My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

My BFF Gemma Burgess is a screenwriter and author of romantic comedies and books for young adults. She lives in downtown Manhattan with her husband and two sons. She is also a total genius when it comes to makeup. (When she takes a selfie with her baby, their skin looks THE SAME!) Here are her beauty secrets, including the incredible product that makes you glow…

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

What’s your beauty philosophy?

I wouldn’t call it a philosophy so much as an unquestioning adoration of all things beauty-related. Especially makeup. You know that line in Good Will Hunting, when Matt Damon says, “When it came to stuff like that, I could always just play?” That’s me and makeup. I could always just play. I was the girl, at university, who had nine other girls lined up to do their makeup before parties. In my 20s, my friends would pre-game at my place with my makeup bag and a couple of bottles of pinot grigio. That’s me. I am 100% GIRL.

But. All I want right now is to look as good as I can without devoting very much time to it. I have a one-year-old, a three-year-old, and I work from home. Sometimes I realize I have gone an hour without actually breathing properly. So everything “beauty” has to deliver the goods, fast. I still want to look good – I mean, hello, I’m not an animal – but the days of doing a five-minute lip are over.

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

What’s your bedtime skincare routine?

To remove my makeup, I use Bioderma Crealine on my face and Lancôme Bi-Facil eye makeup remover if I’ve been wearing mascara. The Lancôme is the only eye makeup remover that truly works. I tried, during a couple of broke periods in my early 20s, to use a cheaper option… never as good. On a normal day, I just use a gentle drugstore cleanser – sometimes Cetaphil, right now CeraVe. I also use a Clarisonic about twice a week. It makes your skin feel like silk.

Then I spritz on SK-II Treatment Essence. I started using the SK-II one spring, and a month later started getting lots of compliments on my skin, so now I am sure that if I stop using it, my entire face will fall off. I decant it into a little spray bottle (because if you swab it on with a cotton round, you waste gallons of it, and the stuff is more expensive than blood diamonds). It makes my skin feel tingly and fresh.

Last, I moisturize with Yu-Be. It took me a long time to find Yu-Be. I used to invest in all these expensive moisturizers, and none of them really worked for more than a few hours. Yu-Be is cheap, and it’s the only moisturizer I’ve ever used where I wake up the next day and my face isn’t crying out to be moisturized immediately.

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

Do you splurge on any treatments, like facials or manicures?

I don’t get facials, never have. I got regular mani-pedis for years and then last year I thought, “This is SO BORING and a waste of an hour of my week” so I pretty much stopped getting manicures. I cut my fingernails super-short – like as short as they can go — and if I have a meeting, I put on the Dior Glow polish.

I used to get spray tans, but last summer I decided that wasn’t worth the trouble or time, either, so I’m embracing pale. (Plus, did you notice how everyone at the Golden Globes and Oscars who fake-tanned looked ridiculous? Seriously.) I may change my mind when I see myself in a bikini this summer. After two babies, my bellybutton looks like a knifed balloon. A tan might help.

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

Bath or shower?

Both. I usually put almond oil all over myself before turning the shower on, then slather it off using exfoliating gloves. Then I use Cetaphil bar soap because it just feels so clean. Ned is the kind of baby who gets needy when I’m in the shower – he just stands there holding onto the edge and bellows at me to get out – so the entire shower takes like two minutes flat. If I remember to shave my armpits, bonus.

I’ll take baths at night around once a week. First, I spend a really annoying few minutes taking out all the damn bath toys and foam alphabet letters and the baby bath seat. Then I throw in a cup of Epsom salts and a tiny drizzle of Estée Lauder Youth-Dew Bath Oil. I KNOW, it sounds so grandma-ish, but trust me. One bottle will last you a year, and you only need a teeny bit and the entire bathroom – nay, the entire apartment — will smell SO GOOD. (That’s how good it smells: all-caps good.) Then I put on my face mask and settle in with something to read. The best thing about being pregnant is having a nice big tummy on which to rest your book or magazine when you’re in the bath. The worst thing about being pregnant is having to then call your husband to help hoist you out of the bath.

