Denene Millner beauty

I was about 14 when I started boosting my mom’s make-up. Nothing over-the-top—a little eyeliner, some mascara, I think. The occasional lipstick. It made me feel grown. I’d sneak it on after she left for work, and scrub it off my face before she came home from work. I’d like to think she was none-the-wiser about my clandestine make-up dalliances. But Bettye Millner was a smart cookie—and adamant about teaching me that the last thing I needed to do was to ruin my skin by slathering a bunch of chemicals on it every day. To her, a bare face was the healthiest, most beautiful face.

After my sneaky teenage years, I generally followed my mom’s advice, forgoing foundation, blush, lipstick and the like for a mostly bare face, the occasional mascara and lip gloss on a good day. Shamefully, I didn’t learn how to do my make-up until about four days before my wedding, when I fired my make-up artist (his version of “natural” face was Foxy Brown circa 1994—black lip, black cat-eye, drawn-on brow. Tragic.) and sought instruction at the Bobbi Brown makeup counter at Bloomingdales in Manhattan. The makeup artist sent me packing with about $300 worth of make-up, brushes (a bargain next to what I was going to pay the make-up artist) and a sheet of paper with the colors literally mapped out on an illustration of a face. I used it to hook up my wedding day make-up. It looked delicious.

And then I proceeded to do the same face in the same colors for the next 16 years.

Sixteen, yo.

Enter, Brittni Onekki, a.k.a. Muse, my friend, fellow journalist, make-up artist and all-around pretty girl. We go waaaaay back to our days together at Parenting magazine, where I was a features editor and she was working out the words and the products in the beauty department. More recently, she’s been getting ladies pretty as a certified MAC Cosmetics makeup artist while raising two beautiful sons. I’ve been following her on Instagram, watching her chronicle her love of all things beauty, plus give some awesome tips on makeup application, the best colors for brown skin, the best products by top brands plus awesome advice on how to get the hottest, luxurious looks on a budget.

So what’s a makeup challenged mom to do to update her look? Why, call Brittni, of course! Brittni answered my Beauty SOS by offering up her services as my personal makeup concierge. For an EXTREMELY reasonable fee, Brittni hooked me up with:

  1. A make-up bag makeover. She dumped out everything in my 16-year-old make-up bag, totally tossed out anything and everything that was ugly, old or just plain wack, then had me make a list of brushes and beauty products to replenish my make-up and skincare stash.
  2. A make-aisle tour. Brittni took me to Target and Ulta for new brushes and makeup products. Yes, of course she could have taken me to an expensive makeup counter. But she didn’t see any need to break my budget; we found all the brushes, foundation, concealer, lipstick and gloss, liners and mascara I needed, from brands that are inexpensive but work just as hard as high-end products. The only thing better than Brittni delivering on her promise to take it easy on my wallet was her explaining how to pick colors for my specific complexion, plus tips on which brands have pigments that actually show up on my chocolate brown skin.
  3. A make-up tutorial. Here’s where it got really fun: Brittni came back to my house with my make-up stash and showed me how to use it all—from tips on how to apply foundation and concealer so that it looks completely natural, to how to use my new brushes to expertly blend my eyeshadows, to the best way to apply eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss. In about an hour, she showed me how to do both a 10-minute face and a more glamorous face for appearances. Bonus: she gave me some awesome advice for how to fight breakouts, clear up acne scars and get my skin back to healthy.

Denene Before and AfterI tell you, Brittni changed… my… life. She hooked me all the way up, and I’m grateful that she took the time to whip this mom’s beauty regimen into total shape. My make-up bag looks like it has some sense, I actually know what to do with the brushes, I actually got a clue about picking colors that flatter my skin and actually work, and I know how to apply make-up in a way that makes sense—like a boss (instead of a 14-year-old girl).

Now, for some good news and some bad news. Bad news first: we took a bunch of video with my handy dandy camera, and while Brittni was spectactular, the lighting, sound and focus was way too off to pop onto the site. The good news, though, is that we did a few Instagram videos, which I posted on my MyBrownBaby Instagram channel. Check out Brittni’s tutorial on how to clean make-up brushes, how to apply concealer and BB cream foundation, the beauty or orange blush on chocolate skin, and a quick tip on how to organize your make-up bag. Lots of super useful info here!

You should also follow Brittni on Instragram at @MakeupByMuse, and, for goodness sake, reach out to her to book a makeup bag overhaul and application tutorial for yourself. I promise you, she’s worth every penny—and then some!

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. Love it! I love make-up & love trying colors. I must read her post about cleaning your brushes. Now if you had said you are using the same make-up for years and years I could quietly agree with you LOL

    You are beautiful!

  2. Love your makeover and the new look of your blog too! Both are pretty as can be.

  3. You are beautiful! I was just asking Jamilah about you..and I see I’m not alone, as I’m still using the same MK blush that I used while reporting in Shreveport, LA 16 years ago. Obviously, I don’t wear it often. Cringe and sigh…

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