he girls in Shalini Vadhera’s family are always imploring her for beauty advice. Family reunions are peppered with cries of “Will you do my makeup?” “What’s the best color for my face?” “How do I make my eyes look bigger?” And why shouldn’t they? After all, Vadhera is a nationally-renowned beauty expert who has created the faces for celebrity clientele, appeared as a beauty expert on countless television shows and is even developing her own beauty line.

Shalini’s Must-Haves

We asked Vadhera what five beauty products she couldn’t live without:
L’Oreal Voluminous Mascara
Shu Uemura Eyelash Curler
MAC Studio Fix Powder/Foundation Combination
Lola Lip Gloss
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Anti-Wrinkle Cream

Background in beauty

But this beauty barista didn’t set out to become a big-name makeup artist. Vadhera, who was born and raised in California, actually holds a degree in international business. “I always wanted to do something with India,” she explains. Her parents, both Punjabi Indians, exposed her to the world from an early age. “My mom was raised in Kenya, so we went back and forth a lot … I love going to India.” Her travel-savvy family was always jet-setting to some exotic locale in Asia, Africa or Europe, and family reunions were often held in far-flung destinations such as Hong Kong, Kenya or London.

Shalini works on Brooke Burke.
Shalini works on Brooke Burke.

Top Desi Beauty Mistake

Vadhera says the number-one beauty mistake South Asian women make is using a concealer that is too light to cover dark undereye circles. “It’s so often that I will see a South Asian girl with perfect skin and then a gray cast under her eyes. The tip to getting it right is to use a concealer over your foundation that is yellow-based and only a half shade lighter than your foundation,” she advises.

Little did Vadhera know her travels were laying the groundwork for her future career as an arbiter of beauty. “I always loved to draw, dance, decorate—anything that was ‘pretty’ or had to do with beauty. When we were in India or other places, I was always fascinated with what women did to make themselves beautiful,” she explains. “I’ve traveled so extensively, and I was never afraid to ask women ‘What are you doing?’ or ‘Why are you doing this?'”

In high school, Vadhera garnered a few modeling gigs when she realized she was spending more time in the makeup room than on the photo shoots. Her fascination with cosmetics prompted her to get a job with her local Clinique makeup counter, and she kept the job after she started college. But despite her love of all things aesthetic, Vadhera always made sure school came first. “My family is very traditional and reserved. We’re not the ‘party Punjabis,'” she jokes. So when the makeup companies asked her to work full-time, she declined due to her demanding college schedule. Instead, Vadhera started freelancing as a traveling independent makeup artist. Employers included Visage Cosmetics and MAC. With a knack for applying and selling makeup, Vadhera was soon in demand by companies like Shiseido, Chanel, Bobbi Brown and more. She even expanded her jobs to doing makeup for photo shoots simply because “I get bored really easily.”

A career in looking good

Yet Vadhera still didn’t consider pursuing the beauty industry as her full-time career. Instead, she began to look for a post-graduation job in international trade when her “big break” came knocking. NBC Studios in Hollywood called Vadhera to offer her an opportunity of a lifetime. They explained that they’d heard about her work and wanted her to audition to do makeup for their television shows. She nailed the audition and accepted NBC’s offer to serve as a makeup artist for NBC News. A month later, she was promoted to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

“There’s a reason these traditions have been around for thousands of years. This stuff works.”

Since then, Vadhera’s success has only grown. The Tonight Show gig led her to other television jobs, celebrity clientele and numerous stints as a beauty expert in magazines and on television shows. And Vadhera is always juggling several projects at once. She’s currently writing a book on how to fix the most common beauty mistakes (“A lot of us will buy a ton of makeup and we won’t know how to use it properly,” she says) and launching her own beauty product line in the coming months.

Shalini hangs with client Jay Leno.
Shalini hangs with client Jay Leno.

Vadhera is also a big proponent of global beauty tricks, serving as the global beauty expert for Real Simple magazine. Her world travels have taught her a thing or two about women’s beauty tricks around the world, and her expertise couldn’t have come at a better time. “All of a sudden, ethnic is hot,” she says, remembering that she’s come a long way from when she started modeling. At the time, she was told she could only get into medical brochures because she was “so ethnic.” But she’s not committed to global beauty secrets because of the fad factor: “There’s a reason these traditions have been around for thousands of years. This stuff works.” Vadhera’s favorite South Asian beauty secrets include coconut oil for strengthening and conditioning hair, threading (“It doesn’t cause trauma to the skin—but you do have to get someone really good”) and Ayurveda.

“I think it’s important to put your talent to good use. One of the biggest hooks for me is that I was able to positively help people’s self esteem. When you look good, you feel good.”

Beauty gives back

Vadhera confesses her interest in the beauty industry isn’t for aesthetics alone. As an associate at the Clinique counter during her high school years, she worked with several clients who were dealing with illnesses, such as breast cancer, that affected their appearance. “I saw how makeup affected their self esteem in a positive way, and that made a huge impact on me,” Vadhera recalls. So she’s devoted her time to helping those who need her help the most. She donates much of the endless supply of free product samples she receives to women’s shelters. She volunteers to do makeovers with the money benefiting a school for autism. And she continues to work with women who are suffering from disease or abuse. “I think it’s important to put your talent to good use. One of the biggest hooks for me is that I was able to positively help people’s self esteem. When you look good, you feel good.” n

Ismat Sarah Mangla wishes she could call Shalini with every makeup disaster.
Published on October 1, 2004.
Photography: Courtesy of Shalini Vadhera
Comments are closed.
  1. November 14, 2007, 9:20 pm aaqil

    dear shalini:

    Great admirer of yours. writing to request or asking big favour. concern is face black heads and pimples, what to do?
    kindly send me some remedies on my email. thnx

    your admirer

  2. November 17, 2007, 3:50 am Raja

    Aaqil are you a female ?

    If yes, I want to send you my love.

  3. December 9, 2007, 3:58 pm Mis

    Dear Shalini:

    Im writing to request or asking a big favour. concern is facial Hair problems and pimples, what should i do?

    please send me some remedies for asian skin type on my email.

    Thank you:)

  4. March 4, 2008, 10:38 pm Jigisha

    Hi Shalini,

    I’m getting married on May 25, 2008 in Bangalore, India. Unfortunately my first trip to Bangalore will be just days before the wedding.

    Can you suggest make-up products that will actually work in the weather (hot!!) and facial remedies that I should do so skin stays “normal”?

    Hoping to hear from you soon! Thank you in advance!!

  5. July 16, 2008, 2:02 am Antoinette M.

    Hey Shalini,
    Very recently I’m suffering from hair loss problem. Can you give some advice on how to overcome this problem?
    Thanks in advance.

  6. October 30, 2008, 8:33 am spam me ssn_aye@yahoo.com