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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.

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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.


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.

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.

It was a Monday, which is actually my day off (I'm on a Sunday/Monday weekend). This ended up being a nice way to ease into the challenge, without the pressure of having to interact with lots of people, and tbh, I was feeling too iffy about my looks to really take them out for a test drive. I had some errands to run, and it's not like I ordinarily get dolled up to go to the grocery store, so I didn't feel hugely self-conscious. The only other person I hung out with that day was my boyfriend. When I asked him what he thought of my "minimal makeup" look, he said, "Yeah, looks good. You look just as princess-y with or without makeup." Corny, but it made me feel good and made me wonder if my normal makeup routine isn't actually doing me any favors.

Day 1 products:

The Urban Decay beauty balm looks kind of bronzy in hue, but it goes on very sheer, giving a bit of color and offering SPF, which is great. The W3ll People brightener stick offered the illusion of a concealer, and it's an all organic/natural product, so I felt comfortable using it. As for the Ilia multi-stick, I wished it was creamier — it worked well on my cheeks, but was pretty dry on my lips.

Urban Decay Naked Illuminating Beauty Balm, available at Urban Decay, $34

W3ll People Bio Brightener Stick, available at Birchbox, $33

Ilia Multi-Stick in Tenderly, available at Birchbox, $34

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

I felt like I looked kind of dead and tired (this pic might say otherwise because I took it in the morning; regardless I really hate this picture and all the other thousands I took before it). I really felt tempted to just say "fuck it" and put on some eyeliner and mascara, because my eyes looked weird to me, being so bare. It's interesting: I feel I'm one of those people who, depending on how I do my makeup or wear my hair, can look very different. (Sometimes friends see pictures of me and go, "Is that you?") Now, taking away mascara, which is one of my constants, I feel I have more variations in my physical appearance that I'm not familiar with. It's not a good or bad thing — feeling like you can look so different from day to day — it's just a bit weird.

Throughout the day, I felt uncomfortable, and ended up looking in the mirror more than usual. But when I asked my colleague to edit this post when it was done, she said, "Oh, have you started your challenge?" She hadn't even noticed. Also, I stuffed my entire makeup bag into my purse today without realizing I didn't need any of it. Old habits.

Day 2 products:

I've been using this Dior product for a couple months now and love it because it feels so good (cold and gel-like) and smells kind of minty. You need to apply it twice for real color to show up, though. The moisturizer is my go-to for sun coverage. The Benefit primer didn't offer much coverage, but it did make my skin seem smooth and matte.

Dior Cheek and Lip Glow, available at Sephora, $37

Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47, available at Sephora, $32

Benefit The Porefessional Balm, available at Birchbox, $31


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

Leonora Epstein/BuzzFeed

I had a couple comments from co-workers that were all positive. Personally, I see a huge difference in my appearance with minimal makeup. But I'm not sure everyone else does. I also began to notice how much time I ordinarily spend taking off my makeup — first with facial wipes, then with eye makeup remover, then washing my face at least twice. It's a real pain and something I now realize I dread every evening. This day made me appreciate not having to deal with removing eyeliner or mascara — I'm sometimes still wiping off residue with Q-tips days after. It was the first time during the challenge that I thought about making a permanent adjustment of only wearing mascara/liner a few times a week. We'll see.

Day 3 products:

Leonora Epstein / BuzzFeed

The Sunday Riley tinted primer would basically be perfect if it had sun protection — it looks like a creamy foundation when you dispense it, but the coverage is actually super-sheer. Since I was missing mascara yesterday, I used a clear brow gel on my lashes, which didn't make a huge difference. And then a dab of tinted Vaseline on my cheeks and lips.

Sunday Riley Effortless Tinted Primer, available at Birchbox, $48

Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel, available at Birchbox, $22

Vaseline Lip Therapy Rosy Lips, available at Walgreen's, $1.79

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.

