Graduation Day Done Right: Hair, Makeup and Nail Tips for a Long-Lasting, Camera Ready Look to Take You From the Ceremony, to Your Post-Grad Family Fetes, to the Big Festivities at Night #sponsored

Published in: Makeup, Makeup Tips/How To, Nails, Sponsored Post


This post was sponsored by imPRESS Gel Manicures. Designed for every mood, every moment. Check out for more colors and designs!

Aren’t graduations the best? They’re one of my favorite milestone events, because not only do they commemorate a major life success, but they also herald the start of a new adventure.

I dunno… I just love that feeling of endless possibilities. It’s like, “the future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades.” (Extra big ups if you actually get that reference.)

If you’re graduating this year, first, congrats, babe! Second, when you get to the end of the ceremony and everybody is throwing their caps up into the air, please throw yours as high as you can! — because I never got to do it at my graduation ceremonies (don’t know why, but it wasn’t allowed). And this way I can live vicariously through you.

Third, we gotta talk pre-grad hair, makeup and nails (of course), because graduation days, in my experience, tend to be looong.

There are the pre-parties (more on these in a sec), then the actual ceremony, then the post-ceremony celebrations, and then, if you’re a champ, the post-post-celebration parties at night.

That all adds up to a long day and a long night, and seeing as how everyone’s a photographer these days (hello, camera phones!), it doesn’t hurt to be camera ready for all of it.

First, let’s start with your makeup. ๐Ÿ™‚


One word: primer. Before you paint that face, prime that skin.

Two of my go-to primers by Make Up For Ever and NARS

Two of my go-to primers by Make Up For Ever and NARS

Makeup primers work a little like paint primer…except they’re for your skin and not the walls. They fill in uneven areas so that any products you apply on top of them — like your concealer, your foundation, etc. — look smoother and last longer.

I’ve taken roughly 10 gajillion pictures for le blog (give or take), and I think primer makes a HUGE difference, especially when it comes to face products like foundation and concealer.

Primers also help your makeup apply more evenly, so you don’t get any of those funky patches where your blush or your eyeshadow look darker in some spots than others.

But the main reason I suggest wearing primer on graduation day is longevity. That’s primer’s superhero power — the ability to grab makeup and not let go — so if you’re having a long day, which then goes into a long night, your makeup stays intact longer and doesn’t fade as quickly.

I’d do a face primer, and then also an additional eye primer for your lids. For face primers, I love the Make Up For Ever Step 1 Primers ($37), because a little goes a long way, so I don’t have to use very much (which means that it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing an extra layer of spackle), and they help my makeup last a good 12-14 hours.

I use the Smoothing Primer For Large Pores & Fine Lines on my combination skin, but if you have oily skin, try their Mattifying Primer.

For eye primer, NARS Pro-Prime Smudge-Proof ($26) is the best one out there in my opinion. It will hold onto your eye makeup like Tabs clutches his Chanel purse filled with cat treats! — and it won’t let go until you wash it off.

Here are a few more grad day makeup tips…

  • Wear waterproof mascara. Since graduation can be pretty emotional, you’ll want to be prepared for any potential tears, so wear waterproof mascara. My short, sparse, straight lashes love Urban Decay Cannonball ($20) because it lengthens, separates and handles the waterworks like a champ.
  • Or, alternately, wear false lashes. Falsies look fab in pics, and you won’t have to worry about crying and ruining your mascara. Granted, I wouldn’t go for the cray-cray ones with over-the-top Kim K length and fullness (those, IMHO, are better suited for clubbing…or man hunting, LOL!). I’d go for a natural style instead, like the Salon Perfect Perfectly Natural Lashes ($5). And if you have a hard time putting on false lashes, cut each lash band in half, then apply each of the halves one at a time. It’s waaaay easier than applying a full lash strip and much more comfortable to wear.
  • Reduce the shine. Generally, matte finishes tend to photograph better than anything shimmery or shiny, so I’d go with a blush and bronzer (if you wear it) with a matte, or a low-level sheen, finish. Oh, and matte eyeshadow, too! One of my current favorite matte palettes is the Meet Matt(e) Trimony Matte Eyeshadow Palette ($42) by theBalm. All of the shades are neutral mattes (perfect for pics), and they blend so easily!
  • Bring on the blot. Blotting papers, that is. For help keeping the shine away, pack some blotting papers into your purse to blot down any oily patches on your skin throughout the day. I like these Pureness Oil-Control Blotting Papers by Shiseido ($18.50) because they’re very absorbent, and they don’t leave behind a powdery residue.
Salon Perfect Natural Lashes

Salon Perfect Natural Lashes

theBalm's Meet Matt(e) Trimony Eyeshadow Palette

theBalm’s Meet Matt(e) Trimony Eyeshadow Palette

A look inside theBalm's Meet Matt(e) Trimony Eyeshadow Palette

A look inside theBalm’s Meet Matt(e) Trimony Eyeshadow Palette

My last graduation, which was my college graduation from Davis, was epic, and by “epic,” I mean that I was up almost the entire night before the ceremony with my friend Eleanor. (We dropped in on a random house party with the intention of staying “just a half an hour…” YEAH, RIGHT!)

And then during the actual graduation ceremony the next day, I spent the entire time sitting with half a butt cheek on one chair and half a butt cheek on another, because there weren’t enough chairs! — so I was sandwiched between two people.

For four hours.

Under most any other circumstances, I would’ve found this mildly annoying, but I was so happy at the time that I really didn’t care. That was such a long day, but it went by in a blur.

