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15 Makeup Mistakes That Could Make You Look Older

Updated: Mar. 19, 2024

Avoid tacking on extra years with makeup tips and tricks from the pros

Woman putting on lipstick with compact mirror
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Makeup that ages you

Browse your favorite online beauty retailer and you’re bound to find tons of lotions and potions promising to fight Father Time and give you a more youthful appearance. And while you can buy a number of anti-aging creams and serums to combat the signs of aging, if you’re making makeup mistakes that make you look older, all that time and energy (and money!) will be for naught.

Yup, that’s right. Just like you can learn how to dress to look younger and avoid hairstyle mistakes that make you look older, you can pick up some makeup tips to avoid aging yourself. We consulted professionals accustomed to doing makeup for older women to find out the top mistakes that can make you look older—and asked them how to look younger. Here’s what they revealed.

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Makeup Mistakes Primer
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Skipping primer

Uneven makeup that settles into wrinkles? Um, no thanks. But that’s a risk you run if you don’t slick on a primer before you put on your makeup. The best primers smooth skin and can fill in lines and wrinkles (or at least diffuse them!) so that makeup goes on more smoothly, says Margina Dennis, a celebrity makeup artist who works in New York and Los Angeles.

There are a ton of different primers on the market, and they each offer different benefits (think: dewy skin, a matte look and more). With this in mind, Dennis suggests looking for a primer specifically made for aging skin. She likes StriVectin’s Line BlurFector, which she says can both fill in fine lines and also blur imperfections.

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Make Up Mistakes Foundation
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Selecting the wrong foundation

Picking the wrong foundation is pretty much the same as shining the brightest possible spotlight on fine lines and wrinkles. So, what do makeup artists consider the wrong foundation for aging skin? To some degree, it depends on your skin type. That said, super-heavy formulas may not make for the best foundation for skin with fine lines and wrinkles, as a thicker formula can settle into those lines and draw more attention to them.

“I prefer a serum-like foundation that adds hydration to your skin,” says Atlanta-based makeup artist Shikha Arya. “They tend to be lighter and glide onto skin more smoothly.” Ilia’s Super Serum Foundation contains hyaluronic acid, which is known for its moisturizing capabilities—plus, it has SPF 40 to help prevent further aging caused by sun damage.

When in doubt, test it out. In fact, says makeup artist Lori Hamlin Penske, foundation is the one makeup product you definitely should try before you buy.

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Make Up Mistakes Apply
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Using the wrong application method

We get it: Using your fingers is a fast and easy way to apply large swatches of makeup, from foundation and concealer to liquid blush and creamy bronzer. Though handy, your fingers really aren’t an optimal makeup tool—especially if you’re older. Not only can dirty digits transfer bacteria to clean skin, but the tugging and pulling on your skin that happens in the process can also promote sagging.

Instead, use a damp makeup sponge to blend foundation, concealer and blush, says Arya. It helps makeup glide on more easily and prevents the sponge from sucking up (and wasting!) product. In between uses, store your makeup sponge in a vented silicone travel case. This will keep it from picking up gunk in your makeup bag, and the vents help the wet sponge dry between uses, which prevents bacteria from flourishing.

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Make Up Mistakes Powder
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Applying too much powder

If you’ve worked hard to avoid makeup mistakes that make you look older, the last thing you want is for your hard work to wear off. Setting powder can keep everything in place. But using too much is a no-no. According to celebrity makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes, using too much powder can enhance flaws and age your face really fast. That’s because it can give skin a dry, dull appearance and has a tendency to settle into the lines on your face.

The key is to use just a little bit of loose powder. The flat fabric puff that comes in many powder canisters? That can cake it on. Instead, dip a large powder brush in loose powder, tap off the excess and swirl it over your face. Wet n Wild’s Essential Powder Brush is an affordable option that is fluffy and will get the job done (tightly packed bristles tend to concentrate product in one area).

