Before this year, I knew very little of what my skin actually looked like without make-up. A standard day would involve getting up, showering and applying a full face of foundation before heading off to work; returning home, and removing the layers just before heading to bed. Only this March, when murmurings of Covid-19 turned swiftly into a sudden lockdown, my well-oiled routine was turned upside down. Office life was replaced with working from home, my usual uniform switched for elasticated waistbands. Like everyone else, my old habits quickly went out the window, and while skincare remained very much ingrained in my newly acquired routine, make-up took a firm back seat.
To begin with, I simply couldn’t be bothered with the routine of application: when the biggest event of the day involved a supermarket trip or checking to see if the post had arrived, it was hard to find the motivation. But I soon got used to the shift in my routine, and the bare-faced complexion I found strange to see at first – often dotted with lockdown breakouts – started to feel familiar. Then I noticed something, right there in the middle of my face. A clearly visible, spherical mole directly on the apple of my cheek. It cast a shadow in the mirror light in my bathroom, and on second and closer inspection, the raised mark stared back at me as I twizzled my iPhone onto Selfie mode.
Unaware I’d harboured a small but defining feature on my face until now, it dawned on me that this is the first year I’ve truly seen my skin without make-up: without the armour of full-coverage foundation, heavy concealer and bronzer that once protected it from view.
As I spent the following weeks staring down (most likely on long Zoom calls) at a bare face I’d once kept concealed, these small revelations happened more frequently. Looking at my skin without the mask, I saw things in plain sight for the first time: a mole I didn’t even know I had, a scar I thought had disappeared years ago, the bumps, uneven skin tone and everything else. So, why then, had I never stopped to notice any of this before?
In a world of Instagram, filters and covering up what we deem to be imperfections, our modern world has made ‘perfection’ achievable at the click of a button. Does your image not live up those unattainable beauty standards? A quick swipe onto the ‘Paris’ filter and every enlarged pore is blurred and forgotten in seconds. As a result, we’ve been conditioned to believe that enhancing, blurring and concealing our skin should travel beyond the camera, with make-up designed to help us to contour, lift and conceal our natural skin. Ironically, while we’re spending more time looking at ourselves than ever before, we rarely see the real picture. Our real skin is masked or altered, everywhere we look.
The prevalence of social media has had a big part to play, and during the initial months of lockdown, my screen time went up and up, inadvertently influencing my every move. Mindless hours of scrolling meant I was confronted with made-up influencers and their #iwokeuplikethis posts on a Sunday morning, myself probably still in my pyjamas. In the months that followed, however, I started to notice a welcome change in the kind of content filtering onto my feed: positive messaging around mental health, skincare as a means of self-care, and even influencers like Lucy Mountain and Alice Liveing posting photos captioned #getyerfaceout in attempt to encourage us all to embrace our real skin.
Seeing others expressing a similar sentiment on social media – one of the few connections we had to the world during lockdown – helped shift my own perspective, and the simple act of being exposed to the normality of real skin every day, with all its natural fluctuations, has helped me understand and accept my complexion a lot more. My priorities have shifted to understand my skin’s needs as it changes, rather than covering it up; working with it, rather than against it.
I am by no means the only person to have embraced skincare more this year either: on account of lockdown, skincare sales have soared and, as a result, make-up brands are now shifting their messaging, formulations and marketing to address the demand. A quick scroll of the foundations launching this year illustrates where the industry is at: the language that once monopolised the marketing – “flawless” “airbrushing” and “perfecting” – is being replaced by a most skin-positive lexicon, with words such as “bare”, “breathable” and “nourishing” now beaming from bottles.
Foundations and formulations that adopt a skin-first philosophy are the directional shift we need and, since lockdown, so many more welcome additions have arrived. Becca launched the Zero No Pigment Virtual Foundation with the tagline “Zero to Hide” designed to let your real skin shine through, while Kevyn Aucoin created a hyaluronic acid-infused Stripped Nude Skin Tint with the added bonus of blue-light protection (just in case your screen time has gone up a tad this year). Bobbi Brown, which has long been known for skin-first formulas, debuted the liquid-to-powder Skin Long-Wear Fluid Foundation. Then there’s Trinny London, which launched the tinted BFF De-Stress Serum in September to combat the effects of cortisol on the skin (because stress slows the skin’s regeneration processes, making us look tired and our skin dull).
So yes, there are plenty of make-up brands encouraging a more personal and unique perception of beauty right now, and showing that even the language surrounding make-up impacts our relationship with it. Foundation in particular should be seen as a source through which to enhance our skin, not mask it completely. There’s no denying the transformative, mood-boosting power of make-up and the confidence boost it conjures, but it’s crucial to work on a positive relationship with it, rather than a total dependency.
I’ll always love wearing make-up, but seeing my skin both with and without it has been transformative. It’s a tiny revelation in the grand scheme of things, but lockdown, with all its changes and challenges, has been the driving force for seeing my skin in a new light. Now I see pores, dark circles and sometimes eczema on a daily basis, and while I might not always love that image every day, I still see it. And if this leads to normalisation and, ultimately, acceptance, that’s one small positive to take away from this turbulent year.