How Your Face Can Fight Back Against Unflattering Office Lighting

Fluorescent lighting can mean flattened features and a sickly pallor, but the right makeup colors and textures can undo your washed-out look.
Publish date:
June 28, 2013

Office Wench Syndrome, or OWS, afflicts those of us who work long hours in a gray cubicle under unflattering fluorescent lighting. Its insidious nature is two-fold: it’s flattening and makes you appear washed out, even if you're the picture of health.

The cure is simple and speedy (a requirement if you dread getting up every single day like myself). This all started due to a very important priority of mine that involves staying in bed snuggling multiple pets as long as possible, which is especially important in the middle of a Minnesota winter when getting out of bed is THE WORST THING that has ever happened to you every time. But winter turned into spring, and spring turned into summer, and now I’m suffering a serious case of OWS.

My colleagues are all developing nice, even tans from going boating or watching baseball or whatever, but I’m more of an “indoor person” myself; meaning I spend my weekends avoiding real clothes while polishing off 600-page fantasy novels about witches.

The other day, I caught a look at myself in a window when I was staying late at work and thought I was having some kind of goblin encounter. I decided it was time to find a solution.

Luckily, this involves my other favorite pastime: seeking retail therapy at the mall. (The Mall of America!)

Bronzer was my first priority. God forbid I stoop to going outside and doing this thing the natural way. I found that Lancome makes a bronzer for pale folk, Star Bronzer in Sunkiss. It's nice and subtle, making it hard to overdo, and it’s entirely matte. I don’t want to look like I confused the office for the club.

I really wanted to explore highlighter as well, so I had to find something equally subtle, yet effective. I’m now in love with Too Faced Candlelight powder. It goes from a touch of dewiness to full on diva with a little layering, so it’s fairly versatile. Plus the compact powder formula is very easy to apply without overdoing it. Combining highlighter and bronzer has turned out to be perfect for combating that weird flatness that comes with fluorescent lights. Add in a little NARS Deep Throat, my number-one blush, and I was feeling like an office knockout!

I blended the bronzer along my jaw, under my cheekbone, and around the edge of my forehead, swirling in a sideways “W” shape along each side of my face. I applied blush on just the apples of my cheeks by applying it to the fullest part when I smiled. The highlighter goes just on the tops of my cheekbones and around the temple, almost like a “V” shape on either side of each eye.

For my eyes, I wanted to keep it fairly basic. I used Urban Decay Primer Potion, which has a great added effect of evening out any redness or veiny appearance if you’re basically translucent like myself, while helping shadow stick for good. I also used Giorgio Armani Maestro Eraser concealer under my eyes to get rid of dark circles.

For eyeshadow, I didn’t use anything shimmery so I wouldn’t be going overboard with the highlighter on my cheeks, and I just applied a bit of fawn colored-shadow right in the crease, from the Naked Basics mini-palette.

My finishing touch is the real coup de grace in my opinion. I saw a picture of Elizabeth Banks, and she had just a touch of dark blue eyeliner, just on the bottom lash line. I was really into the way it made her eyes look super bright and perky.

You may have noticed that I’m a devotee of Urban Decay, so of course I wanted to try out some blue liners from them. Sabbath is a nice dark navy shade that could serve as a subtle eyeliner at the office, or get smudged out if you’re partying. I feel like this would be great for those with a more medium complexion, as the warm blue shade would bring out nice golden undertones. I decided to go next level with LSD, which is a sparkly teal (with an even better name). Busting out glitter eyeliner at work has to be the height of subversion, right?

To keep it mostly appropriate, I applied it right over my lower lash line, almost tight-lining, and blended it into my lashes with my finger and then repeating that process so it was more buffed in.

On the top lashes, I kind of press-dragged (obviously invented lingo of my own--I load the smudge brush with a fairly light amount of shadow by tapping it into the pan lightly, and then I sort of dab into my lash line with the brush, followed by lightly pulling the shadow along just a tiny way) some black eyeshadow along the outer third of my lid with a smudge brush and then added a bit of the LSD on top. Kind of like an ice cream sundae for Syd Barrett! “Just add LSD.”

Lastly, I used my favorite Stila lip color, also matte, in Intriguing. Being matte, you do need to use some lip balm before applying. Lip Sugar from Fresh is a natural choice.

I find that you can pull off bright colors and a little more drama as long as you stay mostly matte. This creates a very pulled together, but bright and cheerful look. And it definitely doesn’t hurt to be the bright, cheerful one at the cube farm!

I’m so happy with the finished product, I’ve actually been getting up a whole fifteen minutes early to enliven myself before heading into the office. No more goblin encounters! Let me know your own office tricks in the comments, especially if you’re getting away with anything glittery.