The Older Shaadi Guest by Meena Khan

Wedding season is upon us and along with the festivities and glamourous outfits, for many, the season brings the anxiety of being judged for being an older Canadesi woman who has earned several  university degrees yet remains unmarried.  Personally, I have no problem with being single because I like making decisions that revolve around me.  However for qualified, kind women who yearn for companionship, these events can be nightmares, in large part because there are some aunties who walk around with a smug sense of self-righteousness and make obnoxious comments that cut the heart.

These obnoxious aunties raise my ire and trust me, I have slayed a few in my day.

I encountered such a creature at a wedding when I was 19 and in front of everyone she said, “Soon it will be your turn… are you looking?”  I was aghast at her sheer nerve, mentally noting that her son was short and erred on the side of not so hot, and I looked at her dead in the eye and answered, “Don’t worry about me aunty.  I had my palms read in India and the reader said that I am supposed to have three marriages.  So please don’t worry about me, I will have plenty of husbands.”

The aunty’s eyes widened and she quickly changed the subject.  I cannot help but observe at how the fates turned on her, as all of her children married, moved away and now she is alone taking care of the whole house and her ill spouse.  I take no joy in her hardship but I am happy to be at home (except when my mom is crabby) because whenever either of my parents has been ill, I have been by their side in a heartbeat – and I live for myself!

Unfortunately, too many Canadesi women have been trained since childhood to blunt their rapier wit and melt their iron tongues in favour of being deferential to obnoxious aunties.  I am certain that as I type these words, that there is a Canadesi woman somewhere in the Great White North being dismissed for being strong, independent and educated because she is not married.  As if  a signed marriage contract has any bearing on the wonderful person you already are inside!

This blog is about how to create a positive mindset and a fresh look that enhances the soul  so that when you attend a desi wedding, you will not dread obnoxious aunties because you will have too much fun being your best self and looking fresh!

Starting Point – One Month before W-Day

The other day I learned the expression, “Asian don’t raisin,” and I agree, extra melanin staves off the wrinkles.  Regardless, as the skin gets older, it needs a bit of nudging to glow and look taut, as skin cells turn over slower creating  an ashen look.

I had heard of chemical exfoliators which use fruit acids to dissolve dead skin cells.  As someone whose skin looks for an excuse to become discoloured I was distinctly uninterested  by this category of beauty product.

However when Fresh introduced Vitamin Nectar Vibrancy-Boosting Face Mask which is composed of clementines, oranges and lemons, I was intrigued.

Fresh Masque

It smells like my mom’s fruit chaat which is a gorgeous mix of summer’s bounty with a dash of kala namak.  The masque claims to “gently refine the appearance of the skin to soften, smooth and improve clarity.”  Having enjoyed great success with other Fresh products, which are always gentle, I decided to give this masque a chance.

The moment you open it, you will dream of the orange groves of Valencía; the texture is like a freshly-made jam that you find in the English countryside; and it spreads smoothly like cream cheese on a warm Montreal bagel.  The sensorial experience was captivating and I decided that my neck also needed treatment as this is where the skin starts to sag.  Initially, it felt a bit a cold, and then after 15 minutes it dried to a sheer layer of yellow cellophane.  I washed it off with warm water and was impressed by how soft my skin felt.  I opted to apply this masque thrice a week for four weeks and I am thrilled to report that my dark zit scars and  the discolouration around my mouth have faded; and my face and neck are taut.

The lips are incredibly sensual, unless they are caked in dead flakes.  I have tried granular exfoliators and if I happen to rub too hard my lips turn red.  I was interested in the Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment Wand.

Fresh Wand.jpg

It comes with a  built-in wand with a  nubby end that you massage into the lips.  The nubs gently remove dead skin while massaging-in mango butter and sugar.  My lips look plump after each morning application and for women with emerging lines around the lips, this product reinforces the natural lip line.

Hydration is essential, and I am impressed with the L’Occitane Divine Youth Oil.


It is designed to fight the visible signs of aging and is based on the Immortelle flower of Corsica that is renowned for its longevity.  Each night, I squeezed three droplets on the palms of my hands and then massaged it into my face and neck using upward strokes.  The massage relaxes the face, ensures that the product is absorbed rapidly, and leaves the face and neck rejuvenated.

Meena Bare Face

My face is not perfect but it is a pretty decent canvass thanks to the great products!

The body possesses the largest expanse of skin and it should never be neglected.  In summer months, in particular when its humid and stuffy, even a lightweight milk is hard to bear on the skin.  On the other hand air conditioning sucks the moisture out of the skin.  The halfway house between lightweight milk and dry skin is the dry body oil.  I am enamoured with Guerlain Huile Sous le Vent Nourishing Dry Oil, because it smells vaguely of jasmine and this almond oil  wonder absorbs rapidly and leaves my skin soft and sensual all day long.


I love that I can massage it in with a  few long strokes, which exercises the skin and leaves me relaxed on a daily basis.

With the face and neck smooth, the lips full  and the body taut, I felt confident.  Each day I spent 3-5 minutes focused on myself, and I really appreciated how my body has held up over the years.  At the age of 40 I only need mere creams and lotions to raise the youthful spirit of my mid-twenties.  Great products like the ones listed herein above are never a waste of time or money.

W-Day – The Day Before – Do the Nails

Confidence comes with addressing the details and then letting the chips fall where they may.  The chips do not include your nails!

The day of the wedding is always rushed so relax the night before by giving yourself a nude manicure.  I specify nude because desi outfits err on the side of bright, and the jewellery tends to be dramatic.  To avoid looking like an obnoxious  aunty, practise balance and keep the make-up on the lighter side.  Further, a nude nail makes hands look younger as more dramatic shades contrast hyperpigmentation and highlight sagginess.

I find that mainstream magazines tout nude polishes that rarely suit desi skin tones.  The mainstream nudes are too pink in the bottle and look gray on the nails.  It clashes horribly with the dark cuticles.

A great nude for a desi skin tone, much like a great concealer, has hints of peach.  I am thrilled with Butter London Tea with the Queen.

Butter Tea with the Queen

There is no hint of gray, and it makes my fingers look longer.

Manicure Pic

It is a Patent Shine 10X polish which means that I had glossy nails for five whole days!  I am equally impressed with the Butter London Nail Foundation™ Priming Basecoat because its off-white tint neutralised the yellow in my nails; and the Hardwear- Shine UV Topcoat did an amazing job of protecting my manicure.

I wore all types of bracelets and rings while I wore this polish and everything worked with my nails – no clashes, just confidence!

W-Day – Part One, Preparation

Have you ever entered an examination without having studied?  I swear that for all of my law school exams, I started to draft my course summaries from the first week of the semester and then launched into formal studying three weeks before the exam date.

The point is that when you are entering into an arena, be it the Coliseum or a wedding hall, half begun is only half done.  The previous month established the infrastructure for you to wear beauty products that highlight and enhance your individual beauty.  Remember that your DNA combination is unique and no matter what, you are genetically predisposed to be an original.

Consequently, never slap on make-up and then charge into battle.  Instead follow the preparatory steps listed herein below, after you have completed your skin care routine.  Just bear in mind that the make-up trends touted on Instagram which may include applying three types of highlighter to create angles sharper than English cheddar have no place in a fresh look.  Freshness is about you looking revived after a vacation and involves a minimum amount of contouring and pan stick.

1. Great selfies are not made by a chance meeting between your face and light… primer is essential to keep the skin looking flawless. Paul & Joe Perfect Makeup Primer is aptly-named and depending on the state of your skin you can either apply all over your face or spot apply (like I do) using clean, bare fingers. The extremely lightweight liquid goes on easily, creates a smooth canvass and its hint of colour adds a subtle glow to the skin which is an essential element of looking fresh.

Paul & Joe_Perfect Makeup Primer_BottleMeena With primer

2. The older we get, the more vigilant we need to be about the eyebrows because they are nature’s frame for our face. Aside from keeping them trimmed and tamed, fill them in with a dark brown waxy pencil such as Benefit Goof Proof Brow Pencil.


Photo credit:

I love how the angle tips fits easily into my sparseness.  I only apply a few strokes and then use the built-in spoolie brush to mix the pigment with my hairs.  I then apply Givenchy Mister Brow Groom in Transparent to keep the hairs in place.

3. I have been contouring my nose since before it came to be spelled with a “k”. I am uncomfortable with my nose and simply adore how the Diorlight Blush & Contour thins my nose in three easy swipes.

Meena with Eye base and Contoured nose

I apply the darker shades down the sides of my nose and on the tip and then in the middle, I tap on the pearl shade.  Done.  The best contouring does not look you placed a samurai’s sword next to your cheeks and then slapped on dark contour make-up.  Great contouring adds a hint of definition, so that you look real but just a tad more sculpted.

4. I have trouble spots on the right side of my face, dark bags and some light scarring on my cheeks while the rest of my skin is decent. I want people to see my skin because it is my biggest organ and I am proud of it (abs are a different matter!). I love spot applying Shiseido Synchro Skin Glow Luminizing Fluid Foundation because it is lightweight and makes me look like a natural lightbulb which distracts from uneven skin tone and looks great in selfies.

Shiseido Foundation

5. My skin tends to be a bit oily and I like to set my make-up with lightweight powder. Givenchy Prisme Visage Perfecting Face Powder is a clever compact as it has four shades of brown and beige which are all found on my face.


For example, my forehead which  endures more sun exposure needs a slightly darker shade than the hollows of my cheeks.  When I swirl my big woolly brush over the four shades, I create the perfect one for my skin.  I apply the powder only where I applied foundation.  I cannot emphasise enough how bare skin looks sophisticated and confident.

            W-Day – Part Two, Colour

Desi outfits and jewellery can be quite colourful, heavy, intricate and Byzantine which means the make-up should be fresh and light.  The contrast allows the eye to appreciate the beauty of the outfit and your face, instead of everything melding into a mass of sparkle and glitz.

Aside from looking fresh, the make-up needs to withstand sweat and greasy food because desi weddings are not lightweight affairs. They are quite energetic and the last thing you want to do is to spend time in a bathroom retouching make-up.  You want to  dance the night away and confirm to yourself that you belong in the spotlight – even if it is the bride’s day.

1.The eyes have it because out of all of the make-up this one will be the least likely to be assaulted by pakoras and biryani, or slip off while dancing. A touch of colour which matches the overall scheme of your outfit is all that is required to liven-up coffee-coloured peepers.

Prior to applying make-up, neutralise the darkness on the eyelids with Dior Fix It 2-in-1 Prime & Color Correct in blue.


I swipe once across each eyelid and then tap it over lid using my ring finger, because it has the least pressure.  The skin is delicate so minimising tugging is imperative.

I then curl my eyelashes because I find the curler interferes with my eyeliner when I squeeze it at the base.

If you possess an artistic hand, then invest in Givenchy Prisme Quatuor in Inattendue.


 This quartet of shadows is infused with shimmer and comes in chocolate, deep pink, slate gray and deep mauve – classic glamourous, desi colours.   Four hours later the eye shadow remained in place and did not migrate into the sockets.  Further, the shimmer is refined and subtle such that it adds twinkles around the eyes without highlighting fine lines.

