Published in The Toronto Star, July, 2009.
Photo by Vivian Song
The camera may not lie, but it need not be so unforgiving.
News anchors, TV personalities and random moms in home movies everywhere have been cursing the ingenuity that brought us high-definition images, for its uncharitable way of magnifying every flaw, fine line and blemish on flat-screen TVs.
Heavy-handed makeup and brushstrokes are also amplified, challenging makeup artists to create flawless complexions and provide a natural look under the scrutiny of an HD lens, which magnifies up to six times more than a regular camcorder – a feat that sometimes requires a cosmetic sleight of hand.
"In TV, the makeup in the studio was a lot heavier," said Vicki Syskakis, an instructor with Wink Makeup Studio and Academy. "When HD came around, techniques had to change and become cleaner."
Enter the latest trend in cosmetics: high-def makeup.
Beauty lines have been tripping over themselves launching products designed to recreate "picture perfect" complexions on and off the screen.
Terms like micronized, which means finely milled, and photochromatic pigments, which adjust to lighting conditions, promise to prepare women for their everyday close-ups.
"What makes it great for HD makes it perfect for real life," said Jaye Campbell, marketing director for Cargo Cosmetics. "Face-to-face contact is high definition in the greatest sense of the word."
Their newest Blu-ray makeup line, coined to capitalize on techno-jargon, was created in response to artists working in the film industry, Campbell said.
"The feedback we were getting was that HD cameras were picking up everything, every shimmer, every brushstroke. They needed something that would perform, but also looked natural."
HDTV has 1080 horizontal lines of resolution compared to 525 lines on old analog sets. Like a digital camera, more pixels bring sharper images. The latest HDTVs boast about 2 million pixels, while analog TV had half a million. That means more opportunity for enlarged pores to share the spotlight.
"Micronized light diffusers" and superfine particles promise to fill lines and camouflage blemishes in Cargo's pressed powder.
Similarly, Smashbox Cosmetics has a High Definition Healthy Fx Foundation SPF 15 which they say provides a photo finish, and Make Up For Ever's HD Invisible Cover Foundation will create a "soft-focus effect" to meet coverage concerns in bright or harsh lighting.
At cosmetic behemoth Sephora, the Make Up For Ever line is doing "phenomenally well," said Sephora's beauty team expert, Adi Lando, who praises its ability to diffuse light in different conditions: daylight and candlelight.
But many pros in the biz aren't convinced.
"I'm a skeptic," said Colette Cormier, a freelance makeup artist.
"I recognize a snow job when I see it and cosmetic companies are the best at pulling the wool over our eyes."
Make Up For Ever's HD line has an excessive pinkish hue and globs on too thick, Cormier said, while the SPF in Smashbox will bounce light back and produce a white, shiny, ashen face in photos.
For Sharon Danley, who works with CBC personalities like Mary Walsh and Wendy Mesley, HD stands for "Hair Disaster" as its sharp, rich picture quality will pick up stray hairs and downy, peach fuzz on faces.
She also called the new lines marketing hype, saying she uses her regular products for high-def filming.
"It's not the products, it's how it's applied," she said.
Use a foundation makeup brush for a smooth finish, Danley advises. Start at the centre of the face and blend out, concentrating on the areas that need the most coverage, under the eyes and around the nose.
Danley's a fan of MAC's Studio Fix finishing powder and Revlon's ColourStay with Softlex line.
Freelance artist Whitney Sellors also likes the Quo line available at Shoppers Drug Mart, and Chanel's Lumière collection for its light reflective qualities.
She also suggests using a powder puff in the T-zone to press pigment into the skin for less touch-ups.
"You don't have to invest in high-definition makeup to get a flawless complexion," Sellors said.
And don't forget that the magic of television takes a small army to produce, she added.
"My philosophy is there's no point in comparing yourself to celebrities. They have a team of people who've worked on them for hours to achieve that healthy glow."
Experts agree, however, that the first line of defence begins with good skin care.
"Eat foods that are high in water content, keep yourself and your skin hydrated, moisturize, use sunscreen and exfoliate," Danley said.
"Then you won't need a lot of product."
Cosmetics and the HDTV factor
Some celebrities are not coping well with the minute detail digital images provide, says makeup artist Sharon Danley, who offers her picks for TV's best and worst cover jobs.
Celebrities who are always ready for their prime time close-up:
Host, Entertainment Tonight Canada
Canada's Mary Hart always looks flawless and polished.
"Her makeup looks great, fashion-forward and edgy."
The Ellen DeGeneres Show
The sneaker-wearing comedian turned talk show host takes on a minimalist, approachable image on screen.
"Ellen looks fresh and natural, not over the top."
Winslet's a more controversial pick, as this English rose has been criticized for her feathery fine lines and crow's feet. But Danley says we need to get over it and stop vilifying the natural aging process.
"She has wrinkles, so what? From my perspective, she looks fresh."
Scarlett's luminescence – be it her skin or her hair – translates well on the HD screen. "Scarlett has the ability to take on different looks."
Anderson Cooper 360
This dashing, salt-and-pepper-haired anchor looks just as good at a CNN desk as he does traipsing through rainforests in South America.
"He always looks well-groomed and natural."
Celebrities whose flaws and makeup blunders are often caught on flat-screen TVs:
The Oprah Winfrey Show
The talk-show queen has always been frank about the number of hours and the manpower it takes to get her ready for her show. But someone should tell her it's about quality, not quantity.
"Oprah sometimes looks like her makeup has been applied with a trowel."
Her makeup artist is too heavy-handed when it comes to the lip gloss. Looks like she just tucked into a rotisserie pig with a side of bacon before going on air.
"You see the lips before you see the eyes. Too much gloss. Use a balm instead of lip gloss."
Liotta's teenage acne scars can sometimes be a distraction from his piercing blue eyes.
"He has a pockmarked, shiny face. A good artist will cover the pockmarks in a way that doesn't draw attention to them."
Curiously, Simpson's fall from grace has been inversely proportionate to her makeup application – the more baseball games she plays, the more drag she gets.
"Step away from the drag-queen lashes, ladies. She needs to get more natural."
That devilish grin can sometimes turn a former swashbuckling, cocksure personality into a dour, tired old man when he isn't well groomed.
"He needs to stand closer to the razor and get a weed whacker for the eyebrows."