I had a horrible night of sleep and expected to wake up wanting to slather myself in foundation. I resisted, and I'm glad I did because I actually really liked the way my face looked — surprisingly un-tired.

That evening, the boyfriend and I settled into the couch for some TV time. He convinced me to try True Blood, which I've never seen (sorry!). In the first episode, Sookie's getting ready for work at the bar and declares, "When I wear makeup, I get bigger tips." This made me think about whether or not I'd been treated differently by men over the past few days. I know that some girls who go makeup-free say they get more male attention with a bare face. As for me, everything's been exactly the same. Neither men nor women have treated me differently, which is a good thing to report.

Day 4 products:

Wow. This might be the magic combo. It's hard to describe what that green stuff does, but it really evens out things. As for the foundation stick, it's not like a normal foundation stick — the coverage is very natural and light. W3ll People actually seems to be like a good brand to check out if you're looking for natural, organic products that can do double-duty.

Smashbox Photo Finish Color Correcting Primer, available at Birchbox, $38

W3ll People Narcissist Stick Foundation, available at Birchbox, $38

See day 2 for Dior info


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

Leonora Epstein / BuzzFeed

Friday morning. Weirdly enough, it hasn't been taking me less time to get ready in the mornings. I guess all the time I normally spend on my makeup, I've now been spending on re-doing my hair and waffling on what to wear. Which is frustrating because most days this week I've felt my hair and outfits haven't been anything special, so WHY AM I SPENDING SO MUCH TIME DOING THIS.

Before work, I decided to treat myself to a croissant and latte. While I was waiting for my coffee, I noticed the two female baristas were wearing loads of makeup — dark, heavy foundation, smokey eyes, bronze contouring, the works. They were wearing more than I'd probably even wear on a Saturday night out. It made me wonder for the first time, if I actually don't wear as much makeup as I think I do?

Day 5 products:

I was feeling pretty washed out this morning, so I used the Urban beauty balm, which is the only product so far that seems to give me a hint of color. Then, I used Rosebud Salve (I am obsessed) on my lips and a bit on my eyelids.

Rosebud Salve, available at, $5.59

See day 1 for Urban Decay and Ilia info

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

It was Saturday night and my boyfriend and I were going to an art show and I really wanted to look dressy. While I still stuck to three products, I felt I bent the rules a bit, putting on two layers of the tinted primer, a couple coats of the Dior tint on my lips and cheeks, and allowing myself black mascara (which I hadn't worn all week). I was curious if the mascara would make me feel more made up, and wow, yeah. I was surprised by how much it amped up my look and I loved it. It made me feel much fancier than it would have normally (probably because wearing it everyday makes you forget it's even there!).

On any other Saturday night, I would have probably put on some liquid liner or smoky shadow, but I liked this simpler look. Maybe not for all the time, but as a good option for low key outings. The only thing I still missed was lipstick or lip stain — my lips had been chapped and I'd had a zit pretty much ON my lip this week, and I longed to hide the discoloration in my lips.

Day 6 products:

Leonora Epstein / BuzzFeed

The only new product you're seeing here is the mascara — it's great!

They're Real! Lengthening Mascara, available at Benefit, $24

See day 3 for Sunday Riley info and day 2 for Dior info


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

On the last day of the challenge, I chose some products at random. For the first time during the week, I didn't feel too concerned about my appearance. It makes me wonder now why I didn't just forgo makeup entirely that day, but I guess it's just a habit and ritual I'll never abandon. I'm not posting a pic of myself on this day, because by this point, I had grown a bit tired of looking at myself and comparing and contrasting the differences the products made. I mainly got to thinking about how this challenge would change things. My fear, going into this, was that I'd just end up going back to my normal makeup routine, which would have made the challenge a bit useless. But, I'm glad to have found a few products that allow me to reduce the number of products I use during the week. I'm not sure I could keep up a three-a-day thing. But! I do think I could do four. I'll definitely be cutting down on eyeliner and mascara after realizing how harsh I treat my skin trying to take off the stuff.

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

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.