Tanned skin has enjoyed popularity in our culture ever since Coco Chanel accidentally made sunbathing chic in 1923. However, with the recent increase in knowledge about sun damage and the risks therein, it’s becoming more and more fashionable to embrace your natural skin tone — just as it’s become en vogue to embrace naturally thick brows. If only we could go back in time and reassure our pale, hairy, teenage selves that our time would come.
Women with extremely pale skin are finally having their moment in the sun again (well, metaphorically speaking), thanks to gorgeously translucent celebrities like Dita von Teese, Emma Stone, Rooney Mara, the Fanning sisters, and Cate Blanchett, to name a few. They don’t seem to feel the need to turn themselves orange to be beautiful, and they really know how to make their red-carpet beauty looks work with their fair skin.
There is, after all, a certain amount of effort involved in maintaining pale skin. Not only is it important to wear at least SPF 30 every day to protect your complexion, but it can often be a headache trying to find the right makeup. It can be hard to find a shade of blush or lipstick that won’t look clownish against fair skin, and things like foundation and bronzer often look fine in the store but then quickly take on an orange cast on the skin.
If you’ve ever bemoaned the fact that nobody makes makeup for vampires, don’t worry: They do, and we put together a roundup of the best cosmetics for super-pale ladies as well as some handy tips. Read on — and don’t forget the SPF, of course.
NARS’ Radiant Creamy Concealer is bound to become a holy-grail item for anyone who tries it, but it is particularly ideal for those with tricky skin tones and textures. It comes in a wide range of shades, from chantilly to cacao. Chantilly is described as a “true ivory shade for the fairest complexions,” so if you are so pale your skin is practically transparent, this is the concealer for you.
For those with a slight hint of pink in their skin tone, go up one shade to vanilla for a good match. The best part about this concealer is that, as the name promises, it will make your skin look lit from within. It’s very easy for pale skin to look flat and dry when made up, but this concealer imparts a subtle shimmer (without resorting to flecks of glitter or any horrors of that kind) and glides smoothly onto even the most dehydrated skin.
If you’re on a budget, Maybelline Fit Me Concealer is a great drugstore option that is comparable to NARS’. It only comes in six shades, but the lightest — fair — is extremely light, and the formula has a fairly creamy consistency. However, if you want a greater shade selection and that hard-to-get glow, you should save up for the NARS. You won’t regret it.
NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Chantilly, $28, available at NARS
Concealer should go on after foundation for full coverage, but foundation can be incredibly frustrating for those with extremely pale skin. Discoloration from acne scars or sunspots as well as skin conditions like rosacea (or even just normal ruddiness) often stand out more clearly against fair skin.
Many BB creams are often too sheer or orange, so those with very pale skin are probably going to be better off looking for a medium-coverage foundation from a line that offers a variety of shades, such as NARS Sheer Glow Foundation(17 shades), L’Oréal True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous Makeup (15 shades), or Clinique Even Better Makeup (a whopping 30 shades).
Remember to look for a foundation that is sheer enough to let your freckles show through if you have them — freckles are too adorable to cover up — and that doesn’t oxidize after a few hours’ wear. Wearing a primer under your makeup can help to prevent oxidization. It’s also best to wear sunscreen under your foundation or even choose a foundation that already has SPF, to better preserve your porcelain skin — both the Clinique and L’Oréal foundations have an SPF of at least 20.
Finally, if you simply can’t find a foundation that’s light enough (or if you find one with a great formula but not-so-great shade range), you can easily tweak it to your liking by adding some MAC Face And Body Foundation in White. It is literally pure white, so by mixing this with a too-dark foundation, truly pale girls can create their own perfect shade.
L’Oréal True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous in Porcelain, $12.95, available at L’Oréal.
Many pale women shy away from blush out of fear of looking clownish because it can stand out so starkly against fair skin tones. This can be a mistake, because a bit of color on one’s cheeks does a world of good for just making one appear alive. The key is to find the right shade of blush for you. As professional makeup artist Kristina Johnson (who has very pale skin herself) says, “Make sure you have color on your cheeks, but be careful with blushes and bronzers that are too dark or orange.”