If your make-up look veers towards simplicity then Make Up For Ever Aqua Matic Waterproof Glide-on Eye Shadow is the perfect product.


Photo credit:

This creamy shadow stick glides on like butter, stays on like a stain and does not interfere with concealer.  I rimmed my upper and lower lash lines with these sticks and was always amazed by how I only needed a minimal touch-up after five hours of activity.  I am particularly enamoured with ME-32, a soft khaki that veers toward gold and D-21, an unapologetic peacock turquoise that evokes the peacock, the national bird of India.

Meena Green Eye shadow Look

The D-21 adds luminosity to the eyes.

After applying a dark liner to emphasise the eyelashes I tested the Shiseido  Full Lash Multi-Dimension Mascara (Waterproof) and its bendable brush is a game changer.

Shiseido Mascara

First the formula is strong in that it delivers on definition and volume but what is outstanding is that the brush head can bend at 90°, 70°… etc., which means that I can coat the tiny lashes in the corners without fear of poking my eye.


The waterproof formula does not crumble or flake in the corners, which is a drawback of many formulae, and my lashes stay glamourous the whole day.

2.I then apply the queen of all concealer kits, Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage.

Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage

I chuckle at how I struggled to use this product in the nineties because 1. the texture was dry and I did not understand that you had to warm it up; and 2. I was uncomfortable using two shades of concealer, as I believed that you needed only one. Twenty years later, I am enamoured with this product!.  I twirl a foundation brush over the peach colour and then tap it on my circles and scars.


I then blend it with my fingers and am impressed by how the product just  melds into the skin.  I then tap the lighter shade on the outer contour to add brightness.  I look like I slept for eight hours which is an integral part of the fresh look.


3. The cheeks are important because they can make or break a selfie. If they look hyper-contoured though, you will look great in a selfie and weird in real-life. The halfway house between blah and overdone is strobing, a technique where you deposit light to bring forward a feature.  I love these Nars the Multiple shades to strobe on the cheekbones: Copacabana (light skin), Hot Sand (medium skin – my obsession!) and South Beach (dark skin).  The glowing base permits your skin to take on any blush shade.

NARS Hot Sand Illuminating Multiple - jpegNARS-Copacabana-Multiple NARS Hot Sand Illuminating Multiple - jpeg

The two outstanding shades that complement desi complexions and outfits are Nars Bumpy Ride, if the outfit veers towards  the coral-orange family, and Mata Hari if the outfit veers towards  the pink-red family.

BUmpy RideMata Hari

Nars Mata Hari and Bumpy Ride

Both shades also work beautifully with neutral outfits that are green, black or blue.  I take a blush brush and just apply one layer of the blush.  The advantage to strobing is the powder locks with the creaminess of the Multiple to stay in place.

Meena strobing

4.The lips are the sexiest part of the face and the first to fall prey to the beauty dangers encountered a desi wedding. The key is to add lasting colour to the lips without making them shrivel under a matte or stain formula. Many Candesi women, myself included, are cautious about selecting the colour because natural pigment in the lips alters the impact of a lipstick.

I recommend hydrating the lips with a Dior Lip Glow balms, which hydrate and add a hint of colour to the lips.  My experience is that when I apply a coral or orange lipstick, the Coral shade really enlivens these shades on my lips.

Dior LIp Colour Reviver

Now for the colour products: I applied the Dior Lip Tattoo in 451 (natural coral), and I was amazed by how this product stayed on for hours and did not dry out my lips.  It withstands naan and aloo attacks and simply refuses to transfer.  I enjoyed similar success when I applied Dior Lip Glow in Pink and then after a few minutes I layered Lip Tattoo in 761 (natural cherry).  I looked like I ate a sophisticated popsicle handmade in Italy.   

M655 ADDICT LIP TATTOO 17 M02L Gamme_Tag30_L4_F39

If you prefer the matte mouth but detest how lipsticks become mushy in the heat, then Nars Velvet Matte Pencils are the answer.  I appreciate how quickly I can apply them, how slow they are to fade and they plump the mouth.  I think a beautiful neutral for light-to-medium skinned Canadesi women is Intriguing and for darker-skinned Canadesi women Pussy Control is a great option.

Nars Intriguing

Nars Intriguing Photo Credit:

Scroll up to see Intriguing paired with the Make Up For Ever khaki shadow.  It is very sexy and fresh!

5.A final touch is to apply a pearlescent powder on the raised parts of the face. When I first saw the Guerlain Météorites Illuminating Powder in Birthday Candles I was afraid that it would clash with my olive skin.

Guerlain Bday

I also believed that if my skin looked great what would illumination do?  Then I asked myself what is the difference between seeing art in the office by a window on a sunny day and or seeing it outside in the sunshine?  The subtle enhancement of light adds a freshness that cannot even be found with nine hours of sleep!

I traced my big woolly brush over the pearls, then applied it, and was left with a  subtle glow that locked in my make-up all day.

Meena fully made up wo bday pearlsmeena-with-bday-pearls.jpg

On the left I have no Birthday Pearls and on the right I do.

            W-Day The Invisible Accessory

After a month of preparation and a fresh make-up routine, please do not forget fragrance (unless you have allergies of course).

Prior to spraying yourself, imagine Aunt Hetty declaring to Rachel Lynde, while walking through the streets of Avonlea, “She was drrrrenched, simply drenched.”  Remember that your personal space will mingle with those of others and that a few well-placed spritzes is all you need to make the perfect statement.  Perfection is not defined by loudness.

I love to spritz on my cleavage, under my ears, in the crooks of my elbows and the wrists, and then I let the molecules absorb.  If you rub your wrists you impede the proper development of fragrance on your body.

For summer 2017, I found three fragrances that speak to the different aspects of a complex woman (I mean you!), and they are all unforgettable:

1.If you are a romantic who loves florals, then Shiseido Ever Bloom is ideal. This mixture of clycamen, lotus and rose, starts sweetly sharp and then settles into a powdery seduction. I find that at night the fragrance becomes more intense, as if the molecules interact with the night time flowers.  This fragrance will embolden you  to embrace your inner-siren.  I know that when I spritz it on I walk in a more sinewy manner and yearn for the evening to come.

Ever Bloom

2.If you possess an effervescent personality who loves the freshness of the morning dew, then L’Eau Kenzo Aquadisiac (limited edition, launch date July 12, 2017) is ideal. It is a marine-like mixture of pear, lotus and white musk that makes you wonder if siren calls were accompanied by this dreamlike scent. It is energetic, like the waves of the sea, yet incredibly feminine, like the froth upon it.  I was never one for oceanic fragrances until I tried this one and I believe I adore this fragrance because I am transported to my dream beach when I spritz it on.


3. If you love sweets and are deeply sensual, then Aerin Tangier Vanille D’Or is ideal. The first time I smelled this fragrance I imagined that I was walking in a souk eating ice-cream.

AERIN Beauty_Product on White_Tangier Vanille d'Or_Global

This fragrance is a tribute to Marco Polo’s travels because its international pedigree of Madagascar Vanilla, Italian Bergamot, and rich Bulgarian Rose, with notes of Saffron and Myrrh, arrests the mind and body.  I almost wept from joy when I caught my first whiff, as I am a dedicated gourmande and the tango between the vanilla and saffron made my heart soar.

            W-Day The Wedding

As you enter the Coliseum  wedding hall and you feel the gaze of the obnoxious aunties alight upon your person remember that there is no such thing as the perfect life path.  Just  because you avoided a starter marriage at the age of 21 when everyone claimed to have found a suitable boy for you or you had the courage to get out of a marriage that did not fulfill your needs  you are not married and refuse to settle for less than your immeasurable high worth  does not mean that an obnoxious aunty has the right to make veiled-barbs.  Do not be afraid to respond politely to their butameezi because age should never serve as a shield to protect these obnoxious aunties from an overdue, gentle-yet-firm training in the basics of politeness.  Never let anyone diminish your self-worth, and remember no one can stand up for yourself like you can.

Never forget that your body is glowing, your skin looks great, and you smell wonderful.  You also know that in fifteen years when you look at the wedding pictures, you will be unable to identify when it was taken because fresh make-up wears well, is timeless and lets the genetic wonder that is you shine through.

Pink is the Navy Blue of India by Meena Khan

Legendary Vogue editor Ms. Diana Vreeland once observed that “Pink is the navy blue of India.”  For anyone who has visited a South Asian country or just had tea at their parents’ place, it is easy to appreciate how in South Asian culture the brights are the primary focus and the neutrals… well are sometimes completely cast aside.  After all who needs beige when you can wear marigold or turquoise?

It is likely that when Ms. Vreeland referred to the colour pink she was not referring to baby pastel.  I suspect she had in mind what is known as gulaab.  You know the bright, mind-blowing shade of pink that announces joy and glamour even in the middle of a power outage in the dead of midnight in mid-January in the middle of the Canadian tundra.

Gulaab is a pretty shade of pink but it is but one of the plethora that stakes a legitimate  claim to the term pink.  Understandably, the brighter shades are a classic choice for many South Asians because of 1) cultural imagery; and 2) it shows up on darker skin tones.

As someone who enjoys colour and sees terms like red, blue and pink as categories that organise a rainbow of shades such as marsala, Klein blue and camelia, respectively, I believe that South Asian skin tones can look great in a variety of shades such that pink can become a neutral staple, just like navy blue.

To successfully add pink to one’s vanity, the following tips should be followed:

  1. create glowing skin;
  2. mute discolouration or darker areas which can “swallow-up” softer shades of pink;
  3. avoid using black liner, as pink, regardless of shade, is a soft colour, but keep the black mascara;
  4. rosy pink cheeks is within everyone’s grasp, it just takes a trick or two; and
  5. work with the tones of your skin to select the correct shade of lipstick.


The expression “the pink of health” is not reserved for the palest skin tones and cute babies.  I am medium olive complected, middle-aged woman and after a great run, my cheeks are flushed pink.  The key to a beautiful shade of pink for any skin tone has to do with a hint of glow and suggests inner-radiance.

Consequently, a glowing foundation should be used to highlight pink make-up.  Personally, I spot apply the Stellar Limitless Foundation, which was designed by Canadian TV personality Monika Deol, to meet the foundation needs of medium-toned women (i.e. this line is a great one for South Asian women).  This foundation adds a beautiful, natural glow to the skin and blends seamlessly.  There is absolutely no struggle to get it blend, it just melds into the skin with no risk of attah syndrome whatsoever.

Stellar Foundation

The key is to spot apply because I do not want my face to look like a mask.  Regardless of the occasion I want my real skin to be evident, not enveloped in make-up.  It makes for a healthier look and reminds me that I have come a long way from my acne-ridden teen years of yore.


I have written it before, and I will write it again, one of the banes of being a South Asian woman is the darkness around the eyes!  I have searched high and low for an eye shadow primer that would hide my darkness and permit me to wear softer shades of pink.  For years I relied on cream-shaded primers to “cover-up” the darkness.  The primers worked for the few hours and by lunch, the underlying darkness seeped through and literally swallowed-up my delicate pink shadow.  It was cakey mess and I became disenchanted with cream-shaded primers. I also set aside the soft, illuminating shades of eye shadow because it looked like a mess by noon.

