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Who I am and who I’ll be
Katey’s first career was as a social worker, where she saw the power of connecting with women, in difficult situations, over beauty and skincare products. Since becoming a makeup artist, Katey has focused on ‘good-for-you’, eco-conscious products. She shares her evolving experience with makeup and how to navigate the world of clean beauty.

I feel like we are in such a time of homogenized beauty, and I’m not suggesting that everybody should look like an outlier, but I think that those differences should be celebrated, and embraced.

19/99       Tell us a bit about yourself and your path to becoming a makeup artist.

Katey Denno      Well it is my second real career. The first decade of my working life I was a social worker, and worked predominantly with women who were in difficult situations. Working in a shelter for women fleeing domestic violence, I remember finding that I was often able to open the door to deeper discussions by starting with conversations about what personal care needs I could help fufill from the get-go. If I could get them their favorite hair styling product, or skincare or lip color they liked – but had to leave behind when they escaped their abuser -it was a first step in helping them to feel cared for and listened to. Doing an intake at the battered woman’s shelter I would connect with a client over what beauty products they needed to make their first night a bit easier, helping them find concealer to cover up any bruising going on before going out in public. I started working in HIV services later in my career, and was lucky enough to work with some incredible transgender women, and I would sit there just amazed by their skilled makeup application; how they contoured and applied makeup on both their faces and bodies to reshape them. This was in the early 2000s and contour on EVERYONE wasn’t a thing yet; it was only really used in theatre and I didn’t know anything about it, or the world of professional makeup artistry.

I was at a dinner party one night in New York, for a friend of a friend, sitting next to a makeup artist who, after seeing me doodling on a napkin, asked me about what I did, and if I wanted to come assist her. I was like “I don’t really know about that world” and here I was with huge cat eye eyeliner, and a rockabilly look going on, and she was like “You don’t know anything about makeup?! Sure”. So after giving it some thought, I said yes to a day assisting with her… and I was blown away. It was nothing like my normal day’s ins and outs, and it was exciting and creative… so…  I decided I’d try my hand at it.  When I look back I realize that I wasn’t scared because I didn’t know what I was about to get myself in to.  I was 31 at this point, it was a time when there wasn’t social media, and there was nothing to do but put your head down and work. I had the privilege of assisting quite a few people who were with the Wall Group, the agency I’ve been represented now for about 13 years. So I kind of fell into it, it was not a planned thing at all. I saw you guys interviewed Pati, and she gave me my first celebrity client; she worked with Christy Turlington for ages, and she wasn’t available to get her ready for something, so I got a 911 asking if I could get over to Christy’s house. It was amazing, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. At the same time I was going through a divorce, and so my life was falling apart but this other part of my life was soaring. So I raced over to Christy’s house to get her ready. Two days later I got this huge orchid plant with such a kind note from her. It was the most amazing welcoming into that world, and then Christy started booking me, and referring me to a few friends. So it was this very fast roll into unexpected glamorous work. It was one of those weird but great beginnings.


19/99       What does makeup mean to you?

KD       When I was 15 my mom said “Okay, you’ve been asking to wear makeup forever, fine, here’s some makeup – have fun”. (side note: my mom wears a full face every single day). I had these really light blonde eyelashes, so I had absolutely no definition around my eyes, and my mom let me put some mascara on, and I was like Oh my god. I remember back when I was about 10, I didn’t know anything about makeup, but for some reason I had a makeup birthday party and one of my mom’s friend’s who was a makeup artist, came over and did all our makeup. I remember at the time, and even now looking at the pictures which I still have, how transforming it was, it was so weird… we were these shy girls just mesmerized by own our reflections. So I always remember that transformational aspect of painting on a face. Then when I was 16, I remember this article in Sassy magazine about makeup being ‘confidence you carry in your purse’, and I filed that away in my mind. It definitely became just that for me, as I got into my teen years and struggled with serious acne all over my face.

Later in my teens, I fell into what was then the punk rock scene in DC, where it wasn’t about looking pretty for whoever you were trying to woo, it was more about being the strongest version of yourself. So I struggled with those two things; is it confidence because I don’t feel attractive and for whatever the reason, putting this thing on my face makes me feel more attractive versus, I love this orange red colour and the way it looks on my face, and maybe I do also like the way people do a double take when they see me on the street. It boils down to this: makeup means different things to different people, at different times in their lives. None are wrong, and as with all things, I believe in examining why you’re subscribing to any regimen or routine, and assessing if the practice still suits you as time goes on. If it doesn’t - and the practice is wearing a cat eye, a bold maroon lipliner, or a full face of caked on foundation- it’s great ‘cause you can change it up and work to figure out what suits the ever-changing, new you.

Makeup has meant so many different things to me – as so many people say, it is a form of artistic expression. I wanted to be a total rebel as a kid, and also wanted to be a good kid and have my family like me, so one way I could be a rebel was to wear massive winged eyeliner, which my mom hated, but she would say- at least it wasn’t a tattoo. When you’re trying to figure out who you are as a young person, I think makeup and hair and wardrobe changes can really help you test out different styles and personas; I loved trying on different personalities and looks, and I think that makeup gives us that opportunity everyday.

