Causing a Sparkle: The Rise of Face Gems

Formerly the domain of music videos and fashion shows, face gems have gone mainstream in makeup.

Jo Baker remembers when she first saw face gems used: years ago at a fashion show where runway makeup legend Pat McGrath was designing the look, possibly for John Galliano or John Paul Gaultier. “I was like, ‘wow, this is sensational, spectacular.’ And usually you only see those kinds of gems and that kind of payoff on clothing onstage,” the British-born, Los Angeles–based makeup artist says. Face gems take Toronto makeup artist Caitlin Cullimore back to when she worked on music videos at the start of her career: “We were putting them on backup dancers.” Similarly, they first caught Marika D’Auteuil’s eye when she saw Christina Aguilera’s 2001 “Lady Marmalade” video. “It was just so beautiful,” the Montreal makeup artist says.

Face gems are common in theatrical circumstances such as festivals, music videos, and certainly fashion shows, including this season. For fall 2022 at Simone Rocha, Thomas de Kluyver used crystals, gems, and pearls sourced from jewellery and garments in the collection to create constellations around the models’ eyes in lieu of makeup. Over at Burberry, McGrath framed the faces of some models with prismatic crystal couture gems, and at Givenchy, Lucia Pieroni used metal gems to mimic facial piercings.

Gems started to trickle into the mainstream when HBO’s Euphoria premiered in the summer of 2019. The fantastical makeup featured on the teen melodrama was practically a character in its own right. Created by Doniella Davy, the looks, involving not just face gems but also sharp, winged liner and sparkly eyeshadow, are an extension of the characters and reflect what they’re going through. It kicked off a movement among Gen Z that embraces experimental and individual expression through makeup in a way that hadn’t been seen in everyday life. “It felt like something you could do to feel different and unique,” Cullimore says of the appeal when it first appeared. “And even though everybody was doing it, it wasn’t going to look the same on you as it looked on your friend.”

Not like the Kardashian-inspired makeup that’s dominated YouTube and Instagram, which is a formulaic step-by-step routine involving blocky filled-in brows, overdrawn lips, thick fake strips of lashes, heavy layers of opaque foundation, and contouring. Baker believes feeling trapped in lockdown and fed up with having to conform also prompted this shift. “To fit into the norms of what is expected feels so exhaustingly tiring that I’m not surprised that there’s been an entire explosion of makeup and the beauty world is becoming so expressive,’’ she says. “People are tired of looking like everyone else.”

Now face gems are becoming nearly as common as mascara and lipstick. Cullimore’s private clients are asking for them to wear to everything from birthday parties to galas. “Whereas before, that would be super out there to do,” she says, “now, Euphoria has made it almost like an accessory—like a cool pair of earrings.” For makeup artists, using gems is exciting and takes their work to a new level. “I love the way they reflect light and instantly make my work look more unique,” D’Auteuil says. For Baker, who often works on celebrities, they amplify what she’s done. Eyeshadow can look beautiful in a pan and in person, but subtleties are lost on the red carpet, she says. “So for me, gems are a way to make something enhanced and make sure people are seeing this eye-catching, glittery, sparkly payoff.” And having an open-minded client like actress Lucy Boynton—whose makeup stood out through most of her press tour for Bohemian Rhapsody due to Baker’s innovative ideas—means seeing such unconventional face adornment at film festivals and awards shows is no longer rare. “The lid is off,” Baker says, citing the silver star points Olivia Wilde wore around one of her eyes at the Venice Film Festival in September. “Now everyone wants to express themselves on the red carpet.”

Finding the supplies to do so has become easier too. As the Euphoria effect was taking hold, Cullimore says she and other makeup artists were on the hunt and sharing intel about where to get face gems. “But now they’re so accessible,” she says. “You go on Amazon, type it in, and a million come up.” Baker says she would seek them outside her industry such as in L.A.’s fashion district. It’s partly the reason she is launching Bakeup, a cosmetics line that aligns with her ethos of using makeup for expression. She wanted to make the items she’s used for years available to everybody, including face gem kits. Baker is adamant you needn’t be a pro. “They’re easier to use than makeup,” she says. “You can peel them off and add them to a look you’re already doing.” Davy also launched her own line back in May. Called Half Magic, the brand has ready-made tool kits and sets to recreate various looks.

Even if you’re not Gen Z or just want to dabble with the look, there are ways to do it in a subtle, more accessible way. One of Cullimore’s favourite placements is on the inner corner of the eye. “Use the teeniest, tiniest face gem that is just a step up from a sparkle,” she says. “When you look straight on, you barely even see it. But if you’re at a holiday party in evening light, they’re going to catch the light.” Baker, whose favourites are clear, black, and gold because they’re universal and have a high fashion editorial finish, suggests putting one on the centre of your lid and also beneath your lower lash line in the same spot. “It adds a really unique look, but it’s not difficult to apply,” she says. “It’ll look really beautiful, and it’ll sparkle just enough.”

Ultimately, gems are playful and above all, temporary. “You just peel them off at the end of the day,” Baker says. “And what you’re left with is great memories.”

Model Jo Marie Krasevich for Lizbell Agency; Makeup Maxine Munson; Hair Erin Klassen.