Often seen in flash photography as a ghostly white cast over the face, flashback can turn a glamorous moment into a makeup misdemeanor of higtmarish proportions. Let’s explore what causes this effect, some insider tips, product recommendations to avoid flashback, and get one or two gentle reminders of the importance of testing makeup under different lighting conditions.

how to be flashback free!
flashback makeup look on womans face

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • Understanding the ingredients in the makeup you use, is key to avoiding flashback when using flash photography.
  • The importance of testing makeup products under different lighting conditions with accessible tools you probably already own.
  • How beneficial it can be to have an arsenal of trusted, non-flashback-causing powders and to stay informed about evolving beauty trends that affect how makeup interacts with light.


click here to read the transcript!


Episode 63: Show notes

flashback makeup look on womans face

The perennial award season seems to have just ended, at least for a minute or two, and that led me to ponder on one of makeups, ahem, less proud moment of recent times.

And that moment is in debt to a curious photographic phenomenon popularly known as flashback.

Now while the name may sound fairly self-explanatory, that doesn’t mean everyone in the room knows exactly what it is.

Or how to avoid it. So, I want to guide you through understanding, preventing, and correcting flashback, ensuring you or your clients, red-carpet or otherwise, always look impeccably camera-ready.

Flashback, for those unacquainted, is that dreaded white cast that appears on your face when photographed with flash, making even the most expertly applied makeup seem flawed.

The culprit is usually found lurking in your powders, particularly those containing fumed silica, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide. These ingredients, while super-effective in diffusing light and refining the appearance of pores on camera and in person, can reflect at the use flash photography, leading to the startling white cast.

Remember Angelina Jolie’s infamous red carpet-photos from a few years (maybe decades) ago? Yes, that’s the flashback we’re discussing.

Despite the panic slash guilt it might have caused her makeup artist, it served as a significant learning curve for many of us in the beauty industry. It highlighted the importance of understanding product ingredients and their interactions with different lighting.

To do your best sidestep this faux pas, I always suggest and advocate for meticulous product testing. Whether it’s a film set or a wedding, knowing the lighting conditions you or your client will be in is paramount.
Simple tools that you no doubt already possess, like your smartphone’s flash can serve as your preliminary testing ground.

So it’s important to experiment with various products to see how they hold up against the harsh glare of a camera flash.

Furthermore, when using HD powders or any product prone to causing flashback, consider applying it beneath the foundation. This technique helps in minimizing its reflective properties since it isn’t directly exposed to the flash. For those still daring to use these products, less is more. A light hand can make all the difference in maintaining the product’s benefits while avoiding its pitfalls.

Another effective on-the-spot remedy for flashback involves using blotting papers to remove excess oils and powders, followed by a strategic touch-up with a damp beauty blender. This not only helps in blending the makeup back into the skin but also in diluting the whitening effect.

In response to the shifting trends, many makeup artists, including myself, are now veering towards luminous, dewy looks, which inherently reduce the risks of flashback.

However, for those matte-look aficionados among us (yep, I’m still one of those on occasion!), choosing the right powder is crucial.

I recommend finely milled, transparent powders that are formulated to combat flashback, such as the RCMA No Color Powder or Laura Mercier’s Translucent Powder.

Remember, it’s essential to be aware of your lighting environment. Not just the harsh flashes, but also the ambient lighting can amplify or mitigate makeup flaws.

Always check and double-check the lighting conditions before the event or shoot to make necessary adjustments to your makeup strategy.

Flashback can indeed seem daunting, but with proper knowledge and precautions, it is entirely preventable and correctable.

Dive into your makeup bag with confidence, armed with the right products and the know-how to use them. Let’s keep our spirits high and our faces flawless, steering clear of the ghostly white haze. Remember, every challenge is but a stepping stone to mastering your craft in the sprawling world of makeup artistry.
Here’s to endless creativity and perfecting our art, one face at a time!

Click here to listen to this episode!


Episode Transcript

[00:00:02]: Welcome to Five Minute Face Talk, a podcast where I help you look and feel fab, or maybe help you help others to do so as well.

In light of finally reaching the end of another seemingly endless award season, I want to pay a tiny homage to the world of the red carpet. And I want to do so by way of a little makeup phenomenon, or some might say a makeup misdemeanor of more recent times called flashback.

And why is it more recent? Makeup is constantly evolving, isn’t it? And with the onset of throwing in terms like HD into makeup product names, for marketing’s sake, of course, and powders being milled so fine, you have to look at them through magnifying glasses to see them.

Well, one such unfortunate consequence is that of the rather unpleasant ghost like appearance of flashback in photos.

[00:01:42]: Okay, so what exactly is flashback? If this is a new term to you, don’t be alarmed. It’s simply a reflection of light caused by flash photography bouncing off certain ingredients mostly contained within powder makeup products.

