From the boho style of the 1960s and 70s to the technicolor look of the 1980s, so many of the makeup trends that dominate our beauty mood boards are rooted in nostalgia. And whether we're thinking of fashion, makeup, or haircare, '90s trends have long reigned supreme. From Britney Spears' bright silvery blue eyeshadow to Naomi Campbell's stunning dark lipstick, '90s makeup, in particular, has experienced strong resurgences since its heyday. Over the past month alone, the decade's most quintessential looks have been championed by It Girls like Megan Thee Stallion, Kylie Jenner, and Keke Palmer, to name just a few.
Now that these looks are back in full force, it's worth taking the time to break them down. So, I've asked celebrity makeup artist Colby Smith to explain the hottest 90s makeup looks making a comeback right now—along with those that might be better left in the past.
Dark, Glossy Lips
This might be the first look you think of when you think of '90s makeup. Worn by everyone from J.Lo to Alicia Silverstone to Naomi Campbell, this look always adds a striking touch to any beauty routine. The look has recently made a comeback, with celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion and Kylie Jenner championing the glossy dark lip at events and on social media.
"The brown lipliner and clear lipgloss is fully back," Smith confirms. To get get the look, he instructs, "Take a lip liner that is roughly three to four shades darker than your regular nude and give a feathered lip line. Top with your favorite clear or sheer gloss or lip oil."
Charlotte Tilbury Lip Cheat Lip Liner
Glossier Glassy High-Shine Lip Gloss
Glossier Ultralip High Shine Lipstick with Hyaluronic Acid
Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer
Light Eye Makeup
Light eye makeup ruled red carpets and runways in the '90s. Often, the hues of choice included silver, white, light blue, and lavender, with special attention to inner creases and contoured, shiny lids.
In particular, Smith points to "the '90’s supermodel look famously done by Kevyn Aucoin as the eye makeup look that defined the decade—and that, in my experience, bled into the go-to beauty regimens of the early 2000s. Smith describes this styles as a "carved neutral crease with a matte flesh tone or bone color on the lid," similar to that which can be seen on Britney Spears in the photo above.
For a truly nostalgic feel, channel Aucoin's signature look by filling your lid with silver, white, or light blue powder. Then, outline the upper crease with a tan shade, and go over it with an ever darker neutral (including chocolate or dark gray), extending this last shade to the ends of your eyes. Finish with a dab of white or silver at the inner corners.
Milk Makeup Color Chalk Multi-Use Powder Pigment
Natasha Denona Mini Xenon Eyeshadow Palette
Charlotte Tilbury Luxury Eyeshadow Palette - Pillow Talk Collection
MAC Cosmetics Squall Goals Eyeshadow Palette
While '90s makeup has certainly had a lasting impact on contemporary beauty trends, that doesn't mean that every single look from the era has carried over. Contouring, for instance, became popular in the mid-2010s, popularized by brands like Huda Beauty and celebrities like Kim Kardashian. However, Smith says, "Bronzer and highlight were not as popular in the '90s." Instead, he explains, "the look was usually soft and matte."
Contouring remains popular today, though our contours have become far less distinct than they were circa 2016. When I theorize that the softer look of the '90s is slowly making a comeback, Smith admits, "I can see matte making its way back in trends for sure."
But not all '90s-era face makeup has his seal of approval. "Super powdery skin finish should stay in the 90’s," Smith says—and I can't help but agree.
To get a matte finish without looking cake-y, opt for a premium pressed setting powder. Many use a sponge for application, but to avoid a thick, noticeably powdery finish, I like to pour a bit of powder out onto my hand or into the lid of the container, then use one of my larger brushes to dab the product on my face, even tapping a bit off the brush before I do so. This ensures that the product isn't too concentrated.
But when I'm not in the mood for a powder (usually in the summer, when it feels to humid for it), I use a setting spray with a matte finish. Below, the favorites I always keep stocked in my makeup bag.
Milani Make It Last Matte - Matte Finish Charcoal Setting Spray
Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder
ONE/SIZE by Patrick Starrr Cheek Clapper 3D Blush Trio Palette
Urban Decay All Nighter Ultra Matte Makeup Setting Spray
Favorite brands tend to come and go in the beauty world, their standout products defining the looks of their respective eras. But some brands—and products—stand the test of time, remaining just as iconic today as they were in their heyday.
"Kevyn Aucoin is as legendary as the products that are still around," Smith says of the late Aucoin's eponymous brand. "Also, MAC is just as fresh as it was then. Spice pencil was all the rage then, and it still is incredibly popular to this day."
Kevyn Aucoin The Contour Book - The Art of Sculpting and Defining Volume III
Kevyn Aucoin The Etherealist Skin Illuminating Foundation
MAC Cosmetics Lip Pencil - Spice
MAC Cosmetics Lipstick Cream