Here's What I Learned On A Minimal Makeup Challenge

    I wear makeup every day, but I didn't want to go without it completely. So I put myself on a minimal makeup challenge, and learned to love being nearly bare.

    I will never forget the day I consciously went without makeup. This was several years ago now, when I was working my very first job, as an assistant at a high-profile women's magazine. I never, ever went makeup-less to work. But on this day, I decided to give myself a break.

    I was pretty sure I looked like shit, but figured this was the type of thing that was mainly in my head — like, seriously, how different did I look with vs. without makeup? I got my answer shortly after arriving to the office when one of the magazine's higher level editors (my boss's boss, and also kind of mine), caught my gaze as he was passing my desk, and stopped dead in his tracks.

    "Leo..." he began cautiously, studying my face in clear shock, "You look so...different."

    The subtext was clear (or at least I thought it was). He was saying I looked awful. The silence only broke when my direct boss leaned into the conversation and rescued me, which was something she was good at.

    "She's going to the dermatologist later, so she couldn't put on makeup," she offered. I think I nodded in false agreement.

    "Oh, maybe that's it," he said as he awkwardly peeled away.

    Me, on a normal makeup day — lots of color and foundation.

    That was probably the worst I'd ever felt about my physical appearance. I'm still confused about whether it was unprofessional to show up looking a bit rough, or whether I had been shamed for revealing my acne in the workplace. In retrospect, it's also a possibility that this guy could have just been concerned about me, and didn't really know how to approach the situation.

    Either way, I've rarely left the house without makeup since that incident. Over the years, though, I have come to love cosmetics. I adore Sephora. I love my little boudoir stand covered in pretty products. Makeup is often about fun, but I do also use it as a comfort blanket to cover insecurities.

    My normal routine involves about 10 products.

    Moisturizer, two layers of foundation, mineral powder, concealer, liquid eyeliner, mascara, eyebrow definer, blush, and lipstick.

    I'd really like to be someone who doesn't feel the need to wear makeup. But I don't think that's ever going to be the case. And I'm not really willing to try that out just to see how it feels, either. But, I would like to be OK wearing a lot less makeup, which is why I decided to try out a minimal makeup challenge.

    For the challenge, my routine would look like this:

    1. I can use three products max per day, for a full week. (And I'd be trying out a bunch of new ones.)

    2. SPF is a must, so it won't count towards my three if one of the products doesn't come with SPF coverage.

    3. No heavy foundation, concealer, or overly pigmented products (no eyeshadows, mascara, eyeliners, etc.) The idea here is to get more comfortable with my bare face.

    Day 1: I felt surprisingly OK, but probably because I didn't push limits.

    Day 1 products:

    Day 2: I felt naked, unattractive, and self-conscious. But no one looked at me differently.

    Day 2 products:

    Day 3: I became more comfortable with my nearly bare face, and appreciated the ease of minimal makeup.

    Day 3 products:

    Day 4: I finally felt really good about myself in minimal makeup, and decided the amount of makeup on my face might not impact anyone around me.

    Day 4 products:

    Day 5: When I started to look at other women around me and think about my normal routine.

    Day 5 products:

    Day 6: I went for a more made-up look (with only three products!), and really liked it.

    Day 6 products:

    Day 7: On my final day of the challenge, I decided to stop looking at myself for a bit.

    Day 7 products:

    Dr. Brandt Skincare Pores No More Primer, available at Birchbox, $15

    Tropical Punch Lip Smacker, available in Party Pack of 8 at Rite Aid, $9.69

    See day 1 for W3ll People brightener stick info

    Some final thoughts...

    Emotionally, the challenge was a good exercise in putting vanity in perspective. Maybe I'm lucky to work with people and have friends who literally don't give a fuck what I look like. Or maybe they just don't see me any differently from when I look dolled up to when I look natural. Either way, it's good to know that what I put on my face won't drastically change the world around me. It might change what I feel within, and it's good to know now that I'm in control of that.

    Thanks to Birchbox for providing samples by Smashbox, Sunday Riley, Benefit (Porefessional primer), Ilia, and W3ll People. Urban Decay provided a sample of its Illuminating Beauty Balm. Rest of products used were author's own.