The genius backstage make-up tricks you need to do IRL

MAC’s director of make-up artistry, Terry Barber, shares his best backstage tips – and they’re so clever, we’ll be copying them all the time!
Getty: David M. Benett / Contributor

Legendary make-up artist Terry Barber has created looks for the biggest fashion shows, made up the faces of A-list celebs and worked on some of the most iconic photo shoots of all time. We sat down with him to tease out his backstage tricks so us regular folk can use them, too!

1. Cheat the perfect eyeliner flick

‘There isn’t enough time backstage to create the perfect flick so, instead, I apply liner in roughly the right position. Then I soak a cotton bud in eye make-up remover and use it to wipe away enough of the product to reveal the perfect shape. It’s a game-changer – and how I think all women should apply eyeliner!’

2. Use oil for highlighter

‘No look seems to be complete now without the obligatory highlighter. However, I find most people actually want a sheen that looks as though it’s been achieved with moisturiser, rather than a metallic or frosted effect. When I’m backstage, I create a natural highlight by applying a few drops of face oil to cheeks and tapping it into skin, which leaves a perfect shine. Or I turn to MAC Strobe Cream, which was formulated for this very purpose. At the end of the 90s and start of the 00s, I worked on the McQueen shows and I wanted to create glistening skin that looked a bit like fabric. But as there wasn’t one product that could do that at the time, I had to mix lots of things together – which is how we came up with the MAC Strobe Cream. Add a drop to your foundation, to dilute your base, for skin with an amazing outdoorsy gleam.’

3. Brush your brows the 'wrong' way

‘Brows should look like what I call a “runway brow”. This is where a model’s brow looks full and natural, with the hairs slightly brushed up, rather than block shapes that look like a drawing of what brows should be. Backstage, I brush brows the “wrong” way and apply brow powder to the exposed skin underneath. Then I brush them back the other way, which creates a really strong finish that’s not too sharp or unnatural looking.’

4. Forget about perfect lipstick

‘I know there’s a trend for pinpoint-perfect lipstick, but I’ve always preferred a more buffed and blotted look. It’s much more wearable for real life and means the lip colour becomes part of you, rather than something that’s sitting on your face. When I’m backstage, I apply the lipstick, blot it off, then maybe add a bit more to the centre. I use a cotton bud to buff round the edges, so it doesn’t look too perfect. I was looking for one product that could do all of this – and now MAC has invented it, with Powder Kiss Lipstick. It leaves slightly soft focus edges so you can’t entirely see where your products starts or finishes.’

5. Don't wear foundation all over

‘A flawless face isn’t about all-over flawless coverage, because that’s not what real skin looks like. At shows, I apply foundation all over and then take off just enough to stop blanket coverage. I focus on removing it from across the bridge of the nose (which is where you usually get product build-up), the centre of the cheeks, around the hairline and the centre of the forehead. This allows a flash of skin to show through, which always looks more natural. Even with glam, full-on make-up, take off some of your foundation using your brush or – my preference – fingers, and it will look even better.’

6. Use every part of your mascara

‘We all know how to use a mascara wand to coat lashes, but did you know that you can use the tip of the wand to customise how you wear it? Just add a few clumps or stick some lashes together. A few little squashes of the tip on your lashes can take you to Kate Moss territory, which is always a good place to go!’

7. 'Set' every step of your make-up

‘While the fashion in makes-up has been for overdone, Instagram-perfect skin, I think we’re starting to see a shift towards more realistic looks. And this is the type of skin I’m always creating backstage for catwalk shows. It involves lightly layering products on top of each other, so the end result looks effortless and transparent. My secret? MAC Mini Fix+ Original, one of the initial fixing sprays. There’s an updated version now, MAC Prep+ Prime Fix+ Magic Radiance, which contains hyaluronic acid and essential oils to help skin look even more amazing. But don’t think these are only for when you’ve finished your make-up – I use it between every step of the routine. So smooth on moisturiser, spritz, apply your base, spritz again, add concealer, another spritz – you get the idea. It’s the ultimate skin beautifier. When you’re happy with how you look, add one final spritz to ‘bring the face back’. This is make-up artist talk for when your skin and make-up have fused together so perfectly, it doesn’t look like you’re wearing anything at all.’