The Makeup Routine That Tricks People Into Thinking I Have Perfect Skin

Erin Jahns

It’s What’s Wrong With Trying? week here at Byrdie HQ, where we’re taking a break from no-makeup makeup programming and celebrating the beauty of looking like you made an effort. Go ahead—call us try-hards.

Whenever someone asks me what makeup I’m wearing or how I achieve such “perfect, glowy skin” (their words, not mine), I shudder. Not because I don’t appreciate the compliment or their curiosity, but because I’ve been condemned (if I may be so dramatic) in the past for the time, energy, number of products, and, heck, money I pour into my makeup routine. Therefore, a reflexive recoil rises to the surface. However, looking at the situation objectively, it’s pretty backward. As a beauty editor and makeup lover, I should feel pride when someone compliments my hard work, rather than shame or the assumption that they’ll judge me once they know the truthfully detailed process—right?

When I’m admiring someone’s makeup, first and foremost, I’m admiring someone’s makeup. And if I’m wondering what products they used, I want to know each and every product they used—not an embarrassed, abbreviated response that nonchalantly feigns a lack of trying. I want to know the nitty-gritty—brush, gloss, blush, brow, everything—so, when I get flustered by someone’s curiosity and rattle off only what strikes me as reading “low maintenance,” I kind of hate myself. I want to respond with the truthful, 15-product details (because yes, my favorite daily makeup routine is quite in-depth and takes at least an hour), but memories of past roommates mocking how long it takes for me to get ready or a friend (mid-fight) attributing the ritual to vanity or subconsciously trying to “outdo” her haunt me to my core. I, like pretty much everyone else I know on this planet, fear judgment. And, as we’ve already discussed at length during our What’s Wrong With Trying? series, a high product load or a high-impact makeup job almost always translates to “high maintenance” in our culture.

Here’s the thing, though. I’m exhausted. I’m sick of pretending like I can do my go-to look (which ironically earns me so many random compliments) in under 10 minutes. And I’m tired of acting like taking my sweet-ass time with my makeup doesn’t instill a soothing catharsis amid an otherwise chaotic day. It’s fun. Plus, I know I’m not alone. Everyone’s approach to makeup is unique—there’s not a right way or a wrong way to love it—and that love can also be dynamic, ebbing, flowing, and transforming depending on our mood or the season of life we’re in.


I often joke with friends and co-workers that my makeup aesthetic is, to an extreme extent, feast or famine. Either I’m 100% barefaced or I’m 100% made up, and sadly for my more minimal acquaintances, the three-minute makeup look just isn’t in my nature. (If you ever get brunch with me, prepare for either a two-second or two-hour wait time.) And hey, that’s okay. It’s a quirky part of my nature as a human being, and I’m slowly becoming more at peace with it because honestly? There are worse things. The number of makeup products someones uses or the tally of hours it takes them to get ready should carry less weight than the number of fish we have to fry in other facets of our life. What’s wrong with trying, especially if it’s ultimately a vehicle of happiness?

I get a lot of compliments on my skin, and most often, it’s when I’m wearing my full hoard of product. As I noted earlier, though, I immediately feel embarrassed— automatically nervous to explain to my kind complimenter that, well, yes, my face may look pristinely glowy and airbrushed, but the effect required between 10 and 20 products start to finish. But now, I want to challenge that embarrassment and kneejerk creep of shame. A lengthy, meticulously applied routine is simply my makeup truth. I have fun cultivating the look, it makes my skin look photogenic AF, and even though my skin might be peppered with products, I feel good in that pepper. It’s my spice of life. Plus, I know that I feel equally good sporting dark circles and a few acne scars at the grocery story post-workout. I’m fine with both, and I think most other people (or at least the ones worth having in my life) are too. Thus, just as my dear roommate and fellow Byrdie editor Amanda Montell wrote an ode to her love of high-key makeup, here’s my ode the part of my in-depth makeup routine that gains me the most glow-worthy of compliments—the 15 makeup products that seem to trick people into thinking I have glowing skin. Enjoy!

Maya Chia The Optimist

Maya Chia The Optimist $58.00

A few months back, a makeup artist told me she soaks her Beautyblender in rose water versus regular water before going in on her foundation job. And after the stellar makeup number she did on me, well, I took that tidbit to heart. My interpretation? Spritzing a freshly cleansed blender silly with this sake-, white tea–, astaxanthin-, and licorice-soaked elixir instead. The glowy result is incomparable, and the method helps ensure an extra hit of all-day hydration.

Beautyblender The Original Beautyblender

the original beautyblender® Original
Beautyblender The Original Beautyblender $20.00

In 2001, Elle Woods’s prison care package to Brooke Taylor Windham contained Calvin Klein 720-count sheets, the entire Clinique Skincare Line, aromatherapy candles, a loofah, and “The Bible.” Today, it would definitely include a Beautyblender. Or, like seven. Quite simply, it’s the only way I can ever apply my foundation so that it looks like it’s actually one with my skin. Me and my supposedly “perfect skin” would be lost without it.

