24 Beauty Mistakes I've Made (and Learned From) in 24 Years
When tasked with thinking of a beauty mistake for every year I’ve been alive, I was hoping the process would be at least slightly difficult. I’m a beauty editor, after all; my record is supposed to be pretty clean. But alas, I had a three-page list of embarrassing beauty blunders within about five minutes. I recently turned 24, which may not sound like a particularly advanced age, but somehow I’ve managed to pack a veritable lifetime of beauty mistakes into it. Block eyebrows, box-blond hair, terribly misused contour products—I’ve had brushes (so to speak) with it all. Because when you love beauty as much as I do, it’s easy to get a little carried away, resulting in unflattering looks of all kinds.
Luckily, one does learn from her mistakes, and my beauty game is all the better for mine. That said, it’s pretty entertaining, albeit cringe-worthy, to take a look back.
Want to feel slightly better about your life? Keep scrolling to check out the two dozen beauty fails I’ve endured in my two dozen years (plus the important lessons they taught me)!
The mistake: Long ago and far away, there was a time when I’d eyeball a foundation in the bottle, figure it was close enough, and use it, only scarcely regarding its proximity to my fair, yellow-toned complexion. Oh, and blending down my neck wasn’t even on my radar. Once, I terrified my own boyfriend with the harsh orange line down my jaw. These were dark, dark days.
The mistake: A textbook case of overcompensation, I attempted to bounce back from my years of too much plucking by coloring on thick geometric eyebrows with cakey, dark pomades. I had more than one friend point out how unnatural my brows looked, and still, it took me about a year to see it. They say you can’t force someone into recovery, after all.
The fix: Glossier’s Boy Brow ($16) has been my savior because it gives my brows the perfect balance of bold and natural. The tinted, brush-on formula coats my brow hairs, making them look ever so slightly fuller while ensuring a soft finish. If I want a little extra color, I use It Cosmetics’ Brow Power Super Skinny ($24), but only with the lightest hand.
The mistake: Twenty fifteen was the year of the contour, and feeling giddy about all my new kits and creams, I contoured my whole face almost every day. Any expert will tell you that blending is the key to a good contour, but somehow I often missed this crucial step. Let’s just say the day I saw a candid photo of myself with a visible line of war paint down my cheek, I knew I had a problem.
The fix: Blending brushes have become my best friend, particularly ones with bristles that are stiff yet soft, like Artis Brush’s Elite Smoke 5 Brush Set ($165). Skipping the extreme Instagram contour tutorials in favor of natural ones, like this how-to from makeup artist Rae Morris, has also saved me.
The mistake: I love bright colors. Magentas, violets, cyans: I dig it all. But not all bright colors belong all over your face at the same time. In high school, my signature was to pair electric blues on my eyelids with wild fuchsias on my lips, which overwhelmed my features (not to mention left me nowhere to go when doing my makeup for a party).
The fix: I still love my colors, but I’m more strategic about their placement now. If I’m wearing bright blue eye shadow, I make sure to pair it with a softer lip. On days when I’m all about the vampy purple pout, I leave my eyes neutral. I think my face is grateful for it.
The mistake: If I didn’t have the right lip pencil color, I used to just skip it. Lip liner is optional, right? Not when you’re dealing with deep reds and purples. By the end of the day, my lipstick would invariably bleed outside the lines, making it look as if I’d just voraciously eaten a cherry (or grape, or watermelon) popsicle. Not chic.
The fix: There’s no need for the perfect lip pencil match when you have a universal one, and I swear by Urban Decay’s Ultimate Ozone Multipurpose Primer Pencil ($18), which always keeps my color perfectly intact. Now there’s never an excuse to skip liner.
The mistake: Over-plucking is one thing, but totally warping the shape of your brows is arguably even worse. Until 2013, I had an entire row of hairs missing from the top of my brows. Not to mention I’d completely eradicated my precious sprouts from the middle. Only in the last two years have my brows returned to their natural shape. And now that they’re back, I cherish them.
The fix: Tweezers aren’t the enemy; bad judgment is. I still pluck my brows, but only when there are obvious rogue hairs growing under my arch. I’ve learned that the “meat” of your brows is off-limits.
The mistake: As a young teen, makeup and black eyeliner were synonymous. Blush, bronzer, concealer: These words were not in my vocabulary. I must have burned through 100 sticks of black eyeliner during the early to mid-2000s. My waterline didn’t see the light of day until 2009. Let’s just say the look wasn’t exactly friendly.
