Making up may be hard to do, but it's worth it

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Have you ever wondered what might be holding you back, professionally speaking? Belinda Morris suggests that it could possibly be that you've neglected your maquillage.

It was a throw-away comment amid a growing check-list of image dos and donts for female executives, but it stopped me mid note-writing flow. Apparently, a survey in the US (of course) has found that women who wear make-up earn up to 25 per cent more than women who wear none at all.

Now, since this information came to me third-hand, and I have been unable to verify it, I couldn't tell you whether this means women doing the same or comparable jobs; or whether it simply infers that if you have a high income you're more likely to be wearing make-up anyway. Whatever, I was purely struck by the notion of it; by the un-PCness of the observation by one successful career woman to a group of burgeoning, high-flying sisters. To suggest that such a vain preoccupation could influence salary - that girlie perfection wins Brownie points - would surely have been unthinkable in the mother nature knows best Seventies and power-crazed, women-on-top Eighties. This time there were a few bare-faced raised eyebrows, but no one stormed out in a feminist huff.

The point is that attitudes to the finer points of personal grooming are changing - particularly in corporate life, but there is also a softer edge creeping into the necessarily masculine front presented by women in business today. It is just possible, though, that the survey's findings (and what's happening in the US will inevitably find a home here sooner or later) leave you feeling uneasy. Perhaps you hate the fuss of make- up, or the heaviness of it; or you feel that it looks too frivolous for work. You may just be nervous of using it - don't know where to start. Take heart - the underlying message of the statistic is not that crimson lips, false lashes and frosted blue eye shadow are the key to success, but a little is better than nothing.

"It's not good enough just to look smart, a well-groomed woman looks ready for more responsibility and like she deserves more money," is the view of image consultant Mary Spillane, whose book Makeover Manual (a DIY guide to changing your look without the aid of a magazine's beauty department) has just come out. And it needn't be much - even a dab of powder gives a face (particularly a tired/blotchy/shiny one) a more "finished" look.

Going without, according to the book, is not an option if you want to face your public, head held high, and Ms Spillane sets about explaining, step by step, brush by curler, concealer by blusher, how to achieve a "luminous and expensive" make-up look from scratch. She spells out how to first identify your skin type and care for it; provides a de-coder for the trickier elements of cosmetic science such as what is an AHA/ceramide/liposome, and itemises the tools of the trade necessary for a decent home makeover - lip pencils, sponges, tweezers, at least five different-sized brushes.

Ms Spillane glides effortlessly through the minefield that, for most women, is foundation, with wise words such as "go with nature... the wrong- coloured foundation makes you look either unwell or dirty". Eugh! She also points out (and is backed by dermatologists) that a good foundation protects the face against pollution and the elements.

Never choose a blusher to go with an outfit; ignore the wilder excesses of catwalk make-up (ie, there are a lot of pastel, watery shades about at the moment, but if they seem too girlie, the warmer, natural tones will always be available); bin eye shadows over a year old, even if you still like them, because bacteria will be lurking; blue eye shadow is a no-no on brown or hazel eyes and remember that light, shiny shades make lips look larger - these are among the host of useful tips. It's worth bearing in mind, however, that Mary Spillane is the name behind the Colour me Beautiful organisation, and if you don't hold with all that Cool Summer, Warm Autumn, best-colours-for-you business, then it's up to you to decide which shades of cosmetics suit you.

Alternatively, you could seek out another type of professional for advice. Often over-looked, many of the assistants on cosmetic counters in large department stores are trained make-up artists and will do a free make- up lesson in the time it takes to eat an egg and tuna sandwich. In fact the assistants at Guerlain have just been instructed in the "one-minute make-over", which means even the busiest executive has no excuse. They have a beautiful and handy compact called Mozais, which can be filled with a customised choice of colours.

A common complaint is that make-up rarely seems to stay put. You have to reapply throughout the day, and there's something less than professional about taking out a powder compact in the boardroom.

Well, this needn't be the case. One of the newest revolutions in modern cosmetics is transfer-proof make-up. Available here this spring is the US big brand Maybelline, which has introduced Great Wear, a line of "budge- proof" lip colours and liners, foundations, concealers and eye-liners. Then there's Helena Rubenstein's Spectacular make-up, Prescriptives' Exact Matchstick and Revlon's Colorstay waterproof lash colour - all with staying power.

If you hate the idea of make-up that looks obvious then a trip to Trish McEvoy's counter at Harvey Nichols is in order. For spring faces she recommends just a touch of colour applied as a concealer and blended in to complement the natural skin colour. Be warned though. You'll come away with a planner full of colour palettes, but after a little guidance you'll be able to work out how to apply them for a low-key or full-on effect. Estee Lauder's Enlighten might also suit. Described as skin-enhancing, it evens out less- than-flawless skin but is lightweight and fluid for a more natural cover. To make sure that you go away with the exact colour for your skin tone, Prescriptives pioneered Colourprinting - the custom-blended foundation.

If it's speed you're after and you dislike the mess of fluid make-up, you might prefer one of the newer breeds of two-in-one powder foundation such as Estee Lauder's Perfectionist, Dior's new Teint Compact Lisse and Borghese's Cura Naturale. All can be applied dry for a light dusting, or with a damp sponge for a heavier cover-up job. And they're pretty foolproof to apply.