Beauty 101: Your Office Beauty Questions, Answered


This week’s Beauty 101 is focusing on keeping things professional: proper makeup for job interviews, office situations, day-to-night scenarios, and post-work pampering. You had questions, and your fellow readers have once again come through with the answers.

Again, thanks to everyone who left comments on yesterday’s thread: I can’t post them all, due to space constraints, but they are all appreciated. And now, a few highlights:

On Looking Professional At Interviews/In The Office:

From commenter flucky:

My experience from working in corporate and healthcare administration – less is more. Any makeup has to hold up for 8 hours and look OK under crappy lighting.
Use whatever foundation, TM, or powder you feel comfortable with. Use concealer. Use blush if you like – if you aren’t used to wearing it, give it a try; because it’s the most realistic makeup in terms of mimicking where color might be on your face, it can make you look pulled together even if you forgo any other makeup. Well-applied blush will make you look fresher and more awake. Use a moisturizing lipstick or balm in a light color that flatters your skin and teeth. Use mascara and eye makeup if you like, with a light hand and in natural colors.
I would get compliments when I wore eyeliner or shadow, but it just wasn’t worth it for me given application time or the risk of smudging. I also used to wear bright red lipstick as a signature, but eventually decided it really is for evening. I admire women who can do eye makeup well, and if you can, black mascara and liner are classic and elegant.
Some rules of thumb:
– Makeup should be kind to your skin, since you’re commuting and sitting under fluorescent lights in dry A/Ced air.
– Pale/shiny lips look young; dark/matte lips look old. Brown lips look like the undead.
– Nothing that smudges. If you have any risk at all of touching your eyes, don’t wear mascara or liner.
– No sparkly makeup, ever.
– Make friends with concealer.
– Black magic happens on the way to work. What looked cool and understated in your bathroom mirror is now 100x brighter and more obvious. You’ve gone over to the clown side. This is the reason why all makeup guides say use natural colors. It’s just a fail safe.
Oh, and this isn’t makeup but it just crossed my mind – a big, big yes to deodorant, a qualified yes to nice perfume applied with a light touch, and big noes forever to scented body lotion or body sprays. People have allergies and get migraines, and if you make the office smell like vanilla cupcake musk bouquet they will hate you with reason.

From commenter jenilane:

My feeling about professional makeup is to keep things minimal. No bright lipstick, no heavy blush, only line the top eyelid and keep the glitter/sparkle to a minimum. To look more mature, keep to neutrals on eyes and lips. I use 2 shades of brown and use light brown on the whole lid with dark brown shading the crease and outer corner. Also, use clear mascara to shape the brows. Never underestimate clean brows.

From commenter metaphorsbewithyou:

For a polished work look, I stand by the following:
Simple, clean eye makeup consisting of a neutral/fawn-colored (depending on your skin tone) shadow applied to the crease, well-groomed brows, and neatly applied black eyeliner. I do a thin line using gel liner, which goes on smoothly, and doesn’t clump or catch on the delicate skin of the eye lids. Then finish with one to two coats of mascara. You don’t need to over do it on the lashes, you’re at the office, not at the club.
Apply a small amount of subtle blush to the apples of the cheeks.
For the lips, you can never go wrong with a pinky-nude color, or a light lip stain. Stay away from mega-brights or deep hues that scream “BAM, LOOK AT MY LUCIOUS LIPS!”, as well as super shiny/glittery glosses. Lisa Frank mouth does not promote the idea of Office Professional.
Finish with a light dusting of powder to set the makeup, and slightly mute it.
A headband serves well to keep hair in place and out of your face. A polished ponytail or bun always look nice, whether pulled up to the crown of the head, or fastened at the nape of the neck. Just say no to garish or sparkly hair accessories.

From commenter sumerfish:

Common sense dictates that a neutral color (beigey or pale pink) would be a perfect choice, as is clear.
However, depending on the business, darker or red nails can be okay too: people are used to these colors, so they fit within the range of acceptable. However, bright or dark reds can be seen as vampy so it’s probably best to leave them on short nails.
No polish is fine too, but I still think it’s important to keep your nails clean, free of chipped polish, and filed and/or buffed if you want to keep them a little bit longer. Nothing grosses me out more than obviously unkempt nails, whether on men or women. Keep them all filed to the same length as each other if you want to keep them long, and keep an orange stick around to get the gunk trapped in them.

