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Celebrity Makeup Artist Nick Barose on Instagram Makeup, “Beauty Greed” and the Right Way to Highlight and Contour

The man behind Lupita Nyong’o’s best makeup moments is all about creativity and diversity in beauty.

If you've ever admired Lupita Nyong'o, Rachel Weisz or Gillian Jacobs on the red carpet, then you're probably familiar with the work of Nick Barose. 

The New York-based celebrity makeup artist has created many of my favourite looks, on many of my favourite faces—those are just a few of the MANY celebs he's worked with!—and is known for his creative, cool and effortless approach. 

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He also happens to be one of the most interesting, perceptive and down-to-earth beauty experts that I've ever had the pleasure of interviewing. 

Back in the fall, I spoke to him over the phone for this story I wrote for the January issue of FLARE magazine. It was such an inspiring conversation that I want to share the full transcript with you guys here! 

Nick is amazing—he manages to diplomatically put into words ALL of my unexpressed feelings about the Instagram and YouTube makeup movements. I can't wait to hear what you think...

Nick Barose at Essence's Best in Black Beauty Awards in 2015.

As a celebrity makeup artist, how do you feel about the makeup trends emerging from Instagram and YouTube? 

With makeup, you can have fun and be original. It's not about less is more, either. You can definitely use more. 

The problem with some of these trends is that it's almost becoming too generic. Like how everybody's supposed to contour their cheeks to have them the same way, their nose to have it the same way, or their eyebrows to have that same shape. 

Every face is different, and real life is different than the world of Instagram because there's no filter. On Instagram, it works if you put on a lot of makeup, you throw some filter on it, and you have some bright light. Then yeah, it can look very graphic and attractive. But in real life, it's different.

Are you against contouring?

Contouring is something I do for a photo shoot or the red carpet. I think it's much more modern now to contour so that your face doesn't look flat, but it still looks like your face. When you put on foundation and powder by itself, sometimes it can flatten the face. So you can bring the dimension back by contouring a little bit. You still have your own shape, but it is more sculpted. 

A lot of the time on Instagram, you see people drawing lines. Like okay, clearly your cheekbone is not there. You want it to be there, but it's not there. It's just such a big, drastic change. It's too heavy on the technique. 

It's fine if that's what you do on Instagram, but when you start telling people who have a nine-to-five job that that's what they need to do in order to look beautiful, then there's something off. Clearly, it doesn't work in that situation.

How should people contour for everyday life?

Contouring for everyday life is definitely easier than what I see on Instagram. I don't layer all these dark colours and blend them all out. For everyday life, do you really have time to blend? I mean, most women are busy. That's not the kind of tricky makeup you want to do when you're running out the door. 

Contouring in real life is so much simpler. You can even use your bronzing powder if it's not too red. Or you can just use a really simple contouring palette that has two or three colours at the most. I see a lot of people recommending palettes that have 12 colours. Nobody needs that. You don't need to get a palette with more than three colours. 

Normally if I have somebody who's more fair to medium, then I use the Charlotte Tilbury sculpting palette that only has two colours. One is for highlighting and one is for sculpting. 

Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze & Glow

That's all you really need for every day because it's quick and it's foolproof. You're not really making harsh lines; it's very gentle, but you see a difference. 

Versus what you see when they tell you to draw in all these lines on the nose and cheeks, and even on the forehead, and then blend it in. Chances are, you're not going to be good at blending if you're not a makeup artist, and it's just never going to look right in daylight. 

So I find that kind of sculpting palette, that doesn't have more than three colours, is really the most practical.

Nick Barose with Priyanka Chopra. (Photo: Nick Barose)

What's your opinion on "tontouring"—contouring with self-tanner?

I mean... I get it. But that's the kind of thing that if you make a mistake, it stays. I like the idea, but I think it's just really hard to do yourself. 

