30+ Favorite Beauty & Skin Care Products for a Retro Look (Vintage Makeup 2023)

I get asked in person (and especially when I do live videos) about what beauty products I use and am wearing. So here’s a round up post that I’ll be keeping up to date for you.

This is basically a lazy-girl (me) guide, with a minimalist approach to retro looking makeup. I’m not a makeup guru and I don’t shill product for pay.*  But I do like experimenting and playing and finding the perfect routine.

Makeup Objectives

Since I tend to do vintage looks + long haul travel. I have whittled my makeup down a lot. I want small containers of things that I can stretch a long way and easily pack. Also I need what I put on my face to last all day and into the night at events. Tiny, mighty, and fixed is my mantra.

This list may seem like a lot, but actually I don’t own that much makeup in permanent rotation.


Skip to your interest, my darling?

At the end there’s a steps list for my 2 different face routines:

  1. in person travel vintage (water-based)
  2. on screen glam vintage (silicone-based)

But first: Some things it’s important to know, so you understand whether these may be good products for you.

Skin Type & Water-Based vs Silicone

I have very dry skin. Also it’s hellishly sensitive. Thus I tend to prefer products with:

  1. little to no fragrance
  2. that are water-based

By sensitive, I mean: I will develop contact eczema or break out within 24 hours. My face becomes the death valley of itch at the mere mention of a retinol. So yeah, water-based products. Partly because these are easier to remove (foam cleansers ALSO kill my skin.)

But silicone products are more common, with more options and lovely blendable formulas (on me they slide all over). So whether I like it or not, I also use silicone products, and I will recommend them to others often, especially first timers.

FYI you shouldn’t combine water-based with silicone. The product you put on second will pill or turn patchy/flakey.

I don’t have oily or combination skin, so if you do, my favorite water-based products may not work for you. You might consider the silicone stuff instead. Thus, in every category, I make two recommendations: one water-based and one silicone.

  • The highlight, eyes, and lips sections will have things anyone can love, regardless of skin type.
  • At the end, I give 2 lists of completed vintage look recs: One water-based and one silicone-based.

As for color?

In shade, my skin is a true neutral (leaning neither warm/yellow nor cool/pink). And I tend to be the lightest tone offered by most companies. That’s my Scandinavian roots for ya.

Skin Prep

Because of the aforementioned dry skin and a strict evening skin care and moisturizing ritual I don’t wash my face in the mornings. I want to encourage my skin to absorb every bit of the moisturizer from the night before. I don’t break out from this life choice.

If my skin is very dry or I took a morning shower, I use aloe gel as a moisturizer/makeup prep. It absorbs quickly and smooths out any roughness. I can use it on my whole face, neck, and chest. Yes, including lips and sensitive eye area. I love it. I use it all over my body after showering and before moisturizer, too. I decant into a small bottle for travel.

Just let it dry completely before applying anything else.


Unless I know for absolute certain I will be inside all day, I use sunscreen as my main primer. So any makeup applied on top must be compatible with the base formula of that sunscreen.

Everything hinges on finding a sunscreen I tolerate (if not like) and will actually wear.

  • My favorite sunscreen is Korean brand Isntree. This is a chemical sunscreen that does everything I want in life. It goes on great, absorbs fast, and becomes a decent primer. For me, that means it dries to a skin-like feel (not oily or slick and none of this glow or dewy nonsense). Its rating overseas is SPF 50+. It’s not exactly cheap but it took me 3 months of testing to find it so, I’m loyal now.
  • My lazy cheap-ass regular wear sunscreen is good old Eucerin Daily Protection Face SPF 30. But it’s silicone-based, isn’t waterproof, and will sting eyes. Also it really doesn’t play well with most makeup, so I don’t travel with it. But if I’m too lazy for makeup (except lippy & mascara, of course), this is what I reach for.
  • For ocean swimming I use a reef safe mineral option and no makeup. I use All Good Zinc Butter Sunscreen. Am I wild about it? No. But it works, it travels, and it’s actually reef safe (unlike many of the big brands who only claim to be). I only ocean swim a few times a year now (sadly) so I suffer through it for that practicality.
  • For my body, on the go and for reapplication(lives it in my purse or car), I use Supergoop! Glow Stick. I’m not the raving fan many are of this brand (I’ll glow on my own, thank you very much) but this stick is easy, convenient, effective, and one always knows exactly how much is left. It’s solid state, so packable. It’s expensive but lasts a long time.