Tarte Quench Hydrating Primer — Rainforest of the Sea Collection

Quench Hydrating Primer - Rainforest Of The Sea(TM) Collection
Tarte Quench Hydrating Primer — Rainforest of the Sea Collection $32.00

The ultimate hot-and-cold relationship, primers and I have gone back and forth over the years. Similar to a sleazy ex, it’s almost as if every new formula I try inherently realizes the second I fall in love with it before pulling a fast one on me (e.g., melting off my face, pilling, or just looking shockingly bad). However, there are a few that have left my heart unscathed, and this refreshing debut from Tarte is the latest and greatest. My makeup stays put all day, dewiness never treads greasy, and it feels remarkably lightweight on top of my skin—not surprising considering its off-the-charts ingredient list: algae and marine plant extracts, hyaluronic acid, kefir extract, and turmeric.

Laura Mercier Flawless Fusion

Laura Mercier Flawless Fusion $48.00

For years, I serenely rotated between a few favorite foundation formulas rarely altering my routine. Fast-forward and I now have a brand-new crop of beloveds that win me many (TBH) undeserved compliments. (I only say that because when people commend the way your skin looks, and you know the pigmentation, circles, etc., lurking underneath, it feels a bit… odd.)

This long-wearing foundation from Laura Mercier, however, has to be my absolute number one. (Although, Physician Formula Healthy Foundation SPF 20, $16, offers a more affordable price point and comes in at a close second.) Not only is the finish smooth and velvety, but it’s also satisfyingly durable, which I’ve found to be clutch. After all, the key (IMO) to having “perfect skin” is having consistent skin, aka a complexion that looks the same at 8 p.m. as it did at 8 a.m. This one fits the bill.

Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer

Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer $30.00

Honestly, I never wear foundation without concealer (my dark circles are next-level), and I never wear concealer without foundation (just feels wrong in my book). Alas, I’ve accumulated quite the collection of circle-changing formulas over the years, and quite honestly, I could write a sufficiently stuffed story on every single one of my favorites. Recently, however (and if we’re tallying and taking into account random compliments from strangers), this cult classic from Nars has settled in as my favorite.

With just one swipe of its signature doe-foot applicator, circles, acne scars, and any other discoloration I don’t have time for are effectively erased. Plus, it lasts all day with minimal creasing. In fact, call me crazy, but as it settles and warms into my skin, I think it continues to look better and better. If you’re going to spend your money on one concealer and one concealer only, I recommend it be this one.

MAC Mineralize Skinfinish Natural in Light

MAC Mineralize Skinfinish Natural in Light $36.00

Powder gets a bad rap. In fact, the majority of people I know (beauty editors included) think powder is dead. I, however, love it and actually depend on two different formulas to keep my makeup perfectly intact—not too dewy and too matte—regardless of my environment. The first, this wonder from MAC, I’ve used for years. I basically use it to set wherever I’ve applied my concealer and to keep those areas just a little lighter than the rest of my face for some extra dimension—think under-eyes, chin, and T-zone. Essentially, it’s like a filter I can dust all over my face.

Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder for Under Eyes

Secret Brightening Powder for Under Eyes #2 0.14 oz/ 4.2 g
Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder for Under Eyes $28.00

I’ve made it clear by now that I have some gripes with my under-eyes. Well, in addition to those aforementioned dark circles, they also have an infuriating habit of creasing. Of course, I’ve found concealers and foundations that crinkle much less than others (see above), but it will never be 100% avoidable. C’est la vie, but that’s where this targeted brightening powder comes in!

To achieve a creaseless, poreless finish, I swirl a smallish brush in the ultra-fine powder and apply a little bit right where I know I’d normally discover 12 p.m. lines and creases. I also apply it to my smile lines near my mouth. It doesn’t prevent my foundation from settling into them completely, but the outcome is much sunnier.

TheBalm Bahama Mama

Bahama Mama
TheBalm Bahama Mama $19.00

Okay, so I’m not huge into contouring—I’ve never baked my face, nor do I ever plan to. That being said, I’m not blind to the wonder a little bit of strategic shadowing can do for the shape and overall appearance of my face. And hands down, this perfectly chocolaty powder from TheBalm is the only product for the job. Despite how light my skin is, it never looks overdone, and it just applies smoothly. I never have to worry about it looking uneven, smudged, or muddy, and it goes in all the expected places: under my cheekbones, on the sides of my nose, underneath my jaw, and lightly atop my chin temples and hairline. It’s more about adding a shadow for dimension than imparting a bronzey glow—that comes later! The Sephora Collection Pro Small Blush and Contour Brush #74 ($32) is the perfect size.

