But don't let the intoxicating prettiness of makeup seduce you into going too far. What you wear on your face has to be appropriate for the occasion. All those creative uses of vivid colors are fine for a night on the town. But in most jobs, what you wear to work had better be subdued. After all, the new image of the American professional woman, replete with a double-strand pearl necklace, sheath dresses and a J. Crew palette, is First Lady Michelle Obama. And although much has been said of her fashion sense, it can't be overlooked that her makeup is also a crucial aspect of her image.
Ingrid Grimes-Myles, the first lady's frequent makeup artist, favors a natural look over a trendy one, but not too natural.
"Every corporate woman has got to have a finished, polished face to match her clothing, her shoes, her pocketbook, her hair and everything else that she's putting money into," says Grimes-Myles, whose résumé also includes Caroline Kennedy and Katie Couric. "Without makeup, you almost look undone. People take you more seriously when you have your face on. It's on a conscious level and on an unconscious level."
In a super-creative workplace, you might be able to go with a bit stronger look. But cosmetics mogul Bobbi Brown, who runs a creative company, says there are limits. "Just really realize that there is nothing worse than seeing someone come into work that looks as if they haven't gone to bed or they're about to go to a party or a club," she says. "You don't want your makeup to be distracting. The point is that there is a place for everything with makeup."
Image consultant Sandy Dumont of the company the Image Architect agrees.
"If I could tell a young woman entering the workplace one thing it would be to ditch the black eyeliner. It's totally misunderstood and can make you look mean," she says. She also advises avoiding cakey products or using too much makeup. "You're seen as if you're wearing a mask and they'll wonder who the real you is," Dumont says. "You'll get the wrong results … it's not professional and you won't be taken seriously."
So what should a working woman do? Grimes-Myles offers these tips for achieving what she calls a "10-minute out-the-door face" that would be appropriate in most workplaces:
— Make good skin a priority. When acne, moles, hyper-pigmentation, eczema, rashes, redness or the like blemish your skin, go to a dermatologist rather than just trying to self-diagnose and treat with over-the-counter cosmeceuticals. "That's really important," Grimes-Myles says. "The skin, our largest organ, is the mirror to something that might be going on in your body. It's not just about foundation and eye makeup; it's about your health. Beauty starts from the inside." She advocates a healthful lifestyle, including using sunscreen and drinking plenty of water. "Pretty skin is the first trick to everything and being able to get out of the door really fast."
— Shape the brows. "They are the workhorse of the face," says Grimes-Myles. "Nothing shaggy, nothing overdone."
— Use foundation. Choose a formula that works for your skin, whether it is a tinted moisturizer with a sunscreen paired with an under-eye concealer or a full coverage cream foundation or a dual finish formula for a one-step process. Most important, "it's about matching color correctly and about the application," Grimes-Myles says. "Often when people think that you're wearing too much makeup it's because you have on the wrong color. And you start looking ghost-like, ashen, yellow — the undertones are not right."
— Use contour or a bronzer. "Contour cheekbones, your jaw-line and your forehead if needed," Grimes-Myles says. "It adds back the planes of your face that we've taken out with foundation."
— But skip the blush, or use only a small amount. "If you use bronzer correctly, it looks beautiful and glowing," says Grimes-Myles. "You can use a pretty blush, but sparingly … you don't want anything to be a distraction. And for professional women, I prefer a neutral color."
— Do eyes in neutral colors. "Apply a neutral eye shadow on your lid to your brow bone," Grimes-Myles says. "If you want to take it a step further, use a darker color from your lash-line to your crease to add depth, but that takes practice. And blend, blend, blend." Finish with mascara. Fake lashes can work she says, if they're applied correctly and don't create a distraction.
— Use a lip color with staying-power. Invest in good quality lip pencils that aren't too dry or too soft and that are nicely pigmented. Line your lips and fill them in entirely with the pencil for lasting color, then top with lipstick, she says. Be sure to have a wardrobe of lip liner and lipstick colors, "If you have a favorite or a signature color, use it. Even red is fine as long as it's appropriate for you. Otherwise, I tend to go with a very neutral lip, but we don't want to be so nude that we're looking ill," Grimes-Myles says. Lip stains, long-wear lip color and gloss are also options, but the darker the color, the less gloss you should use. Practice lip liner and lip color application. "For work, you want it to be perfect," says Grimes-Myles.
She says professional women should stay away from bright eye color, heavy perfume and too much face highlighter.
She suggests going for a professional makeup consultation with someone you trust for help — not just someone whose main goal may be to sell you products. "The right consultation will take you through your life. It's knowledge — you'll even learn things that you can teach your daughter, and then you'll never be a victim [at the makeup counter] again — you'll breeze through the department stores not confused."
Image consultant Dumont says the right look is "about harmony."
"People shouldn't look at you and say, 'Wow, your makeup looks good,'" she says. "They should say, 'Wow! You look beautiful.'"