How Makeup Artists Make Grown-Ass Women Look Like Teens

In real life, it’s debatable whether anyone would choose to relive their teenage years. But on the big and small screens, adults revisiting high school (or the freshman dorm) is a common occurrence. Granted in a TV show or movie, the teen years are often glamorized — even the Pygmalion-inspired classic She’s All That skipped the awkward acne moments — although angst and overly articulate banter abound. All the while, makeup plays an integral part in transforming adults into kids. Just think about Regina George’s intimidatingly hot-pink lipstick in Mean Girls and Lyla Garrity’s no-makeup makeup look that even Tim Riggins wasn’t impervious to on Friday Night Lights.

Important note: This story is not about making “older” women look “younger.” Instead, we wanted to explore how talented artists skillfully created an effect of carefree, innocent teenage years through makeup — without it looking contrived or comical. Or like a super-meta Elizabeth Banks in Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp playing “24-year-old” undercover reporter Lindsay, who transforms herself into a 16-year-old summer-camp counselor just by clipping her hair into a side barrette.

Plus, we’d never say no to the chance to revisit these 11 characters from some of our favorite TV shows and movies, including Clueless and Pretty Little Liars.

Click through to read the behind-the-scenes secrets.

Photo: Snap Stills/REX/Shutterstock.
Rachel McAdams As Regina George In Mean Girls (2004)
Oscar nominee and True Detective 2 co-star Rachel McAdams will forever have a place in our hearts as Queen Bee and commanding leader of the Plastics in the seminal movie Mean Girls. While a 25-year-old McAdams looked to Alec Baldwin’s evil real estate salesman from Glengarry Glen Ross to play the 17-year-old meanest of mean girls, makeup artist Jo-Ann MacNeil looked to a very different inspiration for Regina George’s beauty look.

“Paris Hilton was the archetype that we modeled Regina George after,” MacNeil explains. “Regina’s attitude and confidence was mirrored in her makeup choices. She was polished and pretty, but not overdone — more a statement of class.” MacNeil also studied divergent pop culture styles of the decade — including Avril Lavigne’s then-sk8ter gurl aesthetic — to reflect varying high school subcultures. “Regina was meant to contrast the nerdy simplicity of Cady [Lindsay Lohan] and the artsy, goth look of Janis [Lizzy Caplan],” she adds.

To turn McAdams into the Burn Book mastermind, MacNeil recalls using mostly MAC products, including the Creme Liner in black and the frosty Pink Freeze eyeshadow. “We used different levels of sheen in [the Plastics’] eyeshadows and blushes, depending on the locations,” the makeup artist says. “So for the school, we used soft muted tones, likes pinks and peaches, and for the party and dance scenes we used brighter pinks with higher iridescences to give a little sparkle. Also we used a lot of Cargo products, like their shimmer powders for her body.” So fetch, as Gretchen Wieners would say. Well, if “fetch” ever happened, that is.

MAC Creme Liner, $16.50, available at MAC; MAC Pink Freeze Eyeshadow, $20.76, available at Amazon.
Photo: Photofest.
Charisma Carpenter As Cordelia Chase In Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1996 To 1999)
Charisma Carpenter was 27 years old when she started playing Sunnydale High’s sophomore queen of mean, Cordelia Chase. (As if high school wasn’t challenging enough, considering the institution of learning sat atop a raging Hellmouth.) But Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s makeup supervisor Todd McIntosh wants to point out: Despite the show’s allegorical high-school-is-literally-hell theme, the pubescent ages of Cordelia and her classmates didn’t factor into his job.

“It’s not about designing a makeup [look] to make the girls look like high school students,” he explains. “My concern was designing a makeup [look] that works for the character that has been written in the script.” McIntosh’s main goal: Using makeup to contrast between bitchy popular girl Cordelia and new girl from the Valley by day (and vampire slayer by night) Buffy Anne Summers, played by a then 18-year-old Sarah Michelle Gellar.

Buffy was the California-blond “sparkly, pop-y Valley Girl” who wore frosty pastels and bright colors — all perfectly accented with floral baby barrettes and velvet chokers. “Cordelia’s makeup was specifically about a sophisticated rich girl who looked down on other people, so her makeup was really straightforward,” McIntosh explains. “It was just a simple, straight, glamour makeup.”

