The Year Without Makeup

What started as doctor’s orders for one writer turned into a new kind of confidence


I’m low maintenance, I always told myself. I’m a slick-of-lip-gloss and one coat of mascara kind of girl. But the first day I went to work without makeup I wore sunglasses. In the office.

To be fair, that was mostly because my bleary eye was still secreting a mysterious cloudy liquid. I was recovering from a nasty eye infection and under doctor’s orders not to put any cosmetics — not even sunscreen — near my face. I didn’t know then that I was living my first of 365 days total without makeup.

I felt naked at first. I had never worn more than mascara, blush, maybe a bit of eyeshadow for special occasions. But I didn’t realize how much those little embellishments protected me. They were my armor in a world where being female feels like a never-ending appraisal of beauty.

In the office, my bare face seemed unprofessional. The first time I went to a club, I worried they would turn me away at the door, or at least ask me to apply a layer of lipstick before joining the bronzed, contoured girls with feline eyes inside. Out on the streets, pale-faced and dry-lipped, I felt like I was fighting a battle I didn’t believe in: that by side-stepping makeup I was becoming a poster girl for a rebellion my heart wasn’t actually invested in. I was not an anti-cosmetics crusader then. But the experience has turned me into something of a convert now.

That year taught me that makeup may be a shield, but it is not a weapon. It is a transparent cloak that everyone but you can see through — all potions have limited power. You look the way you do, and you can either accept it now and get on with your life or you can continue painting your face in the vain hopes that one day Angelina Jolie will gaze back at you from the mirror. She won’t.

Wearing mascara never hid what I looked like from others. No nightclub turned me away. Men did not recoil at the sight of unpainted lashes. Women didn’t make snide remarks. People told me I looked nice just as often as they did before, if not a little bit more. After a couple of months, I gave it no more thought, instead enjoying my extra minutes of sleep in the morning and leisurely drinks before going out.

Of course, makeup can function as a confidence booster. I don’t deny its ability to hide the sins of late nights and greasy food. When faced with a special occasion — a date, or a presentation at work — a touch of color can be a bolstering shield. But sometimes it’s empowering to throw away the crutch. Try going makeup free for just one day, and I promise: precisely nothing will change if you face the world as you really are.

Image on the left shot by Ben Toms for Garage Magazine, Image on the right shot by Juergen Teller for a Céline ad campaign

Beauty on the mind, now? Read about Cara Delevingne’s skin routine. Or check out Rita Ora’s hairstylist’s curly hair tips. You could also just twirl your hair with your pinky, or watch Amelia in action making beach waves with these GIFs.  

Get more Beauty ?
  • dang this is awesome. except for the eye infection part, hope that’s not still an issue. Every time I go sans-makeup, I inevitably get people asking if I’m sick or tired and I’m like, yeah bruh sick and tired of you asking me about the undereye circles I inherited from my mother. Even 8 hours of sleep + a gallon of water + exercise + night cream doesn’t help and can’t replace a solid concealer.

    • Jess Rediker

      I feel you on those dark circles. In school people always pointed them out so I rely on coral cream blush and a good concealer to take care of that business.

    • Charlotte

      Hahahaha! “Yeah bruh sick and tired of you asking me…” This just made my day!

    • Kim

      Yes! And that DOES look a bit unprofessional, I think… like I’m not conserving my energy for work. Too bad that’s just how I am naturally! But people would probably get used to it if we never work make up…

    • Nadine

      Exactly! We need to realise that that it’s perfectly normal. It isn’t unprofessional. It’s natural. It’s human. And you are still beautiful with it!

  • I’m not much of a makeup person. I wear lipstick if I’m feeling fancy and I usually drag some black eyeliner across my eyes but I probably equally emerge from my home with no makeup on at all. I don’t know if its because I’m still a young 20 something or if I just feel equally good with the way I look sans makeup as I do with it.

    Either way I feel everyone should just rock a natural (& not just makeup with a natural look) face from time to time.

