Depending on what you wear, makeup can help you stand out or it can help you blend in. But, makeup can be a tricky experience for autistic people. It can be a form of self-care, but the look, feel, and smells of makeup are a sensory no-go for some. For others, makeup (and its social norms) can become a method of masking. We invited Janette T. Bundic, an AutismBC Content Collaborator, to create a sensory-friendly makeup tutorial and talk to us about the intersection of makeup and masking.
Do you have any sensory sensitivity yourself regarding makeup?
At first, when I read this question, I didn’t think I had a sensory sensitivity. As I delved deep and looked deep into my soul, I soon realized that I did have a sensory sensitivity to makeup growing up. Every time I was wearing a full-coverage foundation, I would go out of my way to scratch it off because I was convinced that the foundation would give me hives.
Whenever I wore mascara or eyeliner that wasn’t made for sensitive skin, I would constantly rub my eyes and try to peel off the eyeliner because my thoughts convinced me that I was going to have an eye infection due to the makeup products that I was wearing.
I guess when I first saw this question, I was masking. I didn’t want to admit that I had a sensitivity to makeup because people would often bully me and tell me that I look better with makeup. If I wasn’t wearing any makeup, they would tell me “Damn, you need makeup.”
That bullying has caused me to feel a great deal of shame towards myself. Sometimes it’s even hard to wake up on some days and I just want to give up. But, I stop and remind myself that giving up is not the answer and that creating art and practicing self-care is healing.
Do you have a connection between makeup and masking? When do you find yourself masking?
When I was in high school, I put on makeup to fit in, kind of like when autistic people mask. Before I realized I was on the autism spectrum, I masked in order to fit in and get people to like me. I’ve been out of high school for about six years now and I can confidently say that I don’t mask when I put on makeup because I simply put it on for myself and not for other people.
Otherwise, I mask whenever I meet new people because I want to be accepted by my peers, bosses, and colleagues. I want to fit in, be liked by others, and pass as a neurotypical. If I had more confidence, I don’t think I would mask as much. I do that subconsciously and I sometimes can’t control it. I do it automatically because deep down, sometimes, I am convinced that I could be a neurotypical too if I tried hard enough. That, if I mask well enough, no one will find out that I’m on the autism spectrum.
I normally mask when I’m about to embark on a new journey and/or activity that’s new to me. For example, if I’m going to a new school or starting a new job. I always mask in the beginning of that new chapter in my life but I’m not fully aware of it when I do mask until it gets to my breaking point and I feel overwhelmed. Then my anxiety and depression break lose, and I feel lost.
Why do you mask and how does it affect you?
I mask sometimes because I have a hard time accepting my overall soul as a person. I am sometimes scared of my own reflection in the mirror because I have a hard time recognizing myself due to my intense masking. Sometimes I can’t control my masking as I do it automatically when I feel uncomfortable in a new situation, especially when I meet new people from different walks of life from me. I also fear that someone I’m dating in the future will find out I’m on the autism spectrum; I’m scared he might treat me differently or be embarrassed to be seen with me in public.
Masking for long periods of time affects my mental health in a very negative way. I end up having lots of panic attacks both mentally and physically. It’s definitely both mentally and physically exhausting. Although, I can completely be myself whenever I paint, create content for my YouTube channel, or write a poem on my feelings and how I feel in that moment. I even go for runs and walks sometimes and try to meditate and all of the above usually helps. If it’s really bad still, I’ll try to vent to my mom and brother, and close friends while I cuddle with my family dog and that definitely works too.
Sensory Friendly Makeup
What types of makeup would you recommend for someone with sensory sensitivities?
Here are some things to try when…
… Moisturer feels too oily or thick on your face
Try a water-based moisturizer! Lightweight and hydrating, it leaves your face feeling hydrated without the heaviness an oil-based cream may bring.
… Liquid Foundation feels too thick or heavy on your face
Using a lightweight foundation, cc cream, or tinted moisturizer can feel less noticeable on the face
… Powder foundation feels itchy
Skip it! Like anything on this list, if a type of product makes you feel uncomfortable remember that it’s not necessary. Try one of the options above instead.
… Eyeshadow feels rough on your eyelids
Cream eyeshadow can be an easy swap from powder. You could also try a matte eyeshadow which has less texture than something with sparkles.
… Mascara clumps/flakes/feels too thick
Try a “tubing mascara” instead. This type of mascara wraps around your lashes instead of sticking them together. It can feel more lightweight and give a great look. It is also harder to rub off and won’t flake as much.
… Lipstick is an unappealing texture
The nice thing about lip products is they come in a variety of textures and formats. Try a variety of products to see what feels best for you. For example:
Tinted lip balm could be a positive texture replacement for sticky lip gloss.
Matte liquid lipstick can feel very drying – try using lip liner as lipstick instead.
Some lip stains can feel very lightweight on the lips and is long-lasting.
… Makeup brushes and/or sponges are a bad sensory experience
A lot of products come in stick form, meaning you can apply them directly to the face. Look for this option when shopping. It’s also fine to apply the product with your hands/fingers if that feels best. Just remember to wash your hands before and after.
… Nail polish is fun but you have issues with removal
Look for peel-off nail polish. It can be peeled off quickly if the polish itself is bothering you and you can avoid the harsh smell of chemical remover and rubbing sensation.