Of all my beauty products, which you’ll notice tend to be easy-to-find drugstore brands, sunscreen is the one I splurge on most.

The rule is simple: sunscreen first and let it dry/absorb for 20 minutes, bug spray last.

Color Correctors & Primers

I use a mild green color corrector because I get faint pink zones. I use it on the places I need it or sometimes all over and it basically just evens out my skin tone. Gail Carriger Presentation Black White check smile home lamp

  • Cover Girl’s green primer is water-based. It absorbs quickly so I gotta move FAST. It works well on top of my beloved Isntree sunscreen. I don’t break out from it but I loathe the smell.
  • L’Oréal green primer with niacinamide is a silicone-based formula that goes on beautifully.

These are both low saturation green correctors. Mild impact, but I notice it.


My best shade match and favorite under eye concealer is:

  • Maybelline’s Fit Me Concealer in fair. It’s water-based, small packaging & great applicator, but it dries fast so you need to be quick & confident. However it’s great in hot humid climates and over my sunscreen, props for that.
  • e.l.f. Hydrating Camo Concealer in fair beige is my silicone rec. The formula is easy to work with but the applicator is chunky, so I dab it on my hand first and then apply with a finger – pressing in.
  • My all time favorite for vintage looks (and perfect match to my skin) is Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat Radiant Touch Concealer in No. 2 Luminous Ivory. It’s thick, full coverage, but still easy to use, however it is spendy. I don’t like the applicator or packaging (you can’t see when you’re running out). It’s a great formula, though.

Look, let’s be real here, concealer is just a thick portable highly-pigmented foundation. It’s nothing special. If your foundation works for this, you don’t need a separate product. I don’t always travel with foundation, but I do always travel with concealer, so for me it’s a priority.

Base / Foundation

In the tropics or on outdoor hot days I skip foundation and just go with the color corrector & concealer over sunscreen.

Because I want a vintage look, for full foundation I tend to lean lighter, so I try to match my foundations to my neck/inner wrist.

event look, full powder, matte eyes and lips 

Ultra full coverage vintage = powder

The beauty vloggers are gonna mock me for this…

If you meet me in person, I’m usually wearing a pressed powder base. It gives the vintage look I crave, lasts long, and travels well. I’m old fashioned so I still use MAC Studio Fix Powder Plus (N3). Mac doesn’t make me break out, probably because I have dry skin. But if my skincare is on point, you don’t notice it with this powder.

Because I like full coverage I use a kabuki brush. This pressed powder foundation goes over my whole face, everywhere but lips (yes, eyelids too).

The advantage of a pressed powder is you don’t have to match the formula to anything else. It can go over silicone or water-based primers/sunscreens, so long as they are dry prior to application. The disadvantage is, if you like cream blushes or a dewy look, it won’t play.

Lighter coverage = liquid

If I’m not feeling up for a full face I opt for a liquid foundation. I don’t apply liquid very heavily (relying on color corrector to do most of the work). So I usually just use my finger (a sponge only if I want a thicker coverage). It’s taken me a long time to find shades that I really like. Right now I’m into:

Gail Carriger Makeup Water Based Vintage

light coverage, this is a minimal coating of L’Oréal’s True Match

That second one is spendy. But you can go into Sephora and swatch it first.

Water-based foundations dry FAST on my skin. So I have to be quick and kind of pat it on/press it in, rubbing makes it patchy. I can use a sponge, but I find my finger and speed are best.

Silicone foundations have more wiggle room and flexibility, since they dry slowly. But they can get streaky, so you do have to kind of press it about. They’re much easier to apply with a sponge.

