Cap off (get it?) a wild senior year with some killer graduation pics, courtesy of these pro beauty tips that will help you look your best, no matter how Day-Glo your polyester gown or how hair-squashing your hat

By Nikki Brown
June 01, 2021 03:20 PM
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Cue the confetti, pipe in "Pomp and Circumstance:" graduation season is upon us. For those who powered through virtual learning this year and completed their degrees, it's time to celebrate—before plotting your next move, of course. Chances are your commencement ceremony is online but that doesn't mean you can't treat it like an IRL affair. Celebrations are the best time to put on a party dress and throw some glitz on your natural glow.

Whether you're tuning into Zoom or gathering with your closest (vaccinated) confidantes, you can put your best face forward with easy effort—graduation cap optional.

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Begin and End With a Clean Canvas

Before you paint on a camera-ready beat, start with a clean, moisturized face and sun protection, especially if you're planning to be outdoors. (Drinking water, eating a balanced diet, and plenty of sleep will boost your efforts as well.)

"With the rise in Tik Tok, and surge in ingredient talk, most people have an idea of what they want to be in their skincare regimen," says Purvisha Patel, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare. "MD products and clinically-tested products with data and pictures are faring well, as they have the data to prove the products work."

Before piling on product, wash with an exfoliating cleanser and apply your skincare products from thinnest to thickest for maximum absorption. Eye cream, like the Advanced Bright Eye Booster, will be especially helpful since it can also act as an eye makeup primer. Your sunscreen, however, should always go on last, and be at least SPF 30.

"Wear sunscreen with a physical block—they usually contain natural minerals as the photoprotective ingredient, such as zinc or titanium," adds Patel. "UV radiation is bounced off the skin, versus a chemical block, where the UV radiation is absorbed into the cream." She also prefers stick sunscreens, which make it easier to target areas that are burned easily, such as the nose and top of ears.

By the way, if you've fallen victim to maskne, you're not alone. Though COVID guidelines are easing up, masking in crowds is still encouraged, which means the area under your mask will be prone to discomfort as the weather heats up. To combat increased sebum production (due to sweat and stress) and inflammation, keep washing your hands and use any facial medications/treatments at night when they can spend the longest amount of time on the skin uninterrupted.

If your graduation soirée is in-person and you're donning a mask, Patel recommends freshening your under-mask skin mid-day with a face mist or toner that contains moisturizing and antibacterial ingredients, like her Cheek2Feet Spray.

"Increasing mouth hygiene also helps those who are mouth breathers," she adds. "Swishing with Listerine mouthwash in the AM before putting on a face mask can help change the microbiome under the facemask."

And don't forget to give your face just as much TLC when the day is through. Double-cleansing is especially encouraged for those wearing makeup. An oil- or cream-based remover, like the tried-and-true Pond's Cold Cream, followed by a mild face wash, will get the job done.

RELATED: Celebrity Kids Graduating High School and College!

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Amplify Your Natural Glow

Depending on your lifestyle and location, you may also opt for self-tanner. It's the efficient way to a sun-kissed glow, but only if you do it correctly. Sadly, improper preparation is one of the bigger mistakes made by self-tanner novices, which often results in orange hands and feet (the ultimate giveaway).

"Moisturize these areas with a little more product before and after tanning to really dilute the tan and help get into those wrinkles," says Jordan Cook, Tanning Expert and Brand Ambassador for St. Moriz. "I also wipe the palms of my hands on a baby wipe and then a dry towel to really reduce any chances of having orange palms." Also, don't forget the back of your neck and ears, especially if you plan to wear your hair up. If you can reach it, tan it. And always apply your self-tanner with a tanning mitt to avoid streaks.

Those with fair skin should start with gradual application, building up to a tan that suits their tone best. A mix-in serum, like the Tan Boosting Facial Serum is perfect for this, as you can simply add a few drops to your daily moisturizer and adjust.

If you have darker skin, skip the serum for a mousse, like the Professional Dark Mousse, which will adapt to the natural depth of color in your skin. In both cases, Cook recommends exfoliating the skin 2-3 days before application to promote a more even skin tone and moisturizing plenty after to keep it looking natural. You'll also want to adjust your foundation shade and if you want your glow to really glow, compliment it with bronzer and highlighter.

Choose Your Glam

'Tis the season for tinted moisturizers and BB cream, but ultimately, skin coverage depends on your individual skin type and preferences. Celebrity makeup artist Robert Sesnek is in favor of "using as little foundation in the summer or humid months as possible."

For those who prefer or need more coverage, he suggests spot-treating areas (rather than applying your usual full face), "as this will give you the coverage you crave without melting or breaking down due to heat and humidity." If you have a flair for the dramatic, keep your coverage light but go stronger with blush, bronzer or contour.

"Sometimes I'll hydrate and prep the skin and blot down the moisturizer with a tissue for a very sheer veil of hydration," he adds. "All skin types need moisture, but using the correct one is essential to long wearing foundation and makeup."

Extra SPF is also a great idea, especially if you're celebrating outdoors. He recommends using a higher SPF under your makeup, then layering on a foundation with lower SPF on top.

(Wondering why you can't just opt for a high-SPF beauty product? "Most foundations on the market don't usually go past 30 SPF," he explains. "The reason is because of the zinc oxide or other ingredients which can cast a white to violet hue/tone to the skin after applying because of the protective ingredients.")

