A woman applying red lipstick
Make-up

“After a year of not wearing make-up, I feel weird with it on. Help?”

After spending most of the last year completely bare-faced while working from home, Stylist’s Lauren Geall was excited to get back into wearing make-up again – that was, until she realised how completely uncomfortable she felt with it on.  

Of all the hurdles I thought I’d have to overcome to get back to ‘normal’ post-pandemic, I didn’t expect wearing make-up to be one of them. But, after wearing relatively little product on my face for the last year and a half, wearing make-up – and seeing myself with it on – has sent my head into a bit of a spin over the last couple of weeks.

I want to kick things off by saying I know this isn’t a big deal. In the grand scheme of things, there are a lot of problems much worse than not feeling comfortable wearing make-up, and even if I decided never to wear make-up ever again, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel weird to feel so uncomfortable doing something I’ve done my entire adult life. Not only have I been struggling with the sensation of having make-up on my face, but I’ve also found myself feeling unconfident while wearing it.  

You may also like

Confidence: has spending time alone during the pandemic taken its toll on your self-esteem? You’re not the only one

It’s a strange reversal of the relationship I’ve had with make-up since I first started wearing it as a teenager – the products which I once enjoyed wearing and helped me to feel more ‘put together’ have left me feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. Indeed, instead of enjoying the process of applying my eyeliner or picking out what colour blush I’m going to wear on my cheeks, I’ve found myself worrying about whether my eyebrows look ‘stupid’ or trying to blend away the tiniest touch of bronzer.

Last week, I put a full face of make-up on in an attempt to feel dressed up – red lipstick and all – only to wipe the whole thing off an hour later in a fit of discomfort.

When I put my discomfort to chartered psychologist Dr Meg Arroll, she says there could be a number of reasons why wearing make-up post-pandemic feels particularly jarring.  

“What we see in the mirror often impacts how we feel about ourselves, in surface and more fundamental ways,” she explains. “For instance, if you see yourself looking tired you might start to feel fatigued even if you didn’t feel a sensation of tiredness before.

“But on a deeper level, we assimilate aspects of our appearance into our self-identity and use clothes, hairstyles and make-up as a way to express ourselves. However, during lockdown, many of us have forgone these accoutrements and opted for a more relaxed look while WFH – and because lockdowns and pandemics have gone on for so long, we may have become accustomed to make-up-free faces and natural hair colours.”

She continues: “To start going back to wearing make-up could be jarring for some after this lengthy period as our minds like consistency and certainty – so this may be why you’re feeling less confident when you apply make-up now.” 

Lauren Geall
Getting back to wearing make-up again after a year spent bare-faced has left Stylist's Lauren Geall feeling out of sorts.

On top of this, Dr Arroll adds, there may be a more “profound” reason why I and many others are finding it hard to get back to various aspects of our pre-pandemic lives – we want to hold onto some parts of lockdown even as restrictions ease.

“Perhaps you’ve enjoyed the flexibility of home working, less social engagements or even a slower pace of life,” she suggests. “Are there aspects of lockdown that you’d dearly like to retain but are reluctant to express openly to workmates, family or friends? By getting curious about any uncomfortable feelings, it’s possible to uncover hidden desires and needs that may need to be attended to.” 

While I’m keen to get back to wearing make-up at least some of the time post-lockdown – I’ve always enjoyed the act of getting dressed up and putting together a ‘look’, no matter how simple – what Arroll says definitely gives me food for thought.  

You may also like

How to build new habits and routines as lockdown eases

As restrictions ease and we contemplate a return to ‘normal’, now is the perfect time to think about the habits and routines we do and don’t want to take forward – whether that’s wearing make-up, going for a daily walk or returning to the office.

I will get back to wearing make-up more regularly as restrictions ease and I start to get out and about more – but that doesn’t mean I have to give up the make-up free days I’ve enjoyed during the pandemic, either. It may feel strange, but taking the time to analyse how we’re feeling – and notice when we’re experiencing discomfort – can teach us a lot about what we want going forward.  

How to get used to wearing make-up again post-lockdown

Make-up brushes
Switching up your make-up routine is a great way to make make-up fun again.

If, like me, you’re feeling uncomfortable about wearing make-up after not wearing any for so long (even though you want to start wearing make-up again), it can be hard to know where to start. To find out what you can do to ease yourself back in, we spoke to Dominic Skinner, global senior artist at MAC Cosmetics, to get some top tips.

“After a year of not wearing make-up it can be daunting to think about doing it again,” Skinner says. “However, this is the perfect time to have a rethink about what it is you did with your make-up and what you want to do now.

“Start by having a clear out. If you don’t have the same old same old around you, you can’t get back into the old make-up ruts. Maybe it’s time to restock on those everyday essentials and grab a fresh mascara. Are your foundation needs the same as before lockdown? Do you want to wear that same lipstick as before?” 

Skinner continues: “This is also a time to think about your old make-up routine and question if you want to go back to that. This will help you see your new make-up routine as a chance to try something new or strip it back. This newness will also help you have fun with make-up again. Make-up is fun. It’s about showing the world who you are. So, who are you now after a year of lockdown?”

You may also like

How to apply foundation: this TikTok trick shows you how to get coverage without wasting your product

On top of taking some time to reinvigorate or switch-up your routine, Skinner also recommends taking things slowly so you can get used to seeing your face with product on.

“The key to feeling more comfortable about wearing make-up again is to take your time,” he says. “Take a moment to sit in front of the mirror and apply little bits of make-up slowly so you build your look up. This technique will allow you to get confident with applying it once again and also get used to seeing your face with make-up on.” 

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Getty