Originally written for the Canadian Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour Support Network (CBSN) during BFRB week October 1-7, 2017
I love makeup. Or rather, I should say that I have a Stockholm syndrome relationship with makeup. At 19, I was held hostage by makeup and my dermatillomania, having never before worn it or had any interest in wearing it.
When my dermatillomania was at its absolute worst in my early 20s, I quickly learned the ins and outs of how to conceal my awkward condition. Every day I prayed to and thanked the makeup gods that I was able to cover up my horribly red, weeping, and marked face (or arms) just to give the appearance of functioning like a normal person. But I was not okay. I needed help. Makeup made me feel better and calmed my rising anxieties about my appearance. Even when I was home alone or ready to go to bed sometimes just applying makeup and wearing it through the night was enough to calm me and temporarily halt my urges.
At first, I did not know what I was doing at all with make-up. It started with just concealer but when I started using half a tube on face every day and realized it wasn’t blending well, I discovered foundation. And then I learned that powder can help create a smoother and lasting appearance and that it also seemed to work better on slightly open wounds. I then started using all three and tried every drugstore brand under the sun. I bought brushes and sponges, watched YouTube videos, all to perfect the technique of smothering and soothing myself. I needed makeup and started to carry an emergency kit of concealer and other supplies around so that my flaws never showed. I did not go swimming. I did not wear tank tops or short sleeve shirts. I hid in my makeup that kept me safe. I remember feeling so frustrated that I was a slave to this commodity and felt that I needed it like a junkie needs drugs. Wearing makeup was a consolation that provided me the facade of happiness.
After years of misery perfecting my cover-up techniques and learning about the different aspects of skincare, I finally started working through the healing stages of my dermatillomania. I started to improve to the point that dermatillomania no longer controlled my life or all of my waking thoughts. I began to enjoy the makeup process as it did not feel like a necessity anymore. I felt attractive for the first time since I could remember.
While I can probably get away without wearing makeup most of the time now, I don’t. Makeup is still my comfort and still brings me some degree of happiness wearing it. I have even noticed that if I am having a hard time with my skin I will sometimes splurge at Sephora to make me feel like I am somehow being proactive about my skin.
Learning to use makeup and learning about skincare has helped me with many self-care techniques for my dermatillomania and otherwise. Would I have found this comfort and interest in makeup and skincare if I had not had dermatillomania? As I spent half of my life as a tomboy, it is hard to say. Regardless, I am grateful for what makeup has given me even if it was not something I would have chosen.
For those that need it, here are some derma-friendly makeup tips that have worked we for me:
- Primer and setting spray: I use to scoff at it. Seemed like another layer to add to my face that was already bordering on way too much but it truly helps the makeup adhere better to your skin and makes it last longer so you do not have to worry about your carefully placed makeup accidentally rubbing off.
- Invest in quality concealer and foundation: Not only do better quality products cover better they are often better for your skin (oil-free, paraben-free etc). Take the time to find a brand that works best for you. Make Up Forever carries a water-resistant brand of concealer that lasted me 2-years even with regular everyday use (they have a foundation too). When applying concealer, dab it, don’t swipe it for better adherence.
- If your skin is weeping and open, it is hard to cover and you run the risk of infection – The best course of action is to let the wound get some sort of barrier on it before you put on makeup. Here are a few techniques that can help:
- Liquid bandages – Found at practically every drugstore, using this requires a bit of technique to get right. The key is to get the thinnest layer possible for the best coverage in the end. It stings a bit when applying it but it will protect your skin once it is dry. Make sure it is dry before applying makeup.
- Honey, lemon and cinnamon: These ingredients are naturally antibacterial and will reduce redness. If you have time, put a mixture of these three on the area for 10 minutes or more to allow a barrier to form (the sticky mixture helps you from touching it too) then very gently wipe away with warm water.
