"A few months ago, I surveyed the websites of six major cosmetic lines to see if they used older women in any of their online makeup tutorials," Elise Marquam Jahns, a makeup artist who specializes in makeup for women over 40, told me.
"Only one did, and it was extremely brief," she continued. "So information on makeup for women over 40 is definitely needed. The classes I teach that specifically deal with makeup techniques for 'boomer and beyond' women also tend to fill up the fastest. That response indicates how much older women appreciate a beauty education that specifically addresses their needs."
In doing research for this piece, I was shocked to notice the glaring exclusion of women over 40 in the beauty space—an industry so tied to aging. It's a counterintuitive approach, vying for the attention of women who want to smooth fine lines and treat wrinkles but completely erasing them from ad campaigns and media materials. "Most of us over 40 tend to talk back to our TVs when we see ads for anti-aging products that feature models or celebrities who don't have a line or wrinkle in sight," Jahns explains.
You see, most women aren't taught to replace the techniques they learned in middle school with ones that are better suited for their current age. No one talks about applying makeup to a face that isn't naturally plump, tight, and line-free. It's yet another benchmark in a society so obsessed with glorifying youth and casting women past a certain age aside.
"Andrea Q. Robinson wrote a book called Toss the Gloss," Jahns told me. "She was an executive at several cosmetic companies and a former beauty editor. She feels there aren't a whole lot of products that meet her strict criteria for cosmetics that flatter the color and texture of older skin. She feels the answer is that most men running the major beauty corporations think we've lost it at 50 and aged out of their makeup market.
"She contends, 'The only products they're spending big bucks to market are wrinkle creams. [Companies] are afraid to address our specific needs with anything other than anti-aging creams because they are worried that they will alienate their younger consumer base, even though we (50+ women) are the largest demographic with more money to spend. They need to wake up and realize that we're worth their investment.'"
And with that, Jahns detailed helpful makeup tips, tricks, and techniques for women over 40.
The Most Common Mistakes
1. Applying blush to the apples of your cheeks.
"Work against gravity by applying your blush on the upper part of your cheekbones in a slightly upward sweep," explains Jahns. "And our skin tone can change over time, so we also need to be very aware of whether warm or cool undertone colors will work best for us."
2. Forgetting about your brows.
"The good news is that as we mature, we most likely don't have to pluck our eyebrows as much. But we should also begin to fill in sparse hairs—especially the 'tails.' I notice most women don't know to fill in the tails of their eyebrows completely."
3. Treating your eyelid area as you always have.
"Our eyelid area changes, but we can open up our eyes by using lighter, nude shade on the lid and under the arch of the brow. This will lift the eye area. Put a medium to dark tone in the crease, high enough so that these shadows can be seen above 'hooded' eye areas. It also helps to make a backward seven shape at the outer area of the eye to lift the eye. I especially love Laura Geller's Baked Highlighter Duo ($43)—I use shades French Vanilla and Portofino."
Instead of using the windshield wiper motion to apply shadow, it works best to use a small circular motion so all the skin in the lid area gets covered.
4. Choosing a drying lipstick formula.
"I think we're all influenced by advertising and trends to some extent. Not choosing bright enough lipstick colors with luminosity can be a mistake—the color and shine will flatter your lips and keep them hydrated. Matte lipsticks and the nude lip look can age anyone."
5. Giving up on eyeliner.
"Many give up on eyeliner because it's far more difficult to apply when you can't see as well as you used to. But eyeliner gives wonderful definition to the eyes. Use an eyeliner that has a smudging tool (or use a Q-tip to smudge the line) to give a softer look— that way, you can get away with a line that isn't as perfect. Another option is to rub an angled eyebrow brush over an eyeliner pencil and use the brush to apply the liner. The brush makes application far easier and the result is a really pretty, soft look. I usually recommend a darker brown on the top lid and a lighter brown applied only to the outer third of the bottom lashline."
The Recommended Techniques
1. Use a soft buffer brush for foundation.
The application process is just as important as the products themselves. Jahns suggests using a soft buffer brush to apply your foundation to allow it to smooth out your skin instead of settling into fine lines. "Lipstick 'feathering' or 'bleeding' can also be a challenge due to small wrinkles around the mouth area. Before putting on lipstick, I recommend using foundation or concealer (with the lips stretched wide when applying) around the mouth area to provide a barrier. Using a lip liner and applying a very light application of powder can also be helpful," she says.
2. Use small, circular motions to apply eye shadow evenly.
"Opening up the eye with a soft vanilla shade on the lid and bringing the medium- and dark-toned shadows higher above the crease makes a world of difference. I love Clinique's All About Shadow Quad in Teddy Bear ($30). Use a small circular motion with your eye shadow brush to ensure the shadow is on the eyelid skin evenly. A windshield wiper motion can sometimes miss areas of the lid where there is some crepeiness."
3. Invest in cream and liquid products.
"I definitely recommend cream or liquid foundations and cream blush. Powder can settle in fine lines and emphasize those lines and any crepeiness we may have in our eye areas. It can also look splotchy and uneven. For most women, the skin tends to get drier as we mature, so using cream products with more moisture is definitely a plus. They're also pretty mistake-proof. It's easy to start with a small dab and gradually build to a soft, light color that is flattering."
The Suggested Products
Though any product is fair game to use at any age, certain formulas do complement your skin better as it ages. "Clinique makes some excellent skincare and makeup products that are fragrance-free and allergy tested," says Jahns. "Often as we get older, we become more sensitive to product ingredients. Mascaras, eyeliners, and eye shadows can definitely pose problems for more sensitive eyes."
"For women who need greater coverage due to redness or discoloration, I recommend Clinique's Beyond Perfecting Foundation + Concealer ($29), which is a combination foundation and concealer formula, and its Redness Solutions Makeup SPF 15 with Probiotic Technology ($29). I also like to add some of its new Even Better Glow Light Reflecting Makeup ($29) to give a dewier finish to the skin."
"Clinique also has an excellent product that helps reduce the appearance of larger pores," Jahns continues. "I also love Eve Pearl's HD Dual Foundation ($39) and primer. I think most of us are loath to invest in eye shadow palettes where we don't use half or a third of the colors, but It Cosmetics makes several that are all great."
The sheer number of products each makeup company has can feel overwhelming and intimidating, so ask for samples at makeup counters—look for someone who's roughly your age as they'll likely have experienced some of the same challenges.