As an alternative I investigated the colour-theory approach to complexion-correction and I did so with great trepidation.  I remember that when I was teenager, I was desperate to get rid of the redness which my acne left in its cruel wake.  I purchased a green-based corrector and applied it on my skin.  I appreciated how the green cancelled the red and but the green remained apparent on top of my medium olive skin.  It was like I traded half a dozen of one for six of another.

I was intrigued by Dior Fix It Colour 2-in-1 Prime & Colour Correct in 100 because this light blue stick is supposed to brighten the eyes and its centre is filled with a  soft focus powder that evens the surface.


The idea of using blue intrigued me and I was rather desperate to wear some fabulous shades of pink, so I tried it.  I am so happy that I gave this product a chance!

The blue literally neutralised my dark eye lids and created a beautiful canvass for me to try all sorts of pink shadows without risk of my underlying darkness seeping through and swallowing up the colour.  Why?  The darkness was neutralised and the soft powder centre prevented caking!

Meena Naked Eyes

My eyes without make-up

Meena Naked Eyes and Primer

My eyes with the one lid covered in primer.

Meena Naked Eyes Blended Primer

The lid with the primer is much brighter

I knew the product was a success when I experimented with the Dior 5 Couleurs Designer 508 Nude Pink Design.


This quintet of eye colour hovers in the nether region between soft pink and baby beige.  For many South Asian women such shades would look dead or ashen because the softness of the colours would not compliment the natural darkness around the eyes.  The primer permitted me to mix and match the four eye shadows and define with the chocolate brown liner on top and Burberry Chestnut Brown liner (see below) on the lower lashline:

Meena in Pink Nude Design and Chestnut

My eyes with Fix-it, Pink Nude Design, Chestnut liner and Nars mascara

A fantastic “nudey pink” equivalent for darker skin tones is Burberry Eye Colour in Rose Pink No. 201.

Burberry Shadow

This unabashed rose pink has a hint of coolness which permits darker skin tones to play with pinks without veering into a full-on berry shade.  I love that this powder is silky which permits you to layer it without risk of caking  The product is a wet/dry one which means that it can be applied wet which heightens the intensity of the pigment, taking it from a classic rose nude to a full-on colourful shadow.

Stila’s Matte’N Metal Eye Shadow Palette has something for all South Asian skin tones.  This palette contains twelve eye shadows which range from soft gold to sweet heather pink, of which six are metallic and six are matte.

Stila Matte 'N Metal Eye Shadow Palette - Open HI

The shades can be layered to create many alluring combinations.  I love mixing metallics to create a sultry warm weather look.  Sequin and Retro are two shades that gave me a glamourous look, and paired perfectly with Burberry Chestnut Brown liner (see below):

Meena in Stila and Chestnut

My eyes in Sequin and Retro with Chestnut Liner and  Nars mascara

Meena Close up Stila, Chestnut and Nars

Close-up of my eyes

Which brings me to my next point….


Black liner is an essential part of every South Asian woman’s vanity.  It looks great but black can also look harsh in summer months and there are viable, equally attractive liners that define without the harshness.

Nars Velvet Liner in Darklight is a deep navy blue which defines the eyes without looking witch-like.

Nars Liner

The formula’s creaminess permits you to cheat with the smoky eye, as you can apply an extra thick line, and then smudge it with a cotton bud to smoke up the eyes.  Darklight’s impact is a great match for brighter, blue-based pink shades, such as Estée Lauder Pure Colour Envy in Neon Azalea.  The blue adds a freshness to the eyes and at the end of the day the colour does not exacerbate any tiredness that may further pronounced with  a smudged black liner.

Burberry Effortless Kohl Eyeliner in Chestnut Brown No. 02 is the ideal brown for warm summer months because it is dark without being stark.  The warmth of this shade plays off perfectly against the softness of sweeter shades of pink and its staying power is impressive.  It is a wonderful complement to softer pink shades of eye shadow as demonstrated in the pictures in the previous section.

Burberry Liner

Switching up black liner for navy blue of chestnut brown does not mean that you should necessarily abandon black mascara.  A black mascara matches many South Asian manes perfectly and it adds a scintilla of gravitas against the softness and flirtiness of pink.  In warmer months, a great mascara creates a fresh, wide-eyed look where the lashes are defined and separated.  I thoroughly enjoy Nars Audacious Mascara in Black Moon because its huge brush with separated bristles always coats each of my lashes and separates them perfectly.  I like that after two coats my eyes looks wide awake (after a late night) and that bristles are so defined that I never lose time separating clumps.

NARS Audacious Mascara - full size - closed

                ROSY PINK CHEEKS

The image of rosy pink cheeks has typically been relegated to that of children running through a field and then sucking on popsicles on a front porch.  The image is fresh and truly the ideal to strive for when applying pink blush.

The key is to strobe the cheeks and then apply a powder lush.  The advantage is twofold, as the cream base and powder cosmetic textures lock to stay in place.  Further, the strobing product addresses the issue of how to make the skin glow, and allows pink pigment to do its work on the colour front.

I prefer to strobe my cheeks because adding light to cheekbones, rather than re-sculpting with multiple powders, is efficient and effective.  Besides, in warm weather who wants to spend time defining their cheekbones with multiple steps?

Nars the Multiple is legendary because each swipe delivers glow, no questions asked.  I love that these sticks do not clog my skin; are long lasting and; work with blushes, instead of competing with them for “cheek dominance”.  Copacabana‘s silver iciness flatters cooler, lighter skin tones.


My personal obsession is Hot Sand as this soft champagne, makes my medium-tone skin look alive.

NARS Hot Sand Illuminating Multiple - jpeg

South Beach is a soft, coral gold that flatters darker skin tones.


The key is to swipe the Multiple where your cheeks flush after a good work out  You only need one swipe because the Multiple is pigmented and the glow starts the moment it touches the skin.  Afterwards, blend it into the skin.  and then apply a pink powder blush.

I am still enamoured with Givenchy Prisme Blush Duo in No. 04.  This duo of peach and soft baby pink, swirl together beautifully to create a natural look that enhances light and medium skin tones.


For medium and darker skin tones, Nars blush in Angelika is a mauvey pink with a hint of sparkle.


In the compact it looks like a tough application but one swipe atop a Multiple and Angelika makes the cheeks look cherubic sweet:

Meena Strobed in Hot SandMeena Strobed in Hot Sand and Angelika

Picture on the left is how Hot Sand looks on my cheeks and the one the right shows Hot Sand and Angelika


The one place on the face where one is expected to have some pink is on the lips.  This point was driven home to me when I was a little girl in Brownies and Kim, a fellow Brownie, asked in a sharp manner why my lips were purple.  I felt like asking her if she would like me to ask why her face would be black and blue face in a few minutes but I digress…

In fact, my lips were not purple but multi-coloured, as is the case with many South Asian women.  The outline is a tad darker than the centre of the lips, which makes selecting a pink lipstick a two step process.  First, you need to settle on the finish: matte, satin or gloss?  The more translucent the texture the more likely you lips’ natural colouring will “poke through” which impacts question two, which shade you should select.

Since pink is cited as a great nude, I found three shades that work on South Asian lips.  For light-to-medium lips, I discovered and fell in love with  Estée Lauder Pure Color Envy Shine in Mischievous Rose, a soft pink shade that creates a sweet look.  The shade has been discontinued but below is a picture of similar shade called Rebellious Rose:

PC envy sculpting lipstick - Rebellious Rose


For darker lips, Stila Lip Glaze in Berry ,despite its name, is a beautiful pink-mauvey stain which celebrates the natural hue of darker lips.

Stila Berry

Like Rose Pink and Angelika discussed hereinabove, this product uses a hint of mauvey coolness to keep the colour in the pink family without sliding into the berries.

No blog  on pink for South Asians is complete without looking at vibrant shades that suit all shades of lips.  Neon Azalea is a great example of what I like to call a classic “shaadi ki bharat pink“.  Unabashedly electric and statement-making, it is a matte shade that envelops the lips in a blaze of femininity and fits in perfectly in the middle of a South Asian wedding.  The matte finish ensures that after you have polished off a basket of pakoras, that a healthy dose of colour remains fixed on the lips.

Neon Azalea

If you prefer to take the electricity down a notch, Givenchy Rouge Interdit Lipstick in Infrarose with the matching Lip Liner in Fuchsia is an unbeatable combination.


The blue-based deep rose shade is a tad glossy and is incredibly sophisticated.  The Fuchsia lip liner enhances the shade and does an excellent job of keeping the lips pink.

Meena in Darklight and Infrarose

This is me in Darklight, Infrarose and Fuchsia.


The plethora of products on the market demonstrate that pink is a great category of colour for South Asians.

Looking great in pink means achieving glowing skin and hiding discolouration so that the true beauty of the shade shines through.  Thereafter, the focus should be on colours and textures that flatter your particular skin tone.  The shades and textures which are now available permit every South Asian woman to look gorgeous and sweetly confirms that pink is indeed the navy blue of India – but so what?  Think pink!

Swiss Chocolate – Neutral Make-up Tips for Desi Divas by Meena Khan

In the 90’s, the neutral look was the dominant make-up trend which served to separate the decade from the excessive, exceptionally colourful eighties.

The late, great Kevyn Aucoin explained in his masterpiece Making Faces (Little, Brown and Company, Boston, New York, Toronto, London: 1997), “Neutral tones are typically light beige to dark brown-based colours and, therefore, are found naturally in the skin.  These shades enhance the features when lightly applied, because they tend to resemble your own natural shading and contours.  When used with more intensity, neutrals can add drama without adding too much colour (if that is your goal).” (page 51)

Mr. Aucoin succinctly explained the point of neutral make-up and colour but unfortunately his wisdom did not trickle down to the masses or enhance technology to the necessary refinement to carry off the look.  Specifically, neutrals were paired with matte finishes which were chalky and somewhat heavy.  Funnily, at the time, mattes were hailed as sophisticated and a welcome departure from the garish eighties with its buckets sparkle and reams of shine.   However my pictures from my McGill days reveal that this departure was fraught with its own challenges which resulted in this brown girl looking flat, cakey and boring.

Thankfully, time and technology, have brought the nineties back and this time, there are a plethora of nude shades in different textures which truly enhance desi beauty.


The cornerstone of the nineties neutral look was the matte complexion.  Powdered and flat, the skin mimicked the definition of neutrality which resulted in pictures in which the neck s looked alive and the faces looked like they were dipped in attah (flour).

My experiences with layering copious amounts of Studio Fix on my skin resulted in my avoiding matte finishes as I entered my late twenties because I did not aspire to look like a kabuki artist.  I did not want to look flat, I wanted to have dimension.

Then along came Diorskin Forever Perfect Makeup Foundation and I am back to matte.  This SPF 35-infused foundation easily blends into the skin, and has no shine but imparts a lively effect.  My skin looks like it has dimension, and it is matte, not flat.


