At Refinery29 Australia, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team, but we may earn commission or other compensation from the links on this page.
With 2.2 million followers on Instagram, it’s likely you’ve seen or perhaps heard of Mary Phillips before. Not counting her burgeoning black book of celebrity clients, she’s the makeup artist who put ‘90s beauty trick 'underpainting' (the process of applying your contour, blush and highlighter underneath your foundation) back on the map and brought us the three dot concealer hack, which continues to go viral on TikTok for creating a faux face lift effect.
In other words, Mary knows all there is to know about achieving flawless — and timeless — makeup so when I was invited along to watch her do her thing at a makeup masterclass with L’Oréal Paris recently, saying yes was a no-brainer. Here are the invaluable makeup lessons I gleaned from Mary when she made a pit stop in London.
Warm up your foundation for a seamless base
Whether I opt for full coverage or a delicate skin tint, I’ve always applied my base the same way: either pumping the product directly onto my face, or onto the back of my hand first, then dipping in the brush and applying it that way. This isn’t how Mary does things.
For makeup that feels lightweight but doesn’t scrimp on coverage, I spotted Mary warming up the foundation (L’Oréal Paris Infallible 32h Freshwear Foundation, $18.49) on the inside of her forearm first. She swirled her brush into the product so that the bristles soaked up all the foundation — and that’s when she applied it to the skin. This lent her model a more natural, believable finish where the foundation looked like a second skin, rather than obvious makeup. Since switching to this method of application, my skin looks convincingly more even in tone and I don’t have to worry about excess makeup collecting in my creases or around dry patches. Better still, it lends just the right amount of coverage.
If you have more time on your hands and a slightly bigger budget, Mary often uses two different shades of foundation to create dimension on her celebrity clients. She likes to use a lighter tone on the high points of the face like the tops of the cheekbones, above the jawline and the middle of the forehead, then a darker shade on the perimeters of the face: under the cheekbone and under the jaw for a contouring effect, and a little bit down the neck to make sure everything looks uniform.
You don't need a makeup primer
Makeup artist Bobbi Brown once told me that she doesn’t believe in makeup primer — and it seems Mary agrees. She told the audience that she never uses primer when applying makeup. Primer acts like Velcro, which makes removing makeup — and cleaning up small mistakes — quite difficult. Instead, Mary is huge on skin prep and likes to make sure that the skin is hydrated with a great moisturiser. R29 rates Charlotte Tilbury Charlotte's Magic Water Cream, $125, Tatcha The Dewy Skin Cream, $112, and The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + PhytoCeramides, $35.50.
You can use the same moisturiser to freshen up and rehydrate your makeup throughout the day. Mary advised applying very little to a fluffy brush and pressing it over makeup to minimise the appearance of dry patches and to bring foundation back to life.
The benefits of concealer are endless
Concealer is one of those products that you can use for everything, Mary told the audience. She often mixes it with a dab of moisturiser to create a featherweight foundation, for example. Shades that are too light for you can work as a shimmer-free highlighter on cheekbones and down the centre of the nose, while shades that are too dark can be used to add a subtle contouring effect. Often on photoshoots, Mary uses concealer as a matte lipstick, too. Simply line your lips and feather the product inwards with a small, fluffy brush and then place a touch of concealer in the centre.
With that in mind, Mary is most known for her viral 'three dot' concealer method. Instead of applying a swathe of product underneath your eyes, try placing three solid dots of concealer: at the side of your nose, just underneath the inner corner of your eye and at the outer corner of your eye, then blend with a damp Beautyblender, $30, or a makeup brush. This, said Mary, is designed to lift the face and highlight your features.
Swap your lip liner for eyeliner
If you’re struggling to find the perfect nude lip liner, Mary recommended using a brown eye pencil instead (try L'Oréal Paris Infallible 36h Grip Gel Eyeliner in Brown Denim, $11.99). There’s a method to lining your lips, too. Start with your top lip. From the corner, simply trace your natural lip line upwards, keeping within the shape of your lip. When you reach the Cupid’s bow, stencil ever so slightly above your natural lip line and repeat on the other side. This should give your top lip a natural lift.
When lining your bottom lip, keep within the line at the sides but sketch a line directly underneath your bottom lip, a little bit away from your natural lip line, to give the illusion of fullness. Mary recommends always softening your lip liner (you could use a brush or your finger) so that it’s not too harsh.
Lip prep is the key to keeping your lip liner or lipstick in place. If you don’t have a lip scrub to hand (I like e.l.f. Lip Exfoliator Coconut, $9), Mary suggests giving your lips a once-over with your toothbrush to exfoliate dry skin.
Try underpainting for a natural makeup look
Underpainting isn’t exactly new. Mary first came across the popular technique in makeup artist Kevyn Aucoin’s book Making Faces, published in 1999, but thanks to TikTok it’s now everywhere again. Underpainting consists of strategically applying cream products such as bronzer, blush and highlighter, then layering foundation over the top. The result is more of a unified makeup look — as though you’re glowing from within.
Begin with a cream highlighter, like Fenty Beauty Match Stix Shimmer Skinstick, $48. Mary applies highlighter high up on the cheekbone for a "lifted and snatched" look, then swipes it underneath the jaw and at the outer corner of the eyes (extending up to the temples). Apply your chosen cream contour, bronzer or blush where you usually would, then take a dense brush or a damp Beauty Blender, to blend everything out slightly. A light layer of foundation is all you need to complete things, though you can always add extra bronzer, blush or highlighter for more of an impact.
One thing Mary wouldn’t do is use powder products for underpainting. When applying these underneath something like a liquid foundation, you’ll likely end up creating a bit of a muddy mess, she warned. Stick to cream or liquid products and if you want to set things in place, finish with a light dusting of translucent powder over the top.
Try brow mapping
Striving for symmetry is no mean feat but Mary’s way of boosting brows is very much like TikTok’s viral mapping technique, which uses your nose as a guide to determine your brow structure — specifically where they should start, arch and end.
Use your brow pencil as a guide and place it at the outer tip of your nose in a vertical line to see where your brow should start. Your arch should align with your iris, said Mary, then imagine there’s a line going from the very edge of your nose to the outer corner of your eye. Your brow should typically end just above that. You can mark dots with your brow pencil as you go along.
It pays to get your products right, too. Mary suggested opting for a very thin brow pencil like L’Oréal Paris Brow Artist Skinny Definer, $9.99, to imitate natural brow hairs. Also try Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz, $40, and NYX Professional Makeup Micro Brow Pencil, $19.99, which are both very precise.
How to apply lipstick like a professional
Lipstick can be intimidating. To take the edge off, Mary chooses not to apply it directly from the bullet (or the applicator if you’re using a liquid lipstick). She suggests dabbing some lipstick on the back of your hand and enlisting a more precise lip brush, which will make light work of tracing your lip line and filling in your lips. Try NARS #30 Precision Lip Brush, $35, or Mecca Max Precision Lip Brush, $7, if you'd rather spend less. Once you’re happy with the intensity of the colour, give the brush a quick clean with micellar water. Mary likes to apply a minuscule amount of concealer around the lips (you can use the same brush) to make everything look crisp.