Will Filters Ever Replace Makeup?

There was a time before the pandemic when a perfectly made up face was everything for everyday. Foundation, blush, contour, lipstick, groomed brows and all of the above were all essential. But now, a certain kind of full-face feels strikingly 2016–more Kylie Jenner lip kit aesthetic, less based in reality–more of a conscious, in-your-face look.

The pandemic truly brushed away all the edges of overly done-up makeup, and in its place ushered in a new era where a lack of foundation and totally expressive makeup above all else ruled. Still, filters have replaced that certain element of comfort we once received from sweeping on layers of concealer and foundation. After all, you only have to look at TikTok and Instagram to see that the biggest beauty content creators are all applying their makeup, creating tutorials and even doing reviews with filters over their faces. But will filters ever replace makeup?

will filters ever replace makeup?
All photos courtesy Sudden Chic. Creative makeup backstage at Noir Kei Ninomiya’s fall 2023 show in Paris

“I think it’s fun to play around with different looks, makeup, and faces without actually having to take the time to do it in real life,” says the model Jazzelle Zanaughtti, who’s become known for her shapeshifting selfies on Instagram. “Although, I must say that face filters do contribute to major Dysmorphia for a lot of people, my favorite ones are usually the ones that don’t alter your face in a plastic surgery way, but more in a weird fun way.”

Filters using augmented reality technology have widely worked their way from photo editing apps into the upper echelons of the cosmetic industry–with makeup artists such as Erin Parsons (who regularly works with models like Gigi Hadid and leads the makeup for fashion shows ranging from Schiaparelli to Jean Paul Gaultier) working in pixels rather than brushes and pigments. This isn’t new at all–in October 2020, Parsons launched her first Instagram filter in collaboration with digital beauty artist Sofi Chernyak. Based off of Gigi Hadid’s 2019 Met Gala look, it gave users the option to switch between the same ultra-long spiky lashes Hadid wore, in a variety of different colors. “When I did those lashes, there were a lot of people trying to redo them and they were using paper and I hadn’t really disclosed that I used feathers,” adds Parsons of the filter’s popularity, which reached over 1 billion impressions. “It was a way just for them to try them on and see what it looked like.”

“As a makeup artist creating a filter, if you have the skills, you can do anything,” adds Parsons. “It doesn’t matter what the curves of the face are, or the size of the eyes…To be creative without any boundaries other than what you can actually do, physically with that machinery is important.” Considering Instagram is only a little over ten years old (it was founded in 2010) the possibilities of AI usurping makeup are endless. It’s only just begun.

will filters ever replace makeup?
All photos courtesy Sudden Chic. Creative makeup backstage at Noir Kei Ninomiya’s fall 2023 show in Paris

Likewise, Ines Alpha, a 3D artist who also calls herself a digital makeup artist has been pushing the limits of what conventional makeup is to the extreme. Alpha has created makeup filters for brands such as H&M, Dior, Nike, Selfridges and more–as well as her own Instagram filters which smooth the skin, plump the lips while also offering the same kind of whimsical, colorful appendages a sea creature might have. 

“Because you’re using digital software and 3D software, you are able to model and animate things that can’t exist in this world,” explains Alpha. “The more I was working on my creations, the more I saw the potential of digital technology and I wanted to focus on creating things that wouldn’t be possible to do in the physical world. Telling fantastic stories about a new generation of makeup and beauty is my goal.”

“It’s about creating a new generation of makeup, and I cannot call my work ‘makeup’ if no one can try it on,” explains Alpha of her widely-used filters. “The future of beauty and makeup needs to be accessible for everyone. That’s why I immediately thought about using augmented reality, because that’s a tool that anyone can use with a computer and smartphone now.”

Beyond simple filters, makeup artists have been finding ways to work with augmented reality to experiment with makeup digitally, too. The makeup artist Lynski, for example, trained AI to recognize her makeup style and generate images on its own with all that data in mind. Lynski also worked with the Berlin based creative agency Selam X Studio and art director Claudia Rafael to create filters inspired by her work. “I think with the introduction of AI, the definition of makeup is changing,” Lynski says. “Filters are a very good proof of that. It will definitely transform with the help of artists who are currently exploring this field, and I am very excited to see where it takes us.”

will filters ever replace makeup?
All photos courtesy Sudden Chic. Creative makeup backstage at Noir Kei Ninomiya’s fall 2023 show in Paris

With both professional makeup artists and regular people delving deeper into beauty-boosting fun filters and augmented reality, it’s clear we’ll be seeing more of it. But just how much and how far it goes remains to be seen. Adds Parsons, “One thing I will say is, in advertisements it seems lately people want real, they don’t want to over retouch. Filters maybe could replace certain things, but I think when it comes to other things, people feel otherwise.”

“There might be a new term for augmented reality and makeup in the future, something that helps post production to be more time effective,” adds Lynski. “But so far human touch is very much important, from marketing and sales perspectives.”

Yet, with AI technology getting even more stronger, there’s no reason why filters won’t advance even more. Perhaps filters can offer something the everyday artist can’t–that’s the draw of it all; you can have makeup made of fire and looks that defy everything you know. The thing is, so far, these filters aren’t subverting beauty standards in a particularly nuanced way. Even under all those alien appendages you still have perfect skin, plumped lips, bigger eyes and giant lashes. The simple thinking behind it all, is that, if AI can give you perfect skin and better makeup than you’d ever get in real life, why do you even need makeup, especially if you’re not leaving your house? Will we one day soon be able to wear filters as a sort of ever-changing skin in real life? Perhaps to advance and keep up with AI, makeup has to get a little bit more real. In the case of some artists who are truly pushing the boundaries–like at Noir Kei Ninomiya’s fall 2023 show–it’s the combination of real, anti-airbrushed skin with makeup techniques that look like they’re from the future and still mesmerize. It’s not no-makeup makeup, nor is it a simple vision of perfection. One thing is clear: everyone is looking through a filtered lens.

will filters ever replace makeup?
All photos courtesy Sudden Chic. Creative makeup backstage at Noir Kei Ninomiya’s fall 2023 show in Paris

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