Makeup Dos & Don'ts For Every Type Of Light

Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Have you ever hit the town after artfully applying your cosmetics, only to catch your reflection in a window and think, Where did all my makeup go? The reason your face lost its pop between leaving your bathroom and arriving at the party has nothing to do with your makeup's staying power: It's all about the lighting.

Turns out, there are definitive rules when it comes to doing makeup for different types of light. The best photographers and makeup artists swear by them — and it's not just about wearing more or less. We consulted two industry heavyweights to learn the rules for ourselves.

If you're familiar with Robin Black's blog Beauty Is Boring, then you know she's just as skilled behind the camera as she is with a makeup brush — she's a lighting pro! She splits her time between the two disciplines for publications like Elle and Allure, and big beauty brands such as Clarins. For even more pro guidance, we spoke with makeup artist Beau Nelson. He calls the better half of Hollywood his clients — Nicole Richie, Gigi Hadid, Chrissy Teigen, and Kristen Stewart, just to name a few — acting as their trusted makeup artist, from the red carpet to shoots to daytime appearances.

Ahead, these two powerhouse professionals break down exactly what you need to know to put your best face forward, in every type of lighting.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Bright, Harsh Midday Light
Approximately 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The Dos: “Low-texture” face makeup, like BBs, CCs, and tinted moisturizers. Products with a demi-matte finish, soft mascara, and bright blush are ideal.

The Don’ts: Avoid heavy face makeup, like full-coverage foundation. Also, limit contour and ditch the highlighter. Skip high-impact mascara, and don’t apply any eye makeup on the bottom lashline and lashes.

The Details: “In the movie world, bright light is called 'high noon' because it creates a strong cast on the skin,” Black explains. This is why it's most important to consider the weight of your products. “You want all your products to be low on texture, since they’ll be very visible,” she says. Stick to light formulas, and apply only where you need them. “Harsh midday light also tends to be cool to neutral in tone, which can make the skin look a little flat, so it’s nice to add a little more blush, too,” she adds.

“Bright light can exaggerate any oiliness on the skin,” Nelson says. That means a blotting sheet can go a long way to keep skin looking fresh. “A demi-matte skin finish is perfect for this type of light because it will still look alive, but won’t be overly shiny." And whatever you do, don't wear any highlighter, or “you’ll look like a disco ball,” Black says. The bright light will naturally illuminate the high points of the face, so you don’t need it. Avoid eye makeup on the bottom lashes or lashline, because it could exaggerate any circles, thanks to overhead light.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Interior Fluorescent Lighting
Such as at the office, retail stores, and other indoor spaces

The Dos: Bright blush, a touch of bronzer, and luminous or even dewy products are all great.

The Don’ts: Matte finishes are a no-no, and avoid wearing any eye makeup on the bottom lashline and lashes.

The Details:
Neither of our experts could hide their disdain for fluorescent lighting. Black’s take? “Avoid it! Wear a bag over your head!” Nelson has a similar instinct. “The worst!” he says. Why? Office lighting delivers a triple threat: It’s bright, overhead, and has an unflattering greenish-yellow tone. Luckily, you can combat these negative effects.

“The unfortunate green cast of these lights makes even the most genetically gifted of us look like extras on The Walking Dead,” Nelson says. “But a little bronzer and blush can go a long way in perking up your complexion!” Black agrees, and adds that a dewy finish can help as well. “You don’t want to look tired, slightly green, and matte!" she says.

Keep the bottom lashline makeup-free. “Wearing liner, mascara, or shadow under your eyes will just add to the shadows the light is casting,” Black explains.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Soft Daytime Light
Cloudy days

The Dos: Pops of color from your blush and lipstick work well, as do heavy lashes. Dewy finishes, highlighter, and light contouring are also appropriate.

The Don’ts: Matte finishes.

The Details: This type of light can vary between soft sunlight and a full-on gray and cloudy sky. The former is ideal for skin. "Soft daylight is one of the most beautiful light types possible,” Nelson says. “Diffused soft lighting is mimicked in studio with large soft boxes, but there is no larger soft box than a cloudy sky! Almost any makeup will look good in this light.”

When the cloudy day turns gray, you should make a few changes. “Some soft light can be flattering, but it also flattens out all the dimension on your face when it gets gray,” Black says. “Which is why it’s great to go for dewy finishes and a pop of color to bring the life back." Heavy lashes may look a bit misplaced in bright daylight, but gray light practically calls for them, Black adds.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Golden Hour
Approximately 3 p.m. to sunset

The Dos: Most products and finishes are well-suited for this soft light.

The Don’ts: Excessive face makeup, including warm shades of bronzer and blush, and heavy blush.

The Details: The golden hour is the kindest time of day for all skin types. “The low angle of the light makes imperfections disappear and diffuses flaws,” Nelson says. That means you can go easy on the face makeup, and let the sun do its thing.

“Almost every beauty shoot happens at golden hour, and there are some photographers who shoot exclusively at this time,” Black says. “It’s a warm light that makes everyone’s skin look amazing.”

However, this amount of warmth means you should steer clear of anything that will compete with it. “Too much blush can look very intense with the warm light,” Black says. The same goes for bronzer. "At this time of day, the sun's relatively neutral light is shifted into a golden-pink peach light that warms the skin, making everyone look golden and bronzy," Nelson adds. Translation: Stow the bronzer.
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Soft Evening Lighting
Think street lamps and run-of-the-mill exterior lighting

The Dos: Any kind of foundation is acceptable, highlighter works well, and bright, pigment-packed colors are great. Stick to undereye concealer with light-reflecting particles.

The Don’ts: Limit contour, and avoid eye makeup under the eyes.

The Details: Soft evening light is universally flattering, but it can also create problems with shadows on the face, as exterior lighting is often overhead. “It casts shadows in the hollows of the bone structure,” Nelson says. “While that may be great for your cheekbones, it’s not great for eye sockets, which can look deep and sunken in.” The solution? Opt for a light-reflecting concealer, which will make your eyes pop.

Since the light is so soft, Black suggests avoiding subtle lip or eye colors. “Soft light wraps the features, so if you want to do a dark eye, go really dark to make it stand out," she says. Same goes for lip color, so steer clear of sheer!
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Illustrated by Abbie Winters.
Candlelight
As well as movie-theater lighting and low lighting in bars and restaurants

The Dos: Get crazy: Heavy blush, bright lipstick, and heavy eye makeup are fantastic for low light! Highlighter — shimmery and glossy — is perfect as well.

The Dont’s:
Minimal "no-makeup makeup," or anything sheer or subtle.

The Details: “Everyone looks great in low lighting, but you will probably need to pump up the drama,” Black says. “If you want a red lip, don’t reach for a sheer color, because no one is going to see it.” To prevent arriving at your final destination with makeup you can barely see, follow Black’s tip: “Do a reality check,” she says. “Turn off the light in your bathroom and just shine the light from your phone onto your face.” This technique helps you see what others will see.

Another product people often under-apply in low light is blush, Black says. When getting ready for a night out, apply your blush as you normally would, then do it again. “After you apply all the rest of your evening makeup, you’ll realize that you need more,” she explains.

Low evening light is also the perfect opportunity to break out your highlighter. "Candelight catches any shimmer products, allowing them to come to life on the face,” Nelson says. “Highlighting with either metallics or dewy, glossy textures works really nicely in candlelight, and you can go a little more intense than you would normally because the low level of light doesn’t pick up as much as a brighter source would.”
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