Kelsea Ballerini on Slugging, Low-Lift Beachy Waves, and Her $5 Lip Secret


Say hello to Unfiltered, a beauty series where you’ll get an exclusive glimpse into the dressed-down beauty routines of our favorite celebrities. They’ll reveal their guilty-pleasure beauty practices, the five-minute-routine product lineup they can’t live without, the one good-skin tip they’ll be forever thankful for, and so much more. To bring every conversation full circle, we ask each celebrity to send us a selection of self-shot, filter-free photos of their choosing to capture the essence of their Unfiltered beauty philosophy. 

Up next, we’re getting to know Kelsea Ballerini, a country music star and Covergirl's newest ambassador. As a fellow beauty enthusiast, she’s answering all of our rapid-fire questions and sharing her best-kept beauty secrets below. Enjoy!


(Image credit: @kelseaballerini)

If you had to leave the house in five minutes, what are a few staple beauty products you’d apply or bring with you?

Oh! Mmm, okay. I would say brow gel. I like something that’s tinted and kind of a taupe-y shade. I got this cheek tint from Australia the last time I went with my husband, and it’s from this brand called Mecca—it’s kind of like their version of Sephora—and it’s this tiny little pot that I’m able to keep in my purse. One side of it has this really beautifully pigmented cream blush, and then the other side is a highlighter. It’s this really nice two-in-one travel-size situation. So brow gel, that cheek duo, and then the Covergirl Clean Fresh Tinted Lip Balm ($5) is truly amazing. And that’s it … and tinted sunscreen!

Well, now I have to know which tinted sunscreen you wear because it’s so hard to find one that looks natural, doesn’t clog your pores, has great ingredients…

There’s a place in Nashville called Skin Pharm, and my friend Maegan founded it. They have stores all over now, but the OG is in Nashville, and she has completely changed my skin. I use all of her stuff, and she has a 100% Mineral Tinted SPF ($60) that’s been a huge game changer for my skin.

Your skin always looks healthy and dewy, even without makeup. Can you walk me through your morning and evening regimen?

Well, I think the first thing is that in the last few years, I’ve switched from just using makeup wipes to actually washing my face [laughs]. I mean, I’m finally acting like I’m in my late 20s now. It’s about time! But yeah, my morning routine is to wash with Skin Pharm’s Gentle Soothing Cleanser ($40), and then I use hyaluronic acid, and then I use Skin Pharm’s Glow Factor Vitamin C Serum ($150), their Eye Sculpt ($75)—which is an eye cream—and then the SPF. It’s a whole thing! I also love Skyn Iceland’s Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels ($18), which are great before a show or when I’m on tour. They somehow have this cooling effect that helps with de-puffing, and I also use them as a guide for eye shadow. 

In the evening, I’ll do a double cleanse. I start with an oil cleanser, and then I follow that with the same gentle cleanser I do in the morning, and then I do the hyaluronic acid again, and then I do Murad’s Nutrient-Charged Water Gel ($62) as the last step. And then I swear by a great lip mask. I’ve also recently been slugging! I’ve just been using Aquaphor ($14) on top of all of that. I’ve been traveling a lot more recently, and the West Coast, in particular, is always really dry for me. You look like a glazed donut getting into bed, but it works. 

I know you’re the new face of Covergirl—what does it mean to you to be a part of such an iconic brand?

It is iconic! I remember when my mom first started to let me play with makeup. I’ve always been such a girly girl, and as soon as I started middle school, I was just begging her to play with makeup, but she didn’t want me to start wearing it too young. So every year, she would let me add something. The first year, it was tinted ChapStick or lip gloss, and then the next year, it was clear mascara, and then next, it was regular mascara, and after that, it was concealer—like, if I had a breakout she would let me cover it up. So every year, it was this fun incentive to go back to school and get a new product. Covergirl was always my go-to! It was affordable, it was approachable, and it didn’t make me feel like I had to have a ton of background knowledge in makeup. Whether I’m onstage or running errands around Nashville, it meets me where I am. 


(Image credit: @kelseaballerini)

I relate! I mean, Covergirl’s Lash Blast Volume Mascara ($5) in the orange tube was the first mascara I religiously used growing up, and I still love and wear it to this day. It’s truly one of my favorite mascaras ever, and I’m a beauty editor and literally try new mascaras every single day [laughs].


Okay. If you had to choose your top three Covergirl products, what would they be, and why?

Okay. The Clean Fresh Tinted Lip Balm ($5). I’ve been using it a lot for carpets recently, and I especially love the shade called Made for Peach. I’ll line my lips, and then I just put that in the middle, and I’ve been using that for everything. I swear by it. I’ve always been a big fan of the Clean Fresh Mascara ($11), but I also like to use the Exhibitionist Mascara ($12). So either of those! It depends on the day. I’ll use Clean Fresh for a normal day around town—going to the studio or a recording session. But then I’ll reach for the Exhibitionist if I want to kick it up a notch or am getting ready for more press or a show. It’s super easy to layer, and you just get these bigger, longer, fuller lashes. 

Speaking of shows… Your makeup always looks freshly applied even when you’ve been on the stage performing and sweating. Selfishly, I just really need to know how you’re setting your makeup to keep it looking so fresh.

I’m always kind of changing it up, and I love to experiment with makeup. I’m just always trying to find what will work best for me. Recently, I’ve been using a blurring primer from Murad to prep my skin instead of going in afterward with a powder. I prefer a glowy look, and I like when the natural oil can come through. I think your skin just looks really healthy and hydrated that way. So I use a base layer of the Invisiblur Perfecting Shield ($66), and that helps my foundation or tinted sunscreen—whatever I’m wearing that day—go on smoother and not have quite as much of a sheen. 