From commenter eatingatoms:

My overall philosophy for make up and clothing at work is as follows: Find 4 or 5 people at work that you admire and who reflect how you would like to be perceived. Comfortably emulate their level of professional dress and make up use. And by ‘comfortably’ I mean do not do anything that will not seem genuine on you, or that will look forced and make you feel uncomfortable.
This does not mean buying their exact clothes and being a creepy clone either. It means adopting their projected overall image successfully and tastefully.

From commenter ArtAttack:

Makeup: stick to neutrals (that’s pinks, beiges, browns). Now is not the time to use anything with chunks of glitter in it. Google “office makeup” for inspiration.
If your skin needs help apply foundation if you have it, top with concealer where you need it, and then top with powder to hold it and keep you from looking shiny.
For eye makeup highlight your brow bone, line your eyes with black or brown liner, but smudge it with a q-tip so it’s not a thick line. Then use a neutral eyeshadow that is either matte or silky to fill in your lids. Top with one coat of mascara, just the top lashes.
If you have sparse brows filling them in a bit can really polish your look, and brushing them with an old (clean) mascara wand with a bit of clear gel if they’re unruly can help tame them.
Blush works wonders for office lighting and can hide a lack of sleep. Just make sure you apply it to the apples of your cheeks so it looks natural, and use a color that’s close to what your cheeks look like if you pinch them or run down the street.
Lipstick can make you look older and more professional, to be on the safe side though again wear a neutral, like a pinky brown or a rose, and I like to top with lip balm so it’s not too harsh.
And finally, before you leave the house, look at your face in natural light to catch any mistakes. This will keep you from having clown cheeks, raccoon eyes, or really obvious concealer marks on blemishes. If you’re going in for an interview, check your teeth in a compact mirror before you go in to make sure you don’t have lipstick on them.

From commenter ediepop:

Keep it simple, keep it neutral. Now is not the time for your funky nail art and glitter eyeshadow.
Personally, I think very heavy make-up, even if reasonably neutral is slightly off putting. Look polished, but not as if you’ve spent hours getting ready. I also find long, brightly coloured nails a bit much for the office. If you like to have long nails, a plain, neutral colour or clear polish is best. However, I think to look truly professional, shorter nails are better.
Having said all that, if I think you’re the right person for the job I am prepared to overlook any infractions of the above, but be prepared to be asked to tone it down for work, especially if you’re client/the public facing. Back-office/admin staff can get away with more.

On Soothing Tired Hands/Feet:

From commenter mcdermla:

For hands: Before you go to bed, smother your hands in aqueous cream (relatively cheap and available in most pharmacies) or your favourite moisturiser, then put socks over your hands to keep the cream on. When you wake up, the cracks on your hands will be gone and your hands will feel super smooth.

From commenter metaphorsbewithyou:

For sore after-work feet:
What I tell patients with plantar faciitis is to fill up a plastic water bottle, 3/4 of the way full, and stash in the freezer. When you get home from work, roll the frozen bottle with your foot back and forth on the floor with slight pressure. Do this on each foot, switching back and forth for ten minutes. Then, either put a thick phone book on the floor or use a stair- stand on the edge with only the balls of your feet. Let your heels press toward the ground, stretching the tight calf muscles and tendons. Hold for 30 seconds. Then press up on the toes and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat each stretch twice. Then follow up with rolling the feet again on your ice bottles.
People often make the mistake of using heating pads or soaking their feet in hot water. Yes, it feels lovely, but what you’re doing is bringing heat and blood flow to an already inflamed area, which in turn increases the inflammation, eventually causing the pain and swelling to worsen. You want to use ice to reduce said inflammation; heat should only be used on older, non-acute injuries after the healing process has progressed a bit.

From commenter Fishmonkey_writes:

For tired feet highly recommend wearing padded insoles — Dr Scholls etc; Dr has great inserts for high heels that help distribute your weight away from the ball of the foot. All my heels have them, and I’m on my feet all day, so it works well for me.