He recalls using airbrushing Chanel foundations and neutral eyeshadows, plus the signature brown lipstick tones of the era. While the Buffy character enjoyed the privilege of wearing the staple late-'90s brands Hard Candy and Stila, Cordelia stuck to the classics. “There wasn’t anything trendy about Cordelia’s makeup. It wasn’t meant to be trendy,” McIntosh points out. “It was meant to be sophisticated and adult.”

McIntosh progressively eschewed the age aspect when it came to the female cast members’ beauty looks, but he was instructed to age down some of the males in the makeup chair. “Xander [then-26-year-old Nicholas Brendon], being an adult male, had a big heavy beard shadow and for five of the six seasons, [producers] wouldn't let me let the beard shadow show through,” McIntosh says, laughing. “So he had full makeup on to try and cover all of that. There were a lot of challenges.” Considering that Buffy’s undead high school sweetheart Angel was 270 years old, we’re guessing that McIntosh didn’t have to worry about 28-year-old actor David Boreanaz’s five-o'clock shadow.
Photo: Photofest.
Minka Kelly As Lyla Garrity In Friday Night Lights (2006 To 2009)
If you’ve ever wondered what ex-head cheerleader Lyla Garrity (Minka Kelly) and man-god of few words Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) would talk about on a random school night in Dillon, we think it might go something like this: “You’re prettier.” “No, you’re prettier.” FNL fans may recall that the ages and years of most of the student characters — aside from wheelchair-bound senior quarterback Jason Street (Scott Porter) — weren’t defined until the third season. So working backwards, that meant a 26-year-old Kelly was playing a sophomore when Lyla made out with her paralyzed boyfriend’s best friend in the pouring Texas rain. (And let’s be honest, while both dreamy, Kitsch and Porter never looked young enough to truly be in high school.)

“I wanted it to be really fresh and clean,” says Friday Night Lights makeup department head Jacenda Burkett about her inspiration for Lyla’s fresh-faced beauty look. “I didn't want it to be overly done. I just wanted it to be — you look at her and go, ‘Wow, she’s really beautiful.’”

To enhance Kelly’s naturally blessed complexion, Burkett used Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation and a touch of Chanel bronzer. “It looked like a natural, sun-kissed look,” Burkett says. She also kept Lyla’s lips a soft neutral, first experimenting with a Chanel lipliner and Rosebud Salve. “No, I didn’t,” Burkett says, quickly correcting herself. “I took that away because it was too shiny. I used La Mer lip balm [instead]. I remember our first episode, [the Rosebud Salve] was too glossy-looking for the camera, so I switched it.”

To accent that criss-cross-front cheerleading uniform, Burkett would mix in liquid bronzer with moisturizer to fake a Texas-sun-kissed glow on Kelly’s chest and shoulders. You know, as Lyla cheered the Dillon Panthers on through all those improbable Hail Mary moments — like when Saracen would throw a touchdown pass to Smash in the last two seconds of a game.

Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation, $62, available at Sephora; Chanel Soleil Tan de Chanel, $50, available at Chanel; Rosebud Perfume Co. Rosebud Salve, $6, available at Sephora; La Mer Lip Balm, $55, available at La Mer.
Photo: Photofest.
Stacey Dash As Dionne In Clueless (1995)
Two decades before crossing over to the dark side joining Fox News and beefing with Bring It On star Gabrielle Union, actress Stacey Dash earned her place in the pop culture hall of fame as Dionne, BFF to Alicia Silverstone’s Cher Horowitz in the classic movie Clueless.

At the time, Silverstone and the late Brittany Murphy as makeover subject Tai were both 18 — two years older than their driver's-ed-taking characters — while Dash was a very youthful 28. (She also carried Dionne over onto the small-screen Clueless, which ran from 1996 to 1999, when Dash was 32.)

Makeup supervisor Alan Friedman based the entire cast's beauty looks on Mona May’s iconic costume designs, which still make for perfect Halloween getups 20 years later. “This was before the internet, so [May] pulled things out of magazines and [showed me] tons of photocopies and pictures,” he says, laughing. “[Dionne’s] look was a little more over the top than anything that we put Cher in,” adds Friedman, as we reminisce over Di’s stellar accessories game.

