How to Get the Faux Sunburn Look (& Embrace Your True Identity at the Same Time)

A step-by-step guide to faking sun exposure—and learning to loving yourself in the process

Non-binary makeup artist Trésor Prijs wearing a black dress, a black choker. Prijs' makeup looks like a faux sunburn on their cheeks and eyes

I was going to start by stating some nonsense about how I’m not your average woman, but what exactly constitutes an average woman? I’ve yet to meet a single woman who aligns with that adjective. Dynamic? Naturally. Powerful? Duh. Exquisite? Beyond belief. I suppose the fact that I’ve got a giant beard growing out of my face could be considered a tad unconventional, but I digress.

So, let’s start over. My name is Trésor and I love makeup—but I haven’t always been able to embrace it as I do now. That’s because I was born Trevor in a small, very traditional town on the east coast of Canada. If you asked the people who lived in my hometown when I was growing up, makeup wasn’t necessarily something that was “meant,” for me, but thanks to some contraband fashion magazines and stealthy pilfering of my mother’s makeup bag, I was able to enter a world I now adore with my whole heart.


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One of my favourite of many memories in this period of discovery was trying to recreate a cover of Italian Vogue I’d found online in a fashion forum. British makeup artist Diane Kendal had artfully smudged the inner and outer corners of model Kirsten Owen’s eyes, which were framed by flaxen brows, with just a hint of white and, my goodness, I tried everything in my power (and the spoils of my mother’s makeup stash) to get the look right. Unaware of the benefits of bleach at the time, I loaded my brows up with a good dollop of CoverGirl’s Buff Beige and then scribbled on what was arguably the chunkiest frosty white eyeshadow known to modern mankind. It was a… lewk. Clearly, my technique had a long way to go, but there was so much joy in the transformation—and I found myself having honest-to-goodness fun when honest-to-goodness fun was in short supply.

Eventually, when I began to make sense of my non-binary gender identity—and physically manifest that identity—makeup became a way to find comfort within a body that felt unimaginably foreign. In the beginning, I used makeup as armour, a means to both “correct” what I believed was wrong with myself and to place a layer of insulation between me and a world that, in my experience, could be very cruel.

As I’ve grown older and more comfortable in both my skin and my gender identity, makeup has flourished with me, transforming from a veil of protection to a joyful means of self expression. This transformation built not only an interior world where I could reside, but, eventually, a career in beauty. With hard work and loving encouragement, I have been afforded the privilege of being able to work with people whom I respect profoundly. I have contributed to the very same magazines I hid under my bedcovers as a child, and appeared in a global advertising campaign with my favourite makeup brand, M.A.C Cosmetics (and through some divine serendipity, Diane Kendal happened to be the key artist for that particular campaign).

So, in the spirit of celebrating all of that joy we as lovers of beauty share, I’m going to let you in on how I achieve the makeup look that makes me feel most beautiful: the fashion sunburn. I started wearing this look more and more frequently after I accepted the fact that my pale ass can’t look at the sun sideways without turning the colour of a fluorescent tomato. I simply decided to work with what my face is already inclined to do, then I painted on a little more, because… well, it’s fun.

What’s she serving? F A C E

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The cool bit, however, is that I stayed away from some of the more luxurious (and admittedly unnecessary) items I would usually favour, instead using products anyone can find at a Canadian drugstore. Makeup can be an unimaginably powerful tool of self actualization, but it’s not one that is accessible to everyone. Transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in Canada and across the world face inordinately high rates of discrimination in the workplace and many cannot find employment at all. Though I’m insulated with layers of privilege, I still have had trouble finding work due to my gender identity. So, don’t fret if you can’t find these exact items—have a play around with what you can find or what you may already have on hand. Just have fun; you’re gonna look like a superstar, whatever you do.

1. Step up your prep

You’re perfect, you’re beautiful, you look like Linda Evangelista, you’re a model, and like any model (or legend, or icon—take your pick) you’re gonna want to give your skin a good and proper prep sesh before you do anything else.

Start out by warming your favourite skincare oil or serum between your fingers—I’m using Acure The Essentials Marula Oil—and massage it in using an assured but gentle touch, upwards and outwards towards the lymph nodes along the sides of your face. This will not only facilitate a bit of lymphatic drainage, but this motion you will also help to increase blood flow to the surface of the skin, which imparts a glow more beautiful than any other because it is your own.

For me, appreciating what my skin is, rather than what I wished it would be in some perfect world, began in these small acts of self care. For as long as I can remember, what I saw in the mirror was a living portrait of inadequacy. At the time, I idealized beauty traits that I perceived as “feminine,” and all I could see was that I had failed to achieve those traits, my cheeks textured and raw from repeated shaving, the obsidian shadow of a beard still visible beneath the irritated surface. I could see him, but no trace of her. It was only when I was able to dismantle these toxic constructs and treat myself with the very same dignity and care I would wish upon someone I loved that I began to see myself as beautiful, just as I was. I realized that those idealized traits were ideas, but I was flesh and blood and deserving of more than an existence of perpetual shame.

