Why looking natural - rather than tweaked - is back in fashion

A new tribe of celebrities is a sane reminder that stretched-but-puffy is as weird looking as we thought when we first began to see it

Lauren Hutton Christy Turlington Alicia Keys
Ageless beauty: Lauren Hutton, 77; Alicia Keys, 40, Christy Turlington, 52 Credit: Getty Images

Last week Drew Barrymore announced her new job on social media. She’s the Creative Director no less, (or Queen Bee as she prefers to call it) of Garnier USA. Barrymore accompanied the news with a genuine selfie. Not one of those selfies that’s the product of Alexi Lubomirski, Meghan and Harry’s engagement picture snapper, and a flotilla of hair and make-up artists. You can tell from the angle of Barrymore’s right arm.

The other striking aspect of her portrait is how beautifully normal – and normally beautiful – Barrymore looks. Hair brushed, yes. Airbrushed – not so much. She may or may not be wearing make-up – it’s hard to tell and irrelevant, since she’s not making any claims to be a lipstick refusenik.

Given that her line of shampoos is sulphate free and falls under the vaguely holistic sounding Whole Blends category however, her laid back approach to beauty feels like the right kind of synergy. It’s also hugely reassuring to those of us who’ve spent too long scrolling through Netflix and were starting to feel like wizened freaks compared with the preternaturally plumped cheek, glass-skinned super-breed out there.

Drew Barrymore, 45  Credit: Instagram: @drewbarrymore

You can’t blame us. Next time you have a spare hour or three try to find 10 Hollywood stars over 40 who don’t have varying degrees of pillow lips, hamster cheeks and ice rink forehead. It’s not easy, which is odd when you consider how negative much of the conversation recently surrounding actresses and models deemed to have gone over the top with filler and surgery has been. And how much everyone loves Christy Turlington, Sigourney Weaver, Diane Keaton and Cécile de France for showing an alternative route. Who knows whether they’ve done anything or not. Collectively they’re a sane reminder that stretched-but-puffy really is as weird looking as we thought when we first began to see it.

Call me a cockeyed optimist but I think times may be a-changing. The Kardashian aesthetic may seem commonplace right now, but the number one rule of fashion is that ubiquity eventually leads to rejection. How much cooler does Alicia Keys – who famously forswore make up, even on stage, five years ago after confessing she became addicted to it – look than those who’ve had every quirk in their facial features erased – apart from the phobia of ageing that radiates from their eyes? 

Dr Sophie Shotter, founder of the Illuminate Skin Clinics, agrees. “Through lockdown, there’s been a big focus on eyes and wanting to look youthful, well-rested and fresh. People are requesting real measurable results but at the same time there’s a definite move away from pillow face – my patients are all wanting to look very natural, almost being over cautious in their endeavour to achieve it.”

Olivia Colman, 47; Cécile de France, 45   Credit: Getty Images / Rex Features

One corollary of the MeToo movement is increasing sightings of older women on our screens who haven’t had lashings of obvious work done to their faces or vast globs of Vaseline smeared on the lenses of every camera on set. After all, if you want an Oscar, go natural – just ask Olivia Colman, Frances McDormand or Meryl Streep. Hollywood reveres Natural. It goes into actual submissive mode when it sees it. It’s just not quite ready to do it en masse.

Some of this is cultural. Americans have always had a weakness for a uniform standard of beauty. The British on the other hand, have always quite liked kitchen-sink reality. The French play their cards much closer to their chests. It’s hard to say what the heck they have done, because as with their clothes, cars and infidelities, they like their cosmetic intervention to be discreet.

The good news is that there’s more and more of the discreet work on offer. In March, Dr Shotter launches a treatment called Profound in the UK. It consists of ultra-powerful radiofrequency that’s precision delivered below the dermis at much higher temperatures than existing radio frequency delivery methods such as Thermage. Studies suggest one session is equivalent to a third of a facelift and after two years, the benefits are still evident. “Downtime” is five-seven days. Bring it on.

In the meantime, in lieu of Botox, sales of at home devices, from collagen-boosting light masks and lasers and muscle twitching electrical currents, have soared over the past 10 months, prompting John Lewis – bastion of Middle England values – to dedicate a section to them.

There was a lot of talk about everyone being horrified by their Zoom appearance and rushing to get injections after the first lockdown. But if anything, Zoom proved what you can do with one of those ring lights (and camera angles). It also demonstrated what does and doesn’t make a difference. Eyebrows, sag and skin luminosity are all noticeable. Wrinkles, less so.

The biggest cheat, it turns out, are statement spectacles – masks the bags, accentuates the cheekbones, etc. As for make-up – yes to mascara, blush and lipstick, but you can wing it without foundation. Thanks to social distancing, Michelle Pfeiffer – another older actress still getting good roles (she’s just been nominated for a Golden Globe) – applied her own make up for an appearance last week on Good Morning America (she highly recommends Gucci Westman’s “clean” blush stick). Revolutionary times.

Lisa Armstrong's column appears each Saturday in The Saturday Telegraph and is published online every Saturday at 6am on Telegraph Fashion.