THE BLOG
03/20/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Reach Out and Retouch Someone: Why Digital Tweaking Isn't Such a Dirty Business

There have been a lot of rumblings lately about the evils of retouching. And, to be sure, when I see a forty-something actress on a magazine cover with the pelvis of a five-year-old, I think "Well, perhaps they've gone too far!" But when did retouching become such an abominable practice? It's not merely creative directors, advertising gurus and film-makers who rely on the magic of pixels to manipulate their images. Since the advent of digital cameras, we've all become amateur retouchers, at home in our Juicy Couture sweats laboring over personal photos to remove red eyes, delete blemishes and improve the overall appearance of our skin. The motto of the Facebook generation could be: Retouch Thyself.

As a makeup artist, I'm intrigued by the challenge of updating techniques from the era of black and white movies, and using cosmetics, as opposed to needles and surgery, to sculpt faces and erase wrinkles. But I'm not averse to employing a little digital sleight of hand. Recently I finished my first-ever makeup book, Forever Flawless: How To Look Your Best At Every Age (Allen & Unwin), for which we photographed a slew of real women, from fresh-faced teens to my very own sixty-something mother. Did we retouch these images? We enhanced them in a subtle manner -- under studio lighting microscopic facial hairs become overly noticeable, while vibrant makeup colors can appear washed out -- and the women still look like themselves. We didn't distort their faces with a heavy hand, as we all know can happen.

Images from Forever Flawless: How To Look Your Best At Every Age
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As the father of four daughters, I feel strongly that the media shouldn't be saturated with unrealistic images that might warp young women's perceptions of themselves. That said, I do believe that we read beauty images with a different eye, so the idea of labeling digitally altered photographs -- a debate that's raging everywhere from France to Australia -- seems excessive to me. We're well aware of the machinations of the glamour world. Even my young daughters know that a picture is just a frozen moment in time that can never be replicated. Like concealer or foundation, retouching is another tool in the makeup artist's kit. When a model arrives to a shoot with a bad breakout, as happened recently in Los Angeles, do I humiliate her and send her packing? Or just adjust her skin in post-production? The latter, of course.

There is a trend now for publications (including French Elle and Australian Marie-Claire) to generate "naked" issues, with stars photographed sans makeup and without the benefit of Photoshop. But it seems hard to imagine that this is the way of the future. Sure, Monica Bellucci and Christy Turlington still look stunning au naturel, but some of us prefer the beauty fantasy. Admittedly, one dubious category is that of mascara advertising. I have to pause when I see a model with lashes so preternatural they protrude like the tendrils of a plant. Paging James Cameron. For those who prefer to retouch in the old-school way -- with makeup -- you could try my Auto Pilot Re-Touch Skin Smoothing Cream for blurring fine lines. Or you could explore these tips gleaned from the Golden Age of Hollywood:

Lighten up: Apply a concealer two shades lighter than your skin tone with a medium synthetic brush. Press the concealer onto areas such as the brow bone, the cheekbones, and the bridge of the nose to give a "lifted" appearance.

Define and deepen: Create definition and depth with a concealer two shades darker than your skin tone. Apply to the socket of the eye, the temples, the hollows of the cheeks and down the sides of the nose, to further heighten the lifted appearance.

Get reflective: Maximize the lifted effect with a crème or powder that will reflect light. Apply onto the areas of the face that light would naturally hit, such as the brow bone, cheekbones and bridge of the nose -- the same areas you highlighted with the light concealer.

Slip into neutral: With a small soft brush, add further depth and definition to the cheeks, eyes and neck by using a matte powder in a neutral shade to absorb light. Place it under the cheekbones, on the inner corner of the eye, from the brow down the bridge of the nose, and also on the jaw line.

Open the eyes: Lift the eyes by eliminating redness with a skin tone concealer applied to the outer corner of the peepers. Work liner on the lower lash line, close the eye and continue sweeping out on an upward angle, and bring the liner back along the outer corner onto the top lash line. Also extend the eye by working your liner onto the inner corner of the upper lash line.