament, and what do you know, she just happened to have spent about a year researching a paper on the anatomy of the medial aspect of the brow. Which means she's very knowledgeable about sneezing as it relates to eyebrow plucking. The facial nerves include the trigeminal, which has a branch that extends from the brow down into the tip of the nose. Sometimes, when plucking your eyebrows, that nerve is stimulated: Aaachoo!

Bottom line: You may be able to avoid sneezing by pressing your finger anywhere against your eyebrow as you tweeze, which, according to Boxrud, can short-circuit the wiring of the trigeminal nerve.

Q: My dark eyebrows are sparse and patchy. Black brow pencil looks like magic marker, so how do I fill them in? 
A: I'm really glad you asked; too obviously drawn-on eyebrows can make you look crazier than a sack of weasels. First, consider a visit with an eyebrow expert who can shape them. Then at home you can fill them in with either powder or a soft pencil matched to the color of your brows or hair, whichever is lighter. For powder: Use a hard, angled eyebrow brush; with short, light strokes, work from the front of the brow to the back, filling in bare spots. For pencil: Be sure the pencil is soft, which makes blending easier. Again, use short, light strokes. After filling in, run a spoolie brush (an unloaded mascara brush) through your brows to make your work look natural.

Keep in mind: Whether you use powder or pencil, keep your touch light and strokes short.
Q: How can I keep my lipstick from fading? I found a shade I love, but it won't stay on.
A: I'll tell you in a second, but first I'd like to share what the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus told his wife when she complained about fading makeup: "Everything flows and nothing abides," he said dolefully. "Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed." Okay, so he wasn't really talking about makeup, but you get the point, right? Life is so much easier when you go with the (impermanent) flow.

But there is a way to make your lipstick last at least through a passionate conversation and maybe even a couple of cups of coffee. Dab a bit of foundation over the lips and lip line, which helps to fill in fine lines and gives a lipcolor something to adhere to, says makeup artist Sonia Kashuk. Next, with the side of a lip pencil rather than the point, outline your lips, says makeup artist Rebecca Restrepo. Using the side gives a softer application that's easier to blend; look for a natural or nude shade that matches the color of your lips. (Restrepo likes the Prestige waterproof lipliner, $5.50; Then apply your favorite lipstick.

Keep in mind: The glossier or sheerer the lipcolor, the more quickly it will fade.

Keep reading: How to find the perfect lipstick 

Q: How can I keep my lipstick from feathering?
A: I emailed makeup artist Sonia Kashuk, who I'm sure has never had a feathered lip in her life, to ask her how she prevents such things. "HELLO DEAR!" she said. (She always writes her emails in caps and uses lots of exclamation points. If you didn't know her, you'd think she was very loud and excitable. She's just the opposite.) "I ALWAYS USE A FOUNDATION OVER THE ENTIRE LIP," she wrote. "THEN I LINE THE MOUTH WITH A NEUTRAL OR COLORLESS PENCIL."

Bottom line: A colorless lip liner will prevent feathering and will work with any lipstick shade.

Q: I've tried every kind of mascara; nothing stays on my lashes. What am I doing wrong?
A: No matter how sophisticated, glamorous and pulled together you are otherwise, there's no question that raccoon eyes will make you look either just plain sloppy or deeply psychotic. Your problem might be that you're applying too much eye cream, or that it's too close to your lashes, or that you're not allowing enough time between the application of eye cream and mascara, says makeup artist Pati Dubroff. Be sure to apply eye cream only under your eyes and on the ocular ridge just below your eyebrows, says makeup artist Ross Burton. He suggests coating lashes from the base upward, because if you apply mascara just on the tips of lashes, it weighs them down and the product can slip onto the skin. You can also try a light dusting of loose powder on your eyelids, even getting a bit on your lashes to hold the mascara, says Dubroff.

Bottom line: Ease up on the eye cream, apply mascara from root to tip, and try a water-resistant version.

