Even if you didn't live through the era, it's not difficult to see why the Y2K aesthetic is back with a vengeance. Especially against the backdrop of our current, often tumultuous times, visually retreating to an era of nostalgia is a beyond-inviting concept.
No one could've predicted what life would look like in 2021 (a year that once seemed incomprehensibly futuristic), but we do have significantly improved makeup products and techniques available today. Combining our modern tricks with the style signatures of the early aughts is a recipe for one of the biggest trends in beauty right now—and possibly an improvement on the original.
The so-called Y2K look is built around the best trends of the 2000s: baby blues and pinks, glitter, butterflies, and so much lipgloss you could swim in it. But, with updated routines and products like liquid highlighter, cut creases, and inclusive foundation shade ranges—which were simply hard to come by in the noughties—this time around, homages to the decade are ripe for innovation.
To help everyone achieve this Juicy Couture-era vibe, we tapped two major makeup experts who gave us the full scoop—and the best products to make it happen. So no matter if Y2K was your heyday, your childhood, or several years before your earthly debut, this makeup delivers the kind of '00s rush not seen since TRL was everyone's favorite acronym. Start puffing up your inflatable furniture and conference in the besties with your RAZR—we're diving into '00s makeup.
If you were around during the early 2000s, the first thing you'll notice is that updated Y2K looks only vaguely resemble the actual beauty of the era. Back then—as wild as it seems now with Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube—there weren't a ton of beauty resources out there for the average person. America's first Sephora didn't even open until 1998, and most cosmetics stashes were sourced from drugstores and department stores. Crucially, while long-lasting formulas, inclusivity, and clean ingredients are now widespread, back then, wide shade ranges and skincare-as-makeup were all but nonexistent.
Left to their own devices, young people of Y2K really went for it—regardless of the products available. And beauty companies responded with what we consider some of the most fun, indulgent styles ever: body glitter, rhinestone-adorned eyelashes, holographic gloss, and endless pans of colorful shadows.
"Y2K was such a huge thing if you lived through it," Kenneth Soh, top celebrity makeup artist and Byrdie Board member, muses. "For me, it was very plucked fine brows, lots of shine on lips and lids, matte faces and shimmery colors." He mentions that the sci-fi specter of the infamous Y2K scare injected a high-tech element to the beauty looks of the day. No Doubt-era Gwen Stefani is another perfect example of the aesthetic, adds Soh. There was also a significant carryover from the '90s—"matte complexions, nude lip lined lips,"—he notes, and they all swirled together.
Nudestix co-founder and CBO Taylor Frankel, just 24 herself, says it's exactly those elements that have helped make the Y2K aesthetic surge in popularity among her fellow Gen Zers. "It’s super playful and a fun way to express ourselves during a very serious, and stressful year," she explains. It's a valid point. To her, '00s-style makeup is defined by the soft pastels, heavy mauve blush, and all-over bronzer—like the kind progenerated by Y2K's iconic celebutantes. Her take in 2021? "I've been seeing a ton of bright color on the lids and blush 'sculpting' as well as lip lining." A '00s classic if there ever was one.
Get The Look
Because so much of the Y2K makeup look revolves around bright colors, Soh has plenty of tricks to make sure they pop on all skin tones (and stay that way all night). Reminiscing on the decade, he remembers makeup professionals struggling to apply loose glitter with lash glue. Today, Soh says a gel-based glitter won't smudge or transfer easily, and look especially great layered under a smudged-out, brightly-colored eye crayon.
"For colors to pop," Soh says, "it usually needs a base of a pale shade." That's why bright eye makeup isn't always as intense against deeper skin tones. To turn them up to full intensity, he recommends blending an eyeshadow base, primer, or even a white cream shadow across the lid before going in with the starring colors.
Frankel also points to pastels as an easy gateway to the trend. "I love using NUDESTIX Heaven & Earth Palette ($80) shades for this trend," she explains, listing included colors like soft lilac, periwinkle, pink, and green as solid options for trying the trend without veering into costume territory. "I love the look of a pastel-colored winged liner with fresh skin with a natural lip. It’s a great way to wear color without screaming 'color.'"
Soh agrees that while much of the trend is typical of the more-is-more variety, there are subdued, wearable options as well. "You can do a full, major look but choose one aspect of the face with bright color and keep the rest in a more neutral palette," he says. "So for example, a bright blue frosted eye would look modern and totally acceptable with a full-on suede, neutral, browny-beige lip and contouring." Another possibility, he says, is balancing out a dark, rich lip with a coat of iridescent highlighter across the lids. But most importantly, "like everything, if you have the confidence to wear it, then you will be able to carry it off!"
Shop The Look
If you're looking to dip your toe in the Bath & Body Works-scented water rather than dive in headfirst, Soh says beginners should opt for a simple glitter or colored eyeliner. "Another tip is to use sheer washes of iridescent shadows on the middle of the eyelid or as lip gloss so you could experiment with the trend."
Whether you're showing up with a blown-out baby blue eye moment or just starting to experiment with pink cheeks and berry-tinted gloss, Y2K makeup—like the era itself—is all about self-expression. Those years felt like a precipice to the future, even at the time. And though we didn't know what was around the bend, there was an exuberance that extended to the styles of the day. Armed with our updated Juicy Tubes and tech-themed palettes, here's to continuing to party like 1999 just ended.