  • Awesome piece, Clare! It’s really interesting to hear about the multifarious relationships women have with makeup. I guess I’ve grown up on the other side of this argument — whenever I wear makeup I don’t feel like myself. I like a bright lipstick here and there, but to say it didn’t make me uneasy would be a lie. I worry about whether or not it’s all over my face, etc. No-makeup has always been my default, I guess partly because of my mother’s own makeup-less routine. It just never seemed like an intuitive option to want to put stuff on my face. That being said, it does enhance things and comes in handy when my lashes are especially light and my face is washed-out or something.

    • Kelsey Moody

      Interesting, my mom and 2 older sisters have always gone sans makeup and I have always been partial to the “swipe of mascara” routine. In highschool it was more of a raccoon-eye-makeup routine maybe to prove I was different than them? The psychology of makeup…truly fascinating

      • So interesting that you used it as a sort of rebellion! I always felt self-conscious even wanting to wear makeup around my mother bc I thought she might think I was superficial. She always stressed the importance of not altering The Self, and so I don’t know, even till this day if I wear, say, red lipstick I would NEVER put it on in my house. (Of course she respects my decisions and this is just an irrational fear of mine.)

        • I couldn’t agree more! My mom doesn’t wear makeup either, so I never knew how to use it. The first (and only) time I tried mascara in high school, I made sure to put it on when she wasn’t looking. Now, it’s definitely more of a surprise if I even choose to wear any eye makeup.

          • Catherine Bohner

            Same boat. Hippie mom who didn’t wear much makeup or want us wearing makeup young. Now, makeup feels like clothes that don’t fit. And I always forget about eye makeup and smudge it when I rub my eyes or something. I learned how to put on enough to wear when I want to appear more grownup or put together in the last few years

  • cathy

    I applaud you for being a confident gal! I am a Texas girl, and was taught never to leave home without a little something. That being said, the older I get, the less I feel I need to wear. With age comes a great gift…the “I don’t care” ! Great post!

  • Erica

    Never wear makeup and have never been stopped by the fashion police (maybe they just don’t notice me).

  • I wear make-up because I just like putting it on. It’s fun! But every time I skip it people ask me if I’m sick and I’m like “this is just my face bitch.” Rude.


  • Jess Rediker

    When I was in high school I decided to ditch makeup for one day. I was feeling totally confident, until my crush yelled to me from across the classroom. “Are you not wearing makeup? You look like you got punched in the face!”

    Dark circles fo’ lyfe.

  • parkzark

    I usually go sans makeup to work and wear my glasses. Like you said Clare, it allows for precious sleep time, and my skin has really improved. I will say it’s hard for me to go no glasses and no makeup. I have to do at least a little bit of concealer because my circles are cavernous black holes, and it just bothers me to have them bare. Maybe if I didn’t stay up most nights to watch re-runs of Drag Race, they would improve.

    • I used to be so jealous of my friends when they got glasses, simply because they were such a cool face accessory in lieu of makeup. Now I just deal with stupid 20/20 vision

      • Andrea Raymer

        You have hope though. My right eye is like super human and the other is only 20/20 so I needed to get glasses because whenever I tried to change where I was looking my eyes would get confused about where to focus on. I still only wear my glasses on rare occasions but now it feels more like a LOOK.

      • Christina Mulkey

        They have nonprescription glasses and they are usually super cute…

  • Stephanie

    I give my skin every Saturday and Sunday off, unless I have an event to go to and then it goes on right before and comes off right after.

  • Victoria

    weekends and vacation are obligatory makeup free for me, but I can’t envision myself going to school sans faux- face. It’s a vicious cycle that i am all too familiar with, skin gets worse with makeup, so I put more makeup to cover it….