Q: How can I find a neutral shade of lipstick that looks good on me?
A: I went straight to the queen of neutrals (and celebrity makeup artist), Bobbi Brown, for an answer to your question, and I'm glad, because as usual, she was full of surprising information and happy to share it. I asked her to please give advice about which neutrals look best with which complexions and haircolors. "It's a fallacy that you should choose a lipcolor based on your skin and haircolor," she said. "What matters most is the natural color of your lips." At this point in the conversation, I said what I always say when Bobbi tells me something that never occurred to me. "Really?" I said, as if it couldn't possibly be true. "Yes," Bobbi said patiently, "and that's why if you try on a lipstick that looks beautiful on a friend—even a friend with a similar complexion—it might not look as beautiful on you." Some women have very red lips, some have pale pink, and the same lipstick will look very different on both. When you're shopping for a neutral, don't wear makeup, because a shade that looks great without makeup will also look great with it.

Try on lipsticks in daylight, says Bobbi, just as you would if you were trying on a foundation. And never choose a neutral that's lighter than your lips, because that will make you look washed-out, she says. Really.

Bottom line: To find the perfect neutral, look for one a shade more intense than your natural lipcolor.

Keep reading: 4 steps to luscious lips

Q: I have a faint, dark discoloration on my upper lip; what is it, and how can I get rid of it?
A: My six least favorite words from any doctor: "I don't know what this is." Lucky for you, Deborah Sarnoff, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center, has some ideas about what might be causing your problem. It may be hormone related: Circulating estrogen, either your own or from estrogen replacement therapy, when combined with sun exposure, can cause the kind of discoloration you describe. Or it may be caused by inflammation on your upper lip if you've had acne or a hair removal treatment (like waxing or tweezing), which can cause darkening of the skin when exposed to sunlight, especially in people with darker skin.

Bottom line: A cream containing hydroquinone or kojic acid (such as La Roche-Posay Mela-D Dark Spots, $45) along with a topical retinoid (like prescription Renova) and mild over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can fade the discoloration after about six weeks of nightly use. But nothing will work unless you also use sunblock religiously.

Q: My sister-in-law says older women shouldn't wear red lipstick. I like to wear it because it makes me happy. What do you think?
A: It makes you happy? Then here's what I think: The medical profession's oath, Primum non nocere (first do no harm), is a good bottom line for all beauty concerns, including this one. Are you hurting anyone by wearing red lipstick? I don't think so. So in the words of makeup artist Julie Hewett, "You go, girl. Get your red on!" (I would never talk like that, but I'm glad to let Julie do it.) Here are her ideas for making the most of your red lipstick experience:

Find the right shade. If you're fair, choose a blue-based, cool crimson; if your skin is olive, try an orange-based, fire-engine red; and if you're dark-complexioned, wear a deep, burgundy red.

Apply it right from the tube (instead of using a brush); to prevent the color from bleeding, use a lip pencil after you've applied the lipstick.

A red mouth looks most chic when you've evened out your complexion with foundation and you're sporting a couple of coats of black mascara.

Bottom line: You like it? You wear it!

Keep Reading: The step-by-step guide to bold lips
Q: Dark undereye circles make me feel exhausted.
A: I see you were too tired to ask me a question. You need to determine the cause of your dark circles before you can treat them. The main cause for shadows under the eyes is rubbing provoked by allergies—both seasonal and product induced, says Cheryl M. Burgess, MD, medical director at the Center for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery in Washington, D.C. The second most common cause is excess pigment that may be hereditary, and the third is visible veins. If your problem is due to allergies (your eyes are itchy and watery; rubbing them causes shadows), you'll want to use a mild, soapless cleanser and a moisturizer for sensitive skin. You might also need a 0.5 percent hydrocortisone cream to relieve the itching. Dark circles due to excess pigment (press down on the discoloration—if it doesn't disappear, it's pigment) can sometimes be lightened by lotions or creams containing hydroquinone, arbutin, or kojic acid. Three or more treatments with the Fraxel re:store or Fraxel re:fine laser are also an option. And visible veins can be treated with the Nd:YAG 1064nm laser; several treatments are usually necessary.

Keep in mind: Judicious application of concealer can work very well to hide your discoloration. Use a creamy concealer the same shade as your complexion, lightly tapping it on and then blending over the dark areas.

Q: How can I avoid getting raccoon eyes when I wear black mascara?
A: If you're not being extra careful with the eye cream, start now. Using too much of it under your eyes can lead to smudged and smeared mascara. For daytime, try a hydrating eye cream formula—the primary ingredient will be water—rather than a very emollient one, says makeup artist Cynde Watson. A light dusting of translucent powder on your (closed) eyes before applying mascara can also eliminate smudging because the powder absorbs oils and moisture, she says. Watson recommends one of the new "tube" mascaras, which in her experience won't smudge, clump or flake, and will wash off more easily than waterproof formulas. (Try L'Oréal Paris Double Extend Beauty Tubes Mascara, $11; drugstores.)