Photo Credit: Christian Dior, Canada

The foundation marks a quantum leap in terms of matte foundations because its lightness makes you feel like you are applying a glow foundation but when the foundation sets after a minute, there lies a sophisticated, professional  finish that lasts all day.  I love that this line of foundation comes in 26 shades which means that no desi woman is left out of this marvellous matte technology.

Interestingly, this collection also addresses the issue of the undertone of the skin.  By undertone, I mean the tint that your skin takes on when there is no sunshine.  For example, there are two brown-skinned women, one looks like an olive in the middle of winter (that is me) while the other turns into a peach.

The best way to confirm your undertone is to look at the inside of your wrist against a white sheet of paper.  The colour that shows up is your undertone and explains why desi women should never fall into the trap that if the foundation is darker it must work for their skin tone and they can share it with their sisters and friends.  Desi women of all shades should analyse their undertone before purchasing a foundation because one desi‘s match is another person’s ashen masque.

The shade could be correct, e.g. a medium brown but the perfect match takes the undertone into account.  In the Diorskin Forever Perfect Makeup collection the foundation number indicates the tone:

0, 4 and 5=neutral
1 = golden
2 = pink or rose
3 = apricot or peach

On the weekends, in the nineties, I still caked on the matte foundation, believing that my skin always had the have same matte look regardless of the occasion.  I never entertained the notion, that skin, like the eyes or lips, can have different looks for different occasions.   With time and technology, came the BB Creams, which were all the rage several years ago  and are a wonderful alternative for foundations on relaxed occasions such as the weekend.

I became intrigued by Burt’s Bees BB Cream, which contains SPF 15 and is made with Noni Extract  “a nourishing relative of the invigorating coffee bean.


This lightweight liquid brightens the complexion so that it looks fresh but without the greasiness of a glow-type foundation.  It is almost matte but not quite.  Unfortunately, the shade range is from light to medium, which means that darker-skinned desis miss out on this formula.  I hope this will change and that more shades will be launched.  This “weekend matte look” should be available to women of all skin tones.


As a woman with brown eyes and brown skin with dark circles, taupes and browns are tricky to pull off  because they tend to look washed out on my skin and do not bring the eyes to life.

The way to make the neutral work on the brown skin – brown eyes combination is to work with either a contrast colour or contrasting textures.


In a sea of brown, i.e. eyes and skin, an exciting swipe of blue, green, pink or turquoise attracts light to the eye and creates a wide-awake look.  Nars limited edition spring duo Chiang Mai, is a vivid combination of sea blue and copper.


The sea blue flatters all desi skin tones, as this shade is vivid and looks beautiful against a dark background.  Copper falls into the brown family but the red lifts it a step above basic chocolate, and its metallic finish attracts light.  I love swiping the sea blue on my lower lid and then working the copper into the crease, and the lining the eyes with a dark brown liner such as Nars Last FrontierVelvet Liner, a deep coffee brown.



My eyes in Chiang Mai, lined with Last Frontier.

Another colour option is Beauty Counter’s Desert Sunrise palette.  As the name suggests, this  earth tone heavy palette comes with calm, soft colours.


What makes it interesting is that the colours range from Pearl, Champagne, Khaki to Pinot.  The finish is incredibly soft so you can actually create a neutral eye by lightly layering the non-brown shades.  For example, I apply Pearl on the inner corners and blend it with the Champagne, and line with the Khaki.

What I appreciate about this palette is that it works on all desi skin tones.  The powders are so soft that you can layer to achieve the intensity you want.


 When the nineties were over, I literally cast out my brown eye shadows because I hated how they deadened my eyes.  Then I encountered Dior Eye Shadow Palette in Cuir Cannage, and it was light bulb moment.  Each shade in this quintet of neutral shadows celebrated brown in a different way.  The centre is a matte caramel, north east is a shimmery off-white, south east is a dark chocolate, north west is a shimmery metallic coffee and south west is a shimmery soft mocha.  Depending on the shade of your eyelid, you can mix the shades and create a neutral look that uses contrasting matte and shimmer to add light to the eyes.


Photo Credit: Christian Dior, Canada

I love to apply the off-white on the inner corners, and then populate the lower lid with the soft mocha, apply the coffee in the crease and then line with the dark chocolate.  The look respects the neutral colour spectrum and makes an unforgettable statement.


My eyes in Cuir Cannage.


In the nineties  I used taupe blush and when I got my pictures back I always wondered why I looked so dead…  Undoubtedly, blush is the trickiest part of neutral make-up.  On brown skin, the neutral tones are absorbed and do not highlight bone structure or add life to the face.

Bronzer alone, with its brown base, is not the ideal answer as it is just an extension of the eyes.  No matter how you slice it, a touch of pink or peach is a must for the neutral look.  Nars Orgasm is the king of blushes.  It adds warmth and sexiness to all skin tones with a hint of shimmer.  This shade is a failsafe and looks good for any occasion.

NARS double eye shadow box summer 2004

For cheeks with a cooler, flushed look, I strongly recommend Prisme Blush No 4 (on counters in April 2017).  I am amazed by how one twirl of the shade combination of peach and pink creates a full-bodied, vibrant look, that enhances the dimensions of the cheekbones.


Photo Credit:  LVMH Fragrance Brands Canada Ltd

For darker skin tones dabbing Beauty Counter’s Flamingo (part of the Desert Sunrise palette) blush on the apples of the cheeks provides a subtle contrast to the browns and taupes on the eyes.  It is the third blush square in the palette, on the right side (see above).


My lips were flat brown in the nineties, and with the rise of Jennifer Lopez, I looked high and j-low for a nude lipstick that did not resemble concealer.  Neutral lips are tricky but the key is to understand that neutral does not always mean a nude lip and you can venture into the pinks and still pull off a neutral look.

Nude lips are a classic neutral lip look, and the key is to work with the natural colouring of the lips.  Desi women come in many shades and this means that lips can be soft pink to deep mauve.  Therefore nude for one desi woman is chalky for another.  While searching for nude, do not focus on the word nude, focus on what shade mimics your lips.  For example, Givenchy Rouge Interdit has five shades of nude, Secret Nude, Serial Nude, Urban Nude, Street Nude and Nude in the Dark.  My lip shade means that I achieve a nude, neutral look with Urban Nude.


Photo Credit:  LVMH Fragrance Brands Canada Ltd

Since the nude lip is soft, line the lips with a matching liner  to ensure that the lips do not disappear.  Givenchy’s Lip Liners collection comes in 11 shades, and they are designed to match perfectly with the Rouge Interdit collection.  For my lipstick, I use No 2 Brun Createur.


Photo Credit:  LVMH Fragrance Brands Canada Ltd

Sometimes you need to turn up the neutrality and venturing into the pinks and mauves is an excellent option.  Pinks which range from baby to camelia are exceptionally pretty when you are sporting a neutral eye.  Burt’s Bees Lipsticks are 100% natural, and the range of neutral shades is impressive.  I have received many compliments when I wear Blush Basin which is soft, pretty rose that defines my lips without screaming.


On days when I want to a more brown shade, but want to avoid my errors of the nineties, I rely on Suede Splash.  It is brown-based with enough mauve to prevent it from making my lips disappear.



The neutral of the nineties is in the past!  With new technology, neutral colours are no longer safe and boring.  They highlight your natural skin tone and create a professional look that infuses you with confidence.

In this picture, my skin is prepped with Burt’s Bees BB Cream in Medium, the eyes are done up in Nars Chiang  Mai, lined with Nars Last Frontier, the cheeks are lightly defined in Givenchy Prisme No 4, and the lips are filled in with Burt’s Bees Suede Splash.


In this picture my skin is prepped with Dior Forever Makeup Foundation in No 31, the eyes are done up in Cuir Cannage (lower eyes are lined in Last Frontier), the cheeks are lightly defined in Nars Orgasm and the lips are lined in Givenchy Brun Createur and filled-in with Urban Nude.



Neutral make-up is no longer an automatic pass to blah-ville, because:

  1. the skin should not be covered in cakey-powdery foundation, instead focus on liquid foundations or BB Creams that create a soft finish;
  2. having brown eyes and brown skin does not mean that brown eye shadow will look dull. There are two approaches, either use a contrasting colours juxtaposed on a neutral base or use a neutral colour in different finishes to create a lively eye;
  3. pinks and peaches have a place in the neutral palette, namely the cheeks, where you need to add a lively shade to prevent the face from looking flat; and
  4. nudes now come in a variety of shades and the one you pick should be suited to the shade of your lips. Since nudes are supposed to be subtle, make sure to define the lips so that your lips do not disappear.  A great alternative is to wear pinks or mauves, which add softness and complement the neutral look.

A Lipstick Love Letter to Aunties

Growing up, I was always fascinated by my mom’s make-up.   Her routine was simple: kajal, lipstick and powder but to me it was the epitome of glamour.  I used to drop everything and stand next to her, drinking in her steps and hoping that she would swipe some lipstick on me.  Each time I was anointed with lipstick I felt like I was pretty like my mom.


My mom in 1984

Mom’s options were limited because she did not have much money and let’s face it, products were limited for all women of colour in Canada in the seventies and eighties… regardless, mom always had kajal , powder and dark lipstick.

In the nineties when I started to wear make-up and benefited from the emergence of M.A.C., I asked mom why she insisted on her maroon lips when she could try neutrals.  I lectured her on how dark lips aged her and it was so dated… so seventies!

Mom, to her credit, stuck to her lipstick tubes, and insisted on dark lipstick because that was her signature.  In fact it was the signature look of my mom and her desi friends, a.k.a. the aunties.  These women, who came from hot countries, knowing English but no French (unless you count pronouncing Chanel correctly) clung (and still cling) to their trusty kajal, powder and dark lips.  Looking at older desi films it makes perfect sense why they adhere to this look… The actresses and models of their heyday, before they were married-off to men living in foreign countries, wore kajal, lipstick and powder.  The look connected them to their youth and a time when they were free.

As I watch my mom do her make-up, I chuckle at the simplicity of her routine but I have also grown to appreciate the unabashedly glamourous  and timeless nature of the look, if not my mom’s particular shade of dark lipstick.

The look can easily veer from glamour to gloopy during a desi party as:

  • the throngs of people at these parties induces perspiration which affects the powder as it goes from silky soft to besan (chick pea powder) granularity.
  • the kajal that rims the eyes to exotic perfection, migrates into the dark circles, amongst throngs of people, so that you look exhausted, rather than exotic; and
  • the oils in desi cuisine reduce the darkest of lipsticks into sad stain at first bite;

The look that is epitomised by the aunties is easy to pull off and maintain, the whole,  with a modern touch when you follow these steps.


Philosophy:  Kajal and dark lips require a smooth, soft base, so that the focus remains on the eyes and lips.

