As PEOPLE’s Beauty Editor, I spend most days hunting, gathering and carving up celebrity beauty scoop into digestible soundbites. But last May, a celeb revelation stopped me dead in my tracks. I was just about ready to roll up my sleeves and draw inspiration from my orange-tinted forearms for a story on the pros and cons of bronzing … when Alicia Keys announced she was breaking up with makeup.
In a Lenny newsletter last May, Keys recounted how insecure she once felt at the very thought of being spotted outside without makeup on, and revealed that she’d now made a commitment to herself to be confident in the skin she was given. Something about the musician’s story struck a chord in me.
I began to sift through some of my own feelings about foundation and the like. Just a few days earlier I’d spent Memorial Day weekend spring cleaning, which came with the daunting task of downsizing the number of products on my vanity. Among the casualties in my overfull garbage bag: dozens of once-or-twice-swiped eye shadow palettes, dry-ass mascaras, and borderline-moldy concealer. As I dealt with the guilt of tossing this beautiful but barely-used makeup (which someone else might have treasured), I had a realization: I love playing with makeup — but I hate putting it on my face.
RELATED PHOTOS: Barefaced and Beautiful: Celebs’ Best Makeup-Free Selfies
Then came the flashbacks: first to my junior prom photo at which I looked like I’d aged a decade thanks to my smoky eyes and a brownish-berry lipstick. (Hey, it was the ’90s, at least I was on-trend?). Then to the countless times since that night that I’ve felt like Marie Antoinette because of the multiple layers of base I applied to cover up imperfections (at one point my skin was so uncooperative that I took Accutane), and air-kissed friends out of fear my foundation would smear all over their clothes. I’d hated every single one of those moments because I didn’t feel like myself.
I also recalled every single time someone saw me with makeup on and exclaimed, “You look so pretty!” Immediately my mind would race in a million different directions, but always at the finish line was this feeling that maybe I wasn’t as pretty without makeup on.
But unlike Keys, a public figure who’s had plenty of fun on the red carpet with cosmetics – and since faced some absurd backlash for going makeup-free, I did step outside sans concealer almost daily. (It probably helps that the fact that the paparazzi weren’t perched at my doorstep. =)
But it’s one thing to declare yourself a celebrity who’s going to go without makeup, and it’s quite another to actually deliver on that promise. Keys did just that when she hit the BET Awards bare-faced. And the mic-drop moment was followed by another in August when the musician went makeup-free at the MTV Video Music Awards. “It’s really freeing,” she said on the Today show. Mesmerized by this movement, I tracked down the makeup artist responsible for her red carpet glow.
“I am very, very much behind women stripping back and, embracing their beauty and wearing their skin front and center,” Dotti, Key’s longtime pro, told me. “Don’t get me wrong: I am a makeup artist so I can do from the lightest to the heaviest look. But it’s my belief that we don’t need to paint ourselves to make ourselves beautiful.”
Explaining that Keys’ lifestyle has a lot to do with her beautiful skin, Dotti, who is truly about as talented as it gets, also shared a few to secrets of Keys’ red carpet radiance.
“Her healthy glow is very much a reflection of how she looks after herself [through] healthy eating, exercise, facials, [and more]. And basically all I do is bring the beauty she delivers to me and look after it to make sure the skin is in great condition.”
So I began tracking down some of Dotti’s favorite complexion perfectors. I was fully aware of the fact that my eating and exercise regimens needed to be, well, more regimented, and that my facial schedule was, shall we say, not quite as consistent as Keys’, but I still figured the routine was worth a shot.
After collecting all of the products she recommended, I got down to work. Step one: a jade roller — which is kind of like a fancy paint roller, but for your face — which Dotti lets sit in ice before rolling over Keys’ skin to “bring [it] back to life.” I could hardly wait for the office ice machine to spit out a few cubes before I was moving my roller methodically back and forth across my one (and only!) forehead wrinkle in hopes it’d act as a steamroller and smooth that area of concern.
Once my face was as cool as a cucumber (which by the way is another “product” Dotti uses on Keys’ skin) it was my time to shine — with the help of a little oil. The pro, a self-proclaimed “oil freak,” loves MV Skincare pure jojoba because it’s light but nourishing. And I couldn’t agree more. After massaging just two drops onto my face (damp, which helps the oil absorb rather than sit on the skin) and I already felt like I had the gleam of a girl on fire.
Of course no glow is complete without a little help of a little self-tanner. One of Dotti’s favorite vacations in a bottle is Vita Liberata Self Tanning Anti Age Serum, which I’ll admit I slathered on without caution. A self-tan connoisseur, I didn’t love the serum’s sent, but I’d tolerate it for the fresh-off-the-beach radiance it imparted.
Next, a little lip service. “Alicia has the most incredible lips, so I just use a really great treatment on them,” revealed Dotti. (“I have great lips, too. We got way too much in common,” I thought.) This step was almost as fun as the steam – I mean jade – roller. I could have scrubbed and masqued my lips for hours. And the balm was so buttery I wanted to eat it – and likely could have given that it’s natural and organic.
After about 10 minutes, (five of which I spent on my mouth) I was already at my last step: freckle enhancement. The genius pro revealed she uses the Anastasia Beverly Hills brow pen to beef up beauty marks, a concept so exciting to me that I went a little overboard and emerged looking like a Dalmatian.
Keys and her pro Dotti have left an indelible mark on me, and not just via the beauty mark situation. Reading her inspiring words these last few months has all but shut out any feelings of self-doubt. And thanks to her “makeup” guru, I feel like I am putting my best face forward every day.