For eye makeup, taupe and most shades of brown look good on anyone, since these shades are found in everyone's skin undertones. It's also a neutral tone unlikely to clash with a graduation cap, no matter the color. If you want to bring out your eyes with liners and shadows, go with tones that are the opposite of your eye color on the color wheel.

For example, if you have brown eyes like beauty chameleon Doja Cat, a navy blue or eggplant colorblock will pop on your lids.

Blended out burgundy and violet are standout shades for those with green eyes, like Pretty Little Liars alum Lucy Hale.

If you've got piercing baby blues like Paris Jackson, smoldering bronze and orange shadows are bound to turn heads.

If you want to catch even more eyes virtually and otherwise, winged liner is always in style. Sesnek says individual lashes or a strip lash, along with defined brows, "can also add drama and will hold up in warmer climates or humidity."

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Beat the Heat

If your ceremony is being held outside, you know your beauty look is going to need to withstand any possible elements.

"Powder eyeshadow lasts the longest as opposed to cream. However, you can layer both products for a long-lasting effect, using a cream eyeshadow as a base and lightly add powder over it, to make it weather- and time-proof," Sesnek suggests. "I always recommend using a waterproof or water-resistant mascara in the summer months. I like to layer several layers and brush a mascara separator for a more diffused and separated look."

Whether you go neutral or bold with your lip color, application is key. "I like to fill in the mouth entirely with a lip pencil and blot and reapply, then add either lipstick or gloss to finish the look," says Sesnek. If your graduation party or ceremony is indoors, a lightweight and hydrating lip balm, like Catrice's Powerful 5 Liquid Lip Balm, will fare best under a mask.

Finally, don't let your beat go to waste—seal it in with a setting spray or powder. Use a matte spray if your skin is on the oily side and a hydrating one if you're dry. Catrice's Prime and Fine Anti-Shine Fixing Spray is Sesnek's go-to spray from May to October because it holds makeup for hours.

"I like to extend my arm 6-8 inches from the face and spray in an X. This usually hits all sides of the face," the makeup artist says. "I like to use a hydrating spray prior to skin prep and moisturizer and the appropriate setting spray after makeup is complete."

If you prefer setting powder, Laura Mercier's Translucent Powder is another staple in his kit. He prefers to "lightly set the center of the face and leave the perimeter alone" so the "face has dimension and doesn't appear too matte." He's also a fan of blotting excess oil with a tissue to prevent powder buildup throughout the day.

Makeup application tools are a preference, too. Sesnek uses a combination of brushes, sponges and his fingers, as the combo helps makeup blend more seamlessly. "With eye makeup," he says,  "I tend to always use brushes as I find you can really blend the shadow, texture and definition much better then fingers."

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Hair She Goes

Graduation season usually coincides with summer, when humidity, or moisture in the air, causes our hair follicles to swell. Everyone's haircare routine is specific to their texture and style but celebrity hairstylist Ryan Richman suggests anti-humidity products for all.

"Your first defense against humidity should be in your style prep," he says. If you're starting your graduation look with towel-dried hair, apply a multitasking pre-styler, like the Monat Studio One Frizz-Fix Smoothing Hair Primer, for long-lasting definition, shine, and frizz control. Finish with a heat- and wind-proof spray, like the Monat Studio One Strong Flexi-Hold Hairspray, to protect your do in the elements.

For those with natural hair, Taliah Waajid recommends treating your strands to a moisturizing mask beforehand and avoiding heat tools if you can.

"Because summer is a time for more activities and outdoors, I love the idea of wash-and-go hair styles, updos and short cuts/styles to help stay cooler," she says. "These styles also help with not having to constantly do hair checks. The humidity can actually add volume to short styles and enhance the look of some updos."

Grad Beauty gallery

Nutrient-rich gels, like the Taliah Waajid Curl Elixir or Curl Definer, both help eliminate frizz and define natural curls. If you want to straighten your down-do, protect your hair with an oil, like the Aloe Apple Seed Oil, to prevent drying out your strands.

Richman recommends a sleek low ponytail—think H.E.R. at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards or Andra Day at the Critics Choice Awards—for those who want something slightly elevated for graduation day. Use a rat tail comb to create a center or side part and smooth just the roots with a flat iron. Next, spray the roots with a finishing product, like the Monat Studio One Glossy Shine Mist, and brush the hair back into a ponytail, secured with an elastic.

"Flat iron the ponytail for a sleek shiny finish or add a bit of texture with a curling iron.  To make your style a bit more fun and edgy leave a small section or two of hair out on the front hair line, beginning at the part to frame the face," adds Richman.

Alternatively, if you want to amp up free-flowing hair, turn it into a half-up look.

"Take two large sections of hair from the front and pin them back with a cool hair accessory.  Or for a more ethereal look, create two symmetrical braids on each side of your part, starting at the front hair line, and pin them back for an effortless textured style. Use your finger tips to pull the braid apart before your spray to create a soft windswept texture."

If you plan to pose in a graduation cap, it should be worn flat on top of your head, not leaning back or to the side where it's likely to fall off. Though criss-crossed bobby pins on each side of the cap can secure it in place, they can also be tricky to remove. Instead, Richman says the best method for stability and easy removal is to sew, tape, or glue a Scunci No-Slip Grip Skinny Plastic Headband on the inside of your cap.  

"The pressure of the headband and the little teeth on the underside will keep your cap on all day," he says.

And just like that, you're ready to celebrate (and take unlimited selfies) in style.