I see a lot of women already walking around with streaks on their legs from self-tanner—and that's pretty much the easiest thing to do, to rub tanning lotion on your legs without it being streaky. So imagine people doing that on their faces, and then it streaks and it stays. It's not the kind of thing that you can put makeup on top and tone it down. It doesn't work that way. 

So I think I'd stay away from it. It's not worth it. It's a good concept; I would do it if I was the makeup artist doing a shoot on the beach, and I wanted the model to look really natural but sculpted and it had to be waterproof. Then yeah, I would do that. 

But for real life, I think it's too much of a commitment. There are more cons than pros. 

How about strobing?

Strobing is a new word, right? But really, it's just highlighter, and it's supposed to make your skin look luminous. 

The thing is, when you see somebody who has that inner glow—which in order to have, in my humble opinion, you have to be beautiful on the inside to begin with—then it glows through. Then you can enhance it with a little bit of highlighter. 

But the problem with highlighter, and all of these trends, is that they're kind of based on greed. Beauty is like everything else. People can be greedy. "I want my nose to be way smaller, my lips to be way bigger." To me, it's an unrealistic beauty greed. 

When you see baby skin, it's radiant, and it has a natural highlight. It's not something you see from far away—it's discreet, and you only see it when the skin catches the light in a certain way. 

The problem is that a lot of people do it so you can see it from a block away. Or sometimes they use something that's too shimmery. But that's not a skin texture, you know what I mean? 

It's fine if you are going to be dancing for Beyoncé. But in real life, the highlighter or the strobing should make your skin look radiant and healthy rather than sparkly. 

Lupita Nyong'o at the 2015 premiere of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens.' (Makeup by Nick Barose.)

How do you use highlighter properly?

Foundation is a necessary beast because it makes your complexion look perfect. But a lot of the time with foundation, it can make your skin look dull. So highlighter is what is going to bring life back to it and mimic that natural sheen, that healthy skin like a baby or little kid has. That's mainly what I use highlighter for. 

I don't use highlighter to make the skin look shimmery or sparkly, because that's not what it's supposed to do. And then on top of that, when you go overboard with highlighter, it brings out your pores and your wrinkles. The more discreet, the better. 

Also when it comes to highlighter, it doesn't have to look obvious. It's more like you put it on your cheekbones and when it catches the light, that's when people see it. That's when it looks the most believable. 

Some people go overboard and they make it so white and so pearly, all you see is white with chunks of shimmer. That's what makes the makeup look heavy as well. 

Any tips for finding the right highlighter?

When picking a highlighter, it's almost like you're picking a foundation. It needs to look like a part of your skin. 

Of course, it's going to be lighter than your foundation because you want to bring light to the face. But a lot of the time, people get confused and think lighter means a colour that's on the white side. It's more about the undertones. 

For example, if you are fair, then you can pick something like a pearl. 

If you have a little bit of a tan to your skin, then you might want something that's not pearl but more like a golden champagne. 

And then if you're on the darker side, then you're going to want something that's a little bit more coppery and more bronze. 

Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer in No. 14

It's just really about picking one that has the right undertones so that your highlighter looks like a part of your skin as opposed to something that's put on. It's not supposed to look put on, you know?

Some people are doing the opposite of strobing—no shine at all. What are your thoughts on that trend?

I'm a fan of shine, just because I think it makes skin look more real. When you don't have shine at all, that's a wall, no? That's not skin. 

I know a lot of companies are doing more matte foundations, but it's matte in the sense that it's luminous. That's what makes it look attractive—when you don't want shine, the matte has to look alive. When there's no shine at all, then it looks like a wall or like a mannequin. To me, that's never attractive. 

Let's face it, beauty is one of those things where you can't really contain it. Because makeup gets sweaty and shiny. The problem with this trend on Instagram is that it's pretending that you can contain it. 

If you put on too much contour, in real life, it will rub off. I live in New York, so on the train, I see people with this trend all the time, standing next to me. And then it's 5pm and they look like they've been rolling around in dirt. But on Instagram, you can obviously contain it, if you filter it and you take the picture right away. 