Important tip

Please make sure you apply a foundation, whether power or liquid, down and over your jawline. I see a lot of people not blending their jawlines properly. It’s very distracting.

Highlight & Blush

Highlight & contouring

extra powder products I’m travel testing: palette, travel brushes, setting powder, blush,  highlight – generally used to augment the purse kit (pictured below) for longer vacations where I feel I might want to play with makeup

I don’t feel the need for a special highlighter product. Instead, I recommend investing in, or acquiring, an eye shadow palette that has some lighter shades (champagne, gold, bronze, sliver) that you can use as your highlighter instead. Or even as contours or blushes, if you do that.

I apply highlighter in the c-shape: top of cheeks around towards part of temples and up onto the brown bone (just under the eyebrows). For a vintage look I use matte white. For filming I often use a shimmery champagne.

If you’re feeling sunshine, a bit on the tip of the nose and inside the corners of the eyes is cute too.

I don’t contour, as I get older I probably should, but to be honest? I don’t wear thick enough makeup to really go to town in this way. I think it’s a bit of a young person’s game. And it certainly works better on camera than in person.


I’m not a blush girl, either. I struggle to find one I like and that looks natural to my coloring. Because I lean vintage, I often go without, for an intentionally unrealistic porcelain look. If I do wear one, it’s this one: Dr Young Blush in City Mauve but I’d rather use something integrated into an eyeshadow palette. Speaking of…


I have indifferent green eyes so my eyeshadow choices (when I wear colors beyond metallics & neutrals) are ones that compliment green. If you have non-green eyes or a different skin tone, you’ll probably want different shadows.


my preference is the classic, pin-up, or everyday 


White pencil eyeliner is the world’s greatest makeup trick IMHO. I use it to

  1. line my bottom water line,
  2. inner corners of eyes,
  3. sometimes the Korean under eye “puff”
  4. and also to sketch out the wings of my cat eye, just below where the liner goes. That way I can fuss until they are even using the white, because it is easy to rub out.

Go with whatever brand you like. I’ve taken to the mechanical pencil version because then I don’t need to travel with a sharpener.

I use a stiff angle eyeshadow brush and a medium taupe color (so I can mess up) for the first of the wings. Length of brush = length of wing.

The I go in with liquid liner along the water line of the top lashes, and c. 1/3 out from the top and into a wing (see “everyday” in the image above). I’ve tried a number of different kinds of liquid liners but have settled on Stila Stay All Day Waterproof Liquid Eye Liner at this point. It doesn’t blow me away, but it works fine and it’s available everywhere. I would suggest watching videos on how to do a cat eye depending on your eye and eyelid shape. (I have hooded eyes which is why I use less on top than most, and a less curved wing.)

If I am doing a smokey eye I tend to use a trusty multipurpose matte eyeshadow palette. I don’t bother with pencil liners anymore (except the white).

an absolutely classic cat eye but you can see liberal use of white liner

Eye Shadow Palettes

My preference is finding (or creating) a pressed powder eye shadow palette that handles highlight, blush, vintage, and smokey eyes. Thus my ideal palette has the following:

  1. matte white – for vintage highlights
  2. matte muted rose pink – as a blush
  3. matte medium taupe – for shadowing, contouring, and guide-lines
  4. matte dark neutral brown – for smokey look & daytime liner wear
  5. matte black – for vintage and glam eye lining & smokey looks
  6. high shine champagne for daytime & glamour highlights (no glitter)
  7. copper with lots of shine/glitter – for evening & glam (contrasts my eye color)
  8. sparkle green that matches my eye color – just for fun

But I’ve never found a palette that has everything I want in one. They rarely have enough bright whites and lighter colors for my needs and complexion.

