In Sickness and In Makeup: Makeup for the Disabled and Chronically Ill

When I  first started writing about makeup in my spare time, a long time ago, I was very barely in control of my body. I’m very open about my struggles with chronic illness, and there is very little cross section between the glamour of talking about makeup and beauty, and the world of the chronically ill or disables. I had grand intentions to write for people like myself, who were struggling with things I was struggling with.  Unfortunately, being amidst active illness made finding the time to write a little bit harder than I was anticipating.

Now here I am with my shiny new blog, arthritis flaring up, and it feels like a great time to write.

For context, my body is pretty broken. As it goes with chronic illness, once you’re diagnosed with one, your body tends to want to collect them all. I was initially diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Crohn’s Disease at sixteen, which was followed in quick succession by issues with arthritis (predominantly in my wrists and ankles), chronic neuropathic pain, and vestibular migraine. I do also battle with major depression and generalised anxiety, both of which are thankfully under fairly decent control with medication.

“Why?” I imagine is a question that could come up. After all, there isn’t a lot of common ground between the two topics – until you’ve lived with them. Living with a body that doesn’t fit the ideal “able”ness loads the everyday with challenges that you may never have considered. Suddenly you’re plunged into a world where your body doesn’t work in the way you want it to, and things won’t cooperate. Your body tends to degrade, and so it’s easy to get tied up in trying to make it look better, or giving yourself a boost. When I’m pale and weathered and worn, putting on a red lipstick makes me feel strong. Concealer helps me cover up the evidence of missed sleep, painkillers, rashes. Filling in my brows gives me polish. Makeup helps me tie my body back together.

On the surface, I could write tips: I could write about the importance of lip balm when you’re on steroids, of brow powder when medication makes your hair fall out, of finding the perfect concealer shade. The truth is, though, that makeup for the sick is a minefield and it’s different for everyone, and the real tips are the concepts.

  • Use the available aids
    When you are a sick person, you spend your life looking for ways to make things easier for yourself. You find things that help you live. I know that my arthritis is far more manageable when I am wearing my wrist splints, and I know that severe bouts of pain are better when I stop trying to be strong and allow myself to take the pills. It extends to makeup – you don’t have to be the strong person. You can allow yourself help and it does not make you lesser of an individual. Your eyeliner wing is not less impressive because you used the card to get the line straight, or you put on your wrist splints to draw it. Sitting down to apply your makeup isn’t a weakness.
    Relying on things that help you and make your life, and your makeup application, easier, don’t make your application less valid.
  • Give yourself time
    Makeup is not easy, and living life as a disabled or chronically ill person is damn hard. Things can take longer. That doesn’t make the end results (again) any less valid, nor does it mean that looking less polished means that you are a failure. I know that doing my winged liner in the morning can take half an hour and several do-overs when my wrists are unsteady and things are shaking. If a painkiller has left me sluggish, things take longer. That’s how it is. Take time. If you want to express yourself through makeup, or that is a way you make yourself feel better, it is a completely reasonable thing to put aside a considerable amount of time for it.
  • Get help
    Makeup is a weird, wide world. It’s confusing and easy to get lost in and overwhelmed by, and even moreso when there’s a lot of other stuff in your life to get overwhelmed by. I learn a lot by spending a huge chunk of my free time – because this is what I love – watching videos and reading blogs and going into my favourite stores and talking to people. I try samples of different things and test them out on gross days – how will this foundation stand up to working on a bad pain day when I sweat a lot and get really gross? I don’t need the trouble of buying something and finding out that it doesn’t work under my very specific conditions. Ask a youtuber you trust what they think of that new eyeliner they bought. Ask me what my favourite vomit-proof lipstick is.
    Being sick, being disabled, being mentally ill, these are things that can be incredibly isolating. Find communities, find support. Ask. It’s alright and (again) there is no admission of weakness here. It’s okay.
  • And of course, finally, and most preachingly and sing-song koombaya – don’t tie your self worth to your appearance
    Everyone is going to say this and it’s so easy to dismiss it as bullshit. Honestly though – makeup is fun. Makeup is a thing that allows for expression and can be a great tool for making you feel stronger or better. That said, it isn’t something essential. You are not required by the world to look pretty or polished or “healthy”to be treated as a human, and even though people might live as though this is the truth, they will shudder the second you suggest it to them. You are a person who is dealing with a different set of obstacles and the entirety of your being is not made up on what is observable from the surface. It’s not always as simple as loving yourself, because it can be hard to love yourself when you can’t necessarily wholeheartedly embrace the body and brain that you’re in, but even if you don’t love yourself, at least cut yourself some slack.


I know I might be coming off very new age and zen, but time teaches. If you’re ever struggling with anything, shoot me an email – I’m always happy to hear a rant – but the fact of the matter is that there should be a visible intersection between disability/illness and makeup, and I’m here to do whatever I can to further that.


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