Makeup Artist Raoúl Alejandre Lets His Inner Child Steer His Creativity

“As beautiful as it is to create images and inspirational work, I also want it to have meaning. I want to highlight those who don't have the platform that I have.”

Black and white portrait of Raoúl Alejandre.
Image courtesy of Raoúl Alejandre.

Raoúl Alejandre is having the year many makeup artists dream of—he was recently announced as Valentino Beauty’s Global Makeup Ambassador, bringing his signature style to the iconic fashion house’s new foray into luxury beauty. Citing Serge Lutens, Richard Avedon, and old Hollywood glamour as his influences, he takes a multidisciplinary approach to makeup, pulling elements of art and design into his often intricate looks, whether it’s gothic liner on Willow Smith for the cover of V, understated glam on Lil Nas X at the BBMAs, or a MAC campaign with Alexa Demie.

Despite the pressure of an international beauty partnership, Alejandre maintains an easy and open demeanor—one that belies the magnitude of his work. Calling in from his hometown of Los Angeles, he explained, “the most important thing I’ve experienced through this process as a ‘professional makeup artist,’ quote-unquote, is always staying true to yourself and giving yourself positive affirmations—living authentically, at the end of the day. Because if you’re making things and expressing yourself in a way that makes you happy, you’re always going to see a positive reflection.” In this installment of Beauty Notes, Alejandre discusses collaborating with other queer artists, his must-have products, and why it’s important to keep a bit of your inner child alive.

What drew you to work with Valentino Beauty?

Valentino’s focus has always been on inclusivity. They work with people and bring people on their teams that have different ideas. I’ve seen them work with artists that express themselves in a visual form, but there are also artists who know how to create a vision with words. They don’t care about the person’s following or their notoriety. They see them as true artists and creators, and that is super rare in this industry.

Image courtesy of Raoúl Alejandre.

Do you have any highlights from working on that campaign?

This campaign reminded me of how expansive I can be as an artist. I was so used to doing my work in a curated, beautiful way, but Valentino reminded me that less can be more. Everything with Valentino is about the small details and the luxurious touches that highlight the natural beauty already existing in people. For me, this experience was less about makeup and more about honoring the person’s true self, their true nature. Since that experience, I have been trying to incorporate that in all aspects of my artistry. It helped me tap into my inner child, which I do whenever I work creatively. I’m exploring it, amplifying it, and working in a genuine, organic way.

You work with a lot of celebrities like Alexa Demie, Lil Nas X, and Willow. Walk me through some of the favorite looks you’ve done for them, and others.

Honestly, every job I’ve done has been a favorite of mine. Working with Lil Nas X, another queer person of color in this industry, was inspirational for me, because he’s someone who was saying something, who wasn’t afraid to be themselves and not everything had to have a very specific meaning. Some of it was just fun. It just felt natural. And a lot of what you do when you’re a creative is feeling natural. With people like Alexa—who is a friend of mine, and our work felt very organic—we could just go vintage shopping and find, I don’t know, a hat, and I could create a world based on it.

Image courtesy of Raoúl Alejandre.

What’s the best bit of beauty advice you’ve ever received and who was it from?

When I got into this industry, I was going to school for business, and my parents did not want to help me financially; they were like, you need to fend for yourself. A lot of my friends at that time were doing makeup professionally and they were already well-established in the Los Angeles celebrity scene. So I took a very small makeup course when I was starting out, and in that course, I heard these words that I still hold dearly: who cares? It’s makeup. You make it up as you go. I’ve applied that to so many different aspects of my life.

Especially in the beauty industry, it’s easy to forget that makeup should be fun, at the end of the day.

It’s an expression, an ever-evolving language. We give it its meaning. And we don’t realize how much power we have when we understand that.

Who are your beauty icons?

My beauty icons are the contributors, those helping the artists convey their message. And for me, a person who was able to do that is Serge Lutens. He was a photographer, he was a makeup artist, he was a hairstylist. He was a designer. This is someone who tapped into all of these different mediums and expressed themselves authentically. When you start looking through his images, there’s a consistency—and I’m so inspired by that. Plus, he worked with other icons that I love, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.

Image courtesy of Raoúl Alejandre.

What are your favorite makeup products right now?

I’m kind of old school in that, if something works for me, I stick to it. A lot of the formulas I work with, I’ve made myself. I like to take eye shadows that are purely pigment and mix them with blushes, and then maybe throw some cream in there. But the one thing that really stood out to me was Valentino’s Eye2Cheek formula, because it has that perfect balance where it’s creamy, but it’s also a powder. So you're really able to build up the consistency, build up the pigment.

