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Makeup for trans women and gender diverse people

There are many great options for learning about makeup, especially on YouTube. Below are a few general tips and some products recommendations.

Skin care

  • If the canvas is bad, the paint doesn’t matter. See the section on skin care first.

Less is more

  • Less is more with makeup. The trick is not to look like you’re wearing makeup (usually).

Good brushes

  • Invest in really good makeup brushes. Even drugstore makeup will look better when applied with high-quality brushes. I have five brushes I use:
    • Prescriptives Powder Brush. A soft, full, sable brush. It feels like a squirrel’s tail. I use it for powder after everything but mascara, and then I use it for blush. Anyone who’s tried it says it’s amazing.
    • Prescriptives Eyelining brush. A short, stiff square brush with white bristles. I use it for eyebrows, and I get a lot of compliments on my eyebrows.
    • MAC Brush #107. A stiff, rounded camel brush. I use this for undereye powder, for powder on blemishes, for upper lip and edging lips, and for applying light color underneath brows.
    • MAC Brush #36. A soft, tapered sable brush. I use this for eye shadow.
    • MAC Brush #22. A stiff, short, angled camel brush. I use it for applying powder eyeliner
  • Oh, and don’t forget to wash your brushes regularly. Use a little shampoo and conditioner.

Good foundation

  • The only item you really need to take time and invest in is a good foundation. I prefer a powder foundation. It’s vital to try on a powder, then wear it around a while. Look at it outside. Look at it inside. Look at it under fluorescent lights. You have to get a good color match, and a good match for your skin. If you have to wear a liquid foundation, get the lightest-texture one you can find.

Powder, powder, powder

  • Using powders will make everything look softer and more natural. It also gives you more room for error and can be blended more easily. For instance, liquid eyeliner is extremely hard to apply and can give you a hard look you probably won’t want most of the time.
  • The colors won’t apply to you, but here’s what I use:
    • MAC Studio Fix Foundation: NC 15. Awesome.
    • MAC Soft Brown matte eye shadow for blush. Just a little on the blush! And blend, blend, blend in upward strokes.
    • MAC Vanilla velvet for under eyebrow. Opens up the face.
    • MAC Cork satin eye shadow for lids
    • MAC Mystery satin eye shadow for eyeliner (and in evenings in eyelid crease)
    • Borghese Superiore Black-01 mascara (or Almay waterproof)
    • Vaseline lip therapy SPF 8 in a .35 oz tube (I almost never wear lipstick)
    • Borghese lipsticks and pencil (When I’m going glam… MAC irritates my lips for some reason)
  • While I love my MAC stuff, the only essential one is the Studio Fix powder. I could easily use drugstore brands for the other items.

Brow shaping

  • This is very hard, but very important. Eyebrows make a huge difference in your face shape, and the difference between just right and too much can be a hair or two. If you can swing the money, get your brows shaped professionally once, then maintain that shape. If you can’t swing it, the Aucoin book has a great section on brow shaping.

Act your age

  • Look at women your age at work or school. The ones who you think look good, especially those with your coloring. Take your cues from them.

A note on when start wearing makeup to work or school

  • This is simple. When you’re ready to be out and full-time.
  • A lot of trans people start doing earrings, painted nails and light makeup before coming out at work. You do so at your own risk. Tipping your hand like that can give them more time to think of reasons to fire you. It can lead to being outed before you’re ready. People will notice, but they may not react favorably. People who do this seem to want someone to say something. It’s a type of affirmation that they’re making progress in their minds. However, I think it’s extremely dangerous career-wise unless you’re prepared to come out that day and face the consequences.

A note on nails

  • Some people love long brightly-painted nails. Again, I suggest taking cues from those at work or school. Long nails can be cool, but make sure they are appropriate for the situation. Long nails can draw attention to hands and even make them look larger.

Recommended resources

There are a million great YouTube tutorials on makeup for every kind of person.

A book I found useful and fascinating is Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces (Little, Brown, 1997).

Jecca Blac (

  • Gender free, cruelty free, vegan