- Brunettes should opt for a brow pencil that is one to two shades lighter than their hair color
- Try to use a replenishing cleanser and not a body wash that is primarily soap
- Always apply dark shadow before foundation or concealer to avoid eyeshadow fallout
I've tried everything -- from at-home chemical peels to in-office laser treatments -- in an effort to eliminate blemishes. I've slathered every cream on my face and sampled lipstick in every shade available in a deluxe box of Crayola crayons since I've been tall enough to swipe it from my mother's bathroom cabinets.
And although I interview beauty experts for a living, I still find myself staring into the mirror with black shadow smudged beneath my eyes, or engaged in a battle with dry patches on my arms and legs.
So this week, I asked the pros for some help refining my ways.
Day 1: Ponytail addiction
I come from a long line of women who don't know how to wield a curling iron or do a French braid, so I consider it not entirely my fault that I've never learned to do either. In fact, my mother used to pay my best friend in the first grade (who happened to be especially gifted with a brush) a dollar a week to do my hair before the morning bell rang.
Let's just say that I'm better at describing how to create beachy waves or a sophisticated updo than actually doing either one. The one style I have mastered over the years, however, is the ponytail. The problem: I rely on it every day (and night), which has resulted in a ring of flyaways where I secure my hair tie.
Even worse, I pull my wet hair immediately into a high pony as soon as I get out of the shower to prevent water from dripping down my back.
The fix: Ruben Colon, senior stylist at the Sally Hershberger Downtown Salon in New York City, says the ponytail isn't necessarily a bad idea, but the way that I go about it is.
Hair should be about 80% dry before pulling it up to avoid breakage, and a wide, cotton-and-elastic-blend hair band (like Emi-Jay hair ties, $11 for five) is gentler than the thin elastics I normally double up on to make the tail extra tight.
Using a dab of pomade or smoothing cream before styling will also provide a barrier between hair and the elastic. And since I usually stumble into bed right after a shower (normally with a ponytail still intact), a soft scrunchie is best for nighttime. "It's like pajamas for your hair," he says.
While Ruben's advice won't necessarily kick my hair habit (let's face it, this style quickly gets everything out of my face and off my neck), it will lessen the damage.
Day 2: Frida Kahlo -- worthy brows
"Hypervigilant" is the word I'd use to describe my obsession with my eyebrows. Ever since I overplucked them in high school (and spent years waiting for my left arch to catch up to my right), I've been filling them in with a pencil.
And although I've refined my ways with the tweezers, I haven't mastered how to color them in or what shade to use to make my brows look naturally full but not overdone. I tend to pick up any brunette pencil and start creating the hairlike strokes I've been instructed to make by so many makeup artists.
But recently, I did a double take in the ladies' room -- the chocolate-colored pencil I'd used on my arches was too intense for my light brown hair.
The fix: Eyebrow specialist Maribeth Madron says that for a softer look brunettes should opt for a brow pencil that is one to two shades lighter than their hair color. (If you're a blonde, a color that matches the darkest tone in your hair looks best.)
Then fill them in (using those hairlike strokes) starting in the center of your arch -- not the inner corner, which can make brows look drawn on. Finish by blending the color through the hair with a clean mascara wand.
Day 3: Blue-stained toes
When boot season is in full swing, I'll admit that I don't give my feet much thought. So when I finally removed the rushed navy polish job that I applied before wearing peep-toes on an unusually warm spring day, I was left with hypothermic-looking blue nails.
The fix: Prepping nails with a base coat helps prevent staining, says manicurist and owner of Rescue Beauty Lounge in New York City, Ji Baek. But if the damage is already done, Baek recommends using one cotton pad soaked in polish remover per nail.
If there is still pigment left over on the nail, coat your nails with olive oil and use a buffing block in an X-motion from top to bottom over the surface (this helps get at corners first). Since nails will be especially porous after this process, wait a few days to apply polish.
Day 4: Foundation film
Only recently have I started wearing eyeglasses. Every time I take them off, however, I find that there's foundation caked along the frames and red spots on either side of my nose where the bridge rests.
I've tried applying primer (which makes my undereye area look dry) and finishing with translucent powder (which settles into fine lines by midday), but I couldn't find a solution to make my base stick to my skin -- instead of my glasses.
The fix: After applying foundation, press a blotting paper in the area where your frames sit to absorb any residual moisture or excess product, says makeup artist Rebecca Restrepo.
To tone down spots on the sides of your nose, use a dab of concealer or foundation that's left in the bottle's cap or along the inside rim (Restrepo says product in those places is a bit dryer and thicker) to cancel any redness.
Pat and roll -- instead of rubbing it in -- for more coverage.
Day 5: A guilty-pleasure soak
I know soaking in hot water strips skin of natural oils, but I can't help but crave a long bath to relieve stress after a hectic week. To make matters worse, I'm not one to moisturize religiously -- I can't get over the sticky feeling that heavy creams and lotions leave behind. But all the knowledge that spending too much time in the tub is wrong doesn't help my dry, itchy legs.
The fix: If you're going to take a hot (not tepid) bath or shower, get your fix in less than 15 minutes, says Heidi Waldorf, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Use a replenishing cleanser (like Dove Deep Moisture Nourishing Body Wash, $9), not a body wash that is primarily soap (products that are billed as deodorizing or blemish-fighting can be drying when used all over). After you get out of the bath, pat dry with a towel -- rubbing overly exfoliates the skin.
And despite my aversion to moisturizers, Waldorf says it's a must if I don't plan to kick my hot-water habit. She recommends lotions that contain glycerin (which pulls in moisture) and dimethicone (a conditioning agent), like nourishing Avène TriXera Plus Selectiose Emollient Cream, $29, which calms eczema and atopic dermatitis.
Day 6: eyeshadow fallout
Saturday night was my time to put aside my usual routine of mascara and taupe eyeshadow and to finally try out the steel gray eyeshadow that's been buried at the bottom of my makeup bag. Unfortunately, I left my smoky eyes for last and wound up with charcoal-colored flecks on top of my freshly applied undereye concealer.
The fix: Always apply dark shadow before foundation or concealer; that way you can clean up any pigment that falls onto your undereye area with moisturizer or makeup remover, says makeup artist Sandy Linter. Use a primer or concealer on your eyes to provide an adhesive base for pigment to grip onto, or apply shadows with a damp brush to help color stick to your lids.
Day 7: The too-speedy shower
To treat recurring breakouts on my back and shoulders, I thought I was doing everything right: I stripped off my sports bra and damp tank as soon as I got home from the gym and showered using a body wash containing salicylic acid (which helps shed dry skin cells that lead to clogged pores).
But even after sticking to this routine all week, the blemishes didn't seem to go away any faster. By Wednesday, I was craning my neck to try to see my back in the mirror, and muttering, "What gives?!"
The fix: Let the body wash sit on your back and shoulders for at least a minute before rinsing it off, says Waldorf. (I was merely soaping up under running water and immediately washing it off -- not giving the salicylic acid ample time to penetrate the skin.)
Then apply moisturizer and layer on a spot treatment. The best preventative measure after a workout is to quickly run a baby wipe over your chest, back and shoulders (or an oil-free makeup remover pad on your face) and wear fabrics designed to wick away moisture (like these eight tops) to prevent sweat and bacteria from settling into skin.