Also, I love eyeliner. Eyeliners are my thing. Eyeliners, brow pens—I use them to sketch. I was working with Revlon for a second and I love their eyeliners. If anyone’s looking for a product that is inexpensive, I love the variation of shapes that Revlon has provided. I also loved the Valentino eyeliners because they come with two, which I appreciated when I first started getting into makeup. I couldn’t afford a lot of products, so working with the line that has created multiple uses for each product makes my inner child very happy. Because the first luxury product I owned was makeup.

With everything starting to open up again, what’s your go-to look for a night out?

Eyes always speak to me and many other people—especially those who still want to wear a mask right now. I think of smoky, smoldering eyes as my look. If you’re in areas like New York, where it’s probably a little bit more humid and you don’t want your eyeliner to melt—take a small brush or a flat top brush and go over your eyeliner with black powder shadow. You can also apply a little bit of a foundation powder or a translucent powder on the perimeter of your eye to create an additional barrier. If you want to create extra intensity, instead of using the translucent powder, use a black eyeshadow. Apply it on the edges of your eye and then use your pinky finger to rub out the excess. It’s my favorite thing for summer—I love having a tan and a smoky eye.

Image courtesy of Raoúl Alejandre.

What are some of your must-have skincare products?

I love this brand called Le Mieux’s ISO-Cell Recovery Solution, which is formulated in L.A. The ISO-Cells are a recovery solution that helps with any redness. It also creates a priming effect before I apply foundation. Another product I like from them is the Eye Regal Corrector. I like to use it on the eyelid, as well as under the eyes. It fills in any fine lines and helps suit any type of dry, redness.

Would you say that’s the line you recommend for taking off makeup, or do you have another cleanser you like to use?

I love the Farmacy cleansing balm. That is my go-to when it comes to taking off makeup, it melts everything off; you apply it dry and work it into the skin with your fingers. You can give yourself a little bit of a massage, and once you rinse it off, it doesn't leave that film. And following that, I love using micellar water. Bioderma is always my go-to, especially for sensitive skin. I don’t like using anything that’s too fragranced. I don’t want my skincare to smell pretty. If it doesn’t smell like anything or if it smells bad, then that means it’s good for me.

What was the first piece of makeup you ever bought?

The first thing I ever purchased was a MAC compact, because when I was in high school, MAC was such a thing. I had just purchased this really cute bag for myself and my parents were finally letting me explore and experiment with my look. I remember being in front of my mirror and posing with my Studiofix compact and my handbag. It was such a gratifying feeling, because I finally felt like myself. To have finally reached a point in my life where I purchased makeup for myself and it wasn’t me stealing something from my mom’s makeup bag was amazing.

What’s one makeup product you think everyone should own?

Definitely foundation—that’s always at the core of beautiful makeup.

Image courtesy of Raoúl Alejandre.

Are there any products you like to use as a base or a primer under makeup?

Massaging your skin, really working in your moisturizer, is the best primer. Because you’re starting to build the blood flow into the face—that’s when you start getting that plumping. That’s how models look so fresh—massaging. I’m seeing so many trends on TikTok right now that my aesthetician does on my face. I also love using certain primers for certain parts of the face. If it’s a mattifying primer and you have oily skin, I always like to use it around the T-zone to create a luminosity on the outer perimeters of the face—something more luminous on the high points of the cheek, below the brow bone, and maybe above the lip.

I also love using Papaw—it’s an ointment for burns and scars. I use it on chapped lips, but I also like to use a little bit of it on the high points of my cheeks; it gives me that beautiful, hydrating, plumping effect.

You mentioned that you visit an aesthetician. What’s your go-to service?

I do a lot of reiki facials. My aesthetician uses natural stones, which she places on my chest, and around me. She plays music—sometimes it’s just singing bowls—and through this entire process, she’s giving me this amazing facial. And she's also a person of color, so whenever we get to talking and connecting, we align. We’re working through traumas as well as talking about things that we really are grateful for.

Also, within this process, I’ve cut down on coffee. I’ve started to drink a lot more water. I was giving myself affirmations before I was consuming foods that I knew weren't always the healthiest, and I was telling myself, this is what I’m eating now. Giving yourself those mental positive affirmations is important when it comes to taking care of your skin and the way you look physically.

Image courtesy of Raoúl Alejandre.

Would you say these facials are your biggest skincare splurge?

The facials have been one of my biggest splurges. Because skin is such an emotional part of our lives, I also feel like therapy has also been a splurge when it comes to my skincare, because I’ve now been able to talk about things I normally wouldn’t talk about with anyone. It helps manage my stress levels and that has an effect on the way I’m looking physically.

What’s your favorite form of self-care?

I garden: giving back to earth, giving back to people are important when it comes to self-care and being mindful. We share this world with so many different plants, so many different beings. They all have a life and we should be taking them into consideration.