Next Gen

Isabela Merced’s Face Card Never Declines

The actor and Armani Beauty muse shares her beauty secrets.

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Isabela Merced is gliding through an LA photo studio like a Broadway dancer having a main character moment onstage. Airy vocals and soft synths waft through the speakers, and she contorts her limbs in synchronicity — first into a horizontal arabesque, splayed across a red velvet prop chair, then flipped upside-down, hands outreached, with the nimbleness of an Olympic gymnast. A few moments later, just as swiftly, she’s swathed in a fluffy robe and whisked away. “Thank you all so much!” she calls out, leaving palpable energy in her wake.

Career-wise, Merced switches between genres with the same ease she exudes on set. Following projects ranging from Dora and the Lost City of Gold to 2022’s buzzy Father of the Bride reboot, this year fans will see her tap into a more serious side in the film adaptation of John Green’s YA novel, Turtles All The Way Down, in which she portrays a character who struggles with anxiety and OCD. “It’s a side of me that people will not have seen and a very serious, dramatic role,” says Merced, perched on a seat in her glam room. “It’s definitely a tearjerker.” Then, in 2024, she’ll enter the superhero universe alongside Dakota Johnson and Sydney Sweeney in the Spider-Man spinoff, Madame Web, completing her trajectory to Hollywood Gen Z darling.

Beyond her acting prowess, Merced has the markings of a burgeoning beauty icon. “[Someone] once came up to me and was like, ‘Babes, put your hair up,’” she says. “I was like, ‘What?’ And he's like, ‘It’s all about your face.’” She laughs, pulling her hair back into a ponytail to demonstrate. Sure enough, her cheekbones instantly command attention; in TikTok speak, Merced’s face card never declines. Armani Beauty has tapped her to represent its Acqua for Life charity, where she joins Camila Mendes, Maude Apatow, and other rising stars to promote the brand’s goal of providing universal access to drinking water. Her Instagram (with 3.5 million followers and counting) serves as a veritable mood board for experimental yet subdued makeup looks — a blue-tinged smoky eye paired with a taupe lip, neon negative-space liner with her signature full, fluffy lashes. Merced credits her longtime makeup artist, Allan Avedaño, with her comfort for experimentation. “Sometimes I’ll wake up at 5 a.m. and feel uninspired and be like, I trust you, just do whatever you want,” she says.

Here, Merced shares the products she can’t live without, her favorite on-set beauty secret, and what she’s looking forward to in 2023.

Giorgio Armani top, Baserange bra, Emporio Armani pants, Keane earrings, Bea Bongiasca ring, Joanna Laura Constantine rings, Charles & Keith shoes

How would you describe your current beauty aesthetic?

I’m really inspired by the ’90s models and their monochromatic looks. I loved TLC, J.Lo, Salma Hayek… all of them inspire me. Usually there’s a brown lip involved in my look, but I also love a red lip with a subtle eye. Sometimes I’ll just cake my face in one tone, do a subtle contour, then a bold lip, and then just call it a day. But I never leave the house without my eyebrows done. Never.

What’s your brow secret?

I just don’t get my eyebrows done. I don’t get them threaded. I don’t get them waxed. I just tweeze them myself if I ever see a stray hair. I like to keep them thick. I use a brow glue to keep them in place or I’ll even use hair gel.

What products do you use for a brown lip?

Sometimes I’ll use my own brown eyeliner to line my lips. And then on top, I’m using Armani Beauty’s Lip Power in shade 201. I like that it has a plum tint to it — so I’ll use this lipstick in the middle, then line my lips with brown liner. You can even use it as a blush. I’m all about versatility.

What other makeup products do you swear by?

I use Armani Beauty Fluid Sheer on my cheeks and as a highlight, but also on my eyes. You can pretty much use it anywhere. I also use the Luminous Silk Foundation in a darker shade as a cream contour.

Giorgio Armani top, Baserange bra, Emporio Armani pants, Keane earrings, Bea Bongiasca ring, Joanna Laura Constantine rings, Charles & Keith shoes

Do you have any beauty tips for traveling?

Traveling always messes up my skin, so I’ll do a face mask on the plane, because that’s where my skin is the driest. The more hydration, the better! I’ve been trying the ones Cami [Mendes] sent me from Loops — they’re amazing. There’s one called Weekly Reset I like — you leave it on for 10 minutes, take it off, and then let the product sink in.

Any under-$20 products you always have on hand?

I love Lucas Papaw Ointment. I just lather it on. At night, I’ll use a retinol and hyaluronic acid serum from Tree Of Life, then use a vitamin C and hyaluronic acid serum from the brand in the morning.

As a period film, Rosaline had some pretty incredible beauty and fashion moments. Did you learn any on-set beauty secrets while filming?

That was an insane experience, because not only were we filming in Italy, we were working with a mostly all-Italian crew. So when we were doing hair and makeup, I didn’t understand any of what they were saying. But I was just watching and learning as much as I could.

What was cool about that was they were specifically making sure that they were correct with the time period and what people were doing with their makeup then. Back then, everything was round — so the makeup artists appreciated my round face and they got to work with what I had. The blush placement was different. The contour was different. The eyes, they had to make sure looked as round as possible. I got to experimenting with that myself and started doing more of a doe-eye look instead of what’s trending nowadays, which is this slick kind of eye-lift effect. That was really fun for me.

What are three things that are “in” for you in 2023?

I would say what’s “in” is being comfortable, no matter the trends. I don’t like to follow TikTok trends. I love fake piercings right now — fake septum, fake ear cuffs. And I love a monochromatic look. It’s very satisfying to the eye.

What’s “out” for you personally in 2023?

Excuses. I’ve stopped making as many excuses and am taking responsibility for my participation in any toxic relationships in my life. I’m leaving the victim mentality behind in 2022.

Bustle’s Next Gen issue spotlights 8 trailblazers from young Hollywood. These rising stars, united as the faces of Armani Beauty’s new Gen A initiative, have already dominated Euphoria, Outer Banks, and Riverdale. So what’s coming next? More marathon-worthy TV, several long-awaited book adaptations, and some game-changing work behind the camera. Read More.

Photographer: Austin Hargrave

Stylist: Tiffany Reid

Set Designer: Kelly Fondry

Hair: Sami Knight

Makeup: Allan Avendaño using Armani Beauty

Manicure: Zola

Talent Bookings: Special Projects

Video: Samuel Schultz, Samuel Miron

Photo Director: Alex Pollack

SVP Fashion: Tiffany Reid

SVP Creative: Karen Hibbert

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