A little bit of shine is fine because in real life, the human body is going to be a little shiny later anyway. I think it's such a high-maintenance trend, if your goal is to not to be shiny at all. That's a lot of touch-ups and that's a lot of stuff you have to put on your face.

Isn't matte skin very aging as well?

Yeah, I think it's going to be cracking. I think it's a much more modern approach if you just work with [your natural oils].

Is the biggest problem with Instagram makeup that it is too heavy?

When you look at people like Grace Jones or David Bowie or Annie Lennox—people that came before—they used lot of makeup. Sometimes it would be like a thunderbolt across his face, or fuchsia on the eyes like Grace Jones. But it doesn't try to fit into a mould or to be like everybody else.

With makeup, it can either make you look more like you—like a more exciting version of you, or whatever it is that you're trying to address. Or it can make you look like less you. 

The problem with this trend is that it makes a lot of people look like less of themselves, because you end up not recognizing them at all. 

A lot of it is based on correcting, which is a really old idea to me. I think now it's really about embracing and enhancing. Yes, you can wear fun, exciting blue eyeliner, or something crazy, like a blue lipstick. But you still look like yourself—just yourself wearing a blue lipstick. 

As opposed to when everything is "corrected." That way, you end up with a similar face to everybody, and I don't know, that's not exciting to me. It's not creative.

How about the Instagram brow?

I started in the '90s, so there used to be that golden rule of, okay, "you have to arch here and it has to be longer at the tail"—which is kind of what you're seeing on Instagram a lot. 

But I find that when you make it too long and too proportionate like that, it can be kind of dated, too, because it almost makes the makeup look too done and that's not for everybody. 

Some people have straight brows and I love it. Or you have somebody like Cara Delevingne, who has pretty big brows and they're not arched. It looks modern because it's her own. 

Alicia Vikander at the 2015 Cannes premiere of 'Sicario.' (Makeup by Nick Barose.)

A lot of the Instagram and YouTube makeup is based on fixing so-called flaws.

Yeah. I think that's such a fad. With people who are already beautiful, when you see them after the makeup, it's like, "Oh! The before was much better." 

Your makeup shouldn't actually make you look older. I don't think that's what people's goals are. But that's the thing, especially when it comes to complexion products. You can wear dark lipstick and look beautiful, if the rest of your face and your skin looks radiant.

But if you end up doing too much with the contour, the highlight, the whatever, it ends up looking too worked-on. It makes you look older. I don't think that's what women want.

The problem I have with these trends is that they're trying to fit a lot of people into such few beauty ideals. I think now we've come to a point where there's diversity, people all look different and that's why beauty is so great. 

It's also a great time to work in beauty right now, because I work with actresses with different skin tones, of different races, with different features. Some of my clients always get [recognized by magazines] for 'best beauty whatever,' but I never have to "correct." 

Because there's nothing to correct. It's such a different time now. You can have fun with it, but it's not that serious.

Nick Barose with Uzo Aduba. (Photo: Nick Barose)

What about techniques like "baking" or "clowning"—is that something you would ever do, as a professional? 

No, because who has time? I'm not against it, if you're doing it as performance art. 

But if you tell women that they need to do it, then I think that's kind of a crock. Who has time to draw all these things in when you're going to blend most of it away anyway? It's fun, if you have the time and you're bored. A lot of people have no time in real life. 

It's fun to watch. A lot of these things are fun to look at, because they're based on really drastic changes, makeovers or transformations. But in real life, it doesn't work that way.

Baking is an old drag queen trend. They do that so their makeup lasts all night for the performance. Unless you're going to perform in a club and people are seeing you from really far away on stage, then putting that much powder under the eyes is only going make you look drier and older. Even though you're going to brush most of it away, I don't think anybody needs to do that. 

The concept is what women do every day already anyway, which is putting on a liquid or cream product, a concealer or a foundation, but then setting it with powder so it's not sticky. But to put on a lot of powder and let it sit and then brush all of it away, a) it's wasteful and b) you're not on stage. And c) it's only going to make you look older. 