Try soft, sheer shades of pink first — Bobbi Brown Blush is the best for a natural-looking flush of color, offering a wide variety of shades to choose from. Johnson also recommends trying to match or coordinate your cheek color to your lip color (that is, warm-toned pink lipstick with a warm-toned pink blush).
Bobbi Brown Blush in Apricot, $26, available at Bobbi Brown.
As Johnson pointed out, many pale women fall into the trap of using bronzer that is too dark or orange for their skin tone. It happens to the best of us. Even bronzers that look innocent enough in their packaging at the store can wind up turning orange once on your face.
Possibly the best bronzer for the fair-skinned is Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzer. It comes in two shades: the fairest of the fair will probably want to stick to the light/medium hue, but most pale women should have no problem even with the darker shade, medium/dark. It is a true brown, with no hint of orange whatsoever, and it goes on sheer enough that it would be difficult to overdo it.
For a bit of contouring, simply use your finger to swipe a line under your cheekbones to your temples, and then buff it in thoroughly with a kabuki brush. That last step is key for a soft look that won’t be too harsh or obvious. Oh, and the best part about this bronzer? It actually smells like a chocolate bar (without making you look like you rubbed one all over your face).
Too Faced Chocolate Soleil Matte Bronzer in Medium/Deep, $30, available at Too Faced.
Creating a contoured look that appears subtle and natural can be a challenge — especially for those with fair skin. Instead of playing with palettes, simply opt for this tried-and-true makeup-artist secret: Contour with foundation a shade darker than your skin tone.
We love this trick involving a mineral-powder foundation formula, which makes the process even more foolproof because the powder will blend easily over any foundation.
Picking the shade is half the battle, which is why we love Tarte’s formula. It comes in 15 shades, eight of which are for fair skin, with each one suited for a different undertone. The build-in netting also lends a helpful touch, since it allows the user to get the lightest application possible. Just dip a big, fluffy brush into the jar, swirl, tap off excess, and dust it on.
Tarte Amazonian Clay Full Coverage Airbrush Foundation, $36, available at Sephora.
If you do want to pick up a palette, however, you’re not totally out of luck. While contour palettes well-suited for fair skin are few and far between, they do exist.
Our favorite is a recent offering from celeb makeup artist Fiona Stiles. The formula is incredibly sheer — which makes application foolproof — and the hues create light shadows without leaving behind telltale shimmer. Simply dust a little under the cheekbones andanywhere else you want to create depth.
Fiona Stiles Sheer Sculpting Palettes in Light, $28, available at Ulta.
Highlighter is at least somewhat easier for pale women than bronzer or contour, since it is usually quite sheer and light-toned. When choosing the right highlighter, one must consider three things: shimmer, opacity, and undertones. Usually highlighters come with pink, gold, or silver undertones; whichever one you pick depends mostly on whether your skin tone is warm or cool.
Just beware of golden or peach-toned highlighters that can sometimes veer into orange territory on pale skin. Sonia Kashuk Chic Luminosity Highlighter Stick in Sparkling Sands is the best sheer, cool-toned option, while Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector is perfect for a warm glow that won’t read orange even on the palest of faces.
Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector in Opal, $41, available at Becca.
For something with a bit more shimmer — which makes for a perfect product to wear after dark — look no further than this chubby stick from Smashbox. We’ve waxed poetic about this formula before — and for good reason. It goes on sheer, is easily blended with the included buffer, and looks beautiful against the fairest of skin.
Smashbox L.A. Lights Blendable Lip & Cheek Color in Hollywood & Highlight, $29, available at Sephora.
Nude lipsticks can be tricky for every skin tone, but those with very pale skin have to be especially careful when looking for the right shade. Too pale and you’ll look completely washed out; too dark and, well, then it no longer has the desired effect of a nude lipstick. The right nude lippie for you might include notes of peach or pink — you don’t want it to be completely colorless, but do try to avoid any brown or orange in your lipstick.