  • Charlotte

    Last week someone in my class said: why don’t you ever wear make up? Not that you don’t look good, but perhaps a better version of yourself… I actually did use some concealer under my eyes (which by the looks of things (haha) is the right colour since nobody notices) that day and a little bit of brown mascara at the tips of my lashes. But her saying that I don’t wear any make was a big compliment! Looking back at some of the pictures of the younger me is terrifying. The amount of mascara! My fear of spiders is off the charts, so why would I want them as my eyes? Also, I let her know that this is the best version of me she’s getting.

  • Wish I was that beautiful to wear no make-up. Only with a summer tan I look ‘normal’ without make-up 😉

  • Anna Harms Dunn

    I love wearing makeup! It’s almost a relaxing part of my daily routine, and I like that I can “create” my face for the day depending on the shade of blush I use, or if I decide to wear eyeliner or not. I love using different mascaras for different effects. Idk, I don’t dislike going makeup-less, but makeup is so much fun!

  • I used to previously apply a bit of kohl and lip balm, just as a security blanket of sorts, to help me feel like my blemishes wouldn’t be noticed.

    I stopped making it a necessity and just applied when I felt like it and now I generally go make-up free a few times a week in fact and I love the healthy feel of my bare skin

  • I never wear make up, special occasions included.

    I’ll add that I didn’t add hair products to my hair for 6 years until I got a bad haircut this past Sunday.

  • Chelsea

    I think this is a fantastic experience. I’m interested in the medical part of this – did your doctor tell you not to wear makeup for a few weeks, and you extended that into a year? Was it a reoccurring eye infection? And what made you decide to go back to wearing make up? Perhaps I misunderstood, and you’re still makeup free beyond the 365 days.

  • Andrea Raymer

    I have had people both ask me why I don’t wear makeup and accuse me of wearing too much (apparently my bare eyebrows looked like I filled them in too much, granted it was the era of the super-thin, over-waxed brow)

    I typically wear very little makeup unless I am using it to make myself feel like a different person. My only musts are concealer under my eyes to cover my ever so present dark circles and a broken capillary caused by an apricot scrub, and highlighter down my nose to distract from the small bump on the side from when I broke my nose with a desk chair.

  • It’s weird how much a little makeup can change. I’m currently going through a similar thing except the skin on my face is having some weird rash/reaction thing and I can’t wear anything to cover it up. So I just have red everywhere! It sucks, but it’s great not having to worry about makeup every morning

  • nicole

    i really love reading all of these posts (and the comments!) about everyone’s individual experiences with makeup, because my relationship with makeup is something i think about so often. keep em coming, MR!

    i aspire to go without makeup every day, mostly for the sake of clean skin and convenience. my wardrobe is pretty basic and tomboyish, though, so i use cream blush + mascara to add a bit of femininity to my look.

    i do love the artistry of makeup, and i love how soothing it is to put it on uninterrupted, but i don’t want to be dependent on it or feel like i look worse without it. i’m still working through that. mostly it involves overcoming an adolescence full of comments about how i look “plain” or “like a boy” without makeup. this is just my face! hop off my dick!! long eyelashes are genetically a male trait anyway!!!!!!!!!!!

  • And for something who doesn’t wear a lot of makeup everyday, wearing a lot of makeup can be just as scary as not wearing any.

  • = = =

    I went without makeup for many years after I started to feel like I couldn’t leave the house without it. Now I’m dipping my toe back into the makeup world, and it’s realllllly interesting. One thing I try not to do anymore is just basically “correct” my face. I pick a feature to accent. I’m playing around with black eyeliner and red lipstick for the first time. I figure I can have fun with makeup and yet accept my dark undereye circles or pale eyebrows at the same time.

  • Hannah Climas

    Loved the article, always interesting to hear other women’s experience sans makeup!

    I always have that hideous trend where my normal makeup routine (matte foundation, mascara, lipgloss) gets me “you’re so naturally pretty, you’ve got such good genetics, I wish I could leave the house with no effort” but actually going sans makeup gets me “so you’ve got the flu going round, guess the baby kept you up last night, are you sure you’re okay to work today?” and it’s bizarre.

