10 Common Makeup Mishaps

By: Heather Kolich

Almost as long as people have used cosmetics, some have experienced makeup mishaps. See pictures of makeup tips.
© iStockphoto.com/ podlesnova

The cosmetics "industry" has been around since 3,000 BC, if not longer [source: Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain]. Ancient Egyptians adorned their faces with artificial color to impart the illusion of youth and health, and often as a substitute for bathing. In China, cosmetics indicated social stature. Royal classes painted their fingernails with gold, silver, red or black. The lower classes were permitted to wear only pale-colored nail varnish.

But looking good came with its share of troubles, too. From the 14th century to the 1920s, one of the primary goals of wearing makeup was to lighten or whiten facial skin, and cosmetics for the face, eyes and lips often contained toxic minerals, such as lead, lead oxide and mercuric sulfide. These poisons build up in the body over time. As late as the 19th century, makeup mishaps could include paralysis or death [sources: Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, Boyd].


These days, however, cosmetics are usually hazardous only if you use them in a reckless manner --applying them while driving, for example. But non-fatal makeup mishaps -- the ones that just make you look silly -- are still common and usually stem from a desire for change. Here's how it works: You see a magazine model sporting a particular look and decide you want to replicate it. Since you don't have a professional makeup artist on speed-dial, you don your Dr. Jekyll lab coat and engage in some self-experimentation. Sometimes, you create a look you like. Sometimes, you create Mr. Hyde.

For more information about makeup myths and hints, read Weird Makeup: Fast Facts.

A makeup mishap might not alter your personality, but it keeps you from putting your best face forward. Whether you're a daily practitioner of the art of cosmetic beauty, or someone who wears makeup only on special occasions, you've probably experienced the embarrassment of misapplied, mismatched or misbehaving cosmetics. On the following pages, we'll identify 10 common makeup disasters, discuss what causes them and tell you how to correct or prevent them. First up: foundation issues.

10: Demarcation Lines

Maybe you've had this experience: In a shiny store window, you catch a reflection and do a double-take. Is that someone wearing a mask of your face? You step closer to check. The reflection steps closer, too. It's you, all right, but there's a big line creating a visible boundary around your face at your jaw, chin and hairline. It looks like you're holding a carnival mask up to your face.

How did this happen? A demarcation line separating your face from the rest of you head usually indicates that you didn't blend your foundation enough. You might be using the wrong application tool, or your foundation could be so thick that it resists blending. To correct the issue, try one or more of these remedies:


  • Use a dampened makeup sponge to blend away the edges of foundation
  • Carry the foundation coverage below your jaw, blending it into the skin of your neck
  • Mix your foundation with water or moisturizer to thin it and to create a lighter, sheerer texture

If you've mastered the application process, but your foundation still doesn't look right, go to the next page to find out what might be wrong.

9. Atonality

Test your foundation on your face, not your hand, to make sure it matches your skin tone.
Test your foundation on your face, not your hand, to make sure it matches your skin tone.
© iStockphoto.com/ wakila

You can't quite put your finger on it, but there's something not right about your look. There are no smudges or smears, and there's no lipstick on your teeth, yet you look "off." If you have this feeling, it could be that your skin tone looks too pale or too tan because of a foundation mismatch.

There are a number of possible reasons that your foundation doesn't match your skin tone. One big one is that the artificial lighting in the store where you purchased it made it difficult to judge the actual color of the product. Another problem is that you typically test foundation by applying it to the back of your hand. While this makes sense for safety and hygienic reasons, it usually won't produce a good match for your face. Your hands get rougher treatment than your face does. They're exposed to more ultraviolet (UV) light than your face is, and they get washed more often. As a result, the skin on your hands may be darker or redder than the skin on your face. Finally, everyone has a unique skin tone that changes now and again for reasons including sun exposure and health. Cosmetics companies manufacture a limited number of shades of foundation, and it's unlikely that any of them will exactly match your skin.


But you can take steps to mitigate foundation mismatches:

  • In the store, take the foundation as close to a window or door as possible so that you can see it in natural light.
  • Clean your face of all makeup and test the foundation on your jaw line rather than your hand.
  • Experiment with different brands to find a shade that suits you well.
  • Try a product that lets you blend your own custom shade.