1. Apply a matte primer which not only creates a great canvass for make-up, it also keeps greasiness at bay. My current favourite is Dior Pore Minimizer Skin Refining Matte Primer because it feels like silk, sets to a soft finish and reduces the appearance of pores;dior-primer-dior-website                                              Photo Credit:

2. Spot apply a soft, luminous foundation so that your complexion is even, your unblemished skin comes through and the face has dimension. I am blown away by Estée Lauder Double Wear Nude Cushion Stick Radiant Makeup because both the formula and packaging are made for the multi-faceted modern woman. estee-lauder-foundation-estee-website

                                                  Photo credit:

It comes with a built-in mini sponge for blending; and the sponge can be removed for cleaning.  I love that one twist of the base emits the perfect amount of foundation and the sponge tip blends the foundation in perfectly.

4. The under eyes are the bane of millions of desi women and after much trial and error, I recommend the following three steps and products to cover them without looking cakey:

  • Shiseido Perfecting Stick Concealer is a stick concealer that goes on creamy and sets to a soft lasting finish. I use Medium Deep as a corrector, and its orangeness sends the bluish tinge of my circles into neutral territory. shiseido-concealer                                       Photo credit:
  • I then swipe the Dior Fix It 2-in-1 Prime & Conceal directly on top. I use Shade 003 and it blends the under eye with the rest of my skin. The centre of the tube is a primer which prevents the products from becoming too cakey;


Photo credit:

  • After applying eye make-up, I dab a luminiser to perk up the eye area and fade the demarcation between the concealer and/or skin.  I am impressed with Dior Flash Luminizer because the bristles are shaped like a duck’s bill so it is easy to blend and tap.
  • dior-luminizerPhoto credit:
  • Further, the liquid is lightweight and adds light without the over-the-top Vegas touch.  I tap this product on the outer rims of the dark circles.
  1. The cheeks must not be forgotten but they play a background role. Strong eyes and lips means that cheeks cannot join in the drama because that will result in a clownish look.  I have previously and still rave about the Stila Star Light, Star Bright  palette.  It consists of a trio of luminisers which range from soft pink (Transcendence), to a sexy champagne (Kitten) to a sultry summer night (Bronze).  Depending on your skin tone, you can tap your fingers in one or all three, to create a highlighter that you tap delicately along your cheekbones to create definition.


Photo credit:

For this look, I opted to not contour my nose because I wanted to experiment with strobing – and I am glad that I did.  I tapped a bit of Kitten down the centre of my nose and its looks photo ready.


Philosophy:  Create a smouldering frame for a softly lit face which draws people in.

  1. Strong lips demand a defined brow. I was slavishly devoted to the eyebrow pencil because I loved the precision but what I did not love is that sometimes in an effort to fill in my sparseness at the base, I created a rectangular shape and the tail at the end really made for such a flattering look.  I decided to experiment with the Benefit Goof Proof Brow Pencil  which is a two-sided pencil.  benefit-brow                              Photo credit:
  2. One end is a bristle brush, shaped like a mini-mascara wand that lifts hairs and exposes sparseness.  The other side is a wax that goes on light.  The wax leaves a soft finish and its thickness means that you do not go over a small area multiple times to fill-it in.  The result is thicker-looking ,defined brows that look sensual.  Also the wax is thicker than a pencil so I skip the brow setting gel.
  3. I use the Dior Flash Luminizer all over the eye lid because its lightweight texture keeps the yes fresh and the liquid adds freshness while neutralising any darkness ion the area;
  • For special evenings I like to add a bit of luminiser under the arch so that there is more light in the eye area. I tap on Benefit High Brow  under the arch and tail, and then use my ring finger to blend the product into my skin.  benefit-pencil                                           Photo credit:
  • For darker skin tones the pinkish tone might be too light and recommend that a gold shade be used instead.  One great product for darker skin tones  is Burberry Eye Colour Cream in Gold Copper.


Photo credit:

  1. Always curl the lashes. I love the Shiseido Eye Lash Curler because it never pinches my eyes!shiseido-curler                                        Photo credit:
  1. Kajal time! Experience has taught me that kajal, when it migrates, is a complete disaster.  Given that the upper lid is mobile, the risk of migration is pronounced, which is why I have fallen in love with YSL Eye Marker.


Photo credit:

The applicator is doe-tipped which permits you to draw either a thin line or a thick line.

For the lower rim, I recommend Givenchy  Khôl Couture Waterproof in Black.  The colour is inky and sets within a few seconds.  The waterproof formula means that migration into the concealer should never be an issue.givenchu-khol                                             Photo credit:

10. The eyes are naked without mascara. I enjoy Benefit They’re Real because for real, the applicator wand’s separated bristles means that each lash, regardless of size , will be coated.  The formula lends itself to multiple layers so you control the intensity of the gaze.


Photo credit:


Philosophy: Just go for it.

  1. Now for the pièce de résistance the lips! A great base consisting of moisture and definition is a must!  I am a big fan of Estée Lauder New Dimension Plump + Fill Expert Treament, because one end is a hydrating balm and the other is a clear gel that fills in deeper crevices.  This product increases the plumpness of lips.


Photo credit:

  1. Lip liner is a must for dark lip colour because:
  • if you have vertical lines around the mouth, liner prevents bleeding;
  • dark can overwhelm what is relatively small surface area so you need to define it so that the shape is not lost in the colour; and
  • you can define the corners of your mouth (lipstick will smear in such a tight place) to prevent fish mouth.

The next question is whether you should use a neutral or a matching lip liner.  A neutral is practical in that you buy one liner for all pencils, it is like the LBD for your lipstick wardrobe.  Its neutralises lips that are deeply pigmented to the point that lighter colours which lose their impact on the lips appear in their full glory.  A neutral liner expands your options for lip colour.

On the other hand using a lip liner that is in the same colour family as the lipstick adds a vibrancy to the lips that permits you to make a statement without saying a word.  Further, for darker-lipped beauties, the liner maintains the richness of the shade so that what you see in the tube is what ends up on your lips.

Based on the above analysis, when deciding on a lip liner, examine your natural lip colour, the lipstick shade and your budget before deciding on a lip liner.  If you opt for neutral, try Buxom Plumpline™ Lip Liner.  This product raises the lip liner game from mere supporting role to battling for lead role on the lip stage.  These matte pencils serve as the traditional lip liner but can be used alone as a lipstick.  For desi lip tones, I recommend Hush Hush for light-medium lip tones and I recommend Dolly Danger for dark lip tones.


        Photo credit: and I am wearing Hush Hush

  1. Now is time for the lipstick! There is debate as to whether a lip brush is required and I believe that like lip liner, it is a choice.

A lip brush guarantees precision if you possess a deft hand meaning one slight twitch and the bristles will displace the lipstick off your lips.

Applying straight from the tube guarantees maximum colour impact but it is difficult to apply the product gracefully around the cupid’s bow.

Lip brushes are not cheap, and personally, I do not need one.  I used one until I noticed that I had trouble putting the cap back on which means that the cap would cut into the bristles. After several months, the bristles, in particular the outer ones, would become bent because of my inability to put the cap back on properly.  Consequently, I do not like lipstick brushes.

14. Mom’s mantra was dark lipstick. Maroon was her dream colour – and so not mine. Dark lips, like neutral lips come in a plethora of shades and below are five outstanding ones that suit the full rainbow of desi beauty:

  • Burberry Oxblood is a browner red that veers to maroon but still maintains its red credibility. It is extremely sophisticated, and its air of gravitas will imbue you with confidence for a tough meeting.


     Photo credit: and I am wearing Oxblood

  • Dior Poison Matte brings me back to the nineties without all of the beauty errors. This blackened chianti shade hisses danger and exudes mystery.  It walks the thin line between the rebellious nineties and the enlightened aughts.  This is a quasi-black that you can wear to work and the afterhours club!


           Photo credit: and I am wearing Poison Matte

  • Givenchy Rouge Velours in Framboise Velours paired with Givenchy Lip Liner 6. This is a beautiful example of how a matching lip liner heighten the intensity of the lipstick to a beautiful effect.  This unabashed raspberry combo adds brightness to the face but its deepness hints at sophistication, like a wine stain that entices you to try more.  I feel confident and alive when wear this combination.


I am wearing Framboise Velours and Givenchy 6 Liner

  • Givenchy Le Rouge Grenat Initié brings grenadine to the lips. The red is so deep, so luxurious that you could literally drown in the colour.  It has a hint of blue that suggests that still waters run deep.  Very sexy!


I am wearing Grenat Initie

  • Bobbi Brown in Chocolate is a classic from the nineties that brought grunge to the pucker. Its resemblance to all delicious desserts turns the mouth into a siren call to indulge.  It is supposed to be tough and rough but the satin finish makes this colour a desi delight!


I am  wearing Chocolate


Our desi mothers birthed and raised children during  a time when there was little resources available to help them transition from living in Asia to North America or Europe.  A key part of their identity was to dress up and the make-up routine consisted of dark lipstick , kajal and powder.

As the new generation of desi women, namely Canadesi women, we have a plethora of options to pull off the ultra-glamourous look.  The key is to prepare the skin, prepare the eye area and then pick lip products that suit your skin tone and mood.

B to the Glow by Meena Khan

White Versus Brown

Growing up, I was the one of the few people in my school that could be classified as brown all year round, not just in September and January, like my Caucasian friends.   Typically, as the summer’s rays faded into autumn’s frostiness, they would hold their arms next to mine and lament their paleness.  A classic sentence that was uttered by many of my friends (and their mothers) was, “You are so lucky!  You always have colour!”  Their reaction contrasted sharply with the comments I received in the Canadesi community.

The difference between the reactions was like white versus brown.

At home, mom would say that it is wrong to judge by people their skin colour, yet during the summer months, she would casually track my skin tone.  If I got too dark, she (or a big-mouthed aunty) would comment, “Meena, you are looking tan.”  To a Caucasian family, the statement would be a mere observation of skin tone.  To a Canadesi girl who overheard how some aunties lamented that some children are “bilkul kaali” (completely black), the message was clear – dark is not good.

The differing messages left me in the middle of two beauty ideals.  On the one hand, I wanted to be free of desi skin colour baggage and enjoy my brownness, yet the discomfort I feared of being perceived as too dark impacted my behaviour.  As a child who played soccer and swam outside, to an acne-ridden teenager who feared that the sun would make her scars darker, I started to avoid the sun.

Tangerine Nightmare

In the early 2000’s, I dared to experiment with the bronze look popularised by Jennifer Lopez.  My experimentation stopped when I realised that I looked like a tangerine, and worse, my neck, arms and legs were considerably paler than my face.  These forays convinced me that all tanning products were for Caucasian girls and for years I paid scant attention to summer beauty articles that featured such products.  I also ignored articles that advised how women can extend their summer glow… until something changed.

After years of being embarrassed by my face and my figure, I started to improve them by my mid-thirties.  I understood how to deal with IBS which bloated me and that certain foods would cause acne.  As I gained the upper hand on my chronic condition, I saw for the first time the possibility of celebrating all of me.   I realised that desi girls have summer glow, just like Caucasian girls.  The point was driven home  when I realised how pale my legs looked when I wore skirts and was shocked that my Caucasian friends looked darker than me at the end of summer.  I realised that I too wanted to extend my glow without descending into a tangerine nightmare.

