Pale As F%#k: Makeup Tips For The Translucent

People comment on my melanin shortage on a weekly basis. When I was at the beach, a stranger told me I “really needed” a tan before I dared to wear a bikini.
Publish date:
January 8, 2013
shoppables, concealer, foundation, makeup, skin, pale skin

"I think you're the palest person I've ever seen," my mother said, somewhat disgusted, after sitting next to me in the car during a road trip. She kept insisting I go to a doctor, that I was anemic or vitamin deficient because it "just isn't normal."

I don't know how it took her 23 years to realize how similar my skin color is to the walls of a hospital, but there is nothing wrong with me. OK, there is a lot wrong with me, but my skin has always been this color.

I would be offended by my mother’s assertions, but I'm pretty used to it. People comment on my melanin shortage on a weekly basis. When I was at the beach, a stranger told me I “really needed” a tan before I dared to wear a bikini. She “really needed” a breast lift and a different color lipstick but I wasn’t going to tell her that -- I was just going to silently judge her with my eyes like any polite person would.

Needless to say, finding the right makeup to accommodate my snowy complexion is an undertaking (as in something that would be a fitting task for someone who worked in a funeral home). Whenever I visit where the makeup lives, there is always some eager sales associate who assures me their brand goes very light, and I always end up ruining her day with my pallor.

I was really excited when Sephora started with this new contraption (called Pantone Color IQ) that’s supposed to match your skin tone exactly to one of the shades available in their shop. There are 110 colors. I am not any of them.

It doesn’t help that I’m one of those rare pale people with no pink undertone. Hard as it is to believe, I’m actually olive skinned, as you can see when I tan, which I do but only if I’m out in the sun literally all summer.

Considering all I’ve had working against me, I’m pretty much an expert now on finding the right makeup for myself and other friendly ghosts. I’m sticking to skin-related make up here because the rest of your coloring must be taken into account for eye shadow, lipstick and blush.

Here are some tips I’ve found useful.


If you are a person who can wear foundation (I’m not. My skin will flip its shit, but I do occasionally use it for photo shoots), there are a few that might work:


  • Well, first things first, I use Smashbox High Definition in “Fair” under my eyes, because you can literally see my veins or if I have a zit. It’s a little too dark/pink but it blends well enough and is the best I’m gonna do.
  • I am a fan of Make Up Forever Full Cover in 1. It’s amazing coverage and I swear that it makes pimples smaller/go away. I have no idea why, it’s not even one of those hybrid skin care/makeups -- it’s, like, hardcore makeup. But everyone else I know who has tried it says the same thing. I only stopped using it because I admitted to myself it really is a bit too yellow. I grieve for my loss.
  • I really haven’t messed with drug store concealers because they are too dark and I can tell just by looking at them. They’re supposed to match the foundations, but nope.

BB Creams:

  • Now these are my one true love. They are the only thing I can put all over my face without breaking out. My absolute favorite is Skin 79, which you have to order online from Asia, but I haven’t because it’s a pain in the ass.
  • I did just stumble upon this drug store brand called Gosh and their “Sand” shade is pretty damn perfect. The application is also really natural and I have to say I really love it.
  • If you are going more high end, Smashbox Camera Ready in “Fair” is pretty light but too yellow for me, and I found that it’s a little streaky and not that natural looking. I liked it a lot before I used better BB creams and a lot of others like it. Sadly though, it’s the only Sephora BB cream that’s anywhere near light enough for me.

Tinted Moisturizers:

  • Honestly, these are so translucent it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, I’ve found. The Bobbi Brown one is pretty light and I liked it. Otherwise, as long as it’s the brand’s lightest shade, it should be workable because it’s really not visible.
  • Feeling Younger Skin Tint from Lush: Everyone should have this because it’s amazing, but it’s especially great for the pale of skin. I’ve used this on people with darker skin and it works as a nice highlighter. On pale people, it just makes you look alive, if that’s what you’re going for. I spent a good deal of my goth-tinged youth going for “not alive,” so it's a nice change. It looks a bit “fancy” on most people, but I use a little of it on my orbital bone (with the ring finger, like an eye cream), down the bridge of my nose, and on the center of my chin and it just adds a little glow. You can’t even really tell I’m wearing it and that’s the point.

Powder: No, I refuse. I hate powder, even translucent powder. It never ever ever looks natural, in my opinion. There are all sorts of products others swear by, but I just hate them. If anything, use a light dusting of actual baby powder with a kabuki brush. I do this in the summer; it absorbs sweat and doesn’t make me break out. It also actually looks natural because it completely absorbs into the skin.

No matter how ready for the morgue drawer you look, you can find makeup that will work. It’s really a process and, unfortunately, it will take time. Be sure to view your makeup in sunlight -- the wrong undertones are especially apparent on paler skin tones. Stock up on samples, be patient, and you, too, can look like the stylish vampire protagonist in an Anne Rice novel.

Do you have a skin tone that’s hard to shop for? Dark skin, pale skin, in between? Share your best advice!

For more musings on makeup, stalk me on twitter @prtoftheprob.