By most standards, I don't wear a lot of makeup. If you asked my boyfriend, he'd probably tell you I don't wear makeup at all (I definitely do, but I've mastered the art of the no-makeup makeup look). Like most girls I know, I have a few "flaws" that I choose to cover up and other features that I like to enhance.
On average, it takes me 10 minutes to put on my makeup for work. I wear tinted moisturizer and concealer to even my splotchy skin, fill in my brows because bold brows are still a thing, and curl and coat my lashes with mascara because I was blessed with the teeny tiny Shunatona eyes. (All I ever heard growing up was that I have squinty eyes.) This was my daily routine until one morning, when I was running a little behind schedule and showed up to work bare-faced.
I was planning to touch up in the bathroom before any of my coworkers could see me and my under-eye circles, dark spots, blemishes, and melasma in all their glory. I discovered the melasma, a skin discoloration triggered by hormones and sun exposure, a few months back when my boyfriend thought I had dirt on my face and tried to rub it off. Needless to say, I've been pretty self-conscious of my skin since then.
Up until that point, I had never been to work without makeup on. Unfortunately, that morning, a coworker of mine caught a glimpse. To my surprise, he said, "You look so fresh-faced." I scrambled for excuses: I recently started using a new face cream for my melasma, I told him, and wanted to give it ample time to soak in before I slathered my face with makeup.
"You should just stop wearing makeup then," he suggested. Sure. Easy for a guy to say, but I've always felt like if I'm going to work, an event, or any occasion other than bumming around watching Netflix, I need to look presentable. For me, wearing concealer and mascara makes me presentable.
Still, I took his challenge and pledged to stop wearing makeup for one week. Celebrities proudly post makeup-free selfies all the time and they feel way more pressure to look good than I do. I hardly wear anything on the weekends and all my friends and loved ones have seen me without makeup anyway, so I thought this would be easy and not too life-changing. #FamousLastWords.
The start of my first day at work without makeup was like that dream where you find yourself naked in front of a crowd and everyone's laughing at you — except no one laughed or stared at my bare face. I was reassured. My colleagues respect me for the work I do and don't care that much about how I look.
Later that day, I went to an event to preview a new makeup foundation launch. The first thing the representative of the brand, whom I had not met before, said to me was, "You have really uneven skin. Have you been in the sun? You have spots on your face." Here I was thinking no one could even see it and that I was overreacting! I'm sure she had good intentions, but she was tapping into my deepest insecurity. I played it off and told the brand rep that I didn't have any makeup on and usually it didn't look that bad, but the truth was that what she said did bother me and my skin did always look like that.
I broke down. When I had made this no-makeup agreement, I'd forgotten that I had plans to go to the Belmont Stakes (witnessed Triple Crown history, BTW). On the day of the race, I didn't really feel like being in a big group of people without makeup on — especially not after what had gone down the night before.
I kept the makeup simple, mostly made sure my skin was even with foundation and concealer. One girl actually approached me and said my skin looked nice (I felt like an impostor since it was the makeup that made my skin look good, but I was happy to take the compliment anyway). I also made sure to wear a hat, not only because it was part of my outfit but because I can't be in the sun anymore without a hat or SPF 50 if I want my sun-induced melasma to clear up. Pro tip: Hats are also a great way to hide your face from the world. Even though I had a little makeup on, it was honestly nice to have that big-ass hat as a crutch.
On the weekends, I am normally makeup-free anyway, so I had no issues. This is me in my element, on my couch watching Game of Thrones.
The nice front desk guy at the office told me he thought I was 18. (Actually, I was 24 and turning 25 in three days.) I'm often confused for a teenager when I'm not wearing makeup—probably because people are thinking to themselves, How does this girl have such oily, broken-out skin? She must still be in those awkward teenage years. Bless her! I started breaking out when I was 14 and a decade later, I still feel the struggle. Front desk guy's comment didn't really bother me though. There are worse things in life than looking like a cool teen. I didn't even notice my makeup-free state the rest of the day either. Maybe I was starting to get used to it?
I had a photo shoot for an article I was working on, and I was going to have to be in front of the camera. Even though I was having a particularly nice skin day (apparently my complexion was loving this makeup diet), I went ahead and put on makeup for the photos anyway. I told myself I'd take it off as soon as the shoot was finished so I could properly document my makeup-free day, but when I went to get a glass of water in the kitchen, a coworker of mine said, "Wow! You look so nice today, Brooke." I felt all giddy for a second before realizing that no one had said anything like that earlier in the day when I didn't have makeup on. Then, a few minutes later, another coworker said, "Your eye makeup looks so pretty!" I thanked her too and decided I was having too good of an eyeliner day to take it off (if you've ever tried a cat-eye before and nailed it, you know what I mean). I left the full face of makeup on all day, and by the time I headed home, seven (seven!) coworkers had complimented me on how nice I looked. Normally, this would be the best day ever, but instead, I just felt like I had received the praise because my face was made up, which made me feel like I hadn't deserved it.
I know it probably takes zits longer than overnight to form, but after wearing foundation all day the day before, I woke up so broken out. Coincidence? Probably not. Today felt like a setback, and I was starting to think everyone at work was convinced that my life was in shambles and I couldn't get it together enough to put on makeup and look presentable anymore. No one actually said this to me, but not wearing makeup in the office really messed with my psyche. I work in beauty and fashion, an environment where you need to look respectable and polished. Without makeup on, I was feeling disheveled and unorganized, and spending more time fixing my hair to compensate for my lazy, I-woke-up-like-this face.
For the most part, my breakouts subsided. Other than applying treatment with salicylic acid to my blemishes, I left my face alone and that seemed to help. My pores probably appreciated that I didn't try to cover them up and suffocate them the day before. Nothing that terrible happened in my life since I decided to stop covering my skin with makeup. Come to think of it, my complexion actually looked better than it had in a while. Maybe a makeup detox was all I needed this whole time?
My 25th birthday. I decided to do the no-makeup thing an extra day since I had had two slip-ups over the last week. I took the day off from work and spent it outside with my boyfriend. I carried sunscreen in my purse and reapplied all day because I am now a responsible, 25-year-old adult woman who knows that taking care of my skin is more important than having a nice tan—happy birthday to me. For the first time all week, I was feeling completely confident in my quarter-century-old skin.
I did, however, decide to put on makeup at night for dinner because, well, it was my birthday and I was going to put makeup on if I wanted to. That's the thing I realized about makeup through this experiment: If you choose to wear makeup, wear it for yourself and wear it because you want to, not because you're trying to meet other people's expectations. The only reason I wore makeup most days was because I thought I had to—that my spotted face would otherwise offend someone. But I don't really care how my coworkers feel about my skin anymore. I think it bothered me a thousand times more to have them see my skin than it bothered them to look at me. Throughout the week, I started feeling better about my skin and it just so happened to start looking better when it wasn't covered up anymore.
It's been a few days since I finished the experiment, and I haven't worn makeup to work since. Despite the fact that I received way more compliments when I wore makeup and had to deal with someone blatantly call out my uneven skin tone when I didn't, I became aware of how much time, money, and energy I was wasting trying to hide something so insignificant. Don't get me wrong, I still love to occasionally get dolled up. But I've learned to love the way I look without makeup as much as I do with it.