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Make Up Mistakes Brows
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Overdrawing your brows

There’s a good chance you’ve heard that leaving your brows untouched is one of the biggest makeup mistakes that make you look older. And it’s true: Well-shaped brows can enhance your facial features, open your eyes and take years off your appearance. (No, we’re not just talking about the TikTok-viral soap brows that Gen Z is wild about.) But it’s easy to go overboard. Dark, heavy arches can make you look overly made up, even theatrical. And they can even add years to your face.

So tackle brow makeup the right way. To fill in any sparse spots and give your brows that natural “wow” factor, makeup artist JoAnn Solomon recommends a softer formula, like Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz. Pro tip: Apply in light strokes and build as you go. A spoolie or unused mascara wand is great for removing excess pigment and blending. Once you’ve achieved your desired effect, set it with a clear brow gel.

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Make Up Mistakes Brush
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Using old, dirty makeup brushes

You use your brushes daily, but how often do you give them an all-important cleaning? And when was the last time you got a new set? If it’s been longer than a couple weeks since you’ve cleaned your makeup brushes—or if you can’t remember the last time you gave them a wash—it’s time to break out the cleanser.

Dirty brushes are riddled with bacteria, and you know what that means: breakouts and the acne scars and dark spots that follow. Not only will old, scratchy, dirty brushes negatively affect your skin, but they’ll also impact your makeup application. A dirty brush can even alter the color of the product you’re applying, making it look dull and muddy. And applying dull makeup will make you look less youthful and vibrant.

“Try washing them in a nourishing soap. If that doesn’t work, buy some new ones,” says Hughes. EcoTools makes an affordable brush cleanser that’s free of fragrances and will gently clean your tools.

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Make Up Mistakes Foundation Color
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Going with a too-light shade of under-eye concealer

For most women, concealer is an everyday staple, but just because you apply it on the regular doesn’t mean you’re using it correctly. Many people choose a concealer that’s way too light in hopes that it (along with anti-aging eye creams) will cancel out under-eye darkness. But the reality is that it just ends up looking heavy and chalky—giving you dreaded raccoon eyes—and can even exacerbate wrinkles and dark circles.

According to Solomon, concealer should be one shade lighter than your skin for a brightening effect. Try warming it up by applying it to the back of your hand first (simply coming into contact with your skin warms it). Then use a concealer brush to dab under your eyes. Fenty Beauty’s Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Concealer comes in 50 different shades, making it easy to find a hue that will work for you.

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Make Up Mistakes Eyeshadow
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Adding too much definition with shadow

When it comes to eye shadow, a dark crease color can give the appearance of sunken eyes, warns Arya. Here’s another makeup rule to know by the time you hit age 40: Darker shadows can also emphasize crow’s feet. “Instead, opt for neutral matte eye shadows in soft browns or mauves in the crease,” she says, noting that a matte finish is ideal for shadow because shimmer can highlight wrinkles.

To make application a breeze, look for a shadow palette with three matte shades—like the Photo Edit Shadow Trio from Smashbox. This has a light shade you’ll use over the whole lid, a medium shade to swipe in the crease and a darker shade to use as liner.

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Make Up Mistakes Lip Liner
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Using the wrong lip liner

While the thought of lip liner probably conjures not-so-fond memories of nude lips and dark liner, a lip pencil—when used properly—can actually help define your pout. Even better, it can help you look younger by preventing your lipstick from feathering into the fine lines that tend to pop up around the edges of your mouth as you get older. But using the wrong shade won’t do you any favors and can even give you a dated look.

“The trick is to use a pencil that matches your lip color,” says Penske. “Then apply it all over your lips. Not only will it make your lipstick appear more natural, but it will also help it last longer.” Thanks to its gel formula, Sephora’s Retractable Rouge Gel Lip Liner glides on easily—plus, it comes in 27 shades, so you can easily find one that matches your lips.