Now that I am older, my interaction with makeup is different. Some days it’s pure fun, others it lets me see a reflection in the mirror that is more in alignment with what I want to see: less sallow skin, no dark under eye circles, more color overall in my face. I’m in my mid-40s and I went through menopause really early; my skin, and colouring changed so much. I’ve learned to accept that, but some days makeup has given me a way to feel a lot better. I definitely subscribe to the idea that feeling good is about what is going on inside, and I am also all for using makeup to help yourself feel better. I’ve dissected the feminist theory behind that throughout my life, and as much as I’ve fought against it at times, I keep coming back to really appreciating makeup and skincare. It’s not a crutch or a trap for me, quite the contrary.  There is something inherently amazing about being able to draw on your face – and these days, the creative artistic expression I see on the faces of so many young people is INCREDIBLE - and accentuate the features you want to show off, and minimize those things you don’t.


19/99      How do you navigate the multiple definitions of ‘clean beauty’ in the industry? How do you define ‘green beauty’?

KD      I have used the term ‘Green Beauty’ for over 10 years now, which to me is something that simply means ‘safe for me and for the planet’. There are so many different variations of this definition; for some, this includes safe synthetics and for others it means 100% completely organic, botanical ingredients only.  I have held strong to the idea that anything I am putting on my body or suggesting others do has to have a proven record of being safe for our bodies and planet. For this I rely heavily on the work of companies + organizations like Made Safe and Ecoert because they evaluate every single ingredient and how those ingredients interact and therefore I don’t’ have to be an chemistry and toxicology expert in addition to being a makeup artist.  There are so many new developments happening that I get excited about in chemistry and it really just has to be about more money funnelling towards brands that are putting in the time in the lab and money in the ingredient development. Otherwise it is the same chemical companies working with the same chemical compounds instead of pushing the envelope and finding new things. The drive has to be backed up by dollars.

I think it is important for companies to offer straight forward information about what they’re using in their products. Some use the tag line ‘Clean and green’ but don’t define it at all, and since there is no legal definition... it might as well mean nothing. I hate the term ‘green washing’ but we see it a lot and it is not going to go away. Gay Timmons, who started Oh, Oh Organics, is like the god mother of clean beauty. She’s worked with farms all over the world to help them comply with organic farming measures, and then imports their raw materials to distribute to companies all over the US. Many of the clean beauty brands in the US use her products in their formulations, and with those brand founders, she founded an organization called Nobha and is striving to put a real definition to ‘Clean Beauty’ that will be taken to the powers that be and hopefully from that, we will see major change.

Photos via @kateydenno Photo via @kateydenno

there is something inherently amazing about being able to draw on your face and accentuate the features you want to show off

Photos via @kateydenno Photos via @kateydenno

19/99      Can you take us through your daily beauty routine, morning & night? 

KD       In the morning I use this mist call Be Happy from Jenette All Natural Skin Care, then I’ll use her Vitamin C Serum, or Marie Veronique’s Vitamin C + Ferulic Serum. I’ve been really liking Tata Harper’s Water Lock Moisturizer, then I put True Botanicals Clear Oil on top of that. And then a sunscreen – none of which I’m totally convinced work because I still get brown spots on my face. The main thing that I do pretty much every day is curl my eyelashes, and put on mascara every day; usually I use ILIA’s mascara, it is the one that stays on me the best, then a little under eye concealer, and blush. I have pretty much every blush in the clean beauty market + I continue to reach for RMS or these new lid to lip Balmies from Axiology. And that is it. Then a yummy body oil and lotion, whatever scent I am attracted to that day. At night, I use Jenette All Natural’s Green Tea soap. It is and has completely cleared up my skin and so many of my clients. I talk about her stuff all the time because her products are just so good and simple. Sometimes I will use the Pai Rosehip Oil to make sure all of my eye makeup is off, then I’ve been using the Maya Chia Advanced Gentle Retinol Treatment, and then the same Tata Harper Water Lock Moisturizer, and an oil on top. I hardly ever do any masks or anything.


19/99      Do you feel pressure to look a certain way? 

KD       Yes, sometimes for sure. I feel pressure to look pulled together most of the time and I fight against that. When I was growing up I didn’t like my nose, and my ears that stick out, and spent so much time agonizing about the way I looked. I feel really grateful that I didn’t get any plastic surgery, but, who knows, maybe in the future I will. But I feel like we are in such a time of homogenized beauty, and I think differences should be celebrated, and embraced. As a makeup artist I treasure those faces that have something different about them. The Kardashian look is so pervasive right now, and so sticky…it’s like it’s never going away. I’m not against it at all, but I just find such delight in a variety of different (and generally less made-up) looks, and I want to see more of that.


19/99       Does the term age appropriate mean anything to you? 

KD       When referring to a kid, and what’s age appropriate, say, for a young person to watch/read/wear, etc, that is the only time I would ever use that term.  For those in the 40’s + up age bracket,  I think it's really about personal perception of one’s self and how you want to be seen in the world. I don’t think age has anything to do with it.


19/99       If you could share advice with your younger self, what would it be? 

KD      1. Everything is within your reach, but don’t keep trying to put a round peg in a square hole. 2. Figure out how and why you stand out and celebrate that – don’t waste time trying to be like everyone else. It’s worked for me to just lighten up and go with the flow, and I couldn’t have explained that to my younger self, even 5 or 10 years ago. 3. Also – not everyone has to like you, as a people-pleasing woman that has been a really difficult thing for me.


19/99       What makes you feel beautiful?

KD      At a base level, when I make somebody else feel good. I think that being there for someone, especially for women, to make them feel good is the most pure form of joy and that is what beauty is to me.


19/99       Do you think there is a point where we stop growing and learning? 

KD      Hell no!


Follow Katey @kateydenno

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Who I am and who I’ll be