- Tea tree oil: Naturally antibacterial, tea tree oil can help dry out open wounds. Make sure to check the bottle to ensure that you get 100% tea tree oil as many brands like to add a small percentage of tea tree oil and fill the rest with rubbing alcohol and then charge too much (I’m looking at you Body Shop). Be aware, that the pure essential oil can be strong so if you have sensitive skin dab a cotton bud with water and then add the tea tree oil before applying it to your skin.
- Purchase Nexcare acne patches or Polysporin cold sore patches (these ones are thinner and are better but more expensive) for more severe wounds. You can then apply makeup on top of the patch. The patches still show a bit but chances are if the wound is bad enough it still looks better than the wound would with makeup. You’re also protecting it and it will heal faster. These are also great to wear at night time when you want something to heal fast!
- After primer and concealer, follow with foundation and then a loose mineral powder (with or without colour) for a more natural and lasting finish: Investing in quality products and applicators will reduce the caked-on look but it is also important to work within your budget! There are decent cheap alternatives. Maybelline’s Fit Me foundation and FaceStudio Master Fix primers and powder are budget-friendly. Makeup brushes/sponges really do make a difference for the look, feel and coverage.
- Flat foundation brush: Put the foundation on the back of your hand (not directly on the brush) and swipe your face in a downward motion starting in the middle of your face. Reapply more concealer after if need be and dab with a makeup sponge for a quick smooth finish after.
- Stippling brush: These brushes are great if you want a more airbrushed finish. With the foundation on the back of your hand, dab the makeup on to your face. Do not swipe or twirl the brush as it defeats the purpose of the technique. Give your skin a chance to absorb the makeup afterwards as well for best results.
- Powder: Loose is better than pressed and mineral is better than not. Use a kabuki brush and dab it on wounds instead of swiping in order to get it to adhere better. Powder ensures the longevity of your makeup. For those with mature or dry skin, loose powder can set-in wrinkles and dry patches so just stick to a good hydrating liquid foundation and setting spray.
- Brushes don’t always have to be expensive: Granted quality ones last longer but it is still hard to cough up the money for them, even if they do make a difference. Check out these cheaper sets by ELF Cosmetics. Amazon also offers plenty of options.
- Setting spray: Essential for hot summer days or a humid climate, a setting spray keeps your make up locked in place and your skin looking moist and fresh.
- Keep your makeup tools clean: Whether you use your fingers, brush or a sponge to apply makeup it is even more imperative for those with dermatillomania to keep these items clean to avoid infection. Use a daily spray cleaner on your brushes and sponges and then deep clean once a week. If you use a sponge make sure to replace them once every 3 months.
- Homemade brush and sponge cleanser: Mix water, rubbing alcohol, tea tree oil, antibacterial dish soap, olive oil, and micellar water in a spray bottle. Use daily.
- Less is more: I know it is tempting to smother on the concealer but it is important to apply it on in smaller layers in order for it to look natural and blended.
- Blotting papers: These are especially important for those with oily skin. They remove excess oil but not your makeup. It will help to keep the shine down and keep your makeup looking fresh. Tissue can be used in a bind but will remove more makeup.
- Wash your makeup off before bed: It is tempting to leave it on sometimes and I have definitely done it many times but you are ultimately making your skin worse in the long run by leaving it on. Your skin can become infected and will be more prone to breakouts and wrinkles.
- Face masks: These can as soothe your skin, pamper it, and can help you to stop touching it. Find ones that help reduce redness, like clay masks.
- For immediate relief of redness: Stick a spoon in the freezer or on ice and apply it to your face. Witch hazel (though try to avoid putting it directly on an open wound, it stings), moist tea bags and cucumber slices are also great redness relievers.
- Make your routine about self-care, not self-loathing: Touch your skin with kindness and allow your makeup routine to become a positive aspect of your derma struggles. Make an effort, no matter where you pick, that you will touch your skin with kindness and that every act of your routine is done gently.