Making up with the 
no-makeup look

For many women the pressure to wear layers of make-up has slipped away with the pandemic

By Simran Sodhi

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Published: Sat 26 Mar 2022, 8:57 PM

The “cosmetics” appeal waned considerably over the pandemic, and as we emerge from it, more and more women are now easy with the idea of not slapping on beauty aids on the face — and being more comfortable in their skins

Our lives have been turned upside down by the Covid-19 pandemic and many of our pre-conceived notions on travel and work have been challenged. As most of us sought refuge in the safety of our homes, we also grew more comfortable with clothes that we could easily slip into for a Zoom meeting and also lounge in. For many women, the pressure to wear layers of make-up also slowly slipped away. For lots of us, it was back to the basics. Healthy and glowing skin with a dash of lipstick and mascara seemed the easiest and breeziest way to handle an online meeting.

As the pandemic recedes, many women are choosing to stick to this new-found freedom. For them, this has been an acceptance of their natural selves; for some, it has been feeling more in tune with nature and enjoying the confidence that an almost-bare but happy face brings.

Mihaela Paunescu is Romanian and has been living in the UAE since 2008. She is the mother of one girl and also an entrepreneur. As she turns 45, and with the pandemic posing a challenge, she agrees that as Covid takes a backseat, women are turning away from a heavy make-up regimen to a more natural or minimal look. “Maybe [it’s] also because of environmental factors: wearing a mask, less exposure, less opportunities to hangout etc.”

When asked whether societies and cultures are accepting of women who prefer to go light on make-up or whether that is sometimes perceived as ‘being lazy’, Mihaela points out that: “I have noticed, for instance, that Arab ladies seem to care more about make-up than, say, European women. But it is not about culture, it is about individual choices as per habits, lifestyle and our place of work.”

Recent market trends show that, of late, while demand for cosmetics is going down, the demand for skincare products is going up. On this, she points out that, “Skincare products are always in demand because of our desire to stay clean and because they take care of us. I have also noticed a greater interest now in natural, organic skincare products.”

As a woman, Mihaela feels that make-up can help in certain situations — like when one is facing some skin condition or other problems. “Lack of make-up will not be an issue if the 
line of work and lifestyle for a woman doesn’t require her to always be dressed in a particular fashion.”

Though the ‘natural’ look has always had its followers, of late, in the aftermath of the pandemic, we find many celebrities posting their pictures on Instagram and other social media sans make-up. Most of us do tend to get influenced by these images, especially when we live in an age where we are constantly either on social media or following events on social media. Mihaela feels that the trend very much seems to be ‘back to nature’ in many domains. As she puts it, the market is “saturated by fake images, filters and unnatural looks and behaviors”. With Covid being a wake-up call to our collective consciousness, she feels it’s been another reason why we have started to move back to being natural.

This trend also makes one stand out. According to a Brandessence market research study (conducted in late 2021), “The skincare market size reached USD 132.64 billion in 2020 and the global skincare market size is expected to reach USD 198.13 billion by 2027. The skincare market size is poised to grow at significant pace, as Covid continues to shift demand from make-up demand to skincare, along with increased consumer awareness.”

No pressure to look a ‘certain way’

For Ishita Gupta, who is currently pursuing her undergraduate studies in California, the debate on wearing more or less make-up also centers around her life as a student and watching how others of her generation relate to it. “I was never someone who really wore a lot of make-up, but I definitely think that most of my friends also don’t wear a lot of make-up now. It’s perhaps possible that it’s because of Covid. I usually just wear natural make-up and that too very rarely, like when I am going out to parties.”

Ishita says that, as a student, most people don’t expect her to be wearing a lot of make-up but when going for an outing one does feel the need to wear a bit of it. “In the place I am right now [a really academic university], where we are very focused on our career and our goals, it’s definitely not the case. People are really understanding and accepting, because they know school is hard and people don’t have the time to always look their best. Personally, I never wear make-up, never have on a regular basis, and while I do feel the pressure to wear makeup at parties, I usually put on eyeliner and go out: it’s not that I wear it because I fear I won’t be accepted otherwise, but because it’s definitely nice to be seen by people, and be told you look nice. That being said, I am totally comfortable with minimal or no makeup.”

