A Busy Girl’s Guide to Beauty

A busy lady with no time to waste lolling around a salon, Christine Muhlke learns to cut corners.

by Christine Muhlke

Busy Girls Guide

They say having it all—career, marriage, children—requires giving up some of the things you enjoy. For me, that has meant my already modest beauty regimen. A fresh set of highlights every three months? So 2010. Shaving my legs? Let’s just say I now have a legitimate excuse to splurge on those Dries Van Noten pants for spring. Who was that woman of leisure, and how do I get her back, or at least look like her? **

The cruel joke is that once you reach the age of having it all, you really should be devoting more, not fewer, hours to prettifying. Five years ago, when I landed a high-profile job, I realized that I needed to start wearing concealer and mascara in order to appear more professional (not to mention more awake). Then, after I had a baby, all bets were off. A friend looked at me and shook her head. “The concealer’s not cutting it anymore,” she said. “You need a corrector too.” The beauty clutter grew. Now, for every moisturizer I own, there’s a serum—and an essence and a primer—to apply underneath. When I recently found myself making room for yet another product (apparently, night serums just don’t work during regular business hours), I knew I needed help streamlining my cabinet, my makeup kit—my life. So I reached out to some beauty professionals whose schedules are even more hectic than my own.

Illustrations by Zebedee Helm.

“Your skincare routine should only take three minutes,” declares Amy Wechsler, M.D., who is board certified in both dermatology and psychiatry. “In the morning, you don’t even have to wash your face if you did so before going to bed. Just rinse.” Wechsler’s bare essentials are a moisturizer and sunscreen by day, and a moisturizer and prescription retinoid at night. She even worked with Chanel Skincare to develop La Solution 10 de Chanel, a moisturizer for sensitive skin that’s so gentle, it can be used as eye cream too. “I just close my eyes and put it everywhere,” she says. Which is exactly what I do the night after my appointment, on top of my Retin-A. No eye serum, no eye cream! The 39 seconds I gain feel like a vacation.

Speaking of which, when I tell Wechsler that I’m embarrassed by how the heady floral fragrance of Rodin’s Olio Lusso Facial Cleansing Powder transports me to a Mediterranean villa when I’m washing my face, she encourages me to embrace that fantasy spa moment, however paltry and pathetic. “In taking care of yourself,” she explains (the psychiatrist in her kicking in), “you’re lowering your cortisol and stress levels.” In other words, stress isn’t pretty. “Cortisol breaks down collagen, which is how we get wrinkles.” Oh, those. But for her, the biggest beauty time-saver is, in fact, Botox. “For sure, because you’re combating wrinkles by preventing them.” Why waste precious minutes applying creams when you can banish lines at the source? As soon as I find a sliver in my schedule, I’m going for it. I promise.

In the meantime, I wedge in a 7 p.m. appointment at CAP Beauty, in New York’s West Village. After getting the Root Treatment Facial, which combines acupuncture for mind-body-spirit rebalancing with a soothing skin treatment, I’m so blissed-out, I cab it the two blocks home. Better than Botox, if you ask me.

Illustrations by Zebedee Helm.

Highlights require a commitment of several hours, which is why I refresh mine only once a year. So imagine my delight at meeting Sarah Spratt, a colorist and kindred spirit, at Takamichi Hair salon, in NoLIta. Spratt confides that she usually gets highlights in May, letting the summer sun take care of the rest. “Only go one level lighter than your natural color, and let the base mingle in with the highlights,” she says. “This makes the grow-out period painless.” To prolong the magic, she recommends a color-preserving shampoo, especially for brunettes. And as for those pesky stray grays, Oribe’s Airbrush Root Touch-Up Spray does the trick.

Luckily, stylist Ricky Pannell, the owner of the downtown salon Snip N Sip, doesn’t mind that I come in for a cut only twice a year. In fact, the one he gives me, with long layers from front to back along the jaw line, has a six-month shelf life. His no-style styling tips? For bouncy waves, air-dry damp hair in not one but two buns—on top and in the back, tucking in the ends, because, he says, they are the most important part. And what if I want straight hair and am too busy to give myself a full blowout or iron my curls (which, for the record, I have never done)? “Just concentrate on the ends,” he insists. “If the ends look nice, the whole thing looks good.”

And get this: When I sheepishly confess that I don’t have time to shampoo more than twice a week, Pannell smiles. Twice a week is enough, he confirms, and is better for my hair. “Just be sure you rinse really well. I can’t tell you how much buildup I see.” He’s on board with my time–saving product choices too: Oribe’s Supershine Light Moisturizing Cream, which acts as both a conditioner and styling product on damp hair, and Oribe’s Dry Texturizing Spray, for those no-wash days when I need a little pick-me-up.

Like me, the Los Angeles manicurist Stephanie Stone, of Nailing Hollywood, has a toddler, so she’s always on the hunt for ways to maintain her talons on the fly. The current trend for short, natural-looking nails, she informs me, is perfect for low-maintenance ladies: “Just clip and file them, apply a clear coat, and you’re done.” What’s more, the new rounder shape is less prone to snagging and, therefore, breakage. “But keep your cuticles and hands moisturized,” she adds, recommending Dr. Hauschka’s Neem Nail & Cuticle Oil Pen and NCLA’s Polish Me Pretty exfoliating hand scrub.

Illustrations by Zebedee Helm.

And as for that aforementioned no-longer-cutting-it eye concealer? I’ve long been a Bobbi Brown fan, so I decide to ask the cosmetics-empire builder and mother of three how on earth she manages to look dewy and rested. Like Wechsler, she’s fanatical about moisturizer. Then she talks me through her “stoplight beauty routine,” which she swears takes just minutes and can be done in the car. (I wonder if I can pull it off while biking to work…) “We have this new intensive dual skin-serum corrector-concealer—it comes with a wand,” Brown says. “And I don’t go anywhere without my Telluride bronzer. Because I wear glasses, I can get away without eye makeup, but when I want to look better, I use a brown pencil to line my eye, the same pencil to fill in my brow, and then I throw on mascara. I don’t have to do anything else—I’m fine without lipstick.”

Her strategy helps me winnow down my own product arsenal. Corrector and concealer are replaced by Brown’s do-it-all serum. Eye shadow, liner, and their corresponding application tools are trumped by a quick swipe of a cream-shadow stick. Lash curler? Gone. Brown gently curls her lashes up with her finger while her mascara dries, and now I do the same. My blush is still Kjaer Weis’s finger-friendly cream, and my lips stay loyal to Brown’s discontinued tinted lip balm, which I use very sparingly. What really brings my speedier new look together, though, are my brows. Who knew? Sabah Feroz, of Blink Brow Bar at Saks Fifth Avenue, in New York, threaded and tinted them a shade darker, which gave me such a Hilary Rhoda quotient, I nearly considered dropping makeup altogether.

I said “nearly.” I’m busy, not crazy.