Powder is your friend, but too much powder, especially under eyes—that's one area I'm always really careful of how much powder to put on because it can really age you there.

The crazy thing is that I'm a makeup artist, but you know how long a tub of loose powder lasts me? I work every day, six days a week, all the time. A tub of loose powder lasts me more than a year, because I'm not baking. My clients always look beautiful, but they don't use that much powder.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw at the 2016 NAACP Image Awards. (Makeup by Nick Barose.)

Is it a positive thing that people are becoming self-taught makeup artists, learning from Instagram and YouTube?

It is a positive. I think it's about expressing yourself, and by all means people should do that. It's just hard to navigate, especially on Instagram. Sometimes you see women on Instagram commenting on a picture that's clearly Photoshopped. Like, CLEARLY, you know what I mean? 

For you and I, who work in the business, we are familiar with the process. Photoshop is a necessary beast, because the modern camera picks up so much information—more than what your eye sees. And then when it goes to print, your pore that's not there will be magnified. 

So in that sense, it's a necessity, because the modern camera really sees more. But then when you see people on Instagram with all this contour, with all this heavy makeup, and they throw filters on it... at the end, it looks like an air-brushed doll.

I find that a weird thing, too, with this generation, where people want to look air-brushed. 

To me, a good airbrush shouldn't look air-brushed. It's like plastic surgery. Nobody goes to the surgeon and is like, "I want to look fake-lipped." They go there to look younger. It's the same with looking air-brushed, but I think it's become kind of the norm. When you see it all the time on Instagram, it becomes normal. But it's not really normal because it looks so plastic. 

I see people commenting on those kinds of looks. Women will say things like, "Oh, her skin's so beautiful!" Obviously I can't really comment, because I'm civilized. But in my head, it's like, "Well, but that's not her skin."

Gillian Jacobs at the 2015 Season 4 premiere of 'Girls.' (Makeup by Nick Barose.)

How does your art background influence your approach to makeup?

I think it's good that there's an art aspect to these makeup looks. But the thing is, it's not like other art. I went to art school. Every other art, you create from scratch. If you're a painter, you have an idea in your head, and it comes from scratch. 

With makeup, you can't treat it that way because there's a person underneath. You can't just ignore that person and all of a sudden be an artist. Like okay, "I'm going to give you a new nose, I'm going to give you a new cheek, and then I'm going to throw a filter on you." It just doesn't work that way. It's a different kind of art. 

I think part of being an artist is to be able to look at different people and be like, "Okay, this is what your strong point is, and that's what the makeup can bring out." If you ask people, like models and actresses, there will always be something they are insecure about. I think when you use makeup to bring out your best, it always works—as opposed to correcting, and creating a new thing, and that one beauty ideal.

I mean, that's the one thing I can't stand, that idea of one beauty ideal. I started in the '90s and that was pretty much a time when you had to look a certain way. Like your nose had to be contoured a certain way, and your cheekbone had to be contoured a certain way. I feel like we came a long way. So let's just leave it there. 

What do you wish people would start doing instead?

You can use a lot of makeup, a lot of fun colours, make it exciting—but in the end, you yourself are your own beauty ideal. 

To me, that's a much more fun and exciting approach to expressing yourself with makeup. Rather than clicking on the hashtag "strobing," and there's millions of people that look the same, with the same shine running down the cheek. 

Nick Barose with Lupita Nyong'o. (Photo: Nick Barose)

Do you think the pendulum's going to swing back to more diversity and creativity in makeup?

I think a lot of women are more savvy now [about Instagram and YouTube]. They know that it's promoting something that's unattainable in real life. When I see people commenting on things, I definitely see that women are more savvy about what's real and what's not. 

But like I said, it's kind of hard to navigate. You look on Instagram and everybody and their mother is a celebrity makeup artist. Then you click through, and you don't see anybody you know. 

Find more from Nick on Instagram.