                Prepping for the Brown Glow

The question became how could I achieve the full-on Jennifer Lopez glow that suited my skin tone, was affordable and easy to maintain?

After several failed attempts, and lots of research, I realised that when the sun is leaving that you need to step up the preparatory steps to ensure that glow products work properly.

To that end, a quick way for all desi girls to inject brightness and glow to their faces  is to apply the Bliss Mask-a-‘Peel’.


Photo Credit:

I first encountered this product in Singapore and fell in love with how I became my own beauty scientist when using this product.  I had to mix the Vitamin C-infused powder in a little container, add a precise amount of water and then mix them a wooden stick, until they turned into a paste.  I applied the cool, sticky, clayish paste to my skin, and I loved how it cooled the surface.

Looking in the mirror I start to hum Phantom of the Opera, as the paste dried into a rubberised masque.   After 20 minutes, I stripped off the masque and underneath, each time, was a brighter, fresher complexion that made me glow like a 100 watt light bulb.  A quick rinse with cool water sealed in the “younger and newer” me, and my skin was softer than a pile of cotton balls.  My face was ready to extend the glow.


Photos from left top right: Me bare-skinned, the masque in production, masque on the face, peeling off the masque.


Me with a refreshed complexion

The body, like the face, needs to be prepared.  The beauty winter bane of many desi women, Canadesi ones in particular, is how ashy their body looks as the temperature drops.  The ashiness is due to the accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface and their presence blocks creams from penetrating and hydrating the skin.  A quick  way to remove the dead skin cells is to exfoliate several times a week.

The Caudalie Divine Scrub lives up to its name.


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This gentle scrub which whisks away dead skin cells with brown sugar crystals is infused with four oils: grape, argan, hibiscus and sesame, which always leave my skin soft.  I love how it frees tiny hairs so that my shave is extra-close, and the oils create a gentle, protective barrier so my skin is not irritated after shaving and it feels soft as I towel off.  As temperatures drop further, and in Canada they will (so far… with climate change one can never be certain), a thick cream such as Nuxe Anti-Tightness High-Nutrition Balm should be massaged all over the body, so that when you apply the glow product, it will adhere to, rather than pill on, the skin.


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                Adding Glow to the Face

After applying your skin care products, you need to decide how you wish to glow – overall or only on the peaks of the face (cheekbones, forehead… etc.).

If you want an overall glow, use a glow primer such as Dior Glow Maximizer (light-to-medium) or Burberry Fresh Glow  in Golden Radiance (dark) all over your face.


Photo credits: Dior: and Burberry:

These primers do not make your skin greasy or oily.  Instead, they catch light and make you look like you sprinkled pearls, instead of sugar, over your cereal for breakfast.  The effect is subtle and is a sure victory against Jack Frost in the battle of maintaining your summer glow.


Left to right: Me bare-faced and the my skin with Dior Glow Maximizer

Another method is to apply  a highlighting bronzer, and before you remind me of the risk of the tangerine nightmare, I urge you to run and purchase the Victoria Beckham Estée Lauder Highlighter.


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This product does not have a speck of orange in it and infuses your complexion with a subtle warmth that suggests that you had a quick jaunt to Aruba over the weekend.  I love passing  a big woolly brush over its surface and then lightly dusting the peaks of my face.  It is so easy to apply and it has a 100% guaranteed  look hot rate of return.


Left to right: My make-up prior to highlighter, then my make-up with the highlighter

A third method represents a direct counterpoint to the over-stylised, unnatural-looking kontouring trend that has been de rigueur for far too many seasons.  How about using your trusty fingers to apply lightweight particles that impart angelic elegance in a few swipes?  I am in love with Stila Star Light, Star Bright Highlighting Palette which contains a trio of shades Trancendence (pink), Kitten (champagne) and Bronze (self-explanatory), that can be used alone or mixed together on the cheeks and eyes to create a luminescent glow.


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I use the Transcendence on my eyes and cheeks and then slightly contour with Bronze on a daily basis.  The fact that my fingers can manipulate this product without creating a mess and imparting instant glow, makes me feel like I literally have the Midas touch.  The colours are soft and easy to use on all desi skin tones.  A great buy!


Left to right: Me before the palette and then I use the palette to highlight my eyes and cheekbones.

Adding Glow to the Body

As with the face, there are many viable options on how to make the body glow like a fading summer sun setting off the Almafi Coast.  If you exfoliate and hydrate regularly (described hereinabove), you have wider options for products than someone who has dry, scaly skin because the latter catches the pigment in the product, thus creating a streaky look.

As someone who does not want an extreme look, hard core tanning in a salon is not an option.  First, by directly exposing your skin to UV rays, you damage your skin with rays that speed up aging and cause burns.  Second, I do not want to look like a messed-up Malibu Barbie.  Tanning salons, in my opinion, should be forced to charge a consumption tax that directly funds skin cancer research.  Their existence puzzles me when we have a market filled with self-tanning products that do not stink and make brown skin glow.

I prefer a soft, slightly tinted effect which reflects 1) that my body caught rays but 2) since my body is covered in clothes, it will not be as tanned as my face but still, there is some colour.  The balance is difficult to achieve but is possible with the following products.

I really enjoy the Caudalie Divine Legs because this tinted body lotion hydrates my skin, and imparts a soft barely-there caramel finish with a touch of gold dust within a minute of being applied.


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My legs look bronzey – not fake bronzed, and under a pair of fishnets, they look sexy!  The lotion spreads easily and sets quickly.  The scent is more like green plants rather than coconuts and it stays in place, i.e. it does not stain my clothes.

If you have scars on your skin, or hyperpigmentation, wearing skin baring clothes is an intimidating process.  My right leg has some scars from shaving and they take a long time to fade.  If I am going bare-legged in a dress, both my shaving scars and dark knees are an issue.  In this situation, I follow the steps that I outlined in my blog To Hell with Hyperigmentation to cover-up the darkness and I use Benefit Hoola Zero Tanlines, instead of Caudalie Divine Legs.  The former, like the latter, imparts a soft, gentle glow but the former also comes with a  sponge applicator.  The sponge allows you to dab the product and blend it into the skin.  I apply a drop of Hoola to the sponge and dab it atop my make-up so that I get the glow without  smudging the coverage.  The sponge applicator allows you to contour the legs and the décolletage, if you want to add extra definition.


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If you want to maintain regular, slightly tanned look, St. Tropez Gradual Tan Classic  is a wonderful option.  It is a mousse that you rub into the skin and the tan builds to a soft brown, not Fanta, over time.  You need a to wait a few minutes before you dress but over a few days, you will have a bronzy look that will not sweat out in hot yoga.  This means if you meet your colleagues on the weekend, there won’t be sideway glances wondering what happened to the glow – because it’s always there because you were born with it;)


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My journey from being troubled by having brown skin to looking for ways to celebrate my natural brown glow was not an easy one.  Extending the summer glow is achieved by:

  1. obtaining healthy skin – when your skin is scar-free and you feel body confident, “all of a sudden” what you are born with becomes what you want to celebrate;
  2. great skin is key – use a masque, exfoliate and hydrate so that the skin becomes the base upon which products can adhere in a smooth manner. Moreover when skin is unclogged, it emits its own natural glow that enhances the impact of beauty products;
  3. the face can look glowy by using a primer that is designed to add glow, using a classic powder or tapping on illuminating product. The key is using a light touch because there is a thin line between class and clown;
  4. the body can look glowy but it has different considerations. It is not as dark in the face because it is less-exposed to the sun so the key is to add a hint of glow, not to match the face. Subtlety is the driving criterion when selecting products, and remember that a tanning bed is never an option.  It is a bed of poison for the skin and completely unnecessary when there are other products that do not harness UV rays to damage (Oops! I really meant to type darken)  your skin;
  5. depending on the level of hyperpigmentation on your body, you might prefer a lotion or a product that can be applied in a more controlled manner. Further, if you want a constant glow, lotions are not the right option, and you should look at longer lasting self-tanners;
  6. extending the summer glow is not the exclusive purvey of Caucasian women. Every woman, regardless of her skin tone should consider extending their glow as a viable beauty look that imparts the joy of summer as Jack Frost rises from the depths.

Coconutty for Coconuts by Meena Khan

My current appreciation for coconut oil, a.k.a. cocos nucifera is nothing short of a miracle given my initial, unpleasant encounter with this oil when I visited India during my childhood.


Coconuts are as desi as masala.  The trees are a common sight in many parts of India and people, before the full scale invasion of soft drinks, drank coconut water.  I also vividly recall that my cousins applied copious amounts of coconut oil to their hair.  The scent was cloying and made me nauseous.  The texture was sticky (Uttar Pradesh can be quite humid in the summer), and I always developed a headache and gagged when my cousins partook in their beauty ritual.  I learned that I should leave the room when they took out their blue jar of coconut oil.

Over the years, I automatically recoiled in disgust when I was even in the presence of a coconut.  I had heard of its health benefits and tried to drink the water, only to reject it for being too coconutty. I tried to eat the meat and rejected it for being too coconutty.  I had resigned myself that I would never include this fruit, which is an inherent part of desi and many tropical-based cultures, in my life because it was just too cloying… just too coconutty.


I was content with my decision until this summer when I developed the an incredibly painful ulcer on my tongue.  The week prior to the actual ulcer appearing on my tongue, my teeth were sensitive and my mouth was sore.  After several days I felt a bump on my tongue and I discovered a white one on my tongue.  I was unable to chew my food and to talk.

I gargled with water and salt for several days,  and the ulcer disappeared.  The salty water tasted disgusting and I never wanted to deal with an ulcer again.  My doctor explained that ulcers are caused by stress and exacerbated by spicy foods.

I deal with stress by practising yoga, and I have cut back on spicy food but I wanted to find an easy-to-use solution that treated the ecosystem of my mouth gently and did not introduce chemicals that would trigger an ulcer.  At this point I turned to Ayurveda, a medicinal system developed in India thousands of years ago and is the sister science of yoga, to find a non-toxic approach to preserve the ecosystem of my mouth (there is no way I am cutting spices out of my life!).  The research re-introduced me to the coconut and now I am coconutty.


Ayurveda advises that a great way to clean the mouth is to oil-pull, which requires that you gargle anywhere from five to twenty minutes a day with an oil such as coconut oil.  The coconut oil contains lauric acid which binds with the bacteria which is removed when you spit out the oil.  Jolene Hart in her book Eat Pretty (San Francisco, Chronicle Books LLC, 2014) at page 64 explains that lauric acid is, “… a powerful antimicrobial fat that kills bacteria, viruses and yeast…”)  Oil pulling appealed to me because as someone who has suffered from periodontal disease, the benefit of removing bacteria in a gentle manner made oil pulling worth the effort – except I never wanted to be accused of having coconut breath.

During my journey to find a coconut oil that would not make me gag, I discovered that coconut oil is an affordable, ubiquitous ingredient that has not quite received its due in western beauty media.   However I observe that there are an increasing number of beauty products that are using the coconut’s moisturising and skin-healing benefits in their formulations.