Alexa Chung recently confessed her love for the nude shades of Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupte lipstick and, considering she’s the reigning queen of the cat-eye-and-nude-lip look, you know she wouldn’t steer you wrong. Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupte in Nude Beige is the top choice: just the right hint of pink, a creamy formula, and beautiful packaging. Much like tracking down that perfect red lipstick, however, it can sometimes take a while to find a nude lipstick that works best for you.
If you’d like to spend less money in your trial-and-error phase, e.l.f. Mineral Lipstick in Natural Nymph and L’Oréal Colour Riche in Fairest Nude are both excellent options for pale girls on a budget.
Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Volupte Lipstick in Nude Beige, $35, available at Sephora.
Red lipstick can also be challenging for the fair-skinned, but for the opposite problem: The contrast can look so striking that it can be a little startling if you’re not used to it. A good starter red lipstick for pale women is Revlon Colorburst Matte Balm in Standout. Not only is it affordable and easy to use, but it is a perfect true, blue-based red that looks amazing with fair complexions.
Revlon Colorburst Matte Balm in Standout, $5.84, available at Target.
Most fair-skinned ladies aren’t reaching for navy blue shadows and deep, dark purples for every day, so to make your eyes pop on the regular you need a great, soft shade. ColourPop’s Fringe is the perfect champagne hue that can be used all over the lid for a soft highlight if you’re feeling sparkly, or, when used strategically, it can give you that perfect glow just where you need it.
Place a bit in the inner corners of the eyes or line just your lower lash line with this gorgeous hue for a touch of color. Or, if you’ve used a black liquid liner already, add an extra dose of shine by adding this to your inner rim.
ColourPop Eye Shadow in Fringe, $5, available at ColourPop.
If you’re pale and wondering which of the much-hyped Urban Decay Naked Palettes to purchase, we’ve got your answer. The general guidelines for wearing eyeshadow when pale are that darker shades can impart a too-harsh, bruised look, while pink or red shades will make you look tired or even ill. (And, of course, nude shades may simply blend in to your skin completely.)
For this reason, pale women will most likely get the most mileage out of Naked 2, which has an ideal mix of taupe and gray-beige hues that will be particularly flattering to cooler skin tones. Of course, you can be pale and also have a warm skin tone, in which case Naked 1 might be the better choice. What if you’re not sure if you’re cool-toned or warm-toned? Well, first, join the club. And, then consider trying Naked 3, which contains many rose-gold hues that are considered to be universally flattering.
Urban Decay Naked2 Palette, $54, available at Urban Decay.
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Eyeliner is a cult favorite for a reason: It’s easy to apply and lives up to its name by never smudging. But, black eyeliner can often look too harsh on those with extremely fair skin.
Luckily, Stila provides this excellent eyeliner in 15 different shades, so you can see if brown or even gray are less jarring options for you. Another tip for the more daring: Try applying a shade of blue or green in a thin line on your upper lashline for a subtle, but pretty, alternative to black eyeliner.
Stila Stay All Day Liquid Eyeliner in Rich Chocolate, $20, available at Stila.
Well-groomed brows are an integral part of any woman’s beauty look, and that goes double for pale women. If you are pale with fair hair, you’ll likely want to give your brows a bit of extra definition. And, if you have darker hair, you should embrace the striking contrast of dark brows against fair skin.
MAC recently came out with the MAC Pro Longwear Waterproof Brow Set in six different shades, from Emphatically Blonde to Brown Ebony, so no matter what shade your brows are, you can easily fill them in and define them for the entire day.
MAC Pro Longwear Waterproof Brow Set, $17, available at MAC.
Many fair-skinned ladies opt for jet-black mascara to ensure that their often almost invisible lashes are not to be missed. But, while we won’t knock a great bold lash look every now and again, sometimes a soft, subtle brown mascara is just what the doctor ordered for an everyday look.
Especially when you’re of the pale variety, brown mascara can go a long way in highlighting your long lashes without making them appear like spider legs. Try Clinique’s Lash Power Feathering Mascara in Dark Chocolate, which is great at separating the lashes and giving them some extra oomph, but will also give you just the right amount of eye-opening lash for day.
Clinique Lash Power Feathering Mascara in Dark Chocolate, $17.50, available at Clinique.