This new way of adorning the face—without adhering to rules or gender norms and far from the beauty-world “standard”—is sparking a lot of conversations, but, more importantly, it’s allowing makeup artists (pros and amateurs alike) to push their creativity to the max.

From rhinestones, decals, neon-coloured eyeliners and works of art painted on cheeks, eyelids and the tips of noses to the use of multicoloured eyeshadow all over the face, people are doing anything they want with makeup, turning it into a creative tool limited by nothing but their own abilities. On Instagram and TikTok, on city streets and even at neighbourhood parks, quirky and unconventional looks are on the rise—so much so that we’re seeing products once reserved for the pros showing up on everyone. “When I started wearing makeup, I had to go to niche professional brands to find intense colours, neons, glitters and other more creative products,” says Montreal makeup artist Marika D’Auteuil (@lapetitevengeance on Instagram). “Now, most brands offer a wide range of products, for both natural looks and more adventurous ones. Anyone can get their hands on these products without breaking the bank, making it easier for young people and beauty enthusiasts to experiment with makeup.”

Makeup by Marika D’Auteuil (@lapetitevengeance on Instagram)

These beauty styles are particularly prevalent on TikTok, of which the majority of users are gen-Zers. Is it just a generational trend, then? Yes and no, says Danessa Myricks (@danessa_myricks on Instagram), a multi-talented makeup artist and founder of international brand Danessa Myricks Beauty. “The younger generation is fearless—they live in the present moment and are very open to experimenting,” she explains. “Gen Z is a constant source of inspiration because there’s no limit to how they rethink the use of makeup. But it should be said that they’re not the first ones to do it.” Myricks believes that this kind of beauty subculture has been around for a while; it was just never recognized or portrayed in the media. Even if it seems like adolescents and young adults are driving the trend, it might not be that simple. “Lots of people have been looking for this freedom for a long time,” she adds. “I don’t know if it’s because of the political climate, the influence of music or the ability to easily share our work, but I think that people have become more confident in how they express their creativity. That’s why we have the impression of seeing this kind of makeup everywhere.”

I don’t know if it’s because of the political climate, the influence of music or the ability to easily share our work, but I think that people have become more confident in how they express their creativity.

Poppy Ella (@poppyellah on Instagram and TikTok) likes makeup looks that embrace colour and creativity.

According to Myricks, the rules are less set in stone now because consumers understand that these rules are invented by an industry that’s trying to make them feel insecure in order to sell them products. “The big industry players have to make consumers feel like there’s a need, so they put people in little boxes where all the factors are predetermined,” she says. “And it’s hard to get out of those boxes because these people are speaking really loudly, with millions of dollars of marketing behind them.” Fortunately, in recent years she has seen a widespread rebellion among beautistas who refuse to be led by arbitrary rules put in place purely for profit.

Poppy Ella (@poppyellah on Instagram and TikTok) agrees. The 20-year-old British makeup artist and TikTok star shares her fantastical looks with her 38,000 followers. “At 14, I was conforming to the standard pretty looks you’d see on Instagram out of fear of deviating from social conventions,” she says. “It took a little time and some experimentation, but today I feel as if I can do anything I want—it’s more about being creative and showing my talent than conforming to society’s beauty norms.”

“I think social media is a great way to showcase individuality,” says Wendy Asumadu (@wendysworld_xox on Instagram and TikTok), a makeup artist and content creator whose beauty styling is rooted in her Ghanaian cultural heritage. “More and more people are embracing bright colours and designs as an everyday look—and not just for dramatic effect. I think when we see other people wearing these editorial looks, it inspires us and gives us the courage we need to live up to our own creativity.”

This way of seeing makeup as fantasy—not just as something practical for hiding a few wrinkles or imperfections—is refreshing.

Wendy Asumadu (@wendysworld_xox on Instagram and TikTok) is inspired by her Ghanaian cultural heritage for her many beauty looks.

With editorial makeup, it’s often not about trying to enhance your features like you would with a traditional look, creating doe eyes, pouting lips, pronounced cheekbones and sculpted eyebrows. “What we call ‘editorial makeup’ can be pretty broad: graphic winged eyeliner, neon eyelids or, in extreme cases, a fully painted face,” says Mi-Anne Chan (@mianne.chan on Instagram and TikTok), a beauty journalist and the director of creative development at Teen Vogue, Them and Love magazines. Is this new way of playing with makeup part of the ongoing conversation about body positivity and self-acceptance? “I think it is connected to self-love and self-confidence,” says Chan. “The vast array of options allows you to accessorize your face the same way you’d accessorize clothing, simply because it makes you feel good. This way of seeing makeup as fantasy—not just as something practical for hiding a few wrinkles or imperfections—is refreshing.”

Did the lockdowns and long periods of isolation have something to do with the explosion of unconventional beauty looks? Ella thinks they played a part. “During the pandemic, people had so much time on their hands and the resources to get inspired and learn through tutorials,” she says. “Plus, since they were at home, there was nobody there to judge them.” Now, as we move toward reopening, many people are sticking to the beauty habits that brought them a little joy when the crisis was at its worst. “Death and loss have been at the centre of our lives for months,” says Myricks. “I think a lot of people were like ‘You know what? I’m going to live now, live for myself, because I don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow.’ And colourful, bright makeup is a way to add happiness and colour to a dark, confined moment in our lives and feel free. I think the pandemic pushed the beauty industry forward 10 years in a few months and these new ways are here to stay.”

Makeup by Danessa Myricks (@danessa_myricks on Instagram)

NYX Professional Makeup Epic Wear Flash Metals Liquid Liner in Fuchsia Metal

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Rimmel London Wonder’Cloud All-Day Wear Soft Shadow in Cool Mint

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Ucanbe Makeup Athena Face and Body Painting Palette 

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Despite this moment of heightened beauty, the importance of queer and drag culture in democratizing makeup application shouldn’t be forgotten, says Ella. “It’s still not safe to wear whatever kind of makeup you want in certain situations, especially if you’re male, trans or non-binary,” she explains. “It’s a privilege to be able to express yourself however you want through makeup, through art.” One of the ways to continue to democratize this trend is to let go of our old ways of thinking, dust off our creativity and use our faces as the prettiest canvases available.

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