For Dash’s 12-years-younger movie look, Friedman focused on warm tones and a less-is-more approach. “Very often, you put a lot of makeup on an actress trying to make her look young,” he explains. “You defeat your own purpose, and they start to look a little older with just too much makeup. That may be the secret in this case.” (Way harsh, but we see his point.)

Of course, a good foundation base is key to creating that flawless complexion. Problem was — in 1995 — foundation options for women of color were even more limited than now, and makeup artists usually just resorted to higher pigmented colors made for fair skin tones. “Stacey had run into that a lot,” Friedman says. “So she literally showed up with her own makeup base, [saying], ‘Here’s what I want you to use on me. This works. I know it works.’” Dash’s go-to product: a water-based foundation to combat her oily skin from Iman Cosmetics, which had just launched a year earlier in 1994.

Iman Cosmetics Foundation, $16, available at Iman Cosmetics.
Photo: Everett Collection.
Troian Bellisario As Spencer Hastings In Pretty Little Liars (2010 To Present)
Considering that two years of high school has played out over six seasons, it seems like junior year at Rosewood High School really was a million years ago. As the most senior of the Liars, Troian Bellisario was 24 when she began playing 16-year-old Spencer Hastings, the most intellectual and ambitious of her A-tormented squad.

“From my experiences, the girls that were the smart girls, without being cliché, didn’t worry about their outer appearances,” explains makeup department head Cindy Miguens about the inspiration behind Spencer’s look. “Their beauty is simple. We kept her beauty simple.” So the artist pared down Bellisario’s makeup routine using eyeshadows as soft liners and a touch of mascara. To create a baby-face effect, Miguens also used blush to emphasize the apples of Bellisario’s cheeks.

“In order to make a 20-year-old actress look like a teenager, the secret is not using a lot of contour,” Miguens says. “Which is hard to do because in their [real life and on the red carpet], it’s a different look.” (Although, in "5 Years Forward" — when Spencer matures a little bit closer to Bellisario’s real age of 30 — it’s all about the contour.)

Back in high school, Spencer’s makeup, like her character, stayed fairly consistent throughout the extended junior and senior years (minus a stint at Radley and a prescription-pill addiction, or two), all while artsy Aria and fashion girl Hanna got to experiment. “That was a challenge in itself,” Miguens says, “when you have other actresses around you adding more makeup. For Hanna and Aria’s characters, they would change their makeup every episode.” But overall, Miguens confirms that the actress might just be experiencing a bit of a Benjamin Button effect: “Troian looks younger in her 30s than she did in her 20s.”
Photo: Photofest.
Shay Mitchell As Emily Fields In Pretty Little Liars (2010 To Present)
When her character Emily Fields started junior year at Rosewood High, the actress Shay Mitchell was 23, Emily’s age in "5 Years Forward." Granted, like her compatriot Liars, Mitchell hasn’t aged one bit since the start of the longest junior and senior years ever. And, as we learned in the time-jump hair-and-beauty deep dive, Emily’s look hasn’t changed much over the course of seven years in TV time — flunking out of college, dad’s death, and all.

Working with the producers and off the script, Miguens focused on a “more sporty” vibe for early Emily, which we all know is very different from the ultra-glam Mitchell in real life. But as the actress settled into her role, “we added a little bit more of Shay’s personality into her character,” says Miguens. “We added more bronze and shimmers, and things like that. Shay loves to [give] input on what she would like.”

After playing up the baby faces of the actresses for their on-screen high school years, now the makeup artist can accent their higher cheekbones with blush placement and contour. “You tend to lose a bit of your baby fat [in your 20s]; you know what I mean?” she says. “You start blossoming into a beautiful young lady into your 20s. We had the luck of having such gorgeous gals anyway. It’s so easy.”
Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock.
Anna Kendrick As Beca In Pitch Perfect (2012)
The majority of Pitch Perfect’s headlining cast had pretty much aged out of their college years, but who really GAF considering the aca-mazing talent packed into the movie? Leading lady Anna Kendrick was 27 when she played freshman goth-turned-Barden Bella Beca in the first installment of the franchise. Makeup department head Debbie Zoller wanted to use makeup to express the on-screen 18-year-old’s individuality in contrast to the “popular girls,” Anna Camp’s blonde Aubrey and Brittany Snow’s ginger Chloe.