Nars Blush in Free Soul

Women's Blush-Light, Pastel pink
Nars Blush in Free Soul $30.00

There’s roughly one thing and one thing only I have in common with Kylie Jenner and Emily Ratakowski. We’re all obsessed with blush. But seriously, why do so many people hate on it? Honestly, not wearing it is a complete dealbreaker; I just don’t feel like myself. It instantly makes me feel more alive, healthy, and just put together. I pretty much swear by every single shade from Nars. I’ve been loving this new color Free Soul especially, but Sex Appeal, Seduction, and, of course, Orgasm are also regulars in my rotation. I usually concentrate it on my apples (the smiling trick is so spot-on), and then blend it up and out over my cheekbones toward my ears.

Cocokind Mai-Light Maitake Rosé Highlighter

Cocokind Mai-Light Maitake Rosé Highlighter $12.00

I hoard highlighter. It’s, perhaps, my favorite thing in the world, and I have a million. Or at least close to that. I’m trying out new ones almost every single day. Most are meh, some are great, and only a few are face-changing. This is one of those. Not only is this organic stick formula infused with adaptogens like maitake mushroom powder (so cool), but it also delivers the most shimmery of dewy glows without looking overly wet or greasy—the main gripe I have with most stick or cream formulas. For my long-wearing ethereal skin vibe, I’ve found that layering a few different formulas is key, and lately, I’ve been starting with this one. Instead of rubbing the stick directly onto my complexion, I just rub my finger into it before patting it around the outer corners of my eyes, the tops of the cheekbones, and maybe my Cupid’s bow.

Kora Organics Crystal Luminizer in Rose Quartz

Kora Organics Crystal Luminizer in Rose Quartz $28.00

I’ve already praised this rosy-quartz cream luminizer, so I’ll spare you more sputtering. Essentially, this is the next step in my “perfect skin” highlighting process. It has a little more impact than the Cocokind stick, so wherever I want to take my shimmer up a notch, I’ll layer a little bit of this on top—not enough to mask it, but just a touch to enhance the stick’s subtle luster. I’ll also add a little bit to the inner corners of my eyes.

TheBalm Mary-Lou Manizer

Cindy-Lou Manizer
TheBalm Mary-Lou Manizer $24.00

Okay. I know this might sound excessive, but I warned you. I hoard highlighters! And this is the best one I’ve ever laid my radiance-itching hands on. I’ve used it for years, it’s gifted me with more compliments than I can count, and I’m not sure what life would be like without it. As I said, I like to layer, and after years and years of trial and error, I’ve found whenever I use any kind of creamy formula, I also usually have to set it with some kind of powder. I love the way this flattering champagne—it’s not too gold, not too silver, contrasts with the creamy rose shades, and is basically like the cherry on top of a sundae smorgasbord of glow-enhancers. Is it necessary? Not entirely? But does it make a difference in the overall aesthetic and end result? 100%. I use Mar-Lou, but depending on your coloring, you might be a Betty-Lou or a Cindy-Lou. (TheBalm also always wins points for having the best and cheekiest packaging.) I use the same small Sephora Collection brush I use for my contour.

Wet n Wild Color Icon Bronzer

Wet n Wild Color Icon Bronzer $5.00

Maybe it’s because I wore enough bronzer in high school to last a Kardashian lifetime, but I’ve found myself “off” bronzer the past few years. (I think I’m just scarred from one too many hauntingly orange-hued duck faces on my freshman year camera roll.) Therefore, I don’t use bronzer every day. However, if I’ve self-tanned, been out in the sun more than usual, or just want to look a little more sun-kissed, I’ll go for it. I have a few favorites, but I’ve actually found myself reaching for this $5 limited-edition pick from Wet n Wild quite often recently. (I have—and love—two shades: Queen’s Land and You’re Dragon Me Down). I apply it pretty minimally, just a little on my cheeks, chin, forehead, the tip of the nose, and below my lower lip (an epic trick from Elsa Hosk).

Kristofer Buckle Power Lock Makeup Setting Spray

Kristofer Buckle Power Lock Makeup Setting Spray $20.00

I rarely use setting sprays, but when I do, I typically reach for this sturdy one from celebrity makeup artist Kristofer Buckle. He uses it on Mariah Carey before she performs her show in Las Vegas. Do I honestly need to continue? It’s good, it smells amazing, and I can safely douse my face with it if I know I’m going to be out all night.

ModelCo Lip Plumper Gloss

ModelCo Lip Plumper Gloss $25.00

Last, but certainly not least, is one of my favorite makeup products in the world. If you didn’t think you’d find the likes of a plumping lip gloss in a glowy-skin story, well, think again. Our lips are an important part of the overall look of our faces and skin, and if you want them to look plump, glossy, and hydrated, this clear version from ModelCo (an under-the-radar Australian beauty brand that team Byrdie is obsessed with) will be your new BFF. I wear it every day, and it works wonderfully both under or over whatever else I want to wear on my pout. It’s also great alone, obviously.

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