Makeup As Self-Care When You're Over 40

Photo by Septian simon on Unsplash

Photo by Septian simon on Unsplash

Being over 40 is one of the most physically interesting times in a person’s life. It’s right up there with puberty for the sheer number of surprises our bodies can throw at us.

From about 18 to, say, 37, nothing much happened to our bodies not based on injury or illness. We just went along, doing our thing, thinking mainly about what pants were the most comfortable or where to locate a new tattoo. Our bodies were along for the ride, and they mostly did what we expected.

Then along comes 40, and suddenly it’s a whole new corporeal adventure. 

Stuff hurts that didn’t use to hurt. Body parts that never needed attention now require special handling. And there’s an acute awareness that we are fragile and likely to break just from doing the same kind of behaviors that didn’t upset our bodies at all 10 or 15 years ago. 

One thing hasn't changed, though: my desire to look good. I’m a hair-and-make-up kind of girl and always have been. The odd aches and pains below my neck and the streaks of gray on top of my head don’t change that fundamental fact about me. 

Here are some of the beauty lessons I've learned about being 40 and fabulous.

1. Attitude. 

We have to begin inside of my head. I am 44 years old, and I have no wish to deny or hide that fact. This is my face. This is my body. This is my age. I intend to make the best of what I have — not turn back the clock. I’m cool with looking my age and all that entails. Except for my gray hair. 

2. Hair. 

I have been going gray since my 20s. I have also been coloring my hair since my teens. I’ve been red, blonde, black, brown, highlighted, single-processed, and on one unfortunate occasion, two-colored and in need of an emergency salon visit. At no time have I embraced my natural color as it was growing out of my head. 

This decade is no different. 

Instead of going from brown to red, I go from silver to brown. And I do my color at home because GOOD GRAVY those roots show up quickly. I can’t afford salon upkeep, so box color it is. The Clairol Root Touch Up kit is my usual go-to, but I’ll use Clairol Natural Instincts for an all-over boost every few months.

3. Skin. 

Once upon a time, I was the poster child for an oily T-zone in the middle of my face. No longer. I don’t know when that vanished, but it’s gone. Bye oil! I hope you found a nice new home! 

I now have much drier skin, including on my forehead, which was previously all kinds of slick. I actively avoid any skincare product that claims to matte-ify my skin. Instead, I’m all for emollients. Moisture, moisture, everywhere, slather it on my face!

I even wash with oils now — try the ones from Trader Joe’s or Sephora’s house brand. Heavy creams? I got ‘em. My current obsession is Beauty Pie’s Super Heathy Skin cream. I’ll even use these sheet masks infused with Korean donkey milk! And dry lips? You are going to love what I do for this. Nipple salve. I’m not even kidding. Head to the breastfeeding supplies section and get the Medela lanolin-based nipple ointment. Put it on your lips overnight. Thank me later. 

4. Brows. 

Remember the grunge era when everyone had skinny eyebrows? So do my tweezers. And my brows have never forgotten that either. My brows are sparse and slim nowadays, and they’re not going to get full no matter what’s happening on the runways. 


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Whereas mascara was my never-leave-home-without-it cosmetic in the past, now it’s brow gel. Without a little color to define my brows, I just look faded and tired. I love Glossier’s Boy Brow and Soap & Glory’s Archery gel. 

5. Botox. 

My left eyebrow decided to head south a few years ago. My right eyebrow stayed put. The slumping of my brow made my left eyelid look more closed and my eyes look noticeably asymmetrical. I HATED how it looked. It was making me miserable. After doing some reading about Botox brow lifts, I went to a cosmetic derm and asked what she could do. She had experience fixing facial asymmetry in stroke patients, so she was easily able to balance my face out. 

That was three years ago, and I’ve never missed a refresher since then. I highly recommend injectables if you’re so inclined. I also highly recommend talking about them because there is no place for shame in the beauty game. If there’s something on your face that you dislike and a needle will fix it? Go for it. We don’t shame people for ink or piercings. I won’t accept shame for my Botox.

6. Lips. 

I didn’t wear lipstick for years because I kissed my kids all the time when they were babies and toddlers, and I didn’t want them to be all lipsticky. But they’re bigger now, so I’ve returned to the lipstick roost. 

Unfortunately, that’s come with a rude awakening: I can’t just swipe on some color and go. 

As my face has softened with age, the boundaries of my lips have become less defined. If I try to wear a heavily-pigmented lipstick, it smudges and fades at the edges, making me look like I was just making out with someone. That’s hot in its own way — but not the look I’m usually going for. 

To make my lips look precise, I have to use lipliner. It’s an annoying extra step but such is life, right? Go buy everything Lipstick Queen makes — their Saint line of semi-sheer lipsticks are my favorite indulgence. The lighter pigment and creamy formula is kinder to lips that have some texture, like mine do. Matte lipsticks are for the fuller-lipped. On me they just make my mouth look like of puckered and flaky. 

I could keep talking about — and shopping for — beauty products all day. But I’d rather listen to what the rest of you are doing to get glam in the midlife years. What do you swear by? What are your hits and misses? Share your secrets so we can all be gorgeous together!


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