The fix: Friendly or not, I’ve since learned that for my particular eye shape, rimming my eyes in dark pencil actually makes them look smaller. I have round eyes, so when I do wear eyeliner now, I use a liquid formula to create an elongating cat eye on my top lid, leaving my waterline minimal. This, I’ve discovered, is my most flattering style. Want to find yours? Check out the best way to apply eye makeup for your eye shape.
The mistake: I’d do a whole glammed-out face of makeup, then head out the door having neglected to powder my forehead and nose. (Was I afraid of looking too dry? Too matte? I can’t make any sense of it now.) Photos from the evening would later surface on social media, revealing my T-zone, glimmering like grease on a pizza. Catastrophe.
The fix: Even when I want my skin to have a dewy finish, I always dust a light layer of Make Up For Ever’s HD Pressed Powder ($36) on my T-zone, especially if I know there will be photos taken. The lens is not kind to oily foreheads.
The mistake: I didn’t enjoy painting my nails, so I just wanted to get it done as quickly as possible. No base coat, no topcoat, no patience. The result? Chipped, uneven, transparent color that didn’t even look good the first day.
The fix: I simply had to learn that painting your nails is a process. I value nice-looking nails, so now I try to treat that process like a peaceful ritual, instead of a chore. Using products that I enjoy helps. Right now I’m loving Sally Hansen’s Salon Gel Polish Starter Kit ($60), which is user-friendly and yields super-long-lasting results. I also stand by everything on this list of 10 product for girls who can’t paint their nails.
The mistake: I think many women have this idea that certain colors are off-limits to us. For me, it was nude lipstick. I avoided it for years, thinking it would make me look dead, and this closed off an entire world of makeup looks for me.
The fix: This seems ridiculously simple, but one day, I just said screw it, applied a fierce smoky eye, and topped it off with Benefit’s (now discontinued) Full Finish Lipstick in Lady’s Choice. And guess what? I loved it. That experience taught me that if there’s a makeup look you love on someone else but are convinced would look terrible on you, just try it. Worst-case scenario is you take it off. But odds are it won’t be that bad. I never rule anything out anymore, and having an open mind about makeup is so much more fun.
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The mistake: One word: orange.
The fix: Ten dollars for a box of hair dye is certainly easier on the wallet than a set of $200 highlights. But having a pro take you lighter (especially when your natural hair color is as dark as mine) is the only option if you want beautiful results. I spent a full year recovering from the brassy nightmare that was my drugstore blond. (Read about seven more mistakes your colorist wishes you’d stop making.)
The mistake: Because what would layers of black eyeliner be without long, bone-straight hair to go with it? I flatironed my hair every day for six years, which yielded the gnarliest split ends imaginable.
The fix: Luckily, stick-straight hair is no longer the must-have look (hallelujah!). But on days when I want to wear my hair straight, I simply apply a dollop of Kérastase’s Elixir Ultime ($58) from midshaft to ends and brush my hair straight with a Wet Brush ($9), and it gets there on its own.
The mistake: Bangs aren’t a mistake in and of themselves (in fact, I’m more obsessed with them than ever). But I have two dueling cowlicks right at my hairline, so trying to pull off straight-across bangs for five years was not a success, no matter how hard I yanked at them with a round brush.
The fix: I simply had to come to my senses and let my fringe grow out. If only I’d had this trick to styling bangs when you have a cowlick, things might have been different.
The mistake: Going blond (even the professional way) rendered my hair overprocessed and color-damaged, so whenever I saw those two words on a hair mask, I snagged it and used as directed. Here’s the thing, though: My strands are ultra-fine. After drowning them in heavy deep conditioners, my hair would always come out greasy. I didn’t know how to nourish my hair without weighing it down.
The fix: No matter what the directions on a product say, it’s important to experiment and customize your routine according to your hair texture. I love Kevin Murphy’s Re.Store cleansing conditioning treatment, but I don’t use it once or twice a week in place of shampoo and conditioner like the directions say. Instead, I use it just once a week after shampooing regularly, and I only apply it from shaft to ends. This gives me my best results.
The mistake: Another post-blond boo-boo, I once left my purple shampoo in for a full hour, thinking it would make my color ultra-bright. So what if the bottle said to “rinse immediately”? Instead, the product dyed my hair a light lavender, and it stayed that way for a week.
