In the past, when I’d stumble across old photos from my tween years, I couldn’t help but wince at the excess of my makeup: the thick kohl liner, the clumpy mascara, the mismatched foundation. It’s a lot to come to terms with, particularly since I’m a beauty journalist now. But as we all know, puberty can be angsty, and my makeup was one way I made sure to convey all that pent-up emotion.
I looked back at this tween makeup with some level of fondness — or perhaps empathy is the correct word — but I couldn’t have predicted my emo makeup would make its way back into the mainstream in 2023. And I certainly never imagined I’d actually be using my old photos as beauty references.
But this year the unthinkable happened: Smoky, messy, emo makeup — similar to the looks I wore in MySpace photos circa 2007 — made its way back into the beauty Zeitgeist. We saw early inklings of this movement with the resurgence of pop-punk music in the charts thanks to musicians like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish. But it wasn’t until the release of Netflix’s hit show Wednesday that “soft-goth glam makeup” officially took over TikTok by a storm, the hashtag garnering nearly 363 million views. It’s safe to say gothic, emo-inspired makeup has made a comeback, and we’ve seen celebrities such as Billie Eilish, Beabadoobee, Jenna Ortega, and Zendaya master these types of looks on red carpets. And to be totally honest, I’m here for it.
While it’s certainly influenced by the early-2000s emo-goth era (not to be confused with ’90s grunge, which is a different look), the makeup we’ve seen has an elevated, modern twist that makes it a bit less extreme and more wearable today: natural, barely there foundation; a flush of colour on the cheeks; and smudgy, tinted lips. Simply put: It’s a nod to tween angst without the toe-curling embarrassment.
When it comes to emo-goth makeup, it’s really all about the black eyeliner. And musician Halsey — an artist who toys with the pop-punk genre herself — created an incredible product with her brand About Face. This chunky shadowstick is superb for a few reasons: It’s super-pigmented (so you don’t have to pull or tug), lasts all day, and — perhaps my favorite aspect of it — its tip is thin enough to use for a cat eye, but it’s width is thick enough to use all over the lid as a shadow, depending on how extreme you want to go with it. Personally, when I use this product, I line my lower and upper water lines and then make the teeniest little wing from the center of my pupil to the edge of my eyes, similar to how I would do a standard cat eye but stopping the tail a little earlier. Then I take my nail and very gently pull at the wing to elongate and enhance it. I’ve done this a few times and so far it’s pretty foolproof, and much easier than doing a cat eye with my standard liquid liner. If there are any harsh lines, I’ll use a small brush and gently buff the edges of the liner so it’s a bit smokier.
I feel comfortable wearing this kind of makeup look on a random Tuesday, but for some folks, it’s better suited for a more special occasion, such as a party or event. When I want to elevate it a bit to make it look more special or formal, I use this liquid glitter eyeshadow from E.L.F. to add a bit of sparkle over the cat eye. It’s a really easy product to use: You simply pat over the wing with the doe-foot applicator — instant twinkle.
Coraly-peach shades are typically not my go-to blush tones, but I was so inspired by Billie Eilish’s red-carpet makeup I decided to purchase a similar shade from E.L.F., one of my favorite affordable drugstore brands. And I’m very glad that I did. It gives my cheeks a really nice sun-kissed look that I so desperately need during the winter months. I’m pale as a ghost. This is another really great drugstore pick — it’s buildable (so you can get a very sheer wash or color or amp it up for the evening), lasts all day, and won’t hurt your pockets.
Because there’s a lot going on with the eyes, most of the celebrities that have really mastered this look have chosen to go pretty subtle, smudgy, and slightly glossy on the lips. A great choice for this kind of effect are the Shineon Milky Lip Jellies from Tower28. They provide a buttery, soft flush of color to the lips that’s comfortable, hydrating, and long lasting. There are a few shades depending on your skin tone and what colors you tend to gravitate toward, but I personally like Oat for a peachy pink tint.
One of the things that really modernizes this look is how glowy, fresh, and minimal the base makeup is — the eyes are the star of the show while the rest of the makeup remains a bit more natural and understated. With that in mind, a skin tint such as this one from Glossier is a great way to add a nice veil of color to even out your complexion without it looking cakey and overdone. It has an oilier consistency, which is nice for adding that luminous glow to the skin.
A little darkness under the eyes is definitely in line with emo-goth makeup, but if you want to conceal any redness or breakouts, a fuller-coverage concealer like this one from Too Faced is great for cancelling blemishes out in specific areas while the rest of your skin remains natural.
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