Choose your fighter

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Next, I like to slick on a bit of sunscreen. I’m going with a rather recent discovery: Indeed Labs InDefense30 Dual Action Moisturizer With SPF. Then, pop on a thin layer of primer that has just a whisper of tinted illuminating pearl. My skin is a hair on the dry side and is also relatively fair in tone, so I’ve chosen to go in with Wet’n’Wild PhotoFocus Dewy Face Primer, starting around the perimeter of my face and working the residual product inward across the rest of my skin to ensure a seamless blend of the primer’s pearl into the skin. If your skin gets oily throughout the day, choose a lightweight serum in place of an oil and skip the bit where you blend the primer all over. Instead, focus solely on the points of the face where you would normally apply a highlighter like the tops of the cheekbones, brow bone and the cupid’s bow of the lip.

2. Second base… already?

Now that you’re glowing like the radiant seraphim that you are, it’s time to move on to the second base, which in this case is foundation. I’ve chosen L’Oréal True Match Super-Blendable Makeup in shade N1 for its light coverage, undetectable texture and sublimely bendable nature. One thing to note: This line has only 23 shades and while that’s impressive for a drugstore brand available in Canada, it would still benefit from a great deal of expansion. If you’re unable to find your shade at the drugstore, I have found a foundation mixer that alters a shade you already own can do the trick. (I have personally used the Pro Foundation Mixer from NYX for years with great success, as most shades at the drugstore are still too deep for my own skin tone.) Otherwise I would recommend, if you’re able, to save up and spend a little more on something from more inclusive ranges like Fenty Beauty, M.A.C or Make Up For Ever.

For me, this step is about using the very least amount of product I possibly can to achieve the effect I desire: a gossamer veil of pigment to even out my skin tone and provide a base to anchor the colour I will be adding in just a few moments. I apply my foundation under the eyes, across the cheeks and along the sides of the nose with my fingers first. I follow that by removing excess foundation through blending with a dampened beauty sponge—I’ve used the EcoTools Total Perfecting Blender for this task.

3. Burn, baby, burn

Now for the pièce de résistance, the fashion sunburn. Your goal is a a glowing halo of incandescent ruby red on the highest points of the face. My favourite thing about this lewk—and it is a L E W K—is that you can really customize the intensity to serve your own unique sensibilities. I personally prefer to appear as though I’ve spent an hour or so in the Santorini sun without a care in the world nor a single drop of sunscreen. (Disclaimer: puh-lease don’t do this, I beg you. Always wear your SPF.) But you may go as sheer or as dramatic as you’d like.

I use lipstick to achieve this splendid pseudosolar glow, because finding a halfway decent cream blush at the drugstore is quite honestly more difficult than trying to fold one of those infuriating collapsable canvas lawn chairs back into their storage bag. I used Maybelline ColorSensational Vivids Lip Colour in On Fire Red.

Put the tiniest bit of lipstick, just enough to stain the bristles with pigment, on a flat foundation brush, then apply it to the highest points of the face (where the sun would naturally hit) with a featherlight touch. Then, using the same dampened EcoTools sponge from earlier, blend until the lipstick is translucent. Repeat this process until the saturation is to your liking.

4. Orange you glad I said copper?

I admit the last step was a little exhaustive—or at least *I * felt a little exhausted—but this next one is a breeze. Cut creases and expertly contoured eye makeup are exquisite, but I often favour a more simplistic look in my own everyday life. I took a gel eyeliner pencil in the most sumptuous copper (this one is L’Oréal Infallible Gel Crayon 24H in 05 Super Copper) and scribbled it across the lid and up into the crease, then blended it with a shadow brush until the edges were soft. Pro-tip: these pencils do tend to set quickly, so working on one eye at a time is best. To finish up the eyes, I curl the lashes and use a mascara spoolie to run a bit of the göt2b Ultra Glued Invincible Styling Gel through the brows. Trust me on this one—it is the best clear brow gel you will ever use. I’ve chosen to forgo mascara in this look, as I feel it’s a bit more modern, but you can slick on a coat or two of your fave if you like.

5. Contour

JK, I am too lazy to contour. Plus, the giant bush growing out of my face tends to get in the way. (I am rather fond of the juxtaposition of this natural part of my face, which cis heteronormative culture has deemed aggressively masculine, and the expression of my womanhood through a medium, in this case makeup, that same culture recognizes as exclusively feminine.)

5. The finish line

Now’s the time pull this all together. Give your look a solid once-over. Since we’ve worked primarily in liquids and creams, it’s a breeze to go back in with the damp sponge and touch up anything that might have been displaced or to add in a bit more colour. Once you’re happy with your work, go in with a very light dusting of loose setting powder to lock things in place. (I used Maybelline Fit Me Loose Finishing Powder.) If you’d like, you can use the same brush you used to dust on setting powder to apply Essence Pure Nude Highlighter in 01 Be My Highlight to your cheekbones. I also like to use my finger to dab highlighter along the brow bone and inner corner of my eyes. Last, but certainly not least, I applied a small amount of Skinfix 12 Hour Miracle Ointment to my lips and my eyelids, which gives them those lived-in morning after some really good lovin’ vibes. (You know the ones.)

6. It’s only makeup

It comes off with soap and water—it’s who you are that’s beautiful.


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