On Day-To-Night Transitions:

From commenter springhaze:

Night look:
You just need to add a few things to bring the look to night.
1. Add a pop of bright blush on the apples of your cheeks. The color should be in the same family as the one you applied for day, but just thing of it as turned up a notch. For example, if you used a dusty light pink for daytime, a bright pink for nighttime works. (To get it on the apples, smile as you apply it.)
2. Find a medium-dark shadow that goes well with your lid and liner colors. Use a shimmer or metallic to amp it up. Apply with a contour or tapered brush into the crease.
3. I suck at eyeliner, but if you have more skills than I do, this would be the time for you to show off: apply a slightly thicker line and/or smudge your liner into the lashline. If you have a shimmer or glitter version of the color you applied earlier, you can also apply that over what you already have on. Add more coats of mascara. (Bobbi Brown Extreme Party is good for layering coats without clumping, and your look can be adjusted by the amount of coats you put on).
4. If you’re going glittery and shiny on the eye, go softer on the lip. Pick a lipstick color a bit darker than you’d normally wear in the daytime, such as a darker red. Apply and blot for a stained look.

From commenter maybeaways:

I wouldn’t bother redoing your whole neutral eye look. Instead, take along your black mascara and a more dressy lip shade to give your look a boost. You can rock the ‘natural eye, statement lip’ thing. Have blotting papers or a compact to freshen up your face look – bring colour to your cheeks by pinching them. Take along some dressy earrings or a necklace, and your fragrance. Date/drinks ready. 🙂

From commenter SparklyTempest:

For going daytime to nighttime (and this applies to the things to include in an office make-up bag), I add on. I usually only wear mascara, foundation, and a bit of blush to work in the office, but I throw a small pot of eyeshadow and lip gloss into my bag. I add a bit of eyeshadow and throw on the lip gloss in less than five minutes in a car mirror before I drive off or in the office bathroom.

From commenter metaphorsbewithyou:

To take the office look to night time, add a darker hued shadow on top of the one used in your crease- a shade in the same color family, but feel free to rock a shimmer or run it along your lower lash line to make a smoky eye. Touch up the eyeliner by winging it out and upward a tiny bit, for a cat’s eye effect. Comb through your lashes with a lash comb to get rid of any flakes or clumps, then apply a couple more coats of black mascara. Add a bit of blush to the hollows of your cheeks. You can also apply a bit of highlighting powder (stay away from creams, by the end of the day, your face is oily and creams get schmeary and runny) to the tops of your cheekbones and along your collar bones.
Now that you’re done at the office, rock those lips like nobody’s business- dab off the color you were wearing, and powder your lips to give you a clean slate. Apply a neutral liner, then whatever lip color you like, whether it be a bold red, deep wine, or shiny gloss. Set your face with powder once again, and you’re good to go!
As for taking hair from office to party:
If you have been wearing a ponytail all day, hike it up a bit on your head to give the tail some lift. If you know you’re planning to go out after work, for the last couple hours of your work day, twist hair up into a bun. When you’re ready to hit the town, release the bun, and tousle your hair, it should have some nice waves at this point.
If you have room at your desk, stash a mini curling iron or flat iron in a drawer. Both are life-savers after work, you can do some quick curls or smooth out flyaways before you head out. And non-aerosol hairspray is great for quick styles and touch ups.

From commenter ilikeautumn:

My key for day to evening is throwing eyeliner, shadow, and darker lipstick into my bag. I make minimal use of all three during the work day; one shade of shadow, usually neutral, and I line my upper lid lightly with a black liquid pen. I’ll sometimes wear a light lip gloss, but usually go without.
For night, add another color or two of more dramatic eye shadow (my current favorite is brown + shimmery gold), then pull out the eyeliner pen, darken what you’re already wearing, and add a 60s-style wing. Next is the bolder lipstick (I love bright red), and away you go! The entire process takes about three minutes tops, which is great when you’re bolting from work to a dinner date or something similar.

On Quick Early-Morning Routines:

From commenter Margot Keller:

Fastest chic hairdo EVER! Go to Walgreens or Target and purchase Goody Simple Style Spin Pins for $6. To create a “undone/messy” bun, flip your hair over and tease it just a bit with a pick to create volume & texture. Make a ponytail with one hand and spin it into a bun. Grab 1 Spin Pin and screw it (literally) into the top of the bun, keeping it close to the scalp. Take the 2nd pin and screw it in from the bottom, again keeping the pin close to your scalp as you screw. If you need a bobby pin or two, poke ’em in. This entire process takes less than 2 minutes and the Spin Pins keep the bun held in place very firmly…like, I work out every day and have never had one come loose. If you’ve got super-thick or very long hair, you will need an extra 2 Spin Pins. My hair is fine, shoulder length & layered. Your bun may have a few stray strands hanging out; this look is huge at Fashion Week on the models and is adorable. The Spin Pins are the bomb-diggity!