You might be reminded of the pics of the divine Angelina Jolie many years ago that tortured her even more divine makeup artist, the premiere of the normal heart that her then husband, Brad Pitt was a producer of, if I recall now, Angelina was cool enough to publicly discard the triviality, and all was forgiven.

And no, her makeup artist was not fired because, well, stuff happens, right?

Anyway, the ingredient that is the culprit for this particular bouncing of light is that that we know as fumed silica. And without going down a rabbit hole, I have a fair bit to say about fumed silica.

Maybe we’ll get to it today, maybe not. But I do have one big question, and that is, why are we putting fumed silica on our faces in powder form anyway? But I may leave that for now until I find just the right guest to ask all about it.

But for now, what we want to look at, to understand why all this goes on, is that fumed silica, relative to its size, has an incredibly large surface area, which is why it’s in beauty products, because it diffuses light and it makes it the perfect candidate for foundations, concealers, any blur causing makeup products, pore refining products, that sort of thing.

[00:03:22]: But sadly, within powders, it can sit on the surface of your skin and well, when that flash goes off, the intense light that the flash causes will bounce off all of those surfaces of the fumed silica molecules and result in that “it’s 2020 and I’ve just been baking sourdough in the kitchen” face.

Aside from fumed silica, there are a couple of other less guilty ingredient culprits be aware of also. And as you might suspect, these are also white in color and tend to be powder based.

So I mention them just to be aware of, particularly if you are going to be working with flash photography. And be sure to test products beforehand if you are determined to use such products that, you know, contain these ingredients because they may just be okay.

It all depends on how much of these ingredients are contained within your makeup product to, and those other ingredients to be aware of. Include your SPFs and ingredients within, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

[00:04:29]: Mica and even shimmer powders can all have a light-reflecting effect with flash photography, but who knows, maybe that’s the look you’re going for. If you’re consciously choosing shimmer products, you may just find that most of these ingredients probably won’t be affected by the average flash anyway.

So it’s very much a case of being organized and testing beforehand, which is always a solid mantra to follow and something that I abide by as often as I can. And remember, you don’t need fancy equipment to test either. If you are completely without a camera of any sorts, your smartphone should have a flash capability and you can experiment with turning on the flashlight as well to test how much light certain makeup products bounce.

Now, if you’re still determined to use your fumed silica HD powder after all this, try using it underneath your foundation for one. That way it’s not going to be sitting on the top surface of the skin. My personal advice would be to steer clear of even the slightest chance of this happening at all costs, but that’s just me.

[00:05:42]: Now, I also wanted to mention lighting in general, as you might find that harsh lighting or even strong directional light may cause that whitening or light bouncing that we more often than not want to avoid. So be sure to know the lighting you’ll be working within or appearing in beforehand, as well as it’s sometimes really easily overlooked or even forgotten. But it is so important.

So remember your lighting now, if you find you have to troubleshoot flashback on the spot, I personally would try to blot it off with blotting papers and then come in over the top with a very light hand and something like a damp beauty blender and either a different press powder or even a light foundation press and roll effect to help diffuse the flashback and work that fumed silica back into the skin and almost cover it without adding too much product.

Experimenting and testing are your friend with this occurrence and at least for the current trends, flashback has taken a backseat for the moment, due in no small part to the current trend of dewy and almost shiny complexions. So no doubt, I’m sure we’ll revisit this in a couple of years time when perhaps flashback will become a trend on its own. Who knows?

Nothing surprises me at this point in time and when we get there, we’ll all be scrounging for our old silica filled loose powders, which will become the brand new beauty holy grails. And perhaps I’ll do a podcast episode about that then.

[00:07:23]: And just before I go, I wanted to give you some of my favorite powder recommendations if you want a surefire non-flashback powder to set your makeup with.

Now remember to go for finely milled powders as always, and here are my picks. Okay, let’s go.

RCMA No Color Powder, Danessa Myricks Evolution Powder the pink translucent for under eyes as well The Kiss Pro Touch, Ben Nye Translucent Powder, Laura Mercier, Hourglass Veil, Givenchy, Viseart Maybelline Fit Me Loose Powder, Laura Mercier Under Eye brightening powder, Fenty, Nars, By Terry. Phew. That was a lot. I hope there’s something there that works for you. I would think so because that’s a wide range of colors, shades, powders, budgets.

So hopefully there’s something for you in there.

[00:08:17]: And before I go, I just want to remind you one more time, please keep testing and troubleshooting and be sure to know the ingredients that you’re working with, especially when it comes to setting and loose powders.

I hope you enjoyed this little revisit of flashback, and if you haven’t given 5 Minute Face Talk a listen before today, please be sure to check it out on your favorite podcast platform.

And if you love it, I’d love it if you could be so kind as to give me a little five star rating. Every little star helps me and that helps me to help you and that is my goal right there to help you.

So okay, I’ll see you next time on 5 Minute Face Talk.

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