  • On the go I have a tiny cheap neutral palette (black & white only) I picked up from a drugstore.
  • Because I know my preferred colors really well, I will pick up eyeshadow singles either from the drugstore, Sephora, or via a friend’s stash
  • At home I use a glam eye palette from Charlotte Tilbury in Smokey Eyes Are Forever. It happens to have a lot of colors I like and know work with my eye color in a range of glitter, matte, and shine formulas that don’t move once they’re on. But it’s spendy and is mostly too dark to highlight with.
Makeup On The Go Travel purse kit

travel/purse makeup kist – all fits into a tiny plastic snack baggie, is everything I need for basic all day look (on top of sunscreen & color corrector – in my 2-1-1 bag)


I love mascara and I have quite a few I really like. My eyelashes are pretty good for my age, neither short nor sparse. I just use black since my lashes and eyebrows are already dark.

  1. Easiest: L’Oréal Telescopic Mascara in Carbon Black – this is my preferred daily wear mascara and the one I recommended for those who are nervous about makeup or want something versatile. The shape of the brush and the formula make it REALLY easy to apply (also easy to take off). You can do a light coating or layer it for high glam. It’s not as fixed as the waterproof ones, but it’s definitely the easiest to use. But, if you are someone who tends to touch your own eyes or or hang out in humid/wet climates, it won’t have the longevity you need, so try…
  2. Vintage & easy enough: Maybelline New York Lash Sensational Waterproof Mascara in Brownish Black, everyone’s favorite “won’t budge” mascara, I like it too. It’s easy and it just looks GOOD.
  3. Vintage high glam & all the volume: L’Oréal Original Volume Building Waterproof Mascara in Carbon Black works great with curling wand and is very high drama. It’s not the easiest formula as it has a tendency to clump but I can’t beat the look once I’ve fussed with it. It’s almost like I’m wearing fake lashes. It lasts forever too.
  4. For the lazy: Tower 28 MakeWaves in JET Black is my new daily wear. It’s one and done, buildable, naturally curling, rarely leaves residue or smudges, lasts all day but is still easy to remove at the end of it. It’s a great formula. (replaces the turquoise one in the photo above to the right)

For a vintage look I will curl my lashes, but for regular wear I don’t feel it necessary. I’m going to call out my travel eyelash curler because anytime someone spots it in my travel kit they get so excited. It’s a little finicky but it packs much better and easier than a regular lash curler.

It doesn’t make that big a difference on me. I never bother with fake lashes.

Gail Carriger Live Eye Necklace Purple Dress Brown Cape Velvet

This is my favorite color lippy, a deep true red, Maybelline’s Super Stay Matte Ink in Pioneer



I tend to go for highly pigmented reds in neutral to cool tones (when I can find them). See image above for an example. My complexion is true neutral, it’s doesn’t lean either warm/yellow or cool/pink, so I can technically wear most kinds of reds. But if I have to pick, I prefer cooler tones, because I think they make my teeth look whiter and read as more vintage on camera.

I do have one deep pink/cherry (for when I’m wearing pink), and a burgundy (mostly for steampunk events) in rotation but I’m never fully happy with them. For everyday I always come back around to true red.

I prefer a liquid formula (as opposed to a bullet) and regular wand application (as opposed to a doe foot).

I don’t use lip liner. For me, a lipstick’s formula has more to do with whether feathering occurs, not the use of liner.

Here’s a screen look with the Revlon Ultra HD Vinyl Lip Polish in Cherry Red

On screen: Glossy Glam

For shorter events like Facebook Lives or zoom presentations I tend to pick lipsticks with stellar pigmentation and gloss, but which are impractical because they come off on everything. Which is to say, my favorite color and high shine but general failures at real life.

These are the opposite of my fixed lippy options at events. My screen reds are easy to remove. So they don’t work for me for anything past short time frames.

  • Revlon Ultra HD Vinyl Lip Polish in Cherry Red. This one has a lot less pink in it than I thought (and “cherry” implies) and is actually a solid true red.
  • Peripera Ink Airy Velvet in 001 Hotspot Red This is a great matte formula that goes on smooth and doesn’t move around much but wipes off easily. I am not totally sold on the color, but it’s perfect for zoom presentations. It feels sort of businessy to me.
  • Peripera’s Ink Mood Glowy Tint is a wonderful formula and can be layered for a darker look. It doesn’t last, but looks great right up until it’s gone. Unfortunately, like many of the Korean brands they lean a bit too pink/brown for me, but I like it for non-events and out and about.