Once your foundation is set, it's time to add color. Keep reading for more makeup mishaps.

8. Scarlet Fever

Here's another scenario: You've met your friends for an afternoon outing. One asks if you're feeling OK and tests your forehead to see if you're feverish. Another laughs and asks if you're joining the circus. The likely cause for this odd greeting: The blush that looked just right in the dim artificial light of your bathroom is alarmingly bright in natural sunlight. It makes you look either feverish or clownish.

There are some easy remedies for scarlet fever cheeks. If the blazing blush is a powder, you can use a clean makeup brush or cotton ball to brush away the excess. If that doesn't work, brush on a bit of natural-color powder to tone it down. For a cream blush, mix some moisturizer with your foundation and apply it over the too-bright blush.


To avoid this problem in the future, find the right color of blush for your complexion. Just pinch your cheeks and look for a blush that matches that color.

Read on to find out what happens when you try to highlight all of your best features at once.

7. Blazing Spotlights

Try to emphasize one feature at a time, rather than all of them.
Try to emphasize one feature at a time, rather than all of them.
© iStockphoto.com/ fotoIE

Sometimes even an in-store makeover can leave you looking more like Marilyn Manson than Marilyn Monroe. How could this happen? Product professionals may have training in cosmetic arts, but their main job is to sell lots of makeup. During makeovers, they might work on one area of your face at a time, keeping the mirror focused on that feature while demonstrating techniques or experimenting with colors. While each area looks lovely individually, the overall effect is overwhelming because it highlights too many features.

There's a cure for this problem that doesn't involve disposing of half the cosmetics you just bought. Instead, just use the makeup in a sort of rotation, letting one feature at a time enjoy the spotlight.


Choose the feature you want to emphasize and down-play the others with natural or neutral tones. If you want your lips to stand out, for example, limit your eye makeup to mascara and use a light hand with a sheer blush. If your eyes are the star of the show, use lip color that's close to your natural tone.

It's also possible to err in the opposite direction and make your features fade. Learn how to avoid that makeup mishap with the next tip.

6: Foggy Windows

Sometimes, no matter how great your new outfit looks, the eye shadow you chose to match it can leave your eyes looking dull and flat. The problem is that your eye makeup should enhance the color and shape of your eyes, not match your clothes. This doesn't mean, however, that you can't play with color.

To make your eyes stand out, choose eye shadow, eye liner and even mascara that contrast with your eye color. This contrast can help draw attention to what, for many people, is their most powerful feature. In her book, "Get Positively Beautiful: The Ultimate Guide to Looking and Feeling Gorgeous," TLC's "What Not to Wear" makeup artist Carmindy suggests these pairings:


  • For brown eyes, try deep shades of navy and sapphire blue, or forest and emerald green
  • For blue eyes, go with chocolate brown, taupe or bronze
  • For green eyes, uses shades of purple like eggplant, amethyst, lavender or burgundy
  • For hazel eyes, apply rich green shades to deepen the brown tones and turn up the green elements in the iris [source: Carmindy]

For a real makeup meltdown, read on to the next page.

5: Muddy Waters

There's no shame in shedding a tear or two at the movies or after a bad breakup. But looking in the mirror later to find streaks of mascara running down your cheeks is another story. Mascara often smudges -- or even flows freely -- after getting wet, sometimes even when you think you're wearing the waterproof variety. The effects can be quite noticeable and embarrassing.

For a quick fix, blot the mascara away before it dries and place some tissue under your lower lashes until all your tears are spent. The tissue will catch any run-off and help your lashes dry. If you still have mascara streaks on your cheeks, mix a little water or moisturizer with your foundation and use it to blend away the unwanted color.


To avoid this problem in the future, try skipping the mascara on your lower lashes. They're the ones most likely to cause run-off in rain, high humidity or emotional situations.

Read on to learn about more mascara mishaps.

