I still remember the first time I saw my bare postpartum face in natural light. It was a hot summer afternoon, and I was out running a few errands. My mom was watching my then-6-week-old daughter, and I was delighted to get a couple hours to myself — even if it only amounted to wandering aimlessly through World Market. I reached up to pull the visor down to block the sun, and, in a passing glance, I caught myself in the mirror. I nearly wrecked the car. So many unexplained wrinkles, funky blotches that were shaped like continents and dark circles that went on for days.
I knew motherhood would be rough, but I wasn’t prepared for it to expedite my aging process by about a decade.
In my pre-mom life, I’d throw on moisturizer, dab concealer here and there, and run a mascara wand through my lashes. Pulling myself together was an afterthought — not a herculean effort.
And then, I got pregnant. The first trimester involved the typical outbreak of annoying, but manageable, acne. With the pregnancy “glow” fully ablaze, my second trimester, skin-wise, was a cakewalk. My eighth month of pregnancy, however, brought an unwelcome guest to the party: the pregnancy mask (formally known as chloasma). This awkward spread of tan patches across your face is yet another side effect of pregnancy that everyone conveniently forgets to warn you about. It’s insult to injury, really; you’re already emotionally and physically unbalanced — add to that, blotchy patches that make you look like a reverse panda.
Since having my daughter (22 months ago), most of the discoloration and dark circles have faded. But not all of them. I’ve had to budget in an additional 15-20 minutes each morning for makeup application. When I first returned to work after maternity leave, makeup wasn’t a luxury; it rivaled deodorant on the scale of hygiene products needed for survival. I’m not saying I piled on makeup because I wanted to look like Ms. America. Incorporating a rudimentary cosmetic regimen each morning was all I could do to walk out of the house and not look like a sleep-deprived corpse.
Because I wasn’t a cosmetics connoisseur before having a kid, I’ve relied heavily on the Internet and a monthly Birchbox subscription for help. I like to think of my makeup and facial products research as a newly discovered hobby.
Here’s a list of my must-haves. Again, this process probably won’t grant you any beauty pageant accolades. But, when practiced regularly, this could help you fool your friends and colleagues into believing you’ve had plenty of restful, uninterrupted sleep.
- Face wash, toner, moisturizer and makeup remover. Our moms have been preaching this wash, rinse and repeat cycle for years. Don’t skip a step here; you won’t do yourself any favors. If you haven’t given coconut oil a try, go out and buy a bottle. It truly is the darling of the cosmetic world.
- Primers. Take the edge off fine lines and any rough patches with a solid makeup primer. Sometimes dealing with my complexion in the morning is synonymous to drywalling: lots of putty and spackle are needed. My go-to’s are Smashbox Iconic Photo Finish Foundation Primer, because it goes on silky and fills in pores and fine lines like a charm, and Laura Geller’s Spackle Supercharged Under Make-up Primer, because it’s lightweight and, allegedly, gives your makeup that “freshly-applied” look for hours. Another handy product in a pinch is a pore refiner. I like Dr. Brandt Pores No More; it mattes your skin and minimizes the appearance of pores (mine can be seen from the moon otherwise).
- Concealer and foundation. Personally, I rarely wear foundation. Mostly because I have yet to master the art of not looking like I dipped my whole face in white paint. Concealer, however, is a product I’d take to a deserted island over a cell phone. I use concealer to cover dark circles, blemishes and the remnants of my pregnancy mask discoloration.
- Bronzer and blush. Naturally, I’m about as pale-faced as they come. Bronzer and blush are my passports into the “land of the well-rested.”
- Eyeliner, eye shadow and mascara. I typically lean toward creamy, liquid eye shadows because they’re quick and easy. And since I usually have a toddler running figure eights around my legs, I go with a stick eyeliner and mascara that only requires a couple comb-through applications to look decent. For me, liquid liner is reserved for special occasions in which I have an endless amount of time to apply it, wipe it off, reapply it and then get frustrated that my tired, shaky hands can’t stay still long enough to make a perfectly symmetrical winged eyeliner effect.
At the end of the day, it’s about feeling comfortable in your own skin. If you need to spend an hour contouring your face every morning: more power to you. If you’re happy rolling out of bed and perhaps gliding on some Chapstick to feel presentable: cool. If you’re like me, and you’re unabashedly doing everything you can to look 18 again: solidarity, sister, and best of luck.