The fix: Don’t play chemist. Use your toning shampoo as directed by your colorist.
The mistake: I wore my hair super long from sophomore year of college to just last year. I refused to cut it, no matter how many times my stylist begged me. I’d even forgo necessary, damage-erasing trims just to hang onto the length. I was convinced short hair would be totally unflattering on my face shape, and I held onto the long hair for dear life, like it was the only pretty thing about me.
The fix: When I finally agreed to cut my hair short, I earned five years’ worth of confidence in an hour. Fellow Byrdie editor Victoria Hoff had a similar experience—read why chopping off her hair was the best decision ever.
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The mistake: The skin mistakes I’ve made are manifold, but this might be the gravest of all. My whole life, I was convinced I had chronically dry skin. As I developed my first skincare routine, it mostly consisted of oil: cleansing oil, face oil, the works. Little did I know these products were actually clogging my pores and causing what I later learned were avoidable breakouts.
The fix: Ask an esthetician to diagnose your skin type, and have her recommend the proper products. (After finding out I was really a combo skin type, my world turned upside down.) Can’t book a facial by tomorrow? In the meantime, take celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau’s Find Your Skin Type quiz.
The mistake: In high school and college, falling asleep with my makeup on was an almost nightly occurrence. And if I did remove my makeup, it was with a tissue and some Lubriderm (which is a good hack in a pinch, but certainly not the best regular routine).
The fix: I’ve learned that removing my makeup at night is as necessary as brushing my teeth or putting on deodorant. Skipping is simply not an option. But on those nights when I’m truly too “tired” to do a proper cleanse, Simple’s Micellar Makeup Remover Wipes ($6) do most of the job.
The mistake: “Anti-aging” skincare is not something to address only after you’ve noticed sunspots and wrinkles. Skin aging starts at a very young age, and I cringe at the thought that I’ve only just begun my preventative routine at 24. (You can read more about the importance of starting early with this fascinating story about the culture of Korean beauty.)
The fix: Educating myself about ingredients like retinol, glycolic acid, and vitamin C has helped me customize an anti-aging regimen that I’m comfortable with. Ready to start your own routine? Here’s your simple anti-aging guide.
The mistake: Youthful laziness has led to more avoidable burns and sun damage than I care to think about.
The fix: Yes, applying sunscreen is annoying, but not as annoying as the repercussions of not doing it. Finding sunscreens I actually enjoy applying, such as Moroccanoil’s Sun Lotion SPF 50 ($32) and Exuviance’s Sheer Daily Protector SPF 50 ($42), has made all the difference for me.
The mistake: Ignoring instructions and sloppily rubbing self-tanner every which way have resulted in blotchy ankles and rogue droplets of color that in no way resemble a natural-looking sun-kissed glow.
The fix: I learned a hack a few months ago that forever changed my self-tanner game, which was to mix your tanner with lotion as you apply to the ankles, knees, and elbows. This dilutes the pigment, ensuring an even, splotch-free application. (And don’t worry: We’ve got more clever self-tanning hacks.)
The mistake: When I lived on the East Coast, winter weather meant three months of dry, flaky lips that no amount of lip balm could heal. The image of me trying to pull off pink lipstick on cracked, peeling lips continues to haunt my nightmares.
The fix: A little lip scrub, like Sara Happ’s Brown Sugar Lip Exfoliator ($24), does wonders to clear any flakiness, revealing a smooth, plump canvas. Running a toothbrush over your lips has the same effect.
The mistake: You can be sure that in all those years I failed to remove my makeup at night, I didn’t moisturize, either. For some reason, applying body lotion was a habit, but I thought face moisturizer was something reserved for middle-aged women. (Shameful, I know.)
The fix: Once you get into the routine of moisturizing every day and night, the thought of missing it makes your skin crawl. Now, not a day goes by when I don’t wake up with an SPF face lotion and fall asleep with a nourishing night cream.
The mistake: The beauty junkie in me tends to get a little product happy and choose skincare products based more on my mood than on my skin’s actual needs. With a cabinet full of prettily packaged elixirs, I used to change up my routine almost every night, which did no favors for my complexion.
The fix: Now, having settled on a more regular routine based on my skin type/current environment, my combo skin has truly never looked better. I’m a cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer kind of gal, and I use Renée Rouleau’s line.