I once read somewhere that Marilyn Monroe, God rest her soul (and discourage teenage girls from attributing random quotes to her via Pinterest), would slather her face in Vaseline before stepping in front of the lens. The satiny finish of petroleum, neither shiny nor matte, blurred out imperfections and created a soft, otherworldly glow that photographed like an out-of-focus dream. Makeup certainly played a part, as did her dedication to regular facials at Erno Laszlo, but Vaseline was Marilyn’s on-camera trick. The O.G. “beauty hack,” if you will.
With the advent of HD film and photography, this once-ingenious bluff has been phased out—a face full of Vaseline captured in hi-def is guaranteed to look slimy and ridiculous—but the magic of the soft focus effect isn’t going anywhere, which is exactly why there’s a market for products that replicate the smooth, slightly hazy look IRL. And their existence really is rather compelling: A blurring effect makes pores practically disappear, renders uneven texture barely noticeable, and gives skin the illusion of being softer, clearer, and just better. If you can’t see the imperfections, are they really there at all?
Here’s the other thing: While these products, these visual refiners, work wonderfully under makeup as a means of priming and instantly perfecting before you even get your foundation on, they’re also fit for wearing on their own—because who needs coverage when your skin already looks like someone’s taken the Photoshop blur tool to it? They’re ideal for the kinds of “no makeup” days when you’re really just wearing a little bit of makeup, and also when you don’t feel like going through the motions of a full face but still need something. Which, for me, is every day.
And so, ten options for skin-smoothing, glow-enhancing, perfection-faking soft focus products that may or may not make you feel a little more like Bert Stern’s got his inimitable camera trained on you. What’s more, they also come well-equipped with full-on skin care benefits—anti-agers, blemish-fighters, moisturizers, sun protection, and more—that will improve your complexion in a cumulative effect. Two birds, one stone, etcetera. Reality bites; this is your way of putting a filter on it.