Beauty trendsetters are pushing a very particular look for spring: the bare face. And much to makeup companies’ relief, it takes new products to achieve it.

High fashion brands such as Givenchy and Marc Jacobs are putting the stripped-down aesthetic in ads and on runways. Several movie beauty icons— Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Marion Cotillard—braved the big screen with little-to-no visible makeup in some of the Oscar season’s highest-profile films. Dakota Johnson, star of the forthcoming “Fifty Shades of Grey,” is on the cover of February Vogue looking as if she isn’t wearing makeup at all.

“It’s an aspirational look,” says Jennifer Balbier, senior vice president of global product development for artistry brands, including MAC Cosmetics , at Estée Lauder Cos.

The fresh face is a swing of the style pendulum away from the camera-ready, fully made-up look of reality TV’s Kardashian sisters. Social media helped spread that look, with product-laden video tutorials on YouTube drawing millions of views.

before and after
A look from MAC Cosmetics’ Spring Summer 2015 runway trend book Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas

The move towards minimal is a product of social media, too. Instagrammers of all ages post makeup-free selfies, often with the hashtag #IWokeUpLikeThis. “Millennials are saying, ‘This is the authentic me, I don’t need to cover up who I am,’ ” says Orrea Light, vice president of product development for L’Oréal Paris.

Cosmetics brands are responding with lighter foundations, sheerer lip glosses and new products to accentuate cheekbones and brows, two features that are especially important with the bare look. “Even when women want to have this ‘no makeup’ look, they still feel more comfortable wearing some makeup,” says Magalie Parksuwan, executive director of global marketing for NARS Cosmetics. “They just need to have the right products, to make it look like there’s no makeup.”

Andi Miller, a 34-year-old mother of a 4-year-old who lives northeast of Dallas and works at a local university, says she sports the look several times a week. She says she has swapped her foundation for a BB cream, adds a little dark-circle corrector under her eyes and then swipes on some blush, light eye shadow and lip gloss. “For me, it’s all about looking fresh and awake,” she says, “like maybe I slept better than I really did.”

Some women have always worn a less-is-more makeup look, but the latest iteration is even more minimal. Whereas it might have taken a dozen products to create the old natural look, now it takes only a couple. “It’s fewer steps,” says Regina Maguire, senior vice president of product innovation and marketing for Gurwitch Products, maker of Laura Mercier makeup and skincare.

Even professionals find it takes a little bit of makeup to pull off the no-makeup look. When designer Marc Jacobs sent models down the runway for Spring 2015, they looked as if they were wearing no makeup. The show notes, though, said they were wearing NARS moisturizer, and a bit of NARS concealer under the eyes and elsewhere as needed. “It’s good to be able to see a bare face,” François Nars, the brand’s founder and creative director, said backstage.

Givenchy Creative Director Riccardo Tisci gave a no-makeup mood to the brand’s spring 2015 ads featuring Julia Roberts —but the actress did wear a bit of makeup for photography purposes, a spokesman said.

When shooting the movie “Wild,” about a young woman’s hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, director Jean-Marc Vallée requested no makeup be used for Ms. Witherspoon, says Robin Mathews, the actress’s personal makeup artist and the department head on the film.

For the first third of the hike, Ms. Mathews says, she took steps to simulate the effects of the hike on Ms. Witherspoon’s look, creating broken capillaries and bags under her eyes. As the hike progressed, Ms. Mathews eased up on those techniques, and by the end she added just a hint of makeup: tinted moisturizer, sheer concealer and a bit of powder.


Companies’ push of a bare face comes as color cosmetics sales are slowing. Sales bumped up 1.2% in 2014 from 2013, to nearly $12.3 billion, according to preliminary data from market-research firm Euromonitor International. That follows annual growth of about 6% in 2011 and 2012, and less than 4% in 2013.

Some beauty executives say the new look reflects greater interest in skin care and a broader cultural focus on wellness. Not many women who are at spin class at dawn and sipping green juice for breakfast want to apply a full face of makeup.

Products behind the no-makeup look: Left to right, Stila Shape & Shade Custom Contour Duo, $40, and brush, $38; Laura Mercer Infusion de Rose Nourishing Oil, $62; MAC Prep+Prime Natural Radiance, $41; Clinique Chubby Stick Baby Tint Moisturizing Lip Colour Balm, $17; Dior Skin Star Concealer, $36; Glossier Soothing Face Mist, $18; NARS All Day Luminous Weightless Foundation, $48; Dior Cheek & Lip Glow, $37; NARS The Multiple, $39; Clinique Beyond Perfecting Foundation + Concealer, $27; Urban Decay Naked Palette, $54 Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal, Styling by Anne Cardenas

“Having great skin allows you to ‘just wake up like this’,” says Emily Weiss, founder and CEO of beauty blog Into the Gloss. “The better your skin, the less makeup you have to wear.” Ms. Weiss launched her Glossier line of four products last fall with just one color cosmetic, a sheer facial tint; the others are skin care.

“A lot of women now are taking care of their skin so they don’t have to rely on makeup,” says Daniel Martin, a celebrity makeup artist for Dior. For them, it’s a reallocation of time and money, he says. They are spending more on an evening skin-care regimen and facials, and less on a morning makeup routine.

So-called blur products, which reflect light to camouflage flaws, are popular. Mr. Martin uses Dior’s Dreamskin Perfect Skin Creator under makeup. It is the brand’s best-selling U.S. skincare product, selling 1,000 a week, a spokeswoman said.

Cosmetics sellers say the no-makeup trend represents a shift in the types of makeup women use most often, not a departure from cosmetics altogether. Executives say new products aim to accentuate natural features, not cover flaws.

Flesh-toned powders and creams, known as contouring products, give the illusion of sculpted cheekbones, nose and chin. Stila’s new Shape & Shade Custom Contour Duo, in a cream format without shimmer, creates a matte texture meant to mimic skin. Women can wear less color makeup, such as blush, says Sarah Lucero, Stila’s global director of artistry, “because you have the perfect canvas down.”

Concealer remains core to the look, executives says, as more women eschew a full coating of foundation and instead “spot treat” blemishes and other specific flaws. A new foundation-concealer combination product from Clinique, “Beyond Perfecting Foundation + Concealer,” is set to launch next month with a doe-foot applicator so women can dot use it sparingly or more as needed.

Brows are integral. “If you have the perfect made-up brow, you can face the world with no other piece of makeup on,” says Anne Marie Nelson-Bogle, vice president of marketing at Maybelline New York. Eye Studio Brow Drama, which Maybelline launched in October, is in effect mascara for the brows, Ms. Nelson-Bogle says, with a tinted gel formula that adds color and assists with shaping.

Credit / Article written by:

Elizabeth Holmes / Wall Street Journal Magazine