From commenter LaFemme:

If you have chin-length hair or longer that is not too curly, I recommend showering at night and letting it air dry, with some kind of blow-dry creme or a mix of a light gel and leave in conditioner. In the morning, brush your hair and dampen it slightly, then put in some hot rollers (mine heat up in 2 minutes). It doesn’t take long to put in the rollers, but they provide enough heat to get rid of the kinks from sleeping on your hair damp. I then do my makeup and take them out after, once they have cooled. Depending on the size of the rollers and the product used, you can have curls or, as I prefer, just some body and then ends turned under. I use large barreled rollers and a light-hold product, so I just end up looking like I had a blow-out. It looks very professional and done, but really doesn’t take much time or effort.

From commenter thenewmrssalazar:

My makeup always takes around 5ish minutes. Here’s what you do: foundation and powder or get a foundation that dries to a powder/ matte finish. Blush. Then get a nice apricot sheer color. I like Bobbi Brown’s Apricot Shimmer Brick. *Apricot usually looks flattering on all skin types. You can actually use this for your blush also. Apply to lids. At this point you can either curl your lashes and then do eyeliner or skip the eyeliner and apply mascara. This may take you 10 minutes when you start out. Once you get good, you can go on auto pilot and it will take around 5 minutes.
Also, tell your stylist that you’d like to wear your hair natural. She can give you a cut that will work with your hair texture to allow for minimal styling time.

From commenter jenilane:

I am NOT a morning person, so finding the easiest possible way to do my hair has been a life-long experiment. I have finally perfected a method that allows me to circumvent the issue.
Now, I warn that this will not work for everybody. It is strongly reliant on your hair type. It also may not work the first few times. Hair can take training, so it may take a few days before it actually comes out nice (maybe start on a Friday so that you have the weekend ot practice).
What I do is wash my hair at night. While it is still wet, I take a dime size amout of styling creme, leave-in conditioner and liquid gel and emulcify them together in my hands and rub it through my hair and comb & part it.
From there, quite simply, I go to bed. If I’m going to be up for a while, I put it in a low bun with bobby pins or a Spin Pin to keep it wet and relatively straight.
When I wake up in the morning, my hair is smooth, shiny and relatively straight. It may have a small lump in the back or wavy ends, so I touch it up with a straightener, add some volume with hairspray and I’m good to go! If it ever comes out bad, I just wear it in a bun.
Voila! 5 minute hair.

On Office Essentials:
From commenter slf72:

Here is what is in my office “cosmetic bag”:
— tweezers
— nail file
— hand cream
— tampons
— safety pins. Cannot stress enough how necessary these are
— lip balm
— hair brush
— sample size perfume things, since they are good if you suddenly find yourself with a date
— a big barrette
— band aids
— travel tooth brush / toothpaste
— travel size deoderant
I also keep an emergency umbrella and a pair of cheap sneakers (in case of another blackout so I don’t have to walk 6 miles in 4″ heels again)

From commenter lonelyfalcon:

The only makeup I apply on a regular basis (work and a night out) is black mascara and lip balm but I do keep the following at my desk:
-extra hair-ties
-bobby pins
-lip balm
-a non-oily lotion (no oily fingerprints!)
-a travel bottle of perfume
-oil-blotting sheets
With these few things, you can snazz-up your hair-do for an evening, keep yourself smelling decent, and look moderately refreshed. I think a ‘look’ is all in the accessories, anyway, so I might bring some fun earrings/scarves/necklaces if I knew I’d be going out.

Didn’t see your question answered? Try looking through yesterday’s thread, which is filled with hundreds of tips from your fellow readers. Disagree with something you see here? Feel free to set the record straight in the comments. And as always, suggestions for the next edition of Beauty 101 are welcome.

Earlier: Beauty 101: Keeping It Professional

Looking for advice on another beauty topic? Check out the other Beauty 101 Q & A sessions:

Beauty 101: Your Beauty Disaster Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Special Occasion Makeup Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Drugstore And Department Store Recommendations
Beauty 101: Your Makeup Removal Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Recipes From Readers
Beauty 101: Your Scent-Related Problems, Solved
Beauty 101: Your Summer Beauty Dilemmas, Solved
Beauty 101: Your Blush And Bronzer Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Skincare Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Eye Queries, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Nail Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Lipstick Questions, Answered
Beauty 101:Your Hair Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Waxing/Shaving Questions, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Foundation And Concealer Concerns, Answered
Beauty 101: Your Eyeliner Woes, Solved

Ersler Dmitry/Shutterstock” />

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin