How do blind people put on their make-up?

Cara Gibbons Image copyright Other
Image caption 'Keep it simple,' is Cara Gibbons's advice

Putting on make-up is tricky enough if you have practised in front of a mirror for years. But how do blind people do this most visual of things?

"I use a brush, do five swirls across my blush and tap it to remove the excess," says Christine Ha in a YouTube video which shows how she applies make-up without a mirror. Ha is blind and received much attention after becoming the winner of the US series of Masterchef in 2012. "I smile to find the apples of my cheeks, then lightly brush [the blush] on from the apples to my temples."

"Like my cooking," Ha writes on her blog, "it all comes down to sense of touch and lots of practice."

She lost her sight slowly as an adult and had to relearn how to make herself up. With eyes, she says, "Once you feel the brush on your lashes, that's when you know to start stroking the mascara on." Becoming familiar with the length of the mascara wand beforehand, helps her to gauge the approach towards her lashes. Some feel that a shorter wand, like a sample-size one, makes it easier to apply the make-up accurately.

If you can't see, applying make-up is not simply about working at it until you achieve the look you want. It's an exercise in trying to look your best using your sense of touch and methodically counting the number of brush strokes or finger swipes to ensure an even coating.

Blind people develop innovative ways of doing daily chores. If something accidentally drops on the floor, for instance, the best way to find it is to systematically sweep hands in a wide circle to make sure no part of the surface is left unexplored. A similar method can be used for applying foundation.

Methodically does it

Visually impaired fashion blogger Emily Davison, who was on this month's Ouch podcast, puts her make-up on in front of a "very large magnifying mirror which is freestanding", to take full advantage of her remaining eyesight. She says eye make-up gives her confidence because it takes the focus away from how they look and from that often asked question: "How much can you see?"

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Media captionChristine Ha shows how to put on mascara and blusher

As well as clothes tips, she also gives make-up advice to her readers. For eye shadow, she says, you've got to resist the natural urge to use your fingers, adding: "You will never achieve as much definition as you would with a brush."

People who have never been able to see need to be shown some real basic techniques, and to learn from others before practising on themselves. Davison gives instructions like: "Place your index finger on the outer corner of your eyelid and pull it slightly so that the eyeliner glides smoothly across the surface." She urges visually impaired women to avoid liquid eyeliner and instead opt for the more crayon-like products as they glide on smoothly and dry quickly, which helps avoid smudging.

Eyeliner can be tricky to put on without sight, because you experience little sensation in your eyelids, making it difficult to feel how it has been applied. Some blind people get liners permanently tattooed on for this reason. Lips are more sensitive and so lipliner is easier to do.

Davison says that "blending in make-up is particularly important for blind people", who can't see where lines have appeared between colours, or where foundation ends and skin or hair begins. If make-up is done well she believes it helps to kill off any ideas people might harbour "that blind people don't know what they're doing."

Image copyright RNIB
Image caption Davison says make-up draws attention away from the fact there is something wrong with her eyes

Cara Gibbons lost her sight suddenly through illness at 19. She started wearing make-up again in her 20s, when family told her that she looked pale and tired.

She has a secret weapon for avoiding a common lipstick problem. When it's on and smudges have been blotted with a tissue, she says: "I put my finger in my mouth and pull it out. This takes any lipstick off the inside of your lips, that could otherwise end up on your teeth."

She says that for clothes, hair and make-up, having at least one trusted, honest person to rely on is vital. "My friends are happy to check whether there's eye shadow on my cheeks or if I have managed to apply my make-up evenly, but they are much more subtle than mum and my sister, who will say straight out if something looks horrible on me," she says.

But she doesn't live with them, so her motto when going it alone is "keep it simple". She asks at make-up counters in shops about which foundation suits her skin tone and says that "for eye make-up, I stick with browns and creams, which I think suit everyone".

While Gibbons plays it safe, Emily Davison likes to change her make-up with the seasons. "I wear coral lipstick in summer," says Davison, "and plums in autumn and winter." She says that you can get seasonal changes and trends right without sight, by reading fashion blogs and new product reviews, "and talking to lots of different make-up counter consultants until you find one who wants to help rather than give you the hard sell. Take it from somebody who has bought lots of make-up and regretted it."

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