I Gave Up Makeup To Embrace Travel — And It Transformed My Dating Life

Image by Evil Pixels Photography / Stocksy

My lifestyle in Southeast Asia is barefoot, barefaced, and bare-hearted.

As a full-time traveler living out of a backpack, I don't have much space to hoard appearance-enhancing products. Living in the extremely humid heat of Southeast Asia doesn't really bode well for a full face of makeup, anyway. Every time I go outside, I learn that I can sweat from a different spot on my face—like the inner corner of my eye. Gross, I know. I rock a serious sweat stash sometimes, and when combined with concealer, it's the perfect recipe for dreadful upper-lip pimples.

While traveling, I decided to stop wearing makeup every day to give my skin a chance to breathe. I'd been stuck in a vicious cycle of sweating through the makeup I wore to cover blemishes and acne scars, which just resulted in more and more pimples. Nonetheless, it was a process to cut back on my makeup use: My skin is acne-prone, and I'm still embarrassed to walk around with exposed zits. But I've noticed that by not wearing makeup, I actually have fewer pimples, and they heal much faster. I use natural skin care, which has resulted in my skin becoming healthier and younger-looking.

Not wearing makeup has forced me to be more vulnerable and rawly myself—blemishes, scars, dark spots, oily skin, and all. It's been a test of self-love to present myself in my fully natural and unaltered form without cover-ups or enhancements. Wearing no makeup has been a tool for me to accept and embrace my "flaws."

This isn't to say I've gone totally makeup-free. I occasionally wear makeup if I know I'll be photographed. I prefer natural-looking makeup, so the cosmetics I do own are pretty simple—brown eyebrow gel, waterproof lengthening mascara for my short and stick-straight lashes, liquid black eyeliner, concealer, powder, a few colors of berry and red lipsticks. None of these products last long in Southeast Asia's humidity. Can you imagine how hideous it is to whisk sweat away from your brow and smear brown goo all over your forehead? It looks like you've shaved a slit in your brow hair like Vanilla Ice. Not a good look for me. Even my waterproof mascara and liquid eyeliner can't last in this kind of heat.

The one time I absolutely refuse to wear makeup? On first dates. Terrifying, right? Let me explain.

My ex was one of those men who says he prefers women without makeup. This is the worst. I didn't ask him whether he preferred women with or without makeup. To that unsolicited advice, I say, "Thank you, next." Many men think it's flattering to tell women that they prefer them without makeup, but it really isn't. Instead, it's just pressure to be naturally flawless.

Most men also have no idea what no makeup actually looks like. I've had male friends tell me that Kim Kardashian is a natural beauty. They're clueless about contouring and the zillions of products that go into her daily look, which they think is a bare face. Like all women, she looks great with or without makeup, but men can rarely tell the difference, as long as the color palette is neutral.

It would make me actually laugh out loud when my ex-boyfriend would tell me I looked better without makeup. The only time he ever complimented my appearance was when I was wearing makeup. I hardly ever felt beautiful around him.

I've been single for about a year and have slowly started dating again. I want the next person I'm romantically involved with to fully accept and love me at face-value, literally.

I still feel more feminine when I'm wearing just a smidge of mascara or lipstick, but I think that's a construct of Western society and not how I actually perceive myself.

The dates I've gone on while traveling have been very unexpected. I've mostly gone out with guys that I've met "organically" in real life—at hotels, vegan cafés, responsible travel events, and bars. In all of these situations, I was completely makeup-free. These guys spotted me sans makeup, approached me, and asked me out. Talk about a confidence booster!

Some of these men approached me when I looked like a mess—hunched over my computer writing a travel article with my hair in a wonky bun and my skin "glowing" from sweat. If I'd been wearing makeup, I would've been distracted, as I'd have been worried about smudging it all over my face.

That's not to say that it wasn't terrifying at first to go on dates sans makeup. I would obsessively think that my dates were staring at a huge zit on my chin or thinking that I looked tired without any eye-opening mascara. Once I banished these thoughts and paid attention to what was actually happening, I realized that my dates hadn't seemed to notice or care that I wasn't wearing makeup. A few even told me that I was beautiful, a sentiment that I've rarely heard in my natural state.

It feels completely normal now to go on dates without makeup. I'm more confident than ever and have gained back hours of my life that would have usually been dedicated to primping and pampering myself for a date. Instead of worrying about how I look, I'm able to focus more on the conversations I'm having with my date and home in on how being near him makes me feel and whether or not I feel a genuine spark. These dates have been mostly intellectually stimulating, which is what gets me excited about a person.

Moreover, the men who've asked me out clearly don't have ridiculous expectations about how a woman should look. They were interested in who I am, not just what I looked like. After all, I have a lot more to offer beyond my appearance. And they've all wanted to see me again, so I guess my lack of makeup wasn't a nonstarter. 

Identity is incredibly personal, and I've certainly come into mine more than ever through globe-trotting and ditching makeup. It feels abnormal now to wear makeup, and when I do, I think it makes me look older. I still feel more feminine when I'm wearing just a smidgen of mascara or lipstick, but I think that's a construct of Western society and not how I actually perceive myself. Now when I wear makeup, it's for me—not for the men I date.

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