Fashion & Beauty


January 28, 2024



By Valerie Monroe

For nearly 16 years Valerie Monroe was the beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the popular “Ask Val” column. She now splits her time between Manhattan and Tokyo.

If you’re interested in feeling happier about your appearance—especially as you age—you might like reading what she has to say about it. For more of her philosophical and practical advice, subscribe for free to How Not to F*ck Up Your Face at

DAMN IF I didn’t run into actor/singer/comedienne Bridget Everett again recently. This time I was emerging from a park and about to cross the street when I saw her on the opposite side about to walk toward me. On the spur of the moment, I gave her a HNTFUYF business card (I use the term “business card” loosely; see below). It seemed appropriate to assure her I wasn’t a stalker.

Strictly “business.”

Now I’m one of those weird people who hand out cards to strangers. On a not unrelated note, I forgot to comb my hair before leaving the house yesterday. The only thing that makes me feel better about both is high conviction that no one cares about it but me.

Also, a quick note about a recent post. Dr. Lucy McBride, whose excellent Substack is called Are You Okay?, tackled the issue of alcohol (the drinking kind) last week with her usual commonsense. It’s worth reading if you’re bewildered, as many of us are, about the results of conflicting studies about alcohol on our health. Read the post here.

An apology to my melanin-rich readership. This week’s beauty Q&A concerning a ghostly pallor likely isn’t relevant. But I remind you that you shouldn’t forgo sunscreen; here’s one that promises not to leave an ashy residue.

Ask Val . . .

Q: Thank you for doing your part to throw a wrench in the Capitalist Beauty Machine. We all need to move away from that toxic relationship and into closer communion with what is—with the people we love, the beautiful planet, the noble endeavors that can replace buying shit to minimize our existential fear of loss. [The reader inserted a few gracious comments about HNTFUYF here, which I’ll spare you—but I’ll add a plea not to be meager with your kind words to anyone, because hearing them can be so heartening!]

My question: I’m a 47-year-old, stretched-thin single mom/nurse/writer without a lot of disposable income. I also have a loving boyfriend who doesn’t care that much about what I look like. I’m generally happy enough with my looks. But the one thing that sort of plagues me is my pallor. Even in July, I look ghostly. I know I will appreciate it in the long run, but in the short term I feel washed out and don’t know what to do other than spackle myself with products or get spray-tanned (no to that). Because I am SO pale, even applying bronzer makes me look somewhat jaundiced. I would appreciate any tips.

A: Ghostly pallor! If you were into all things Goth, I would say lucky you! But as you wisely point out, you are lucky—because if you keep protecting yourself from the sun’s damaging UVA/UVB rays, you will most likely enjoy your unblemished ghostly pallor right up until the moment you become an actual ghost.

On the other hand, I understand the wish to look more . . . corporeal. A small study shows that one of the easiest ways to achieve an admirable complexion seems to be through choosing the right palette of clothing. Who knew? (Not me.)

As for your facial pallor: I wrote to Barbara Stone, one of my favorite makeup artists (now also a talented ceramicist). Barbara spent many years working at Bobbi Brown—and had the dubious honor of doing my makeup for most of the beauty editor events that required a polished presentation. Here’s her advice:

“The key to bringing out the best in fair skin is to add dimension with products that make it appear lit from within. Fortunately, this isn’t as tricky as it sounds!” she said.

“One way to make very fair skin look creamy—not pasty—is to add glow with face oil. There are a couple of ways to incorporate it into your routine. One is to rub a couple of drops into the palms of your hands and gently but firmly press it onto your skin after your regular regimen. Some days, two drops will do the trick; other days, if you’re dehydrated, you may need more. You also can mix a couple of drops with your moisturizer.”

Barbara loves Leland Francis Luxe Face Oil, because of its delicious feel. And she likes the way you can press it on over foundation when you need a little extra zhuzh. (I love the way makeup artists talk, don’t you?)

She continues: “Foundation can appear makeup-y on fair skin, so keep it to a minimum—just enough to look evened-out and to give any additional color something to adhere to.” (Because I don’t love foundation, I sometimes mix a bit of tinted moisturizer with my regular un-tinted one for a similar effect.) Barbara says she adores Monika Blunder foundations, because they can be manipulated to give whatever coverage you need without heaviness.

“Very fair skin usually doesn’t tan, so golden-toned bronzers appear artificial,” she said (Pale Reader, you’ve discovered this yourself). “Instead, go with a sheer, pinky-rose blush lightly applied the way bronzer is usually used. Nudestix Cherry Blossom Babe is fantastic for this and has a built-in brush for feathering the edges. You want something that will look like the color comes from your skin.

“Feather a bit around your hairline and then onto your cheeks. To mimic the look of the flush you get in the sun, apply a little more to the highest part of the apples of your cheeks,” Barbara said. She prefers to apply color with a soft synthetic-bristle brush and then glide the remaining color very lightly over the whole face (and onto the neck if your chest has more color than your face, she adds).

Things you might avoid: products with a matte finish or a silicone base, since they will make your skin look flat. Also, a little shimmer can be flattering—but shiny highlighters can look as if they’re just sitting on your skin (so . . . fake).

Full disclosure, when I first read Barbara’s advice, it seemed like a lot. But then I realized, it’s only three steps: oil, foundation (or tinted moisturizer), and blush. To me, the most central idea is the delightfully named Cherry Blossom Babe stuff, artfully applied. And one more thing Barbara didn’t mention is that a deep, blue-red lip color can look spectacular with pale skin, taking you from ghostly to glamorous in no time.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *