The Truth About Makeup for the Mature Bride

“‘Why bother?’ is something I hear a lot when it comes to older brides,” says Susan Gill, makeup artist and owner of Vancouver’s Total Image by Susan.

“It’s tough out there for people who aren’t twenty-somethings. They don’t know where to go … the makeup artists at the counters are all so young.”

Insecurity about looks doesn’t just plague the over-30 set, though.


“When a woman sits in that chair, they first have to explain to me everything that’s wrong with them … beat me to the punch. They’re sure that I’m taking in all their inadequacies at a glance, especially when they get older.

“Brides in their 20s and 30s are really apologetic. ‘I’m overweight because I’ve been so stressed.’ ‘I’ve got freckles because …’

“At 30, you still think you could look perfect if you just found that magic bullet. Older brides tell me everything that’s wrong, but then they shrug. And I hear, ‘What’s the point? I don’t wear makeup on a regular basis, so why should I now?”

“In a way,” says Susan, “an older bride is more accepting of who she is, but sometimes she’ll also relinquish her power. When you’re in your 50s, sometimes you just give up. But you don’t need to.”

Knowing the Name of the Game

Susan, who’s in her fifties, ticks off some challenges that crop up regularly as we age.

“Hooded eyelids, for one,” she says. “And skin that’s taken a lot of abuse from sun, alcohol, bad food.”

When a friend of hers asked for a makeover one day, Susan jumped at the chance. “She saw herself after, and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I wish I could do this regularly.’

“I took a look at her arsenal. She had two makeup brushes from a kit she’d bought 10 years ago, and one eyeshadow quad, with two shades broken.” Susan jumped in and bought her some brushes and essentials, and the rest was history.

“If people are reintroduced to themselves and shown how they can look at 40, 50, 60, they get a new sense of excitement. They’ve been looking at themselves for 30 years, and they don’t expect to see someone new in the mirror. But if you tell anyone at any age their good points and how to make the most of them, they start to see themselves differently.”

“Looking good is a game that anyone can learn to play. And once you learn how to play by the rules, it makes the game more fun and the end result more interesting.”

‘Home Sweet Home’ is Hard to Find

“I can almost tell a woman’s history when she sits down,” says Susan. “If she doesn’t wear makeup or pay attention to her skin, her mother probably didn’t either. Then there’s other ladies with a bit of sharpness or polish to their appearance, and I can almost guarantee their mothers looked polished.”

“Their ‘makeup history’ matters, because there doesn’t seem to be a place where women over 40 can comfortably go to learn how to apply makeup to themselves.”

Look at Mac, she says. “The products are top-notch, and they really apply to all ages. But my clients in thier 40s and 50s sometimes just feel out of their comfort zone at the counter.

“Then, there’s Mary Kay. They have great products too, and offer a safe environment … in your home. The problem there is learning how to make the most of your own unique features.

“Sometimes,” she says, “I think women in their 50s and 60s feel they have to resort to drastic measures to look good. Like surgery. When really it comes down to simpler things: a healthy diet, drinking lots of water.

“Still, I think you have to embrace who you are. If you have fine lines, so what? You just have to find your upsides. I don’t think that being 50, 60 or 70 is a negative. I kind of like how things are changing, like the Dove “pro-age” commercials. They show regular women — women who aren’t skinny, women over sixty.”


High-Tech and Haute

“For an older woman,” says Susan, “the specific products really start to matter.

“When a woman goes to Walgreen’s or even Nordstrom, it’s nice to know she can rely on that salesperson to be engaging, knowledgeable and not on commission. Sometimes I see these older women with white shimmer eyeshadow they just bought from a counter, and I think, ‘Who sold this to you?’”

That said, she adds, the makeup doesn’t matter as much as the tools. “You just can’t apply makeup in a flawless way without the right tools.”

Still, makeup technology has come a long way, and the older woman needs to leverage it, she says. “There are products to stop your lipstick from bleeding. There are silicone primers that keep your makeup in place until you wash it off. There are new mascaras that really do make your lashes longer and thicker.”

And, she adds, “there are shimmers now that are so finely milled, it’s hard to tell they’re shimmers. They really just reflect light and create a glow … both in person and digital photos.

Everyone wants to have a bit of a youthful feel, and today, you can get that, even as an ‘older bride.’
Don’t be afraid to try shimmers, the glossy lips, the long-wearing eyeliners.”

The Mature Bride’s Playbook:
Step-By-Step, From Primers to Eyes

Prepping the Skin

‘Don’t mind the wrinkles,” says Susan, “but do take care of your skin.” For older women, this means exfoliating twice a week. Then, when it comes time to glam up, start with an emollient-rich moisturizer (skip the eyelids, though) and sunscreen before you add anything else.

Also, she adds, don’t try to hide your skin’s unique texture. “If you try to totally cover up your freckles, age spots, fine lines or discolorations, you’ll end up with a look that’s flat and unflattering.” Just play up your good features, she says. The rest will just serve to make you look like you — not you in a makeup mask.

Primed for Action

This is the first step before any foundation, says Susan. She says to apply a primer over the whole face, which keeps your makeup in place for hours. It acts as an invisible barrier, so the foundation, concealer, and blush don’t sink into the skin. “Primers have come a long way,” she says. “You want one of the silicone-based ones, which basically stays put until you wash it off.” She likes Laura Mercier Foundation Primer.

A Firm Foundation

Foundation should be a liquid, says Susan. Liquid foundations are sheerer, and look better on mature skin. Try any line, she says, but apply it with a foundation brush.

Same thing with concealer: choose a liquid, and apply with a brush. “Try Makeup Forever,” she says. “It doesn’t migrate to the fine lines under the eye.”

Powders, Bronzers and Blush — Oh My …

Don’t: Go overboard on the Powder. “Women over 40 feel they need to powder everything. But you usually shouldn’t wear powder at that age. It absorbs light, and makes your skin look flat, lifeless, older.” Apply if you’ve got an oily forehead, she advises — or use a small amount of anti-shine gel, like Smashbox anti-shine — but powdering your whole face can make it look dull, not luminous or dewy.

Do: Use a slightly shimmery bronzer. “As we age, we tend to lose color in our face,” says Susan. The solution? Bronzer.

“Choose one from any line, with a touch of shimmer,” she says. “Dust with a fan brush where the sun would naturally hit: your cheeks, the bridge of your nose, your forehead and even the chin.”

Then, for blush, choose a soft pink, peach or bronze with a touch of shimmer, and apply to the apples of the cheeks with a large, soft brush.

Luscious Lips

For older women, the challenge is to keep the lip color in place, and make sure it doesn’t bleed or migrate to fine lines around the mouth.

Susan’s secret: “Apply Mac brow pencil in Clear over natural lip line. This product’s actually designed for brows, but it works extremely well to seal in your natural lip line.”

Outline the lips with a pencil to correct the line, or add fullness if needed. “A Mac pencil in ‘Spice’ is one of my favorites,” she says.

Now fill in the lips with lipstick. “Pick a lipstick that’s at least 2 to 3 tones darker than your own lips,” says Susan. Also, she adds, apply it with a retractable brush, not straight from the tube. “The results are much more accurate.”

The finishing touch? A dab of gloss in the fullest parts for a sexy pout.

Extraordinary Eyes

“Eye shadow really helps define your eyes, especially in photos,” says Susan, who suggests applying a flat, neutral tone on the lids.

“You can also add a touch of pale shimmer on the brow bone to help create an instant eyelift.” Then, brush a deeper shadow to the outer corners of the eyes in soft, upward strokes for a large-looking eye.

Shadows: “Choose soft neutral earth tones from any line,” says Susan.

Brushes: “You want a natural bristle brush. Go with brushes from any large company like Mac, Sephora, Bobbi Brown.”

Pencils: “I really like Mac Powerpoint waterproof pencil in a dark brown or charcoal. You can apply it and leave it as is, or smudge it with a small brush.”

Gel liner: “Try Mac Fluidline in a soft black or brown. This adds more intensity at the lash line, and it stays in place.” And same as above, she says: leave a distinct line, or smudge with a brush for a softer look.

Brows: Be sure to define and fill in your brows, says Susan — it makes a huge difference in photos. “Choose a pencil that’s the same color as your hair. And apply with a light touch — you don’t want thick, heavy strokes.” Susan likes the Mac self-sharpening brow pencil. “It stays in place, sticks to skin and looks natural.”

Lashes: Apply one coat of waterproof black mascara, she says.

“But here’s a secret to looking really great … false lashes.” Today’s lashes are nothing like what you found at the drugstore 20 years ago, she says, and even the lashes there are far more subtle and sophisticated than they used to be.

“I’d apply about 4 small clusters to the outer corners of each eye. People will know you look amazing, but they won’t see the lashes. They’re very discreet.”

Stand Back, Sum It Up

Now, stand back and take a good look at yourself objectively. Is it blended? Is the look too strong, or too subtle? “You don’t want a look that’s overpowering, but many women who haven’t worn makeup for a while aren’t used to it.

“Give your new look a bit of a chance, making sure it’s very well blended. Just remember that photos can really wash you out,” advises Susan. “At the same time, they can intensify your makeup.”

And if you’re not going to go it alone for the big day? “You might be more comfortable with a makeup artist around your age,” says Susan. “With those years of experience, she understands! And she can show you how to keep that look going.”