Remember the selfie Kim Kardashian posted back in September 2014 that made global news? The one with her face covered in a map of concealer, highlighter and contour? That selfie marked a seismic moment in beauty, because that was when make-up changed for ever. Contouring, the art of blending shades together so they graduate from light to dark, but look seamless, is technically not a new technique but, sprinkled with a little Kardashian magic (and airtime), it morphed into Kontouring, a whole new adjective in the beauty dictionary. Off the back of that selfie, the beauty industry began bombarding us with all manner of contouring, sculpting and highlighting products (of which Liberty recently reported a 239 per cent increase in sales) and “Instagram make-up” (wearing make-up specifically geared towards looking good in a selfie) became a thing. Birthing a whole new world of beauty terminology like “sun stripping” and “strobing”, the internet became awash with crazes like feather brows and the ridiculous 100 layers challenge. With that came a boom in brands such as Kylie Cosmetics, Huda Beauty and Patrick Starrr, which catered to this “more is more” ideal. But, six years on, change is afoot.
Last month, Christina Aguilera was photographed barefaced on the cover of Paper magazine and the internet went crazy. With a visible smattering of freckles across her nose and the tops of her cheeks (areas typically reserved for dazzlingly bright highlighter), she looked younger, softer, vulnerable and a world away from the bold-lipsticked, public persona we are used to seeing. Two weeks later, Hollywood actress Tracee Ellis Ross was on the cover of Violet magazine with little to nothing on her face – just a swoosh of berry-coloured lipstick. In a recent video for American Vogue (which I highly recommend watching), singer Demi Lovato removes her make-up, her hair extensions, her false lashes and nails. In a world where we are so used to seeing blemish-free poreless faces in the media and on our social feeds, these images certainly stand out.
“Mainstream culture has always taught us to celebrate perfection and it’s interesting that Instagram was supposed to be the antithesis of this. It was widely heralded as a place where people could celebrate that instant imperfect moment and yet it actually just created a whole new beauty standard, with its filtering and airbrushing,” Victoria Buchanan, strategic researcher at the Future Laboratories, tells me. “Yet, now, people are becoming tired of trying to attain that level of perfection. This is being driven by the consumer, who is yearning for something authentic and becoming weary of the over-perfect image the beauty industry has always presented.”
After so much perfectionism, the emphasis is on appreciating individuality again and reinforcing the idea that make-up can be applied for oneself, rather than simply to obtain more 'likes'
To that end, we’ve seen a wave of Insta-beauty movements – like the vitiligo movement – that are celebrating a more diverse, individual idea of beauty and challenging the notion of perfection. We’re also witnessing a call for greater transparency over image manipulation – not just in magazines but on social media, too. After reviewing data from body-positive activists that showed how unrealistic images affect women's self-confidence, US pharmacy CVS has pledged to bring a reality check to the advertising industry by banning the use of Photoshop in all imagery in stores, on social media and advertising. Last month, actor Jameela Jamil called out the damaging effect of Facetune in a tweet and launched the @i_Weigh movement on Instagram, encouraging women to highlight themselves in a positive way.
“Instagram make-up started out as one thing and, like Chinese whispers, became something else,” explains Terry Barber, MAC’s director of make-up artistry. “The Bambi eyes, the skinny nose with the contour and the puffed up ‘beak’ lip is like looking at a bunch of clones. Instagram-face is representative of waning individuality.” The homogenised, selfie-ready look that has dominated the industry – and our social feeds – may have narrowed what is considered attractive, but it’s undoubtedly been big business for many beauty brands who have capitalised on it. Make-up artist Huda Kattan took her 25 million followers and turned them into loyal Huda Beauty consumers, while the biggest success has been for the family that took their own selfies and turned them into million-dollar beauty businesses. In 2015, Kylie Jenner sold her first Lip Kit. Last year, Kylie Cosmetics made $386m, according to WWD. Let’s not forget the one who kickstarted this whole thing in the first place, Jenner’s sister Kim Kardashian West and her sellout beauty line, KKW. This month, revered industry title Business Of Fashion chose Kim as the cover star of the very first Business Of Beauty issue.
“There’s definitely a growing interest in the pared-back look right now,” points out Jo Osborne, head of beauty buying for Harvey Nichols. “Women are investing money in good-quality skincare products and lighter, multi-use make-up textures that look like your skin, but better.” Interestingly, last year, sales of skincare rose by nine per cent while cosmetics sales lifted by only six per cent.
However, this new mood is not about denouncing make-up – it’s more of a move towards products focused on what works IRL, as opposed to just on camera. For example, Giorgio Armani has relaunched the discontinued classic Face Fabric Foundation (£38), a lightweight and fresh primer/foundation hybrid. The latest foundation launch from YSL, Touche Éclat All-In-One-Glow (£33.50), has a lightweight gel texture that evens out any redness and gives a dewy glow. Lancôme’s Skin Feels Good (£25) is basically your fresh, rested and happy “Sunday face” in a tube, while the latest incarnation of Chanel’s Les Beiges Sheer Healthy Glow Tinted Moisturiser (£37) was developed to “enhance”, rather than “mask”, the skin.
Next month, A-list make-up artist Gucci Westman launches her eponymous beauty range, Westman Atelier, promising, “cleanly formulated, performance-first make-up that actually improves your skin”.
Barber’s top pick for the summer is the classic MAC Face And Body Foundation (£24.50), which is laced with a hit of highlighter for a natural sheen “that picks up light in all the right places”.
Speaking of which, the new NARS highlighting powders (£28 each) come in natural, pinky tones that won't necessarily show up in a selfie but will look amazing when you catch the light during your actual un-filtered life (my favourite is Fort de France).
Finnish brand Lumene has just launched in the UK and focuses entirely on providing the healthy glow that the Scandinavians are so known for. The Watercolor Blush (£22.50) is a sheer pigment that washes over the skin and is full of luminosity and radiance – the antithesis of chalky contour.
Meanwhile, applying eyeshadow no longer comes with a side helping of abject terror. Glossier Lid Star is a total gamechanger – I can apply it with a 10-week old baby in one arm. My favourite colours are Fawn and Cub (£25 each).
But the crux of this new make-up movement isn’t about the result – it’s about the mood. Slowly but surely, we are seeing a shift away from the confined parameters of one prescriptive look that has eclipsed everything else and instead a move towards a less enforced sense of beauty. After so much perfectionism, the emphasis is on appreciating individuality again and reinforcing the idea that make-up can be applied for oneself, rather than simply to obtain more “likes”.