I do have a few lipsticks that I can’t break up with because the color is so good, even if I’m not wild about the formula.

My classic matte in person event makeup. Full face, power foundation. The lippy is Revlon ColorStay in Forever Scarlet 

Long lasting (in person): Matte Retro

Generally? I actually prefer color-fixed lip products, which means, by default, matte. The trick to making these liquid lip products actually last forever is to:

  1. hydrate your lips the night before
  2. don’t have anything at ALL on your lips the morning of application
  3. always rub lips first with a tissue/wash cloth to get off any excess base/powder
  4. make sure your lips are clean & very dry

This is really important! Very clean, very dry lips are a must!

Apply the color-fixed lippy cleanly, evenly, and in tiny steady movements using short brush strokes.

  • Do not thicken it.
  • Do not go back over what has already been put down.
  • Do not layer.

One shot, steady hand.

Clean up edges fast with the corner of a tissue.

Wait 5 minutes for it to dry, then you can dab. If you have applied it correctly, there should be little to no excess to dab off.

Gail Carriger Makeup Water Based Vintage

Water-based vintage, this one with a liquid foundation for lighter coverage. I’d been wearing this for about 3 hours on a balmy summer day at time of photo. Lipstick is the Covergirl Outlast in Richest Red. 

I can apply like this at 8 am, and (providing I don’t eat any greasy fatty foods) my lipstick will last until midnight, no problem. It’s MAGIC.

  • Maybelline Super Stay Matte Ink in Pioneer. This has my least favorite applicator (doe foot) and too thick of a formula but the color is gorgeous – rich and luxurious. This lippy looks expensive. (See top image in this lips section with the dark brown turban.)
  • Revlon ColorStay in Forever Scarlet. Definitely the best allrounder in terms of formula, endurance, and ease of application. Revlon was first on the scene with color stay and they remain a reliable stalwart.
  • Covergirl Outlast in Richest Red (my best purse version since it comes as both color-fixed matte & tinted gloss, so if I don’t want to wear an all day, I have the gloss option). It’s a solid workhorse product.
  • Covergirl Outlast Two-Step Lipcolor in Ever Red 507. This is one of my favorite colors (and it packs nice & small since I only take the color part). It’s the orangest I let my reds go but it looks good with my complexion. I live in fear they will discontinue this.

Step-by-Step: 2 Completed Looks

Gail Carriger Cupcake Room Party Convention Black

Lipstick is the Covergirl Outlast 2-step in Ever Red. It had been on my face for at least 12 hours at this point.

Option One: Traveling vintage (water-based)

This look is mostly matte and is designed to last all day without budging, every liquid ingredient on this list is water-based. I go with a matte look because it holds all day, is more vintage, travels easiest, and photographs well.

Gail Vintage Makeup products sunscreen color corrector concealer base powder eyeshadow lippy eye pencil

  1. Sunscreen on face – WAIT 20 minutes, do something else, like tea.
  2. Green water-based color corrector (finger application as needed)
  3. Under eye concealer – WAIT for everything on face to dry (usually while drinking tea)
  4. Pressed powder foundation (kabuki brush) or a water-based liquid foundation if I want lighter coverage (I usually don’t travel with this, though)
  5. Highlight c-zone with white eyeshadow (cheekbones, inner temple, brow bone) also sometimes tip of nose, inner corners of eyes
  6. White liner: inner eye-v, lower water line “cat-eye guide lines”
  7. Black liquid liner, upper water line, along top lash-line from 2/3 out, wing – WAIT for liner to dry!
  8. Eyelashes curledmascara
  9. Lips scrubbed with damp napkin/washcloth & dried well with tissues + color stay lipstick

If you have oily or combination skin unlike me here’s a video full of tips for a look like this for you.