Q: How can I make the whites of my eyes look brighter?
A: Before I tell you how, may I share some information about the sclera (the medical term for the white of your eye)? Humans are the only creatures with prominent sclera—which, when you think about it, is really interesting: First, who knew? And second, why? Michael Tomasello, co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, thinks our eyes might have evolved this way so that we could easily see where our companions are looking—which is helpful in acquiring skills like language.

Anyway, if your sclera isn't as bright as you'd like it to be, here are some suggestions from makeup artist Mally Roncal. With a bone-colored pencil (not white, she admonishes), outline the inner corner of your eyes. (Mally recommends her own Mattewand.) For a more dramatic look (and brighter-looking sclera), very carefully line the inner rims of both upper and lower lids with black pencil; use a waterproof formula that's creamy and glides easily (Mally suggests her Evercolor Starlight Waterproof Eyeliner).

Keep in mind: A dab of pink blush on the apples of the cheeks and on the lips, and a light dusting of blush over the highest point of your eyebrow, will also add sparkle to your eyes.

Keep reading: To match or not to match? (eyeshadow, that is)

Q: Is there a way to wear eye makeup that looks great under glasses? 
A: Sure there is. But don't use a shortsighted approach, piling on the makeup to compensate for the fact that your eyes are taking a backseat to your specs. Instead, choose your makeup according to what kind of glasses you wear, says makeup artist Jillian Dempsey. Especially if you wear thick frames (or colorful ones), you don't want to overdo it. Line your upper and lower lids with a soft black eyeliner, curl your lashes, and apply a volumizing mascara, says Dempsey. Stick to a neutral palette—apricot or sand—if you must wear shadow. You can play up your eyes a bit more if your glasses are unframed. Try a metallic bronze shadow (which you can apply sheer or layered for more intensity), and follow that with a dark liner (smudge it slightly to add depth). Curl your lashes and give them a couple of coats of a volumizing mascara.

Bottom line: Contrary to what you might think, under eyeglasses, less makeup is more.

Q: Should my eyeshadow color match my eyes or my clothes? 
A: That depends on what you like. There's matchy-matchy, and then there's harmony. Matchy-matchy: blue eyes, blue sweater, blue jeans, blue tote, blue loafers, blue eyeshadow. (I actually saw this look on the way to visit my mother in Florida...on JetBlue, naturally.) Harmony: eyeshadow colors that complement the eyes as well as the clothes. If you're picking up a color from your turquoise sweater, be sure that it's just a touch along the lashline, and give it a smudge with your finger or a brush, says makeup artist Pati Dubroff. Purple liner or shadow can make green and blue eyes more vibrant, and brown eyes more coppery or golden, says Dubroff. Most greens and blues complement every eye color, she says, but remember to wear colors on the lids only, and never above the crease.

Bottom line: Your eyeshadow can match either your clothes or your eyes, but whichever you choose, keep it subtle.

Q: Suddenly my lids have teeny pleats; eyeshadow seems to accentuate the issue. Please help.
A: You're right: Eyeshadow can make crepey lids appear...crepier, which contributes to that Miss Havisham look we prefer to avoid. Stick with medium to dark neutral eyeshadow colors, like camel and gray, says New York City makeup artist Susan Giordano. Stay away from shimmer (unless it's very subtle), and go for a matte, velvety texture. With a fluffy eyeshadow brush, apply a wash of color over the lid, starting at the lashline and blending up to slightly above the crease. Giordano recommends a cream eyeliner rather than a liquid. Use a fine-tipped brush to apply it close to the lashline, she says; if the line looks hard, blend it slightly with a Q-tip to soften it. My easier (or lazier) solution: Skip the eyeshadow. I find the less eye makeup I wear as I get older, the better. Curled lashes and two coats of black mascara seem to do the trick just fine.

Bottom line: If you're not already using a good eye cream, invest in one now. For day, there are lots of great, nonirritating ones that contain sunscreen. (I like Clarins Sun Wrinkle Control Eye Contour Care SPF 30, $25, and Neutrogena Healthy Defense SPF 30 Daily Eye Cream, $12.)

Keep reading: Get O's guide to gorgeous eyes


Next Story