How do you style and care for your hair?

My hair sucks. It’s very thin and straight. Half of it fell out after I had my sons. Recently, I went from elbow-length to collarbone-length, and started using this shampoo and it looks better now. Not great. Never great. But better.


What’s your daily makeup routine?

I think the best makeup makes you look like you-but-better. I put on La Roche-Posay SPF 50 (every day, always, ever since I was a child, even on days when I don’t leave the house, even when it’s snowing), clean my teeth while the sunscreen soaks in, then, using my fingers, apply a tiny bit of Clé de Peau concealer on my blotchy parts — eyelids, under my eyes, around my nose and on my chin. (It is insanely expensive but lasts forever and is truly worth it.) You just patpatpat it until it disappears into your pores. Really, it DISAPPEARS. Then a dab of Benefit Cha Cha Tint smooshed into my cheeks, then Anastasia Ash Blond eyebrow pencil (my eyebrows are the worst, damn you, Caroline-with-the-amazing-eyebrows). And that’s it. It takes about four minutes and lasts all day.

If I have a work thing, I try to look a bit more “done.” I take a pea-sized glob of Burberry Fresh Glow, this magical liquid illuminator, and pat it mostly on my cheeks and forehead and lips and chin, very very very lightly. Not on my nose because that thing doesn’t need to get any more attention. It’s incredibly subtle — just a very low-level glow.

And proper lipstick, always, for a work thing. I figure if you look confident, then you feel confident, then you act confident, and then people will give you whatever you want. I like Bite Beauty in Bramble for a dark black-red, or Givenchy Le Rouge in Carmin Escarpin for a Hollywood red, or if I’m feeling 90s, a rose brown from Revlon called Mink.

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

What if you’re going out at night?

I have a two-minute foolproof nighttime smoky-eye technique. I scrawl Rimmel Scandaleyes shadow stick in Trespassing Taupe all over the eyelid, the messier the better, then blend it lightly with a stubby brush like MAC 217. Tap any brown or grey eyeshadow on top – truly, it doesn’t matter which one, or if it’s metallic or not, they all work. Then just swipe the brush underneath your eyes — the leftover shadow will leave just enough color. Curl your eyelashes and put on mascara. LITERALLY THAT IS IT. No eyeliner, nothing time-consuming. It’s smoky and sexy, but not hard the way dark eye makeup can be. I promise.

The entire evening routine takes about ten minutes, just enough time between the babies going down and the babysitter arriving.

Your face glows. It’s like you’re literally lit from within. Why is this?

You know when you do your makeup for a night out and you’re like, something is just NOT working here? Whenever that happens I know I need an extra smidge of a glowy (not glittery!) luminizer. (By the way, illuminator, luminizer and highlighter all seem to be different words for more or less the same thing, and they can be liquid, balm, cream or powder. I know, ridiculous.) There are a million of them to choose from — just make sure it’s fairly thick and balm-like. I particularly love RMS Living Luminizer. Just smudge it on your fingertips and tap your fingers lightly above your eyebrow arch, on your temple down to the very top of your cheekbones, and on your cupids bow. Job done. That’s all it takes. It’s like a real-life Instagram filter.

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

What’s the weirdest treatment you’ve tried?

I did that Baby Foot Peel thing a few times until my husband made an earnest plea for me to stop, because I was shedding foot skin everywhere. So now my feet are kind of cracked and gross most of the time. I am at peace with this.

Did you adopt any beauty tips from your mother?

Actually, I was the one who dragged my mother out of blue eyeshadow, when I was about 11 (I told you I always spoke makeup). But she also started my sister and I both wearing SPF 50 when we were very little, I think after she’d had a couple of little melanoma scares because she’d tanned so much in her teens. If I have anything valuable to tell you, it’s wear SPF 50 every day. But everyone knows that, right? (Right?)