4. Blob Attack

When thick, clumpy mascara chunks up on your lashes and glues them together, you may wonder if it's the fault of the brand, the brush or your technique. The answer is it could be a little of all of those. Thick mascara can get lumpy on the lashes. If it's a tube you've been using for a while, it may be drying out and getting flaky. You could be accelerating the problem if you pump your brush into the tube. Pumping forces air into the tube, drying the mascara and causing flakes.

Try this application approach to prevent blobs:


  1. Before applying mascara, comb your eyelashes to separate them.
  2. Roll your brush over a napkin or paper towel to remove excess mascara before applying it to your lashes. Don't use a tissue; it has too much lint.
  3. Use a single, slow-motion sweep of the brush over your lashes instead of many short, quick strokes.
  4. Stop after one coat.
  5. Comb your lashes again to break up and remove any mascara clumps.

Read on to find out how attempting to cover up cosmetic problems could create new ones.

3: Blown Cover

If you don't blend your concealer well, it can look too obvious.
If you don't blend your concealer well, it can look too obvious.
© iStockphoto.com/ iconogenic

By definition, concealer should be hidden. But like foundation, if it's not well blended or well matched to your skin tone, it can look obvious. Concealers that have a white cast will highlight what you're trying to hide. Heavy application of under-eye concealer is another dead giveaway.

"If you try to erase every last trace of darkness, you'll wind up with a creasy, cakey mess," explains Carmindy in her beauty advice book, "Get Positively Beautiful" [source: Carmindy].


To keep your concealer concealed, make sure you have several shades on hand. Then you can use the one that works best with the differing tones of your skin as it's affected by season, health and your ability to get enough sleep each night.

For blemishes, select a concealer with a slightly yellow tone and make sure that you blend it into the surrounding skin well. However, for a red pimple, you may want to pick a shade that's closer to your skin tone. When it comes to under-eye application, go with a pink or peachy tone. Keep the concealer away from the outer corner of your eye where it can creep into little crow's feet lines. Just apply it from the inner corner to the center of your pupil.

Have you ever had trouble making your lipstick toe the line? Find out how to keep it in place on the next page.

2. Border Dispute

When lipstick migrates from your lips to the surrounding skin, it can make you look more like a child playing dress-up than an adult preparing for a night out. The tiny lines around your mouth provide the highway that lets your lipstick jump its boundaries. These lines are a natural result of aging, but factors such as smoking and sun damage can hasten and increase them.

An emergency fix for this problem is to use a damp paper towel to wipe away all of the lipstick. Use foundation or powder to conceal the stain around your mouth. Then brush a thin layer of lipstick on the center of the lips, staying away from the corners and edges of your mouth.


To prevent lipstick bleed, try this method of application:

  • Pre-treat the mouth area with moisturizer and translucent loose powder to prevent color spread
  • To help keep lipstick in place, try a full-mouth application of a natural-colored lip pencil or oil-free foundation before applying the color
  • Apply lip liner around your lips to create a bleed barrier
  • Use a brush to paint on the lipstick, starting in the center and working outward with small, precise strokes
  • Press your lipstick into your lips with your finger
  • Brush a bit of powder on top of the lipstick

The next makeup mishap may take you by surprise. Read on.

1. Surprise Ending

A little heavy-handedness with the tweezers can make a dramatic, long-lasting impact on your eyebrows. It may not even seem like you did that much -- a pluck here, a pluck there. But somehow your face has taken on a permanently surprised expression.

What can you do to correct over-plucking? First, put the tweezers down and slowly back away from the mirror. The only remedy here is to wait until your eyebrows grow back.

In the meantime, you can fill eyebrow gaps with brow powder or pencil. If your brows are pale, go one shade darker. If they're dark, go one shade lighter. To supplement your brows with powder, brush it lightly into the sparse areas. If you want to use a brow pencil instead, make short, light strokes to sketch in individual eyebrows where you need them. If you draw a line on your eyebrow, you might end up looking like a mannequin.

When your brows grow back, you can hire a professional to reshape them if you think you need help. Or you can just practice restraint. Your natural brow shape is often the best look for your face.

For lots more information on makeup and skin care, follow the links on the next page.

Lots More Information

Related Articles


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