After the ceremony, my family and I went to lunch at a fancy restaurant in downtown Sacramento with white tablecloths and fine china. Then we walked around old town, and I remember my heels getting stuck in the cobblestone sidewalks…

Le sigh… I wish I had more pics from that day.

At the risk of #datingmyself (LOL!), we didn’t have smartphones or social media, so there was no selfie taking during the ceremony. You got your snapshot taken by the official photographer right when you walked across the stage and grabbed your diploma.

Crazy stuff, I know!


Wearing an impress Gel Manicure

Wearing imPress Gel Manicure in Symphony ($6.99 and available at CVS, Walgreens, Target and Walmart; learn more at KISS)

With my nails and big events, despite always, ALWAYS planning to have my paws painted well in advance, I always end up doing them at the last minute.

I dunno why!

Save yourself the stress with an imPress Gel Manicure ($6.99 each and available at CVS, Walgreens, Target and Walmart; learn more at KISS).

impress gel manicure

imPress Gel Manicures in Symphony (left) and Night Fever (right), $6.99 each and available at CVS, Walgreens, Target and Walmart

They’re pre-painted stick-on nails that you press onto your clean, bare nails, and they come in a HUGE array of colors and designs ranging from conservative to flashy.

impress gel manicure

A closer look at my nails… Aren’t they cute?

impress gel manicure

Step-by-step instructions…

These manis — which look like fancy nail art and would seriously take me forever and a day (ok, forever and five days!) to do myself — took me less than five minutes from start to finish. You just peel off the sticker on the underside, and press them onto your bare nails.




Another thing I love about these is that once they’re on, they’re ON, so I don’t have to worry about them popping off when I’m washing my hands (they’re waterproof) or otherwise going about my day.

To remove them, gently peel them off from the sides. Sometimes I’ll run a little bit of polish remover along the edges and wait a minute before lifting them off my nails.


I always try to remember to smooth down the fly-aways before taking any pics, especially the fly-aways near the front of my face, because when those stray hairs get up in the mix, they feel so distracting.

Seriously, I feel like I’m always dealing with fly-aways on my forehead and around my ears (wrangling them into place is a part-time job). Use a serum or a de-frizzing product, and maybe also heat styling, to smooth them down.

Oh, and if you color your hair like I do, make sure that your color has been freshly done, since flash photography can make different colored roots extra obvious, eek!

Congratulations, graduate! Best of luck in your future endeavors. ๐Ÿ™‚

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,



Like this post? Tell your friends!

So far, 22 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. How cute do you look?! ๐Ÿ™‚

    That NARS primer is the best, can’t go without anymore, special occasion or not. And ugh, the TheBalm Meet Matt(e) Trimony Eyeshadow Palette looks gorgeous, such lovely shades. Nails are looking good! Doesn’t look fake at all.
    Kiss & Make-up recently posted … Review | Qlabo Eauphoria Complete Moisture Treatment (+ international giveaway x5)

  2. sarahc says:

    So elegant and sophisticated! I like to see neutral nail options. That’s what the job recruiters like to see. Go Aggies btw!

  3. Christina says:

    I’m so enthused for this post!!! Even though I still have a ton of school work to get through, I’ve been thinking about what my grad day look is going to be ๐Ÿ˜€ Planning to scope out some hair places in the area within the next week and those nails look like a very nice option… I either wait till the last minute to paint my own or end up chipping them fast when I get them done XP

    • Karen says:

      Hi Christina,

      Congrats on your upcoming graduation! Are you graduating from college? Grad school?

      • Christina says:

        Thank you so much! I’m graduating from my master’s program and am getting my master’s in public health (in epidemiology). These two years have gone by so fast!

  4. mave says:

    I barely remember my graduation but in my defense it was 1990. I remember the after party and dance that night. The entire class played craps on a makeshift casino table and danced the night away! My makeup was melted away by morning of course.

  5. Ivy says:

    Love! Perfect timing! Need this in 2 weeks!

  6. Efrain says:

    My last graduation photo was from high school and I felt I used all the products in my stash. I think I’ll graduate in one or two years so I’ve just bookmarked this post.

  7. Rachel R. says:

    We weren’t allowed to throw our caps in the air at either of my graduations. We never would have gotten away with decorating the tops of our caps like they do now days.

  8. Jane says:

    I graduated from Rutgers University in 1981. All I can remember was we wanted Bruce Springsteen to give the commencement speech, but it didn’t happen. I admit that I didn’t wear any makeup at all in college.

  9. Ritika says:

    What are you wearing on your lips Karen? Looks amazing!!

  10. denise S says:

    My daughter graduated from UC Davis last year. She didn’t want to attend the ceremony because she felt it would be too long and boring. Now I’m a little sad we don’t have pictures of her in the cap and gown. She said we can take them when she graduates from Law school. Next week my son graduates from Columbia University. I’m excited to go to New York! We live in Florida so the weather will be cooler there. I’m not wearing high heels like I did when he graduated from FSU. We walked quite a ways and my were killing me,lol. I’m definitely going to wear Urban Decay all nighter spray so my makeup last. Got my false eyelashes ready too. Great tips!

  11. Eleanor says:

    Ohhh…memories. Yes, EPIC would be one way to describe it. Funny you bring up our graduation, I bumped into Ramon yesterday at the viewing and he reminded me of that day. I was so hungover that I would have missed our graduation had Chris & Ramon not come to pick me up.

    Lesson of the day: 1-2 drink minimum the night before graduation.

    Thanks for the flashback! There’s no one else that is rather share a chair with than you. Yours truly…

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