Ashley Rosales wasn’t a natural-born makeup artist.
“I was about 15 when my parents let me start wearing makeup. I wasn’t great at it,” the beauty blogger says in the current issue of PEOPLE.
But by age 18, the Cincinnati native had fallen in love with the art of cosmetics, though she chose a different route after high school.
“My dad was in the Marines before I was born, and he always talked about it,” says Rosales, now 30. “He was so honored that he served. I wanted to make him proud.”
For 2 1/2 years she was stationed at Fort Riley in Kansas working as a military mechanic.
“I was getting dirty and turning wrenches, which was really different for me,” she says. “People were, like, ‘Really? You’re so girlie!’ But it was rewarding.”
Still, being a soldier wasn’t her first love—so when she suffered a foot injury during training and was medically discharged, she turned to beauty as a second career.
“I was pretty upset. I could barely walk,” she says. “But I didn’t want to waste time being sad. I wanted to inspire people to express themselves through makeup.”
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Encouraged by her husband, Ivan, a sergeant she met at Fort Riley in 2012 and wed six months later, Rosales started watching makeup tutorials online to perfect her craft.
Less than five months after posting her first tutorial in 2016, Rosales—whose Instagram account @mua_ashley_ now has more than half a million followers—was being approached to promote products like Kylie Jenner’s lip kits and collaborate with brands like Smolder Cosmetics.
“It didn’t happen overnight,” says Rosales. “But I just kept posting and getting comments like, ‘You inspire me so much. If you can do it, I can do it.’ ”
Now based out of El Paso while Ivan, 26, is stationed at Fort Bliss, Rosales has dreams of moving to Los Angeles to pursue her career.
But for now she’s content sharing her art online.
“I want to help people look good,” says Rosales, who is known for the skin tag on her upper lip. “But I also want to show them that everyone is beautiful — flaws and all.”