The primary purpose of a face mask during pandemic times is to help reduce the spread of airborne disease, of course. But now that face masks have become a part of our daily wardrobe — summer's (and soon to be fall's) hottest accessory, if you will — there's no reason you can't look your best in them. The trick is to pick a complementary mask color and play up the features that are still out there for all the world to see.
Make hair care front and center
With our faces covered up behind a mask these days, hair is in the spotlight like never before.
"Hair is the original accessory,” says Jennifer Hittle, a beauty industry veteran who worked with elite status customers for L'Oréal Professionnel and is now director of global education for hair colorist company Celeb Luxury. “We can't let the mask have all the fun and overshadow the hair.”
She recommends a color wash shampoo and conditioner with a semipermanent dye to help brighten tones that have dulled.
"It works like a toner in times where you're staying away from a salon to keep the color beautiful and maintained,” Hittle says.
This might also be the time to liven it up a little with your color choices, she says, adding that pink and lavender are among the options for color washes, as well as the more standard blond, brown and silver tones.
In addition to keeping your hair's color bright, your cut and style can also work to draw attention up from your mask and even help to highlight your eyes, says VJ Moscaritola, co-owner of My Darling Ivy, a popular salon in New York City's Chelsea neighborhood.
"Masks add a shadow to people's faces, so if you have some lighter bits of hair near your eyes it will brighten up that area above the mask and below the hairline,” he says. Moscaritola suggests requesting a tone-on-tone contrast instead of a heavier contrast at your next trip to the salon as it will create a more luminous look.
"If your hair has a brown base, ask for a lighter brown highlight, and the same with blond” and other colors, he says.
Plus, if there's ever been a time for throwing your hair back in a ponytail, it's now, Moscaritola adds.
"Ponytails help with wearing the mask around the ears — but be sure to have a few pieces falling out so it's not a boring ponytail anymore,” he says, “Now it's a party ponytail, and that adds personality."
The eyes have it
"The wearing of masks definitely draws attention to the eye area — especially as all our emotions are now reflected solely through the eyes,” says celebrity makeup artist Tim Quinn, who has traveled the world for fashion shows with Giorgio Armani Beauty and worked with such clients as Maria Shriver and Elizabeth Edwards. “Are we smiling? Happy? Upset? Pesky lines tend to become more in focus” with a mask, he says.
And with masks covering most of the lower half of our faces when we're out and about these days, there's no time like now to put the focus on your peepers.
"If you aren't using an eye serum, now is a great time to invest,” Quinn says. “They help boost the efficacy of our eye cream. Eye masks also help soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.”
When applied correctly, eye makeup also goes a long way in brightening your look behind the mask, he says. “I like to use a luminous concealer on the lid of the eye with just a bit of contour in the crease, slightly onto the brow bone, to give a simple, easy lift to the eye.”
Liquid eye tints work well, says Quinn, since they're easy to apply, long-wearing and don't move or flake.
And if under-eye bags are a concern (they can be highlighted by the position of a mask), Quinn advises using a bit of highlighter on the bone slightly above the cheekbones to add lift.
For other ways to put the focus on your eyes, searching the internet for makeup tips from cultures that have long used face coverings can also inspire.
"All we have to do is look to the makeup trends of the Middle East to see that beauty can still shine through, despite half of your face being covered up,” says Los Angeles-based makeup artist Kerrin Jackson, who pens a beauty blog and suggests using a lash curler prior to applying mascara to help your eyes pop.
It's important to pay extra care to your eyebrows now, as well-defined brows can help distract from the appearance of lines and creases, Quinn says.
"We tend to lose our brows as we age,” he notes. “I like to use a pencil to shape them, then apply a pomade over to add depth and dimension. A bit fuller brow gives an immediate lift to the whole face.”
Get creative with mask colors and patterns
Your mask's primary function is protection — but that doesn't mean you can't have some fun with colors and patterns. Picking the right mask to complement your face and outfit can really change up your look.
When considering which mask color might complement your complexion and hair color the most, think about the last time you chose an evening gown or picked a dress up for a work dinner, Jackson suggests. As a general rule, black and white masks don't do anyone any favors (black masks often look too harsh, she says, and white masks can show stains from foundation, among other issues).
"For the vast majority of us, navy blues, soft cool pinks, blues and greens are probably safe options,” Jackson says. “If you have red hair or a warmer complexion you can probably safely avoid orange or hot pink when it comes to mask colors.” People with darker skin might consider a luxurious gold mask, she says. And a bold red mask stands out from the face-covering crowd.
Vincent De Marco, owner of Vincent Hair Artistry in Los Angeles, wears a KN-95 mask to work but says that doesn't stop him from dressing it up. “If you are wearing a white hospital or KN-95 mask, cover it with a cloth model in an interesting color pattern,” he suggests.
De Marco recommends redheads turn to green masks for a complementary look, and dark brunettes try shades of dusty rose. “Yellow looks great on everybody,” he adds, “especially people of color.” And if you have a heart-shaped face, avoid black, as it can “make your chin appear even smaller.”
Photographer Michael Freeby, who mostly shoots subjects in their 70s, 80s and 90s, advises matching your mask to your outfit for a complete head-to-toe style.
"More than just being fashionable, it's fun, and I feel so many of us could use so much more of that,” he says. “The main key to pulling off any look, of course, is confidence."