    Really enjoyed reading this 🙂

  • This is a great point of the effect makeup can have. I stopped wearing makeup just to see what would happen last fall, and at the same time I reduced the fucks given to slightly-off hair days. Never been better!

  • Isabel

    Uh huh, this is my shit
    All the girls stomp your feet like this

    A few times I’ve been around that track
    So it’s not just gonna happen like that
    Because I ain’t no hollaback girl
    I ain’t no hollaback girl

    Ooooh ooh, this my shit, this my shit

    I heard that you were talking shit
    And you didn’t think that I would hear it
    People hear you talking like that, getting everybody fired up
    So I’m ready to attack, gonna lead the pack
    Gonna get a touchdown, gonna take you out
    That’s right, put your pom-poms downs, getting everybody fired up

    A few times I’ve been around that track
    So it’s not just gonna happen like that
    Because I ain’t no hollaback girl
    I ain’t no hollaback girl

    Ooooh ooh, this my shit, this my shit

    So that’s right dude, meet me at the bleachers
    No principals,no student-teachers
    Both of us want to be the winner, but there can only be one
    So I’m gonna fight, gonna give it my all
    Gonna make you fall, gonna sock it to you
    That’s right I’m the last one standing, another one bites the dust

    A few times I’ve been around that track
    So it’s not just gonna happen like that
    Because I ain’t no hollaback girl
    I ain’t no hollaback girl [x2]

    Ooooh ooh, this my shit, this my shit

    Let me hear you say this shit is bananas
    (This shit is bananas)

    This shit is bananas
    (This shit is bananas)

    A few times I’ve been around that track
    So it’s not just gonna happen like that
    Because I ain’t no hollaback girl
    I ain’t no hollaback girl

  • Bird

    Just tonight, BFF and I went through our entire routine of “going out” makeup on half our faces whilst leaving the other half bare. What makeup revealed about our similarities and differences was an odd bonding.
    I’ve been wearing some sort of makeup for a while longer than her, and mostly go sans-makeup in class and daily life (purchasing skincare has been a thing for 3 years now, thus no makeup). We swapped about half our stash, threw out a third of it, and kept a third for nostalgia:
    “Uh, why do you have sparkly grape lip gloss… it’s not 1999”
    “It smells like Coke and don’t you dare get rid of that!”
    It’s funny how much you learn about someone from their experience with makeup- insecurities, (in this case, my BFF’s only irrational side of hating her Italian nose (!) and my hatred of contouring making someone look like an entirely different person as “against my ethics”). Female relationships with makeup are complicated and involved, yet, differ SO incredibly much from person to person. Thanks for sparking our discussion.

  • yolo

    The girl who wrote this is stunningly beautiful by the way. It’s amazing to me to read she is not happy when she looks in the mirror.

  • Kitty

    “Instead enjoying my extra minutes of sleep in the morning”
    Okay now I know that you applie waaaaaaaaayyyyyy more than only lipgoss and mascara. There’s no way that it takes you more than 1 minute (max 2 if you’re the clumsy type) to applie those two. Especially after the skills you develop from putting it on every morning.
    It’s fine you promote “wear less makeup”, but don’t make things up or lie about how much you really wear.

    • KittyCat

      ‘make things up or lie’? is someone feeling defensive? is the author promoting wearing less makeup? how long did it take you to write your comment?

  • I applaud anyone who feels confidant enough to go without makeup (although I think “It is a transparent cloak that everyone but you can see through” was a little odd to say), but as someone who suffers from really, really bad hormonal acne almost all the time… I DO get looks, comments, and treated differently when I don’t wear makeup, even though I’m behaving the same I would with foundation and an eyebrow pencil. Hearing “Are you tired?” or “Are you sick?” or “Woah, you look a little hungover today” when it’s just my everyday face, or even assuming that I must have really poor hygiene (“Do you wash your face at night? You should try this product…”) over and over is really, really sad and depressing.

