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The long-term influence of Meghan Markle’s royal wedding makeup

Her visible freckles were a big deal.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in a carriage after their wedding ceremony. Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty Images

Meghan Markle’s makeup at the royal wedding has been described by the beauty and lifestyle press as “refreshingly simple,” “chill-bride makeup,” and “natural beauty.”

Her freckles were on full display, evident under a hint of blush and what looked to be the sheerest layer of foundation. (Markle has said in multiple interviews that she hates when makeup artists or photo retouchers hide them.) Her eyeshadow was obvious but not overwhelming, with a slight smokey finish. It was all framed by a messy bun left that way purposely by celebrity hairstylist Serge Normant. It was Meghan, only better. Her natural beauty was enhanced but not exaggerated. She could have worn the same look to a meeting with Suits producers.

The internet had a lot to say about the look, as it always does. Some on Twitter lauded her for keeping it simple. Teni Panosian, an Instagram beauty guru who is not afraid to use 15 products for a look, wrote: “I LOVE that Meghan Markle’s dress and makeup are simple. Elegant, understated, and beautiful!!!” Others thought she should have tried harder. “Okay who let meghan markle walk out like that? Her hair, makeup, and dress - so boring,” wrote one Twitter user. Anecdotally, though, it seems like there were many more people in the positive camp.

Despite the seeming simplicity of Markle’s makeup, it might be poised to have a radical effect on beauty trends.

In the world of makeup right now, the two most popular trends fall on opposite and extreme ends of an aesthetic continuum. On one end, you have what is known in Instagram makeup vernacular as “glam.” On the other, there is “no-makeup makeup.” Markle came down clearly on the “no-makeup makeup” side. It’s a big deal that she made such a statement publicly because the beauty world is at a tipping point, with the push and pull of more versus less makeup bubbling up in pop culture.

Kim Kardashian at the Met Gala in early May.
James Devaney/GC Images

The patron saint of glam is Kim Kardashian, who brought it to the masses. It includes heavy contouring (formerly a makeup artist trick reserved only for photography), a highlighter shine that can surely be seen from space, and lashes that almost skim the forehead. The look has led to an uptick in makeup offerings like palettes that come in all shades of the rainbow, special contour kits, and eyelash extension services; makeup sales have boomed in the past several years.

The look rules in Instagram beauty circles. Just search one of the almost 1.8 million posts listed under the hashtag #beautyguru for a sampling. It’s maximalism to the max and looks best in photographs, where it is filtered and Facetuned to almost plastic levels of perfection. In real life it can look caked on. Professional makeup artists have hated the look for years, calling it unnatural and not lifelike.

Glam’s foil is the “you, but better” look and is best embodied by Glossier, the three-year-old beauty brand whose tagline is: “A beauty brand inspired by real life.” It trafficks in a minimal look described in terms like “glowy” and “dewy.” Its concealers don’t conceal much, its lipsticks are sheer, and it is wildly popular. The brand has scored almost $85 million in funding, and IPO rumors abound. Glossier’s Instagram (Bio: “Skin first. Makeup second.”) portrays an image of women who’s revered in the upper echelons of fashion, where a so-called tasteful cool-girl look resides.

The recent craze for skin care in a broader demographic than just people worrying about anti-aging has also helped fuel the no-makeup makeup trend. Or did the minimalist makeup trend happen as a result of the focus on skin care? It’s hard to proclaim chicken or egg here, but the result is that skin rules, in certain circles. If you’re doing it right, you will be on a proper regimen of face acids, retinol, and even beauty supplements so that you don’t need any makeup. According to the NPD group, skin care sales in 2017 totaled $5.6 billion, a 9 percent increase from the previous year.

“When you remember the Boy Brow but forget the Balm Dotcom” @reltubatokad ✨

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Glossier and its aesthetic have also received criticism because the underlying assumption is that the person who can pull that look off is likely young and naturally beautiful, and therefore doesn’t “need” a lot of makeup. You should appear polished but not look like you try too hard.

It’s seen as a virtue. The satirical site Reductress targets Glossier quite a bit, with headlines like: “Glossier Announces New Line of Makeup for Women Not Already Beautiful.” A BuzzFeed profile on the brand noted, “The line promises a barely there, lit-from-within effect that plays up features instead of masking flaws, though of course this works better when your ‘flaw’ is a cute scar, winsome snaggletooth, or freckles — not cystic acne, purple under-eye bags, or a hirsute chin.” Markle’s makeup at the royal wedding falls squarely into the former camp.

Markle’s longtime friend and makeup artist Daniel Martin flew to the UK to do her makeup for the wedding. Martin is a Dior beauty brand ambassador and color consultant for Honest Beauty (the brand owned by Jessica Alba). While the beauty media has scoured old interviews, desperately searching for products Markle swears by for her now-royal glow, we will probably never know exactly what products were used on her big day. Brands are exceptionally careful about claiming royals as users out of fear that they’ll be dropped for their indiscretion.

Dior, Martin’s sponsor, did send out a product breakdown “inspired by” the new Duchess of Sussex’s wedding look, but wouldn’t confirm if she had actually used any of them. Which brings us to the next issue: That no-makeup makeup look is not as effortless as it would appear. The Dior inspiration look included six products that totaled $228. (According to Harper’s Bazaar, the cost of beauty at the wedding was estimated to come to $13,000.)

Sure, it helps to be naturally radiant, but makeup gets you the rest of the way there. The technique to achieve such effortless and natural-appearing makeup is not so easy either. Brushes and blending and choosing the right shades, all on a three-dimensional canvas, is difficult. Hence the professional makeup artist.

InStyle went so far as to say Markle “set new royal beauty standards.” It seems clear that her simple makeup and hair will set new bridal standards too. More brides will likely simplify, rather than turning their wedding into a red-carpet moment. “We’ve certainly seen quite a bit of Kardashian influence in bridal beauty,” Roberta Correia, the deputy digital director at Brides, told Vox in an email. “A lot of people lose sight of just being themselves on the wedding day, and I hope that Meghan’s barely-there makeup gives more brides the confidence to go natural. Meghan’s bridal look was essentially her everyday look, just more refined. She knew all eyes were on her and opted for classic.”

Bridal beauty has already been headed in that direction, according to Pinterest, which released its most popular 2018 wedding trends in March. It includes “messy updos” (check!), “barely-there shine” (yup!), and “long, lush lashes” (yes, she had those too).

Really, though, the most important and, in many ways, most radical takeaway here is that Markle wore what she felt comfortable in. Not easy to do in a monarchy entrenched in outdated protocols. While most of us likely won’t marry a prince, we can at least feel a little more comfortable wearing whatever the hell we want on our faces.