I still remember the first time I wore makeup out in public. I was 13 and had just gotten purple and blue eye shadow in my stocking on Christmas morning. A few days later, I experimented with a purple eye and some mascara – a bold move for a girl who had never worn makeup before, and whose mom never taught her the right way to put it on, either. And unfortunately, yes: there are ancient Instagram pictures documenting this entire look.
A year or two later, however, makeup turned from a playful hobby into my daily battle armor. When I entered high school and started having hormonal breakouts from going off birth control, foundation became the mask I hid behind every. Single. Day.
Don’t get me wrong, I still loved playing and experimenting with different looks but it got to the point where I almost forgot what my face looked like without mascara and eyeliner. Even in sweatpants, I was too self-conscious to leave the house without it – and when I did go barefaced (usually because I was running late and forgot to grab my makeup bag to put on in the school bathroom) it was like I could feel everyone’s eyes on me, staring from all directions.
Then, during my sophomore year of college, things began to change – namely, my mental health. I got into a good groove with therapy, medication and healthy lifestyle habits, and left a relationship that had been detrimental to my happiness and well-being. And somewhere along the way, I stopped wearing so much makeup.
More specifically, I undertook a challenge for my college chapter of Her Campus. I had grown fond of writing “I tried” articles, and had come up with a crazy idea – after reading a similar story on Byrdie – to stop using commercial skincare and makeup for a week. Instead, I would go completely barefaced and use household products like baking soda and apple cider vinegar to cleanse and tone my skin.
And let me tell you: that so-called “skin detox” worked. My skin felt softer, smoother and less oily than it had before my challenge. After a week of not washing my face with traditional skincare products, I was itching to feel clean – but as soon as I started reintroducing products into my routine, it became obvious which of my skincare and makeup products were causing my breakouts. Immediately, I adopted a more minimalist approach to makeup and skincare – and I haven’t looked back since.
After that challenge, I got used to the sight of my own reflection again. I stopped liking what my face looked like caked in foundation and liquid eyeliner – I could hardly recognize myself beneath all that smoke and mirrors – and started using lighter coverage products, like tinted moisturizer and BB cream. For the first time in my life, I spent more of my time, energy and money on skincare than makeup. I learned how to enhance the features I was born with, instead of hiding behind my crutches in Sephora.
It’s then that I realized just how problematic makeup had become for my mental health. While makeup can enhance confidence for lots of women, mine had become a sort of addiction. While some people use alcohol or drugs to compensate in social situations, I was hiding behind layers of makeup to avoid the embarrassment of having to be seen – truly seen – for who I was.
At the end of the day, the makeup wasn’t really the problem: it was my chronic lack of confidence. The way that led me to use makeup as a mask to hide behind, rather than a mood-booster, was the true problem with my makeup habit. If this sounds like you, I recommend taking a step back from the makeup bag for a few days, and getting used to the idea of loving yourself and your body just the way you are.
Still need more convincing before you swear off the makeup brushes for good? Check out four more ways going barefaced can benefit your mental health below…
Going Barefaced is Empowering
When you feel helpless to the forces around you, try going without makeup to renew your sense of empowerment and control. Often, women wear makeup because they believe they need to to look beautiful. But who decides what is beautiful? And why do I need to look beautiful every second of every day, anyways? If you, like me, find yourself wanting to give arbitrary beauty standards the middle finger, then tell the patriarchy “not today, Satan” and leave your lip gloss at home.
Going Barefaced is More Honest
One of the most detrimental consequences of living in a world where 84% of women wear makeup is that makeup is a good liar. When we’re surrounded by other women who we perceive as “beautiful,” we tend to fall into unhealthy traps of comparison and inhibition. We might feel like we need to wear makeup because all our friends are doing it, or to “keep up with the competition” in the dating pool. But whatever the reason, I can assure you that most of those so-called “beautiful” women probably don’t look like supermodels when they wipe off their makeup at night. (If you check out this article of what 26 Miss America contestants look like with #NoMakeup, you’ll see exactly what I mean.)
Going Barefaced Checks Your Privilege
As an insider within a system like the beauty industry, it’s difficult to see its flaws – but once you step outside the inner confines of the industry, you get a more complete picture of the industry and its mistakes. The beauty industry is far from inclusive, with many ranges of face products offering only a limited range of tones for darker skin (though this is, thankfully, improving with new lines like Fenty Beauty by Rihanna). Studies even show that we’re more likely to make assumptions that women wearing makeup are healthier, more credible and even heterosexual. By not wearing makeup, you are actively choosing NOT to participate in a system that perpetuates these problematic gender and racial “norms.”
Going Barefaced Boosts Your Confidence
Many beauty gurus and industry leaders defend makeup as a mode of self-expression. But if you’re hiding behind someone else’s face, are you really presenting the world with an accurate picture of who you truly are? At the end of the day, wearing makeup is, of course, a personal decision that looks different for everyone. However, note that even though you may feel more confident at first, the boost in self-esteem that wearing makeup brings is only fleeting. Plus, studies also show that if you only wear makeup because you feel like you have to, you’re actually less likely to experience a confidence boost from makeup in the first place!