9 Makeup Rules To Totally Ignore

Photo: Dan Saelinger/ Trunk Archive

Don’t wear a smoky eye and a bright lip. Only contour with matte products. Always use lip liner. One must wear powder on TV. Makeup’s full of rules! Historically, there’s a reason. “Makeup has its roots in Hollywood,” says makeup artist and educator James Vincent. “There were rules for applying makeup, because they needed to make people look a certain way on the silver screen.” Filming in black-and-white meant that cinema’s makeup artists had to sculpt and shade their actresses, and those techniques gave way to general guidelines that stuck around for decades—but that was then.

Today, improved technology and evolving definitions of beauty are changing the way we wear makeup. What was once considered “wrong” or even gauche may now be the freshest way to get dolled up. And in a time where individuality and experimentation are the hallmark of style, there’s no reason not to color outside the lines now and then. We’ve identified nine makeup rules that no longer apply. Read them—and then ignore them. 

Smoky eyes are just for nighttime.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” says Emmy-nominated makeup artist Merrell Hollis. “A smoky eye doesn’t have to be black or worn solely at night.” For a daytime version, choose shadows in the same hue as your eye color; blend them into lightness. “It still gives you the intensity of the smoky eye, without looking Goth,” Hollis explains.

Don’t wear dark liner with light lipstick.
That high-contrast look came in during the ‘90s, and most of us have left it there. But, if applied with a subtle hand, the dark-into-light mix can work. “There’s a time and a place,” says Los Angeles-based makeup artist Jamie Greenberg. “It’s all about blending. If done right, you can create a pretty effect.” Think smudgy and mixed, not stark and defined.

The best bronzer is one that glimmers.
Not unless you’re aiming for an Edward Cullen vibe. “I don’t get shimmery when I get in the sun,” Vincent says. “Something more matte is going to look more like heat and sun, instead of looking like makeup.” He notes that shimmery bronzers show off the skin’s texture, especially on women with darker skin tones—while a matte finish gives a more natural, and more flattering, sun-kissed effect.

As you age, matte foundation is the most flattering.
"That ‘older women shouldn’t wear dewy foundation’ rule is the stupidest," says Vincent, who adds that matte foundation will actually accentuate lines and wrinkles. "The more texture your skin has, the less matte you want your foundation to be," he explains. Adding a slight sheen to the complexion makes it look more radiant, no matter your age. And on that note…

Mature women shouldn’t wear shimmer.
Nonsense, insists Greenberg. “My 90-year-old grandma looks better with shimmer on her lids because it makes her look awake and reflects light nicely,” she says. Hollis agrees, noting that the product chosen makes all the difference. “When you want to create the appearance of a healthy glow, opt for a cream shimmer instead of using a powder shimmer,” he says. “That way it doesn’t sit into any fine lines.” Two of his favorites: Black Opal Metallic Precision Eye Definer ($5) in Metallic Bronze and Sigma Shimmer Cream ($16).

Blue eyeshadow is outdated.
“So not true,” Greenberg says. “Blue can be used so many ways.” For instance, she might pair a lighter shade near the inner corner of the lid and a darker blue on the outer corner. Conversely, a marine blue can double as an eye-accentuating liner. “Navy blue is the easiest to pull off,” she admits. “But it’s fun to throw the turquoises or baby blues on as accents.” 

Don’t wear dark lip colors unless you have full lips.
Not even. “Thin lips are gorgeous, and can wear color, too,” Hollis says. Here’s his trick for showing off rich berry tones: line the outer rim of the lips before applying lipstick. “After applying the color, accent the pout of your mouth using a nice gold gloss or shimmer,” he says. This trick makes lips look fuller, no matter how dark the lip color. 

When it comes to mascara, black is always best.
Not necessarily, says Vincent. “Brown mascara is a great option for most women,” he says. “It gives just as much depth and dimension as black, but it’s a little more subtle and it helps to bring out the eye color.” Don’t fear other colors, either. Navy mascara can make the eyes look brighter, he notes, and burgundy mascara looks dynamic on redheads. 

Never line your entire eyelid.
Most of us learned to line our lids only two-thirds of the way, stopping before we reach the inner corner of the eye. Vincent says that severs the shape of the eye. Instead, line the entire eye, changing the thickness as you go to emphasize your eyes. “If your eyes are close-set, the thickest part of the line should be at the outer corner. If they’re wide-set, make the thickest part of the line at the inner corner.” One easy-to-master pencil he recommends: Ardency Inn Modster eyeliner ($19).

Sure, guidelines can be helpful with makeup, but all three experts agreed that some of the best and most memorable looks come from experimentation. After all, says Greenberg, “there are enough rules to follow in life. Makeup is a creative break from restraints.”