Well, I’m officially influenced [laughs]. Pivoting! This is a fun one. Is there anything about your beauty routine you think would surprise people?

Yeah! For the first few years of doing shoots and being an artist and working with my makeup artist Kelsey Deenihan, she always tried to get me to use blush. And I hated it. Like, I absolutely refused to wear blush until probably three years ago. 

And now, here you are telling me right off that bat that it’s one of the only products you’ll put on when you’re flying out the door! 

It’s so funny! I don’t know what changed, but now if I have anything on my face, it’s blush. I think it’s because I had one really bad first red carpet experience where someone did my makeup, and if you look at the photos, it just looked crazy. So afterward, there was this pendulum swing where I was like … "Absolutely not." [laughs] But now, it’s my go-to. 

I think it also really depends on how and where you apply it on your face. Your features and bone structure can really change the way blush looks, which I don’t think people always realize.


Moving on to hair… I was chatting with my fellow beauty editors, and we were all talking about how amazing your hair is—you have the best beachy waves. Secret styling tips? Product intel? Please share.

Well, first of all … It’s just not all mine [laughs], and I’m super honest about that. I have really, really thin hair, and it’s pretty damaged. So I use extensions to just help filter out the heat, but I have fallen in love with a couple of things: the Revlon Hot Air Brush ($35) because I’ve tried to give myself blowouts with a regular dryer and brush for years, and I just can’t do it. It gets tangled, and it becomes a huge mess, so I use the Revlon brush like twice a week, and that has been on of my favorite things. And then if I’m doing the beachy waves, I’ll take the Kristin Ess Defining + Detailing Mini Flat Iron ($60), and I just go back and forth! I’ll finish with a nice texture spray, and honestly, the second day of that is the best. The first day, it looks a little too "done” for my taste, but the second day is the perfect messy bed head.


(Image credit: @kelseaballerini)

Do you have a go-to texture spray?

I’m not just saying this because she’s my friend … but I use all of Kristin Ess’s stuff, including her texture spray! I just love her, and she puts so much thought and experience into her line, and I use all of it. She’s epic.

I’m also a huge fan of her texture spray. Let’s get into wellness a little bit. I know you post pictures of yourself working out, and it seems like staying fit and healthy is really important to you. How do you prioritize that even when your schedule is crazy and things feel hectic? 

Well, I think my relationship with the word "healthy” is always evolving. I used to work out solely for the way that I would look if I did. But now, I’ve really just transitioned to listening to myself and my body. When I toured with the Jonas Brothers last year, I was so regimented. It was the craziest tour schedule that I have ever done, so every day, I would get up and do an hour-long workout and go for walks around the venue and was just very strict. After that tour, I could just feel that my body really needed a break. And to be completely honest with you, ever since then, I have just been walking, and that’s kind of it. I don’t want working out to become an unhealthy crutch for me. So right now, my workout routine is really just walking outside and getting fresh air and vitamin D from the sun, hanging out with my dog. … That’s what feels like a healthy place for me. When my body tells me it’s time to get back into the gym or do weight training or SoulCycle or all those things I’ve been doing over the last few years, then I’ll start going back in that direction. 

I mean, even trainers and top fitness experts say how important it is to listen to your body and take breaks. I don’t think our bodies are designed to handle all of that cortisol 365 days a year.

Absolutely, and I never want working out to ever feel like a punishment. I want it to be something I’m doing to make myself better and healthier and stronger and to have better breath support for my stage shows. If it doesn’t feel like that, then it’s not something I want to do.

In that same vein, if you had an entire day to dedicate to self-care, what would the schedule be?

I would sleep in. I would make some scrambled eggs and avocado toast–


Yup! I would put on a face mask. I would get cupped! I’m sitting on planes so much of the time, and my back and my neck are always a little bit messed up. I swear by cupping. So I would get cupped. I would go on a long walk with my dog. I would binge some trash TV. Right now, it’s Love Is Blind. I would sit on my back porch and play the guitar for a little bit, and then I would order in some dinner and sit in the backyard with my husband and have a little picnic.

That sounds perfect. Last but not least, what’s your Unfiltered beauty philosophy in seven words or fewer?

Oh my god! [laughs]

I know that’s a little bit of pressure, so feel free to take a minute or add some context if need be. 

In seven or less? Okay, I would say: Your skin is the most important part. Is that seven? That’s seven on the dot!

I’ve never had someone answer that question so succinctly or so quickly. [laughs]

I like words—it’s my favorite part of what I do!

Shop Kelsea’s Unfiltered Beauty Edit

Up next, "I'm Like Inspector Gadget": Paris Hilton on Beauty Tools, Anti-Aging, and Health

Beauty Director

Erin has been writing a mix of beauty and wellness content for Who What Wear for over four years. Prior to that, she spent two and half years writing for Byrdie. She now calls Santa Monica home but grew up in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and studied writing, rhetoric, and communication at University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. She studied abroad in Galway, Ireland, and spent a summer in L.A. interning with the Byrdie and Who What Wear family. After graduating from UW, she spent one year in San Francisco, where she worked as a writer for Pottery Barn Kids and PBteen before moving down to L.A. to begin her career as a beauty editor. She considers her day-to-day beauty aesthetic very low-maintenance and relies on staples like clear brow serum (from Kimiko!), Lawless's Lip Plumping Mask in Cherry Vanilla, and an eyelash curler. For special occasions or days when she's taking more meetings or has an event, she'll wear anything and everything from Charlotte Tilbury (the foundations are game-changing), some shimmer on her lids (Stila and Róen do it best), and a few coats of the best mascara-type product on earth, Surratt's Noir Lash Tint.