Ishita feels that the pandemic has changed our outlook towards wanting to go in for more natural looks. “I really can see that happening, and it’s something I resonate with a lot. I am trying to keep my skin clear, and have a natural glow because I don’t wear a lot of make-up [so I need to use less products on my face], and I try to eat healthy… it’s also a more sustainable way to look and feel good,” she says.

Maybe it is a generational shift or the fact that times are changing but, for Ishita, looking good comes from the inside — with exercise and eating healthy. “For me, what makes me feel confident is real, substantive beauty. I like it when I feel fit, my skin is clear, and I’m exercising. I know that I’m beautiful and healthy inside out. Make-up, for me, doesn’t do much. It feels like a fun party trick that I can use 
sometimes, but it’s not something I see myself using regularly.”

Alicia Keys, the 15-time Grammy winner, has been endorsing the no make-up look for years now. In an interview to Glamour UK, she said “Make-up was a big thing for me; I had been wearing it since I was, like, 16 years old. And then, as I got into the music world, it was what you did every day to do your television, or to do your shoot. So, I did it because I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do. And I realised I became addicted to it; I didn’t feel comfortable without it.”

She made it clear that she wasn’t giving up on cosmetics forever: “I love makeup! I love my lip gloss, I love my blush, I love my eyeliner. It’s not about that,” she said. “At the same time, I don’t want to feel beholden to have to do it.”

And as Keys pointed out, the main argument here is the fact that one doesn’t have to feel the need to be ‘beholden’ to have to do it. So, at the end of the day, it’s about a woman’s choice and how she feels comfortable and not how society would rather see her.

The triumph of skincare

For Kavita Mathur, who is a Yoga and Ayurveda practitioner based in the UAE, the pandemic saw many women returning to a look that is simple and natural. “Due to the circumstances created by Covid — wherein everyone was confined to their homes — women realised that simple and natural beauty is also effortless and comes with a sense of ease. It brings us closer to who we truly are, it brings us home. We also experience true joy, peace, happiness — that lies in this ‘space’. And when we get a glimpse of this, we will do everything to keep coming back there.”

Kavita adds that, “our health and immunity became of prime importance in our lives. 
We are all aware that make-up products prevent the skin from breathing and the chemicals in them can do us harm [especially if they are not natural and natural, organic ones are very expensive].

In current times, people want to do anything to stay healthy. So, yes, women are opting for a more natural look.”

She feels that being well-groomed is what society cares for. “Also, we all observe that beauty is a reflection of our inner self and it is not superficial. A well-groomed woman will carry herself elegantly and with panache — that’s all that society notices.”

Kavita, who practises yoga, points out that, “During Covid, we observed a huge shift taking place towards ‘self-care’ wherein women began approaching us to work on their physical, mental, and spiritual health. There was a realisation that we are stepping into a new age where Covid may go but there will be other pandemics. So, there is a need to become physically strong with a strong immunity so we can stand strong in the face of pandemics and also to become mentally strong and spiritually grounded so that no amount of fear in our environment can destabilise us. Heath and skincare are thus valued more because, after all, our skin is the biggest organ in our body.”

She looks at the debate on make-up in a slightly more philosophical manner. “We all have two things common in us. One, the need to stay happy, and, two, the need to stay healthy. Life is transitory with change being the only permanent thing in the world. Whether it is make-up or the lack of it, there is no right or wrong. What is important is what works for you at that point in time — that is what you should do because that will bring you joy.”

Kavita feels that the recent trend of celebrities going in for a cleaner or minimal make-up look is a reflection of what they experienced during the pandemic. “Of course, celebrities are trendsetters. We love to follow them. They have also experienced this during the pandemic — that less is easeful so, for now, the natural look is in and we need to enjoy and celebrate it.”

True beauty lies within…

As Audrey Hepburn said about beauty, “The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode, but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.”

There is never a wrong or a correct way of going about appearances in life. Some enjoy that cool look of denims and a tee while some prefer the formal trousers and shirt look. But maybe we are slipping into a lane where comfort with our inner selves has taken precedence as we count the losses and grief of many a life during the pandemic and even now. As women, there is great joy and fun in dressing up but there is also the great pleasure of grinning through the freckles. Maybe the pandemic has made us less judgemental of a few wrinkles here and there — that a concealer could have concealed earlier, but, today, they don’t matter anymore — and made us appreciate a happy, healthy face more

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