“You want to figure out a way to convey what these characters are before they even open their mouth and say anything,” she says (or sing anything). As Beca starts her freshman year brooding, she wears faux tattoos, fake piercings, chipped nail polish, and angry smoky eyes, but not in the typical black-gray hues. “I did it more out of greens and blues and metal colors,” Zoller says.

Zoller’s main trick to faking the college years: flawless skin. “Being really fresh and just radiant,” the makeup artist says, remembering her own freshman year at UCLA. “I didn’t want to be that pimply skinned college student because I didn’t want anybody to think that I would look different.” So Zoller airbrushed Clé de Peau Silky Cream Foundation onto Kendrick. “[It’s] most important to start with a really clean palette and make sure that the girls looked fresh and youthful,” she adds. Zoller would also prime Kendrick’s skin with Becca Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector. “Which is really funny because her character name was Beca,” Zoller says.

Clé de Peau Silky Cream Foundation, $120, available at Clé de Peau; Becca Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector, $36, available at Sephora.
Photo: Everett Collection.
Rebel Wilson As Fat Amy In Pitch Perfect (2012)
The Barden Bellas wouldn’t be complete without lip gloss-loving, bangs-rocking, and one liner-throwing underclassman Fat Amy, played by multitalented comedian Rebel Wilson, who was in her early 30s at the time. (Well, if you believe the media hounds, that is.) “Both [director] Jason [Moore] and Rebel had said, ‘No, her character’s called Fat Amy; she shouldn’t have any makeup. She should look kind of sloppy,'” Zoller recalls. “I’m like, ‘No, absolutely not.’ Just because her character name is Fat Amy doesn’t mean she has to portray an image of a girl that doesn’t take care of herself.”

“Rebel’s a beautiful girl; she’s going to wear makeup,” the makeup department head adds. But, not a lot. Zoller would prep Wilson’s skin with Becca Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector and then airbrush on a layer of Chanel foundation. Although, Wilson kind of had a head start. “Rebel’s got great skin anyway,” Zoller says. As for Amy’s signature cotton-candy pink lip gloss, the inspiration behind that was simple. “I asked Rebel what her favorite color was, and she loves pink.”

Becca Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector, $36, available at Sephora.
Photo: Photo: Everett Collection.
Leslie Bibb As Brooke McQueen In Popular (1999 To 2001)
Before Quinn Fabray and her Cheerios ruled the halls of William McKinley High on Glee, Brooke McQueen reigned supreme at Jacqueline Kennedy High School on Ryan Murphy’s early-aughts, biting teen comedy Popular. Model-turned-actress Leslie Bibb was 25 when she started playing the sophomore proto-Regina George, but with layers.

“[When] going for a teenage look: Less is more,” says the show’s makeup department head Rela Martine. “So it was all soft, pretty pinks, shimmers, and just very, very low-key pastels. She’s a model, so she looks young anyways. She’s always youthful.”

For the McQueen Bee’s beauty look, Martine looked to Tarte Cheek Stains and Kiehl’s tinted lip balms — in contrast to Mary Cherry’s bold, brown-red '90s-holdover hues. But she stayed away from the glitters that were, erm, popular 15 years ago. “[Producers] want you to stay away from the glitters and the real high shimmers. Everything was HD,” she says. “Was it HD back then?” (Yes.)

Another revolutionary technological advancement in 1999: airbrushing. Martine recalls giving her airbrush a whirl with foundations by NARS and Bobbi Brown, and “trying out anything organic,” also a burgeoning trend at the time.
Photo: Courtesy of MTV.
Bailey De Young As Lauren Cooper In Faking It (2014 To Present)
Twenty-six-year-old Bailey De Young expands her high school character range as misunderstood queen bee Lauren Cooper on MTV’s Faking It. (We’ve already enjoyed the actress’ sweet, insecure side as adorable ballet dancer Ginny Thompson on the tragically canceled Bunheads.) “She is always a well put-together, popular ‘It’ teen,” says makeup department head Cindy Miguens, who’s also busy heading up beauty on PLL over on Freeform. “Lauren Cooper wouldn’t leave her house if her makeup wasn't always on-point. She practically wakes up like that.”

