The 30-Day Challenge #4: No Make-Up

ELLE’'s Debbie Black braves a month of no make-up

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I hated this challenge. And I mean really, really hated it. For some bizarre reason I thought it was going to be one of my easier challenges, "just don't wear makeup for a month", how hard could it be? I had no idea how much I relied on makeup to feel like me.

I've been wearing makeup since I was 12. It started off with just a touch of mascara - very subtle, as technically we weren't allowed to wear makeup at school. Then, after a few years, I changed schools, and, being well into my teens, my makeup turned heavy – lots of eyeliner, clumpy mascara and the most terrible palette of eyeshadow. This lasted right throughout my university days, unfortunately. I shudder when I look back at pictures. My twenties have been the decade of finding myself and I do think this is reflected in the makeup I wear.

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After over eight years of working in the magazine industry in London I have honed my makeup application into a very set routine – apply slightly too much bronzer, a bit of blusher, under eye concealer (which I inevitably use to hide spots, too), a bit of brow pencil, smoothed with a brow brush, a cat flick of brown eyeliner on the top eyelids followed by mascara, with lots of focus on the corners. And that's me. Literally, this is, for the most part, what my face has looked like for almost a decade.

Not wearing makeup – not having the choice to wear makeup – made me feel like I had lost my face. They don't call it "putting your face on" for no reason. Sure, there had been many days that I'd gone into work without makeup, maybe even for the whole day, but I would always put it on at some point, especially before going out. You just don't feel 'ready' otherwise. Well, I don't.

My first day of no makeup involved meeting some of my boyfriend's friends for the first time. Not ideal. You want to look your best for occasions such as these. He told them about my year of 30-day challenges and when confronted with the question "Oh, and what's this month?", and my reply being "no makeup", instantly all eyes are on my face and I feel very, very self-conscious. I was asked this question every day for 30 days and it got worse every single time.

I could feel my confidence decrease on a daily basis and my mood drop lower and lower. It was like, by removing my makeup, I had wiped my confidence away as well, and each day I washed more and more of it away. I got stressed by it and got spots I couldn't conceal. I was sad and my eyes looked tired. It's winter so my face is pale and grey (why didn't I do this challenge in August when I was tanned from Mexico?!). I even went to have a skincare lesson at Bobbi Brown to make me feel better and had an allergic reaction to lavender in the tonic and my face went beetroot red all over. Classic. Who knew it was possible to have an aversion to lavender?! (Otherwise a very enjoyable lesson, however.)

I didn't even wear nail polish (as apparently some construe this as makeup). I was totally bare with nothing to hide behind – all security blankets and niceties removed. I looked back at my diary to see what I did during my makeup-free month and I can see why it felt as long as it did:

Two big events including ELLE's party for Alexa Chung

A party with friends and family in Scotland

Several nights of drinks and dinners out

Two weekends in Belfast with my boyfriend's family and friends

21 days in the office

Let's just say I became good friends with the black and white filter on Instagram.

(And luckily I had friends to make my hair look pretty instead - thanks, Gillian Brett!)

It wasn't a wholly negative experience, to be fair. I did appreciate the extra moments in bed and how quickly I could get myself out the door in the mornings. It was even liberating to rub my eyes whenever I pleased without fear of panda face (we've all been there). I also felt like my eyelashes got longer after a month of not applying and removing mascara. Ultimately, the challenge made me learn a lot about myself. No one notices nor cares whether you're wearing makeup or not, but it's about how it makes you feel. I wasn't the best version of myself without it and that made me sad. I don't need to wear it all the time, but I know the difference a red lip can make when you're feeling a bit blue. Makeup is like a mask that makes your insecurities invisible – take it off and you feel exposed. It's a joy to be reunited with my makeup bag - I've missed you, face.

Next 30-day challenge: Keep a laughter journal

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