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

Do you have any beauty guilty pleasures?

I love beauty blogs. I love Allure magazine a ridiculous amount. I love a good how-to video from Lisa Eldridge. Before I try a new beauty product, I check out the reviews on MakeupAlley. Man, I love that site. A million lovely gossipy girly reviews, for every beauty product in the world.

Sometimes, when I’m really stuck in my head on something I’m writing, I leave the house and stroll around Sephora, trying different things on the back of my hand. I like to think that pondering makeup employs the part of my brain that doesn’t think about work or my children, so those parts can kick back and recharge while the beauty brain wonders, in her silly shallow little way, “But am I feeling an orange lip?” (See? It’s practically meditative!)

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

What perfumes do you like?

Usually I wear Miller Harris L’air de Rien. Sometimes I just wear Estée Lauder Youth-Dew Body Cream because it’s very gentle.

If I’m going out at night I wear Fracas, but I’m starting to think it’s a bad influence on me. I wear Fracas and I immediately want to drink three martinis and smoke cigarettes and flirt with everything with a pulse, and I just can’t do that right now. A four-hour night out is a four-day hangover. Urgh.

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

Any surprising recommendations?

Yes. Eyelash perming. It sounds horrifically high-maintenance. But if I don’t curl my eyelashes, they point straight down. And when I curl them, they wait two minutes and then droop again.

So I started to get my eyelashes permed.

I KNOW. It sounds crazy. Don’t judge me. Or do judge me. I don’t mind. These days, I wake up and my eyelashes are like BOING awake. I recommend it so highly. It takes about one hour, once every two months. I like to think of it as being high-maintenance in order to be low-maintenance.

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

What is your number-one piece of advice for feeling your best?

Eat fat and sweat a lot. I go to a crazy but amazing interval training class called Tone House three times a week. It’s one of those classes where half the class are ex-athletes and/or fitness models, and the other half of the class is just unbelievably determined to finish without throwing up. (I’m in the latter group.) Exercise helps circulation, stress levels, energy levels, sleep — everything that makes you look and feel better. It’s also three hours a week where I’m not thinking about writing or babies or anything else except finishing the class — kind of like meditation, if meditation gave you guns. I also eat oodles of fat in things like avocados, nuts, salmon, almond butter and full-fat plain Greek yogurt, and take fish oil and flaxseed oil supplements. Eating good fat will make your skin more supple and glowy than any moisturizer or makeup ever could.

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

My Beauty Uniform: Gemma Burgess | A Cup of Jo

Can you tell us about these adorable photos?

We got married at City Hall in New York early one morning in spring 2010. So as soon as we got outside, certificate in hand, we just jumped up there for a quick photo. It was totally on a whim — Foxy’s brother was one of our witnesses and had a camera. It ended up my favorite photo of the whole day. It was just us, and it was perfect.

Two years later, with baby Errol, and decided to do it again for our anniversary. And then it sort of became a thing that we do, every April. We’re not the kind of people who do this sort of thing (I tried to do a day-by-day pregnancy progression photo series and stuck to it for about six seconds) but for some reason this tradition is easy. We live just around the corner from City Hall, so we stroll over, jump up and ask a passerby to take the photo. It makes me so happy to look at those photos — really truly happy, with my whole entire soul.


What advice would you give your younger self?

Oh gosh. So much to tell her. Firstly, everything is going to be okay. Second, stop going to the gym every day if you’re just going to read magazines going slo-mo on the elliptical trainer. Third, don’t bother trying to tell DJs what to play because they don’t like it (and they never even have Marvin Gaye’s Got To Give It Up). Fourth, rewrite and rewrite and rewrite — writing is rewriting. It’s through re-writing that you find your voice, and once you find your voice, good things will happen. Fifth, everything is going to be okay.

Thank you so much, Gemma! We love you.

P.S. More women share their beauty secrets, and a trick for feeling pretty.

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