In Pat Crocker’s “Coconut 24/7” (Toronto, Harper Collins, 2013) at page18, Crocker writes that coconut oil, “Moisturizes, heals and protects the skin – absorbs quickly into the skin, does not feel greasy or sticky, and has been found to diminish and prevent wrinkles…”

Bruce Fife’s book The Coconut Oil Miracle 5th Edition (New York, Penguin Group, 2013) is a love letter to this oil.  He explains:

  • Its small molecular structure allows for easy absorption, giving both skin and hair a soft smooth texture…” (page 119)
  • The difference between coconut oil and other creams and lotions is that the latter are made to bring immediate , temporary relief. Coconut oil, on the other hand, not only brings quick relief but also aids in the healing and repairing process.” (page 125)
  • Coconut oil is an excellent exfoliant and can make your skin look more youthful… Coconut oil is in removing dead cells on the outer surface of the skin, making the skin smoother…” (page 126)
  • Coconut oil will gradually soften the skin, removing dead layers, and encourage the growth of new healthier tissue.” (page 127)
  • When bathing or showering, soap washes the protective layer of oil and acid off our skin. Often afterwards the skin becomes tight and dry.  Adding moisturizers helps the skin feel better, but it does not replace the acid or protective MCFAs that were removed… Until  sweat and oils return to reestablish the body’s chemical barrier, your skin is vulnerable to infection… By using a coconut or palm kernel oil-based lotion, you can quickly reestablish the skin’s natural antimicrobial and acid barrier…” (pages 133-134)

The above findings blew me away and I wanted to integrate coconuts into every aspect of my life… but the olfactory memory centre is a powerful one and memories of gagging when the blue jar was opened still made me hesitate.


My first order of business was to find a coconut oil for oil pulling that did not make a me gag, or worse leave me with coconut breath.

I discovered Skinny & Co., a small, family-run company that wild-harvests coconuts from Vietnam.   The website explains the wild-harvested coconuts have not been subject to heat to extract the oil.  Skinny & Co.’s coconut oil is raw and alkaline.  Alkaline means that the products on the pH scale (a scale that measures acidity versus alkalinity)  is greater than seven.  Deepak Chopra and Kimberly Snyder explain in “Radical Beauty” (New York, Harmony Books, 2016) that, “Your body is incredibly precise about maintaining the right pH levels… When your body is more alkaline, there is an increased flow of oxygen and nutrients into your cell walls, and celllular waste is disposed of more easily.” (pages 55-56)

The Oil Pulling is pure coconut oil infused with peppermint.  The product, like all coconut oil, sets to solid at room temperature but becomes liquid when it warmed up.


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The scent is a warm mint and it does not give me a headache.  The oil does not taste weird, and unlike conventional mouth washes, never burns or irritates the inside of my mouth.  Each swish feels like a gentle massage and after spitting out the oil, my breath smells fresher.  I follow with the conventional flossing and brushing, and my mouth feels great, and my breath is fresh!

As a desi girl, I have observed in previous blogs, that hair removal is the bane of my beauty existence.  I wear skirts and let’s face it, sometimes a good solid shave on Monday night will not remain smooth until Wednesday.  The appearance of baby ants’ legs is subtle and entirely unwanted and this means shaving, hence exfoliating the legs, twice in a 72-hour period.  My skin tends to feel raw and parched after the second shaving, and I find that lotions do not adequately calm the irritation.  I decided to massage in Body Butter which healed razor burn and my skin calmed down immediately.  For frequent shavers, this product is a must-have!


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After every shower, I always apply a body oil, and what I enjoy about Coconut Oil is that I do not have to rub it endlessly to achieve absorption.  My skin feels taut and hydrated after each application and stays that way all day!  Bonus: I do not smell like coconut oil because the scent is subtle.


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Skinny & Co. whetted my curiosity about how other brands employ the benefits of coconuts into their products and I am pleased to report that I have found several that deliver beautiful skin and smell amazing!

My skin dries when I use conventional body washes to the point that when I scratch and my skin, it bleeds.  I buy cleansing products from companies like L’Occitane which use soothing products like shea butter that hydrate the skin.  I was thrilled to try the Ultra Rich Shower Cream because it contains 5% shea butter and has a coconut base.


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I checked the ingredients and  the base is composed of cocamidopropryl betaine which is a fatty acid derived from coconut oil (source: and coco-glucoside, a mild, gentle cleansing agent  which is a mix of coconut-based alcohols and glucose (source:  The ingredients are a mouthful but one dollop in the shower created a nutty, soft scent that gently cleansed my body.  I felt refreshed but not squeaky (read: stripped-dry) clean.  The presence of the coconut and shea butter helped my skin to remain supple and prepared to receive the full benefits of coconut oil.

As someone who is  40, keeping my skin taut is a priority.  In addition to massaging daily with oil, I also exfoliate several times a week, to encourage circulation, to get rid of dead skin cells, and to impart a healthy sheen.  I was intrigued by Fresh Cocoa Body Exfoliant because  it smells like chocolate heaven and lists coconut oil as an ingredient.


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Having read that coconut oil sheds dead skin cells, I was thrilled to try this product.  Aside from the olfactory pleasure, the cream is filled with granules of cacao shell powder and feels like the Laura Secord chocolate pudding I used to inhale at recess when I was in elementary school.  I rubbed the lightweight, granular cream on my body and was thrilled at how it gently rolled over my skin.  After I rinsed off the exfoliant, my skin felt soft and smooth!

Beauty Counter is company whose mission is “To get safer products into the hands of everyone.”  The company should be a role model for others in the industry, in that it has banned over 1500 “questionable or harmful ingredients“.  I think Health Canada should take notes from Beauty Counter!

I was intrigued by the Nourishing Eye Cream which contains coconut oil.


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Initially, I hesitated to try the cream because 1) I was nervous that the cream would be too thick and create white bumps in my contour and 2) I did not want anything on my face to smell like coconut.  I squeezed the tube and the cream has no discernible scent.  Further, it is rapidly absorbed by the contour and it was smooth all day!  I loved that my eyes never tear-up and my concealer glides-on effortlessly.  Coconut oil is typically associated with body products but I like how it works in this eye product.

The final coconut product I tested was also my toughest because it has a strong coconut scent.  Burt’s Bees taught us the virtues of honey and uses coconut oil in its aptly named Coconut Foot Cream.


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I have never developed a regular foot cream application ritual until now because the foot creams that I have tried hydrate and then after a few hours, my feet feel dry.  The lack of lasting result demotivated me but my vanity motivated me to take on my childhood dislike of the coconut.

On night one I slathered on the foot cream and gagged at the scent but recalling Fife’s research and drawing on my dislike for my crocodile skin, I rubbed it in.  My skin felt a bit tacky and I worried that my sheets would be stained.  I woke up and enjoyed the softness of my heels, and was relieved that my sheets were pristine.

On night two I braced myself for the scent but could not help but observe that my skin felt more hydrated than usual.  I slathered on the cream and was pleased to wake up to, and walk around all day with, soft feet.

By night three I looked at my feet and realised that Coconut Foot Cream is an amazing product!  I realised that my childhood memories likely exaggerated the actual intensity of the coconut scent and this product works!  My feet are satiny smooth and look nice.  I now have a regular foot cream application ritual and it stars Coconut Foot Cream.


My journey to being coconutty required my being willing to confront my childhood memories and to understand that not all coconut products are created equal.  My research and testing taught me:

  1. there is a good reason why coconut oil is an integral of many cultures, including the desi one, because this oil is gentle and effective;
  2. coconut oil is hydrating for the skin on the body and the face;
  3. coconut oil helps to maintain buccal health;
  4. coconut-derived ingredients are also beneficial to the skin;
  5. many products use coconut oil and ingredients in their products – and they smell good; and
  6. sometimes you cannot judge a product by its scent alone as it may contain other qualities that outlast the coconut scent.

Cocoa Beware by Meena Khan

The nineties can be summed up in two words: matte and brown.  It was as bland as it sounds and for someone who suffered acne and was desperate to feel pretty, it was a lethal combination.

I was self-conscious about my scars and did not understand why my skin had so many of them which refused to fade no matter how much Clinique 3-Step I used.  I tried to cover my scars with drugstore foundations but since there was no tester, it was a crapshoot in terms of shade – of which there were very few for my desi skin.  Further, the liquid would just mix with my sebum to create a pilled mess.

In 1994 I heard of a Canadian brand called M.A.C. and it had a foundation called Studio Fix which could mattify skin and cover imperfections which sounded like the panacea for my skin woes.  I dragged my dad to a small boutique located in the Cavendish Mall to purchase a coveted compact.  My dad, in all his wisdom, balked at the price, and asked the salesgirl, “What is this? Medicine?”  I died a slow death and the salesgirl chuckled and said that she had a dad too…

I clutched that compact, just like I used clutch my new Barbie as a child, because for once in my miserable, frustrated teen angst-ridden existence, I could create the illusion of perfect, scar-free, matte skin, paired with a natural look.

The four elements of my natural look consisted of M.A.C. cake black liner, Brown blush, Chintz lipstick and Chestnut liner.  It was all brown all the time, and so much better than the garish colours of the eighties.  I was not Alexis Colby from Dynasty, I wanted to be Brenda Walsh from Beverly Hills 90210.

Oh and let’s not forget tweezed brows that reduced my medium caterpillars into a pair of dilapidated tadpoles.

I piled on Studio Fix because I wanted to achieve the matte look with no scars.  I then drew a thick dark liquid line to define my eyes; smiled widely to tap on Brown blush on the apples of my cheeks; slightly overdrew my lips with Chestnut liner to achieve the pouty supermodel look; and loaded on Chintz lipstick.   The results were less than flattering as my pictures from the nineties amply demonstrate:

Disaster Pic 1998 Sir Winston Disaster Pic 19950929  Disaster Pic 19980609

Various pictures from the nineties

They say hindsight is 20/20, and in my case it was crystal clear that I made the following  errors in my enthusiasm for the matte, brown look:

  1. not addressing my scars under the guidance of a dermatologist;
  2. abusing the matte concept to the point where my skin no longer breathed; and
  3. applied matte brown all over my face to the point where I looked like I dipped my face in cocoa powder.

Over the past two seasons, the nineties have re-emerged but this time I am wiser, with better skin and the ability to translate the matte, brown look for desi girls.

The brown, matte look has a double foci namely the skin, and the lips.  My lessons from my McGill days taught me that matte brown shadow on brown eyes, which have a dark circles, is a difficult combination to pull off when you are rushed on a Monday morning.  Further, brown blush on brown skin – why, what is the point?

Note that even though the eyes and cheeks are not the foci they are integral to pulling off a modernised 90’s matte, brown look that makes you look Cocoa Aware.

The skin must be matte – not flat.  Instead of covering your face in a matte foundation (powder or liquid), use a matte primer.  I adore Benefit the POREfessional Matte Rescue.

Benefit Matte Rescue Credit sephora

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I have been using this product all summer and no longer need to “powder my nose” at lunchtime.  My pores look diminished and the foundation goes on and stays put.