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Make Up Mistakes Contour
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Picking a too-dark contour color

With the rise of the so-called Instagram face, everyone is using contouring makeup in an attempt to look good in pictures. But if you’re not doing it right, it can backfire.

“I see women every day with brown streaks on their cheeks,” says Penske. That’s because too many women fall into the trap of using a contour shade that’s way too dark for their skin tone. The result is super harsh and can make your cheeks look sunken in, giving you an aged appearance. What you really want is a product that’s two shades deeper than your natural skin color. And of course, blending is key to a natural-looking contour.

When it comes to the formula, opt for something lightweight. It’ll look less harsh on aging skin than a heavier formula. The Tinted Blur Contour Sculpting Stick from Nudestix is lightweight and has a soft matte finish that won’t look too dry or heavy on crepey skin.

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Make Up Mistakes Highlighter
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Using glittery highlighter

Highlighter can make your features pop and give you a nice youthful glow. But using the wrong product is just one of the many makeup mistakes that make you look older.

If you’re using a product with a super-shimmery or glittery finish, you’re just drawing attention to your fine lines and age spots. Instead, choose something that looks more glowy than sparkly, says Dennis. L’Oreal’s Infallible Longwear Shaping Highlight Stick is a creamy formula that comes in a rose-gold shade, which is great for skin with pink or neutral undertones, or a gold color, which is ideal for darker skin tones and people with olive-toned skin.

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Make Up Mistakes Blush
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Going overboard on blush

Blush can do one of two things: It can give you a pretty, youthful flush, or it can make you look like a clown. As they get older, many people find that their cheeks hollow out. Even the most flattering blush, when applied to the apples of your cheeks after you’ve done the rest of your makeup, may be too intense, drawing attention to that hollowness and making you look older.

“Instead, apply a coral blush to the apples of your cheeks and at your temples before putting on your foundation,” says Dennis. “Then blend a lightweight foundation over, and you’ll wind up mimicking the rosy glow you had in your youth.” Cream blush will look more natural underneath foundation. Milani’s Cheek Kiss Cream Blush in Coral Crush is vibrant enough that it won’t disappear when you apply makeup on top of it.

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Make Up Mistakes Bottom Liner
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Applying thick and heavy eyeliner

A thick slash of black liner can make lids look heavy and tired—and make you look older than your age. “This is especially true if you use dark liner along your bottom lash line,” says Dennis. That’s because a dark line will draw attention to the delicate skin under your eyes, which starts to thin as the years pass. She suggests skipping liner under your eyes altogether.

On top, pass on the black and reach for a softer shade, like chocolate brown, gray or burgundy, she says. Then rather than a thick, continuous line, reach for a creamy liner pencil and dot it between lashes, using a smudge brush to soften the line. Clinique Quickliner makes this two-step eyeliner trick easy, with a pencil on one end and a sponge on the other.

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Make Up Mistakes Lashes
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Ignoring your lashes

Skipping mascara isn’t an option if you want to avoid makeup mistakes that make you look older. Lashes that fan upward can open up your eyes, slashing years from your appearance and making you look more awake. That said, clumpy black lashes will do you no favors. The goal: separated lashes that fan up and away from eyes.

So, what makes for the best mascara? Look for a lengthening formula (like Maybelline’s Lash Sensational Sky High mascara), and apply two coats. Next comes a genius trick: Use a lash comb to separate each lash so they look full and defined.

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Make Up Mistakes Setting Sprau
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Setting it and forgetting it

Do you apply your makeup in the morning and then not think about it for the rest of the day? Bad move. Arya points out that skin tends to get drier as you age. This means that over the course of the day, even well-applied makeup can start to look cakey. A quick spritz of a hydrating face mist can refresh your entire face of makeup in the middle of the day.

Good news: There’s no need to look for a spray with fancy ingredients. Evian has a face mist made from mineral water that’ll do the trick. The goal is really just to add hydration to break up any dry spots that are forming.

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Additional reporting by Lindsay Cohn.