    I have a dermatologist, drink a metric fuck ton of water, have a great skin care routine, sleep well, eat well, etc… but you won’t see me at work, class, or the bar without makeup anytime soon.

  • Georgia Christakis

    I stopped wearing makeup 4 years ago. While at first my friends commented on my dark circles (which are genetic,) people rarely, if ever, tell me I look tired or sick any more. If anything I get told I look younger, and have fewer breakouts. I’m not totally anti-makeup, but I do enjoy my extra 5 minutes of sleep way more than I enjoyed applying makeup 🙂

  • lomagirl

    I haven’t worn makeup for several years- like maybe around 10. I don’t even know. I’m too lazy, and I’ve decided that it is an invention to make women spend less time doing more productive things so that they can’t overturn patriarchy. But sometimes I put on lipstick if I really feel like it.

    • Sara

      I love the way you think.

  • Sara

    I wear very minimal makeup. Just sheer foundation and some mascara, sometimes not even any.
    My “problem” is that I havesome broken capillars on both cheecks, on oneside more noticeable and I feel like they get all the atention, probably just mine.
    I guess when we get used to seeing our makeup-airbrushed version we notice our flaws more.
    Running out of foundation made me go out sans makeup and not having to remove it and see the small changes felt like I didn’t really need it and now I do wear it way less, I spend weeks without.

  • Tiffany Turner

    Such great detail in your pictures! You all should check out it’s an up in coming boutique that has been getting a lot of buzz lately nice designs and reasonable prices also.

  • Anne

    I’m 23 and since 6 months I have pretty bad acne. When my doctor told me I couldn’t wear make-up with the medicine I’m now using, I went home and seriously started crying. The thought of having to show my imperfections to the world was unbearable… But, your post got me thinking. Maybe it won’t be that bad.

  • Lisa

    How interesting! I grew up insecure about my looks in general, but especially my sensitive pale face where everything shines through. Dark circles, spots, red rashes… I can’t even blow my nose without it turning BRIGHT RED! As a result foundation and concealer became my best friends. I fill my eyebrows as they are dark but not that full, and use black mascara as my eyes are my best feature and I want people to notice them more. I have noticed people think “make up free”-faces are beautiful only when they person has great skin, not like me who would flaunt spots even if I’m in my late 20’s.. I have become an expert in concealing the imperfections in my face so if I go out with no mascara (but filled eyebrows and foundation/concealer combo on) I usually do get comments about looking beautiful without makeup.. Im like yeah right, this is NOT my makeup free face.. Argh.. Eyeshadow and lipstick is not my thing so I guess those are the more obvious makeup-y looks people (men) refer to when they say they prefer women without it.

    I would, hand on heart, rather call in sick than go to work without makeup.

  • daisy

    I feel the opposite, when I wear makeup it feels like I’ve applied it wrong and everyone is looking.

  • It’s so true, the only ones who actually notice our makeup imperfections are us. It’s incredible how make up boosts our self confidence, thinking of its as a shield of our true self, it’s only us that are buying into this artificial illusion and yet, people around us still buy it. Because it’s not how our face looks that matters, but how we feel in our skin. I really loved your article!

  • e

    “but it is not a weapon”??? maybe not for you, but for me it sure as hell can be. a self-proclaimed feminist who was a terribly ignorant and mean cis-dude told me they thought i looked better without lipstick, so i wore it all the time when i saw him. anything about appearance can be a weapon or a shield or something in between or both. congrats on your bare skin, i guess, but this article feels super basic.

  • BK

    I’m too pretty for makeup

  • I only started getting into makeup at age 24. It’s fun, but when I feel lazy, I go without it. But if it’s been a part of your everyday routine for so long, it’s probably harder to go without it because you and everyone else is so used to seeing your polished face all the time. I’m glad I have the freedom to choose and not get comments about it.



