Looking ''natural'' is the beauty objective of the hour, which is not to say that a plain soap-and-water routine is all you'll be needing. Although good clean skin is most commendable, it's only a beginning. After that, as most of us know, artifice has to take over.
''Natural'' may call up a picture of the outdoorsy effect that was the ideal a while ago when gleaming cheeks and tawny complexions were the vogue. This spring's ''natural,'' as envisioned by makeup experts, is quite different. It starts with a pale matte skin accentuated with just a hint of blusher. Eyes and lips - eyes especially - have all the emphasis.
To acquire this up-to-date face, you might first apply one of the new sheer bases, such as Chanel's Perfect Colour. Described by its makers as a primer, it's a liquid which provides an overall film that minimizes imperfections and gives a neat, almost invisible finish.
The coloring that is then added is likely to be in the peach, coral, apricot, or pinky-beige range. Estee Lauder's new collection features delicate tones that complement what Mrs. Lauder sees as ''the fresh clean-as-the-wind feeling in fashion this spring.''
The Dior line concentrates on flower and pale jewel colors, including some brilliant tonalities (an orangey fire-opal lipstick, for instance). Lancome offers a palette of rose or lavender-tinted pastels. Ralph Lauren's cosmetics, named rosewood, primrose, and sunrose, are keyed to the neutral colors of his latest suedes and linens and are meant to enhance the romantic qualities of his clothes.
What is au courant in faces these days goes right along with the relaxed mood of the new fashions.
With the trend toward muted colorings, dark or intensely bright lipsticks have been left by the wayside. The latest in lipsticks is, in fact just about colorless - a film of pale rose (like Lauder's Shell Beige) - which is right in keeping with the new naturalism.
With less color for face and lips, more attention is drawn to eyes, where makeup can be relatively dramatic. Most shadows come in sets of dark powder and a highlighter, which is particularly effective when a dot of it is centered on the rim of the upper lid.
The battery of eye colors ranges from iris, teal, and driftwood brown shadowings to blue mascara (in cream form from Chanel). Those who find liners to their liking might investigate Clinique's new product. Called Water-Resistant Eyeliner, it's used with a fine moistened brush along the roots of the lashes, and thus gives more depth than a pencil.
The word on hair is shorter, chin-length being the limit according to top coiffeurs. There's an international move to get hair off the back of the neck. Models at the New York showings were an example. The models' hair was often shingled to a V at the nape, then given cuts that were straight, but full-bodied.
The ''Lulu,'' a Dutch bob with long bangs and cropped sides, is also cut close at the back. The nickname, as readers of her memoirs will know, is a reference to silent film star Louise Brooks. Her hairdo is now the hottest cut around, both here and abroad, since the Dorothy Hamill.
It's another instance of that old French adage that the more it changes, the more it's the same thing.