Putting on My Face During a Pandemic

My makeup bag is red, the size of a pencil pouch, and has a 3-inch black faux leather handle branded Estee Lauder. I received it as part of a Christmas gift from my fashionable aunt probably 4 years ago. On one side, a pattern of black, nude, and mauve polka dots dances over a blissful cherry-colored background. The other side is a reprinting of the cover design for Harper’s Bazaar’s September 1930 Issue: a slender, graceful couple walks from their chauffeured car to a glamorous party as evening becomes night.

After years of use, this little bag is caked in powders of assorted colors and holds a blend of makeups from the last four (maybe even five) years—many of them gifted to me, more than a few of them secondhand.

When packing hurriedly to stay with my parents during the coronavirus crisis, I made sure not to forget my makeup. I recall pausing a moment to question the need for it—It’s not like I’d be going out anytime soon—but decided that, given the collection’s size, it couldn’t hurt to bring it just in case. So I threw the tiny tote into the backseat of my car, beside bags of cat food and a full laundry hamper, and drove out of Baltimore.

Before things froze up in the wake of Covid-19, I would always apply mascara and eyeliner when getting ready for work—sometimes even colored eyeliner (my favorite: Wet n Wild’s  Megaliner Liquid Eyeliner in Voltage Blue). Something about rimming my eyes, making them pop, made me feel less inferior to coworkers.

While I’m shut in at home, however, I don’t bother with eyeliner, and mascara is mostly reserved for video conferences. I hate getting to the end of a day spent entirely at home wearing dark eye makeup that stubbornly refuses any attempt at removal. I left my one weapon, Pond’s Cold Cream Facial Cleanser, in Baltimore, and the products I have with me don’t hold up in a fight against the tar-like war paint of Maybelline and Rimmel.

The pandemic has thrown pretty much everything into a twist, including my makeup routine. It’s sort of a convenient twist in some ways. Don’t get me wrong—this is a horrendous time for most of us around the globe—but I’m finding that I’m actually ok with some of the smaller changes this crisis is propelling in my life.

I have a new sort of bond with makeup now. I don’t wear it to impress others or to feel less inferior. I wear it because it gives me energy and a sense of pride before I sit down to work from my dining room table day after day, week after week.

Here’s a look of what my quarantine makeup routine has become:

Each morning, I begin with e.l.f. Cosmetics’ Luminous Putty Primer. It has the consistency of gelato—smooth, easy to dig into, and quick to melt. I used to apply it with a cotton round, but now I don’t care enough not to smear primer on with my own oily fingers.

If I’m feeling especially rough about my acne, I’ll rub some Neutrogena SkinClearing Liquid Makeup (Nude) in gentle circles over pimples and red spots. Sometimes I’ll put it on most of my face— spot treatment and foundation aren’t the same thing, but I never felt it was worth it for me to invest in both.

Next, I use COVERGIRL Clean Professional Loose Powder in Translucent Fair, which smells all at once like Bergamot, Clove, and Eucalyptus. I use this as a powder foundation, hoping that overtop the Luminous Putty Primer it will make me feel smooth, pulled together, and awake.

I throw on blush and highlighter from my Tarte Clay Play Volume II Palette (easily the priciest makeup product I’ve purchased, at $45). This palette, however, only has 2/3 of its original contents remaining after my clumsy hands let it fall on the tiled bathroom floor.

A long time ago, Aunt Julie gave me mineral blush in “dusty rose” that I’ll sometimes add for extra color. It’s so old and worn, however, that I can’t find a brand name anywhere on it.

Finally I’ll follow all of this up with a spritz of perfume (Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent). And if I really want a confidence boost, I’ll throw on a head scarf, slip my vintage rose gold-framed glasses over my eyes, and pretend I’ve got as much class as Grace Kelly.


Truth be told, I don’t know much about makeup. I’ve never watched YouTube videos by Tati or jefreestar, I hardly spend any money even on drugstore products, and I keep in my possession gels and powders that should have been tossed out years ago.

Still, I delight in this new routine of mine.

I like knowing exactly which few products I have in my little red bag, however old and broken they may be. There’s comfort in the repetition and added confidence this ritual gives me during such an uncertain time. I’m not about to step out of a chauffeured car and walk into some glamorous party. But I’m not so concerned about that– I’m in control of, and feel good about what’s going on my face, and right now that’s something worth celebrating.

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