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How to wear understated make-up

Tricia Cusden / 31 January 2017 ( 11 March 2019 )

Make-up expert Tricia Cusden talks us through the perfect understated look.

An older lady applies make-up

Pirelli calendars have to date been associated with young scantily clad nubile bodies. Not the 2017 edition! The photographer Peter Lindbergh decided to eschew youth and nakedness to feature female actors like Helen Mirren, Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet captured barefaced in some startlingly original black and white images. 

Lindbergh commented that the photographs were “A cry for beauty today against the terror and perfection of youth.”

Great beauty in an ageing face

I agree with Lindbergh that there is great beauty in a naturally ageing face. 

However, I disagree that this face has to be stripped of make-up to achieve this beauty. I have always hated young beauty editors telling me that 'less is more' when it comes to make-up for older women. This deathless little phrase has stuck in my memory for years. I read it maybe thirty years ago in an article about how older women shouldn't wear much make-up as it makes them look older and is not a good look with wrinkled skin. 

>I was probably in my forties at the time and I can remember thinking "Oh dear, that's a shame - I can't imagine not still loving make-up when I am an old woman of 60!" 

I have read versions of this statement ever since and frequently see the exhortation that older women should be wary of a painted face. Let's think about the implication of this for a moment or two. The message seems to be: "You're old, so you really shouldn't be drawing attention to your wrinkly aged face with make-up like we smooth-faced young beauties."

10 top tips for ageing well

Make-up is not just for the young

As you would expect I take issue with this on so many levels, all of them to do with how make-up and age is viewed in our society. 

Women wear make-up for many perfectly valid reasons: it makes them feel better, it makes them feel more attractive, it makes them better able to 'face the day', it improves their self esteem and self confidence. There’s nothing wrong with that. These needs don't disappear at some arbitrary point in life, so why are we made to feel as though make-up is not really appropriate once we are 'over the hill' (or any other horrible expression you wish to use for 'past your sell-by date')?

I am however all for choice. So if you prefer yourself barefaced or only use make-up occasionally for high days, holidays and any other day where you need a little extra confidence then I am not here to persuade you otherwise. I just want us to resist any pressure from our ageist society in general and our beauty industry in particular that make-up is better left to the young.

If you wish to achieve a subtle, pared down look for any reason then here are my top tips:

Simple make-up for an older face

My basic essentials (ie if you do nothing else):

Face: Apply Foundation and Blusher. If you do nothing else, then these are the two best ways to look prettier, healthier and (if that's what you want) younger. Our Base will even out your skin tone without looking heavy or caked on. Apply it lightly with Brush 03 to the centre of the face and fade it away at the hair and jawline. Blusher brings the whole face to life instantly and is an essential item, in my view.

Eyes: Colour and Defined Brows and Lashes. Brows need to be well shaped and have enough colour to give the eyes and indeed the whole face the right amount of proportion and symmetry. Our Brow Shape can be very lightly applied to fair brows to create just the right amount of definition. Preferably curl your eyelashes first and then add a couple of coats of lovely mascara. Our Fabulous Lash will thicken without making your lashes spiky and hard looking.

Lips: Brighten the Whole Face with Lipstick! Even a pale Lip Colour, which works perfectly with your skin tone, will add a wonderful brightness to an older face. If feathering and bleeding is a problem for you then apply a Lip Prime too.

I hope that encourages you to feel that make-up is a wonderful boon to an older face. I would agree that heavy dark colours, which look as though they have been applied with a trowel, doesn't look great - on anyone, no matter how old the woman is! But some beautiful products specifically made with an older skin in mind and applied in the ways we show in our videos can make you look - well - fabulous!

Next article: How to get rid of dark circles >>>


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.