I’m a Millennial Woman Embracing Makeup Trends—Thanks to Gen Z

With a newfound love for the funny beauty tutorials on TikTok, writer Anne T. Donahue rediscovers the joy of playing with makeup.

Last year I surrendered to my chronic fear of missing out on what the kids are talking about and traded the morning news for TikTok. I began starting my days with an iced coffee in one hand and my phone in the other, scrolling through the app and treating myself to celebrity gossip, mid-century house tours and Gen Z’s takes on beauty trends. It was a match made in heaven: my limited attention span was appeased by the platform’s short videos and ease of swiping to the next one. I leaned into the algorithm’s ability to spoon-feed me what I wanted to see—20-year-olds teaching makeup tricks.

While the pivot to TikTok aficionado was seamless, my re-entry into the beauty world was not. Following the pandemic lockdowns, I retreated from makeup. Multi-step skincare? I was too tired for it. Liquid eyeliner? No patience for that. The joy I once found in experimenting with bold colours had been replaced by general disinterest. The reason? Being well into my thirties, I felt I’d aged out of trying new things (which we can chalk up to internalized ageism). Social media exacerbated the quick speed of beauty trends, and my bandwidth for keeping up with new products and techniques seemed to have shrunk alongside my interest in staying up late. I was tired, mentally and emotionally, recovering from a tumultuous few years, and was under the illusion that I’d outgrown having fun. Not to mention, the pandemic had whittled down my industry (I’m a writer, hi!), and I didn’t care to justify buying new makeup.

The version of myself who once looked forward to doing her hair and makeup felt like a stranger. I pared back my routine, and reserved makeup for spot treatments and camouflaging my under-eye circles instead of approaching it as an avenue for self-expression. I felt that I’d outgrown the world of beauty trends, and, rather than embracing the creativity of temporary reinvention, I stuck to a routine that neither brought me joy nor made me feel inspired.

That is, until TikTok. While the algorithm initially entertained my quests for Succession spoofs and ghost stories, it also fed me the odd beauty video hosted by a Gen Zer, which I’d watch in full, so more appeared in my feed. What’s more, the app managed to combine my niche interests by serving up creators who’d show how they execute a beauty trend while simultaneously offering the lowdown on celebrity conspiracies or haunted Appalachia.

(Related: Can the Facial Massages on TikTok Really Change Your Face?)

As my generational successors roasted millennials for their contouring, overly shaped brows and affinity for side parts, I found myself enthralled with the way they executed their own beauty trends. I learned about “Clean Girl Beauty,” which touts the glory of minimalist makeup, built on a healthy glow (read: dewy highlighter) and relatively neutral palette—far from the more-is-more look we left behind in 2020. “Tomato Girl” and “Strawberry Girl” trends emphasize pink and red lip colours and rosy blush. And then there is “Quiet Luxury,” inspired by the likes of nineties-era Gwyneth Paltrow and the late Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, with its swept-back hair, matte lipstick and focus on enhancing one’s features.

Some of these looks I knew I’d never carry off (there’s nothing quiet nor luxurious about me), but as someone who over-romanticizes the nineties, I jumped at the chance to relive the rosy cheeks and pink lip glosses of my 13-year-old heyday—that small window of time when makeup was exciting and glamorous and didn’t feel like a necessity. And much like the tween I was in 1998, I could only swing beauty on a budget. Conveniently, “Strawberry” and “Clean Girl” looks meant I didn’t have to buy anything new; I just had to learn new ways of applying products I already had. Like, I started applying lipstick to my cheeks for a dewy-pink look that helped me look particularly alive.

Admittedly, the Quiet Luxury trend wasn’t the only look that didn’t work for me (or that was remotely appealing). As a 38-year-old woman whose family and friends know her face well, I chose not to adopt fake freckles—especially since I don’t trust myself to place them in the same spots every day.

But pink lipstick? Glittery eyes? These are trends that are easy to play with. I stopped accepting the myth that growing up means an absence of playfulness. I cut my shoulder-length hair—a safe, sensible choice—into a blunt chin-length bob. I dusted light shadow in the corners of my eyes after learning that was a go-to technique in Barbie. I applied berry-scented lipgloss with abandon. I began to remember the person I was when I used my makeup to feel powerful, even artistic. I reconnected with my teen self who dove into glitter shadow to look like Ever After-era Drew Barrymore. I was a 38-year-old woman who’d re-embraced the confidence of an eighth grader in a dandelion flower crown she’d fashioned during recess.

Witnessing Gen Z’s beauty boldness reminded me that it is possible to treat makeup not as something I need, but as something that I do because it is fun. Makeup no longer seems tedious, too time-consuming or too expensive, especially since the trends I connect with use products I already have. I mean, maybe I need one new lipstick—a splurge I can justify.

I owe Gen Z and their TikTok videos a thank-you. They’re a daily reminder that there’s no age limit for self-expression. I may need a little more under-eye coverage than they do to carry off Clean Girl, but it’s been a joy to try on makeup-centric personas whenever the creative mood strikes.

Bh240402 Beauty Report Fnl CopyImage: Nicole & Bagol

5 Gen-Z Approved Products

Rhode Lip Tint
Hailey Bieber, the reigning priestess of Gen Z beauty, is the founder and creative director of Rhode—a beauty brand that’s unsurprisingly become a sort of religion for her generation. The brand’s peptide lip tints offer a glossy coating in rouge-y hues with tasty names like espresso. The peptides they’re made with help give lips a plumping effect, perfect for those of us who are syringe-adverse.
$24, rhodeskin.com

Fenty Skin Pre-Show Glow
All hail dewy skin! This twice-a-week serum brightens skin and whisks away dead skin cells, making your mug a smooth, glowy canvas for whichever makeup look you choose. Budget-conscious? You’ll be happy to know a little goes a long way.
$57, sephora.com

Rare Beauty Brow Harmony Flexible Lifting and Laminating Eyebrow Gel
If you’ve ever watched a Gen Z beauty tutorial, you’ve surely asked yourself one question in particular: How do they get their brows so fluffy? The answer is often Brow Harmony—an eyebrow gel by Selena Gomez’s makeup line Rare Beauty. The best part: It shapes and tames brows without crunchiness, stiffness or flakiness.
$23, sephora.com

CoverGirl TruNaked Eyeshadow Palette
In case you missed it, let me repeat: I love nostalgia. And this eyeshadow palette is a goodie I could’ve taken from my tween self’s makeup bin. With a range of beige to brown shades in a mix of matte to glittery finishes, this drugstore palette can be your easy gateway into fun makeup looks like Clean Girl and Quiet Luxury.
$20, shoppersdrugmart.ca

Lip Smacker Party Pack Lip Balm
Join me in revelling in the feeling of spending those hard-earned babysitting dollars on the only beauty product we used until eighth-grade graduation. Few things can bring us back to those days better than a good old pack of Lip Smackers—particularly the ones that smell like our favourite fizzy drinks.
$14, amazon.ca

Next: Can This TikTok-Famous Supplement Really Treat Acne?

Originally Published in Best Health Canada