Taking inspiration from a classic Marilyn Monroe face for Lauren, Miguens worked out multiple looks for the teen (on TV) diva. For a daytime classroom look, Miguens applied the now-discontinued Tarte Natural Lip Sheer in Tea Time. But for “special occasions” (like maybe a school dance to humiliate her fake-fake lesbian stepsister?), the mean girl might wear a coral hot pink with MAC Patentpolish Lip Pencil in Revved Up, or a bold orange-red, like NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Red Square.

Miguens also used everyone’s secret weapon behind a flawless dewy complexion, Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation — accented with contour from an It Cosmetics bronzer palette. The final touch: “Benefit Dandelion Box o' Powder Blush on the apples of her cheeks and Benefit 10 to give her complexion a perfect glow.”

Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation, $62, available at Sephora; MAC Patentpolish Lip Polish in Revved Up, $20, available at MAC; NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Red Square, $26, available at NARS; It Cosmetics Vitality Brightening Anti-Aging Face Disk, $38, available at It Cosmetics; Benefit Dandelion Box o' Powder Blush, $29, available at Sephora.
Photo: Everett Collection.
Adelaide Kane As Mary, Queen Of Scots In Reign (2013 To Present)
While watching a period show centered on power play, intrigue, and very adult dangerous liaisons in the French Elizabethan-era court, one might forget that the reigning leaders are barely old enough to be sophomores in high school. Aussie actress Adelaide Kane was 23 when she started playing 15-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, as she landed in France to marry 14-year-old Francis (Toby Regbo), heir to the French throne. (Poor thing was a widow just two years later, and never mind the 18-plus years of imprisonment thanks to cousin Elizabeth, but anyway.)

You probably know all the ripped-from-the-history-books plotlines from your European history coursework, which is also where makeup department head Linda Preston looked for inspiration. “Many artists' renditions of the young queen were available,” she says. “We wanted the girls [Mary and her ladies-in-waiting] to look wild, young, free-spirited, and Scottish. We rosied up their cheeks, gave them pink lips, and minimal eye makeup.” (Mary’s ladies-in-waiting are also adults masquerading as teens. Anna Popplewell, who plays Lola, Mary’s BFF and the mother of Francis’ illegitimate child, is currently 27; while Celina Sinden, exiled-lady-in-waiting and businesswoman Greer, is 28 in real life.)

Preston played up Mary’s youth, innocence, and naïveté with makeup in the first season, when the soon-to-be Queen of France reunited with the doomed Francis. “[Kane’s] eye makeup was rounded out to create a wide-eyed look, and her skin: dewy and flawless,” Preston explains.

To create a royally faultless complexion, she started by making a base with a nourishing moisturizer, like Embryolisse, and she softened Kane’s lips with Lucas’ Pawpaw Ointment. Then she primed the actress’ skin with Dermalogica SkinPerfect Primer using a non-latex sponge. Next, Preston painted on a layer of Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Moisture Foundation in #123 with a Boots No. 7 flat foundation brush, and used a Sigma Kabuki Brush to buff and blend it into the skin. The final touch: Benefit’s Boi-ing Concealer buffed on with a small Real Techniques brush.

The one makeup product that’s banned from the Reign set? Anachronistic lip gloss. “Lip gloss is a BIG no-no!” Preston says. “I use Burt’s Bees Lip Balm in Pomegranate. Even when the girls lick their lips, we run in to blot. Gloss is my pet peeve."

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentrè, $28, available at Embryolisse; Lucas’ Pawpaw Ointment, $15.99, available at Ricky's NYC; Dermalogica SkinPerfect Primer, $50, available at Dermalogica; Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Moisture Foundation, $62, available at Koh Gen Do; Boots No. 7 Flat Foundation Brush, $9.99, available at Boots; Sigma Flat Kabuki Brush, $24, available at Sigma; Benefit Boi-ing Concealer, $20, available at Sephora; Real Techniques Core Collection brushes, $18, available at Real Techniques; Burt’s Bees Pomegranate Lip Balm, $3.30, available at Burt's Bees.
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