  • Tara

    2 years ago, I didn’t wear any make up for 2 weeks because I just did facial-laser and the doctor asked me not to put anything on my face. I usually down for eyeliner, bb cream, powder and lipstain, it’s pretty minimal right! So I thought it would be fine but at first I felt insecure so I keep my glasses on all the time so people would not notice this. After days gone by, one of my friend notice and told me that my skin looks glowing. Yay! I guess it’s nice to take a break from make up routine for a while.

  • pamb

    I’ve gone without makeup before. I look tired and old. No thanks! A little foundation, blush, mascara, eyeliner and lipgloss, applied in under 10 minutes, keep me looking decent.

  • Julie Meowmeows

    It’s interesting . . . the older I get, the less makeup I wear, and the more I focus on my skincare game. Nowadays, it’s foundation and concealer during the day, and I add mascara and tinted chapstick if I want to be a little more dressed up. Seriously, tinted chapstick. It’s my BFF.

  • Julie

    Love the article! My favourite line was definitely at the end where you said “precisely nothing will change.” That line really gave me a new perspective.

  • Yamile Carpio

    finally someone that feels just like me. I rarely ever wear makeup, just a little bit for special occasions and I always get compliment and the way I look, and I love being ready within 20 mins to work.

  • Ynot

    Sans makeup: Questions asked:
    Are you trying to make a statement?
    Are you trying to hide that you are classically beautiful?
    Are you wearing makeup?

    I am lazy ( and to some degree – cheap )

  • michaela

    the model is wearing makeup in both of those photos though!

  • I wear full makeup six days a week and then on Sundays I go completely without makeup just to remind myself to still find myself cute even without makeup (I tell you it’s hard!!!). It’s also surprisingly scary. And you feel incredibly naked. And hope you don’t bump into anyone you know (or particularly, any enemies who might laugh at your bare face).
    But it’s nice to let skin breathe sometimes.

  • Ewa

    A few years ago I would maybe leave the house in PJs but never sans make-up. I worked in fashion and had to dress and make up for the office like it was fashion week… Every day. Exhausting. Don’t work there anymore. Don’t wear make-up most of the days. Don’t dress up, no heels. I am still cool and still professional. I am not creating an image of me anymore, I am me now.

  • Hannah Warner

    this is wonderful. I have to say though, going makeup free isn’t the same for everyone, especially when you are using it to mask the color of your own hair. I am a red head with a very light complexion and invisible eyebrows and eyelashes so going makeup free is visibly very different. It’s going from having a strong brow and defined eyes to not having eyebrows or eyelashes. And I’ve noticed other red heads along with me do receive an increased amount of negative comments when we forego makeup, because we no longer are able to really be considered as looking like the rest of society. We’re not just kind of different when we are makeup free, we are really different.
    I’m down to almost no makeup and it’s been a very healing feeling. I don’t look like others and that shouldn’t be a bad thing. I plan to wean myself into a makeup free existence as well, embracing my inner Tilda Swinton and learning to let the alien comparisons roll off. I wish more women would write about this.

  • MadeiraDarling

    I go out without makeup often because my full face o’ slap takes over an hour and is highly complicated, but I also don’t wear it to be pretty, I wear it cause I don’t look like myself without it, wearing makeup in the style I do is a statement, not wearing makeup is also in society, a statement, I prefer to make the “I am a heavily painted strumpet/essentially made of plastic how do you do” than to make the statement “I am natural and wholesome” (I HATE appearing wholesome)

  • Jessica Adams

    Wish I had had the same experience as you on my no-makeup days!
    If I dare to leave the house without my fully face of makeup I always recieve copious amounts of comments about how ‘ill’ and ‘tired’ I look!

  • Christina Mulkey

    I have always believed that makeup isn’t good for your skin….I regularly go out without anything except moisturizer. I promote my daughter to do the same.

  • Maura Sheedy

    I also spent a year without makeup during a similar time! Everything said in this article resonates with me and my experience. Actually, the experience impacted me so much that I founded media site to continue breaking female societal stands!