Option Two: Everyday screen vintage (silicone-based)

This look is lighter, a little dewy and more “natural” (by modern standards) rather than totally matte and is designed for shorter events or on-screen looks. Because they won’t be staying on my skin very long or I don’t care if it “moves” a bit I use silicone-based products:

Makeup silicone based office color corrector concealer mascara lippy

Silicone-based concealer & color corrector, mascara and shinny lippy

  1. Sunscreen – WAIT 20 minutes, do something else, like tea
  2. Green color corrector – finger application
  3. Concealer under eye (finger dabbing)
  4. Foundation (usually finger application, if my skin’s in rough shape I use an egg sponge)
  5. Highlight c-zone with champagne high-shine eyeshadow (cheekbones, inner temple, brow bone) tip of nose, inner corners of eyes (brush or fingertip application)
  6. White liner: inner eye-v, lower water line, “cat-eye guide lines”
  7. Darker eyeshadow color for the first of the wings, use the stiff angled eyeshadow brush (I may play with additional eyeshadow if I’m at home)
  8. Liquid liner on lash line and wing, or black eyeshadow for smokey eye
  9. Mascara
  10. Clean and scrub dry lips + glossy lipstick

A word on sunscreen: sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours, but obviously if you have on a full face, that’s not convenient. I almost never have events that are outside for long spates of time but if I do… this is what parasols were made for. Or hats. Or both. If you’re exposing yourself to sun all day at a beach etc, this post is not for you. That requires a whole different makeup routine and I don’t do that kind of thing (I fear the day star).

Finally, if you’re going to a place where you need both sunscreen & mosquito repellant, remember, bug spray is the LAST thing you apply. And do use a spray – those bug wipes are handy, but they can wipe the sunscreen right off.

How do I take OFF my makeup?

Because of the aforementioned very dry skin I can’t and don’t use specialty designed foaming products, removers, or cleansers.

I use a damp washcloth (at home that’s a waffle towel, on the go it’s just the hotel offering), and simply wipe all the gunk off.

If I have had serious makeup plus sunscreen on all day I will use oil impregnated makeup remover wipes. Remember, this girl has dry skin, it has no problem with oil-based removers – it’s soaps I fear.

Then I use a cream cleanser (non-foaming) on my damp skin which I rub in and around very thoroughly and then rinse with cold water.

Back to my trusty aloe right after. And then engage my regular nighttime skin care routine. As always with very dry skin it’s this routine that is the most important. and for many of us, the work of a lifetime.

Other People’s Recommendations & More

If you are NOT interested in the vintage look and want something a lot more modern, than you’ll need to turn your focus to Korea. I found this YouTube vlogger for you. I haven’t tested all of her product recs (because its not really my style or skin type) but her application techniques are solid and she is great for beginners on a budget. Try her: Beginner Makeup Starter Kit.


Miss Gail 

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* Please note the afore mentioned “lazy-girl” means most links in this post are to Amazon. However, most of these products are available elsewhere with a quick google hunt, possibly your  local drugstore or big box. These Amazon links have an affiliate code active, with which I earn a teeny-tiny commission. And which are there mostly for me to see if anyone is actually using my suggestions. That way I know if I should bother to keep this post updated. And if you want more like it in the future.

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Posted by Gail Carriger

3 Responses

  1. Lace Shortlettes Prailine said:

    I rarely wear make-up, but I love buying it.
    Is the secret to a sunscreen not burning your eyes when you sweat, to let it dry fully before adding any other product over it?

    1. Gail Carriger said:

      Is the secret to a sunscreen not burning your eyes when you sweat, to let it dry fully before adding any other product over it?

      I think that it depends. Some the cheaper and non-waterproof sunscreens just burn and run no matter what. The ones labeled “sport” usually don’t, so that’s kinda the branding to look for. That Isntree I love is so gentle I can actually just put it on my eyelids. But also, I rarely sweat. WE shall see int he humidity of Thailand how it REALLY does.

  2. Sherri said:

    I love your vintage look. I’m a cat-eyed glasses girl, myself. You should do a makeup tutorial video for us. No matter how hard I try, I can’t get used to myself in red lipstick. I’m a fair blonde and I feel like my lips are enormous with it on.

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