It's hard to nail down exactly when it happened, but at some point over the last year, team Byrdie realized that a solid percentage of the most inspiring makeup looks we were seeing on red carpets and on Instagram were coming from actual children. It's true: If you're a beauty lover, take a scroll through your social media feeds, and you'll find a disarming array of creative, modern, boundary-pushing looks on the likes of young teen celebrities like Maddie Ziegler, Millie Bobby Brown, Rowan Blanchard, and Marsai Martin This isn't kid stuff: It's beautiful makeup fit for a Hollywood adult.
We're, of course, happy to admire a maroon smoky eye, a blinding highlight, or a cat-eye so sharp that it almost physically hurts on anyone, but no matter how cool or playful the looks, seeing so much makeup on a kid made us pause. We were inspired to ask: Is their such a thing as "too young" to be wearing certain makeup looks? How do Hollywood makeup artists create their red carpet visions for teen stars as opposed to older clients (for example, are their parents involved in the process?), and do they feel obligated to set a good example for these celebrities' young fans when they whip out their brushes and paint pots?
To find out more about the collaboration process between top makeup artists and their famous teen clients, we put together the following roundtable discussion featuring three wildly talented figures in the industry: Tonya Brewer (Maddie Ziegler's go-to makeup artist), Amy Strozzi (Rowan Blanchard's), and Tasha Reiko Brown (who's worked with young stars like Yara Shahidi and Marsai Martin). These are the folks whose stunning, innovative work stops us in our digital tracks every time. Read on to get their insights on youth, fame, and makeup.
When working with a teenage celeb on a makeup look for an event, is the collaboration process any different than it'd be with an older client? Does making sure a teen star looks "age-appropriate" ever enter the equation?
Tonya Brewer: With Maddie, her team and mum leave it entirely up to Maddie and me. We've been working together since she was 11, so I've earned their trust. Age definitely comes into play. There are some bolder looks I know would look insane on her gorgeous blue eyes, but I'd like to wait a few more years to do that. In general, as a makeup artist though, I am not heavy-handed. Right now, my youngest client is 7 and my oldest client is 70. When creating a look [for any age], it's most important to enhance their natural beauty.
Amy Strozzi: Rowan is a very knowledgeable teen when it comes to all kinds of inspiration, and she is always prepared with several ideas for looks we're doing. She has a good sense of who she is and how she's feeling, so it's always fun to collaborate and create my version of whatever look she is into at the time. The one thing I told Rowan when we first started working together (she was 13) was to have fun with her makeup while she could. You want to wear glitter? Do it now! At some point, red carpet makeup becomes much more serious, and it's great to enjoy the playfulness of it while you can. A teenager can get away with a lot more experimentation on the red carpet than an older actress, though I think that is changing a bit currently.
Tasha Reiko Brown: No matter the age of the client, the whole decision-making is a collaborative team effort, and we all make our voices heard. With a younger client, I do always reassure them that their vision of how they want to represent themselves is very important. I work with such creative young talent who are always full of great ideas and new finds, so I tend to learn as much from them just as much as they learn from me. Partners in beauty! "Age-appropriate" would only enter the equation if we choose something heavy-handed, but we tend to naturally stay away from those looks.
Have you ever experienced any backlash for creating a look on a teen star that people thought was too "grown-up"? Do you personally think anyone is "too young" for a certain makeup look?
TB: OMG, yes! Luckily, I am still working with this person now that she's older. [But] when she was younger, maybe 15 or 16, we decided to do a statement eye on one of her press tours. It was beautiful. My client and I loved it, but her mum hated it. It caused an argument between her and her mum because she didn't want to change it. But to keep everyone happy, we ended up deciding to slightly tone it down. I definitely think you can be "too young" for a look. I think a lot of us were guilty when we were younger of wanting to grow up too fast. When it comes to makeup, it depends on how it's executed and the context. If it's a greasepaint smudged smokey eye for a grunge editorial shoot, that could be artistic and beautiful.
AS: We intentionally held back with using red lipstick (most lipsticks in general) until Rowan was 16. It felt too grown before that, and it was fun to have something to look forward to. Now a red lip is a go-to for her (as it became for me as well at that age).
TRB: The clients I have are so beloved by their fans that they like seeing them "glo up" into young adults and express themselves with fashion and beauty. Fans feel like they are seeing them grow up right before their eyes because they are. It's sometimes an adjustment to see them on red carpets in fashion and beauty looks outside of the young character they play on TV. Any backlash isn't really against a soft cream blush and mascara, it's just wanting them to stay how they're used to seeing them onscreen. I tend to go fresh and clean with just a spark of fun in the look so the change-up isn't that jarring. At any age, I like my clients to look like themselves.
Do you ever feel a responsibility to your teen clients' young fans to create looks they can realistically aspire to?
AS: I never felt a pressure to do things for fans specifically, but, of course, you always hope people will be inspired and try looks at home. Rowan has never shied away from individuality, and I hope that with some of our more "fun" looks we've encouraged other teens to do the same. The industry, my peers, and brands have always been supportive of me and the looks I do, which often involve color or sparkle in some way. Tom Ford wouldn't create sparkle in its eye palettes if the brand didn't want people using them. I think people are excited when something different shows up on the red carpet. It gives everyone a bit more freedom to go there and try something.
TRB: I feel a responsibility to younger clients' fans to make sure their look is teen budget–friendly. I tend to use a mix of high-end and great drugstore finds if possible. I'm always open to engaging with their fans and giving low-cost duplicate product advice for any look so it is financially accessible.
What is your best advice to teen beauty lovers who want to start experimenting with makeup? Anything they should definitely try or definitely avoid?
TB: Don't avoid anything. If this is a hobby or career you're thinking about, try everything. The more you experiment, the better you get. At the end of the day, it's just makeup. It all washes off. So there's no point in limiting yourself. Side note: I do think it's super important to invest in good skincare. Good makeup starts with well-hydrated skin. Nobody is too young to take care of their skin, and that's a fact.
AS: For teens looking to experiment with their looks, I always suggest sticking with one bold element and keeping the rest of the face pared down. It makes it wearable and easier on the eyes. My project, The Beauty Manifesto, shows different ways you can add a little something to your look without going overboard. Ultimately, makeup is temporary. It should be fun, expressive, and pleasurable. There are so many amazing products out there—don't be afraid to try them! And don't forget to wash your face!
TRB: The great thing about someone just starting to experiment with makeup is the openness to try anything while they are figuring out how they want to express themselves with color. There's no established routine yet, so it's all fun and play. I think they should try anything once and twice and avoid any preconceived rules about any colors or textures you may have read. Glitter mistakes may turn into a beautiful disaster. Certain colors you may be hesitant about may actually work in a different texture. Have fun and don't be afraid to be fearless. To find things you love, you have to figure out what you don't like/doesn't work for you. Be open!
The one thing I will say to avoid is a heavy hand with skin. A heavy hand with color can be fun, but a heavy hand with foundation on young skin isn't necessary. These are the poreless years. Celebrate your skin. Invest in great skincare for your changing/sometimes challenging skin and spot-treat/conceal any blemishes if you want to.