1 - Meena no make-up 2 - Meena primer 3 - Meena with primer

From left to right – bare skin, applying primer, primed skin.

At this point I always contour my nose.  I learned about contouring from memorising the techniques included in the late, great Kevyn Aucoin’s tome Making Faces (Little, Brown & Company (Canada) Limited, 1997).

Kevyn Aucoin Book Credit sephora

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Mr. Aucoin was a maetsro of make-up who reigned in the nineties until his untimely passing in 2002 (RIP) who changed the make-up look from overdone in the eighties to the natural look of the nineties.  In his hands brown make-up made you look like an adorable fawn.

I enjoy using the Diorblush Light & Contour (3 shades available) because this double-sided stick allows me to apply dark cream down the sides of my nose and then the light cream down the centre.

Dior Contour Credit dior

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One flip of the stick, and my nose looks slim and sculpted.

4 - Meena pplying dior contour  5 - Meena contoured nose

From left to right – contouring my nose

Continuing with the matte – not flat approach, I spot-apply foundation where there is discolouration and blemishes. A matte primer already creates the uniform, grease-free surface and if your forehead/chin/cheeks/temples  look(s) great why waste product?  I recommend using a lightweight, brightening foundation such as bareMinerals BARESKIN™ Pure Brightening Serum  Foundation (available in 20 shades) because as a 40 year old, I want a liquid that does not cling to nascent fine lines and creates the illusion that I sleep more than eight hours.

Bare Minerals Serum Credit Sephora

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If your skin is scarred and excessively oily, a great alternative is Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup (available in 30 shades).  I used Double Wear in my twenties and early-thirties because this product gave me skin confidence while I treated the scars and the oiliness.

Estee Lauder Double Wear Credit Sephora

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One of the contributing factors to my matte, flat face of the nineties was that I just slopped on the foundation.  Achtung:  in addition to selecting a foundation that you spot-apply on troubled areas, use a tool that allows you to control how much product you pour onto the foundation brush.  bareMinerals Perfecting Face Brush is circular with a mini well in the middle.

Bare Minerals Brush Credit Sephora

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When I fill the well a quarter of the way up, I am confident that I have enough product to cover my trouble areas – and to blend my nose.

6 - Brush with foundation.JPG  7 - Spot application  8 - blending nose 9 - Meena foundation full

From left to right – filling the well, spot application, blending the nose, foundation applied

The next step is to apply concealer on my dark circles.  I love that Dior Fix-it (available in 6 shades) primes the skin and adds colour in one fell swoop.

Dior Fix it credit dior

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I can blend in the product knowing that it will not cake and I will look rested.

11 - Meena concealer application 12 - Meena concealer applied

From left to right – applying concealer 

To set it, I rely on another trick (which people nowadays refer to as baking) that Mr. Aucoin discussed in Making Faces.  I apply excess powder on the concealer, such as Laura Mercier Translucent Powder, and let it set while I do the rest of my make-up.

Laura Mercier Powder Credit Sephora

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The added bonus is that the powder catches errant flakes of eye make-up.

13 - Meena baking 14 - Meena powder under tyhe eyes

From left to right – applying powder and then letting it bake

With the skin nearly done, I focus on the eyebrows.  Thankfully my dilapidated tadpoles have grown into tamed and disciplined caterpillars. Over-plucked eyebrows that are designed to mimic the forties look (see: Madonna Bad Girl video on Youtube) are tough on darker skin because 1) the skin on the plucked area is paler than the rest of the eyelid and forehead, which clearly demarks where you plucked – not a desired look; and 2) as a hairy desi girl I attest that it is hard work to spot and pluck on a daily basis.  I advise that you clean up your natural shape, fill in the sparseness and set them.  Givenchy Eyebrow Pencil in Brunette is a powder delivered in a the form of a pencil, which delivers colour precisely.

Givenchy Eye brow pencil Credit sephora   15 - Meena filling in brows

Photo Credit: and me using the pencil

I then set my brows with Givenchy Brow Filler to create a heightened effect.

Givenchy Master Brow credit givenchybeauty16 - Meena heightening brows  17 - Meena brows done

From left to right – Photo Credit:, applying the Brow Filler and my brows done

Many desi women, myself included, have dark eyelids.

18 -0 Meena Dark Lids

My dark lids

Instead of applying eye shadow base which is matte, I use a liquid highlighter such as Dior Flash Luminizer (available in five shades) all over the eyelids to add glow to the face and to act as a counterpoint to the matte skin.

Dior Flash Luminizer credit dior 19 - Meena applying luminizer 20 - Meena blended luminizer

From left to right: Photo Credit:, applying Luminizer and eyes are brighter

Mr. Aucoin extolled the virtues of curled eyelashes and I am proud to say that I have been following his sage advice since 1994.  My favourite eyelash curler, unsurprisingly, is the one from his eponymous line, because I never pinched my eyelids with it.  I curl at the base, proceed to mid-lash and curl again to ensure that my eyelashes are curled, not electro-shocked looking.

Kevyn Aucoin Eyelash Curler Credit Sephora 21 - Meena curkling lashes 21 - Meena curled lashes

From left to right: Photo Credit:, curling lashes and curled lashes

I mentioned earlier that brown eye shadow is difficult to apply when you are rushed and I lament how I enthusiastically applied liquid black liner during my foolish youth.  The best way to use brown that enhances your eyes quickly and looks smoking hot is to use a deep brown pencil.  I love Nars Velvet Liner in Mambo, a warm milk chocolate brown, and Last Frontier, deep chestnut, that evokes the Black Forest… but not quite.

Nars Last Frontier credit sephoraNars Mambo credit sephora

From left to right: Last Frontier and Mambo, Photo Credit:

The velvety depth of these two brown shades define desi dark peepers without the harshness of black. The pencil is creamy so it will not tug on crepey lids, and the colour sets to a smoky finish.

22 - Meena applying liner 23 - Meena lined eyes

From left to right: applying liner and lined

The next step is mascara.  Given the brown theme, it is natural to ask if brown or black mascara is better for the matte, brown look.  The answer lies first in the function of mascara and the natural colour of your eyes and hair.

It is trite to observe that mascara functions like a curtain for the eyes, by making them look open and adding definition. Bearing the function in mind, I observe that contrary to popular belief, not all desi women are dark haired, dark-eyed to the point of jet black.  Dark can range from deep honey to jet black, and if your eye and hair colour falls between deep honey and milk chocolate range, you can pull off brown mascara and have defined eyes.  Benefit Roller Lash will be shortly releasing its beloved lifting and curling mascara in brown, and this mascara is a delicious milk chocolate brown that enhances the curl and adds a touch of flirt to the lashes. For the rest of us, black is a great option because it defines the eyes, without directly interacting with the brown make-up.  I am still loving the Givenchy Noir Couture because its three snowmen brush permits me to reach small lashes, and the formula allows me to build the effect.

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From left to right: Photo Credit:, applying mascara and my eyes with mascara

After applying several coats of mascara, I use my trusty Make Up For Ever 134 Large Powder Fan Brush to remove the powder from under my eyes.

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The bristles are soft and they lift away of the powder without smudging the concealer.

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I am removing the powder

I then add a few dabs of the Dior Luminizer on the area where the circles meets the upper cheek to add more luminosity to the eye area.

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I am applying more Luminizer

The second focus of the matte, brown look are the lips.  I must admit that as a teenager in the nineties I felt that I was relegated to the Chintz and Chestnut combination while my friends were able to work the M.A.C. Spice liner and create chocolate lips that ranged from sexy taupe to warm chocolate brown.   I searched in vain for lighter brown shades but the ones I found were always too light.  I remember looking at pictures and thinking that my lips looked thin, like two slabs of chopped liver, even though I had taken great care to define the cupid’s bow.

As  a 40 year old woman, I understand that when wearing a deeper shade of lipstick, two tools are essential – lip balm and lip liner.  I am blown away by Givenchy Perfecto Beautifying Lip Balm because it plumps, softens and adds pink sheen to my lips.

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From left to right: Photo Credit:, applying balm and pink lips

The balm reacts with your pH to create your unique nude, so that product is for all desi women.  The pink is key to wearing brown lipstick because the intensity of brown, regardless of the formulation (satin, matte, gloss.. etc) can overpower the pout, reducing it to two slabs of liver.

In researching lip colours I braced myself to face the same disappointments of my youth.  Instead, I was almost moved to tears to see that the there are many modern brown shades that suit desi women. I am impressed in particular with the The Estée Edit The Barest Lip Color collection (available in 6 shades) because the satin, sheer finish deposits brown colour that enhances the pout while the matching The Estée Edit The Barest Contour Liner defines the lips in a coordinated matte pencil.  I am in love with 05 In the Buff because it looks like I drank chocolate milk!

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From left to right: Photo Credit:, applying In the Buff Lipstick and liner

If you prefer a stronger, matte look, Estée Lauder Pure Color Envy in Desirous is a deep reddish brown that announces your presence.  I use my 05 In the Buff The Barest Contour Liner to define my lips.

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If you want an undiluted brown that is strong, sexy brown statement, then let’s hail the legendary Bobbi Brown Lip Color in Chocolate.  This bullet glides on like melted chocolate and tells the world that you mastered the nineties!


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After all this work, the final step is blush.  I did not explore blush in youth because I felt that it would draw attention to my scars and bumps.  Thankfully, with better skin, I now appreciate the lifting and refreshing effects of blush.  Given the brown  make-up, a bit of freshness in the form a mauvey-pink adds definition while respecting the palette.  For light-to-medium complected desi women, I recommend Benefit Dandelion and for darker-complected women, I recommend Benefit Dallas.

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Photo Credit: and I am applying blush


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In revisiting the nineties I learned the following lessons:

  1. Matte does not mean flat. You can achieve matte skin with primer;
  2. Foundation does not mean you have to cover your face completely, spot application permits your skin breathe and look flawless at the same time;
  3. Eyebrows are not meant to be shaped like dilapidated tadpoles. The key is to groom them well and use products to enhance their colour and shape;
  4. No matter how you slice it, desi women have dark circles which is not conducive to applying brown eye shadow in a rush. The key is to prepare the eye with concealer and luminizer, and to set the work with powder so that your 3 minute investment lasts for the next eight hours;
  5. Mascara is not the focal point but it should not be neglected. Brown mascara is a viable option for lighter-complected desi women who have lighter hair and eyes, and b;ack mascara remains a classic accent that suits all desi women which will respect the brown palette. Oh yeah – and don’t forget to curl them!
  6. Dark eye shadow is tricky to apply perfectly when you are in a rush so use a brown pencil to look smoking hot;
  7. Brown is a strong colour that can reduce a pout to looking like two slabs of chopped liver. To reduce the intensity of the colour while invoking chocolate desires, apply a pink-tinted balm;
  8. Desi women rejoice – the market has caught up to us. We are brown but there are brown shades of lipstick for all of our tones, the key is to figure out what formula and statement you wish to make with your lips;
  9. The devil is in the details so make sure to add a hint of pink-mauvey blush to lift the face.

So now that you are Cocoa Aware, treat yourself to a brownie at Juliette & Chocolat!