I used to want to be a makeup artist. My friends and I would spend hours doing our makeup in different styles, then we’d take photos and analyze which looks worked and which didn’t. I pored over books about the craft, and I was a fixture at a local boutique makeup studio run by a well-known professional makeup artist, literally sitting at his feet to soak up his wisdom. Though I ended up abandoning my ambitions for a far nerdier path (I became a programmer after college), my love of makeup has always stuck with me, and I’ve continued to experiment and learn over the years. Women look beautiful without makeup, of course, but I love the way it can give you a fresh new look with just a little effort.
I was talking to Hallie about this the other day, and she suggested that I distill everything I’ve learned into one post. I love the idea! I hope it might be helpful to those of you who have rarely used makeup much but might like to try, or even those of you who do wear makeup but have never spent zillions of hours studying it.
Rather than tell you how to do your makeup (which is covered very well in the books at the bottom of this post), I’ll offer an overview of the basic elements of makeup, as well as some foundational items like moisturizer, tweezers, etc. For each one, I’ll explain whether or not it’s essential, where to get it, and give a rough overview of how to use it. Let’s get started!
For most light-skinned women, dabbing on a bit of concealer can be a one-step makeover! I naturally have dark circles under my eyes, and I look like a new person when I apply concealer over them. In fact, people sometimes ask me if I’m sick on the rare days that I don’t use it!
- I highly recommend swinging by the Lancome counter in your local mall and trying out their samples of different concealer colors (they provide alcohol swabs for sanitary sampling). That way you can find the perfect shade for you.
- You know you’ve found the right color when it covers blemishes by disappearing into your skin.
- Apply it to under eye circles, eye lids, the inner corners of your eyes, and any blemishes you’d like to minimize.
- If you want to cover an area bigger than the size of a quarter, you should probably use foundation instead of concealer (see below).
- This is probably the product where I’ve noticed the single biggest difference between expensive and inexpensive brands — the cheap ones just don’t cut it. They have poor coverage, look blotchy, and rub off easily. Invest in a department store brand like Lancome or Bobbi Brown.
After concealer, I think that mascara is the most impactful makeup item for most women.
- To avoid a clumpy, overdone look, wipe off the mascara wand with a tissue for the first 5 – 10 uses. A new tube of mascara tends to go on way too thick at first.
- I have tried every brand under the sun, in every price range, and there is only one I like: Maybelline Lash Discovery. And it’s cheap! You can find it at pretty much any drug store or grocery store. (But, again, wipe off the bristles with a tissue before applying it the first few times you use it, otherwise it will be too thick and clumpy.)
- If your eyelashes are short, or point down or straight ahead, do get a cheap eyelash curler and use it before you apply mascara. After you apply it, push up on the base of your lashes as they dry for a few seconds.
Unless you have very dark skin, a good blush is an essential item. It’ll give your face a healthy, vibrant glow.
- Throw out your old powder blushes! They tend to go on too dark and look unnatural.
- Get a nice cream blush and put it on over moisturizer. Apply it with your fingers.
- The goal is to get the same coloring you’d get after a brisk walk — it shouldn’t look like you have makeup on.
- This is a product that’s worth spending a little money on. The higher-end blushes sold at department stores will give you a much more natural look, and they’ll last a long time. (I’ve had my current one for seven years.)
My top recommendation: Bobbi Brown Pot Rogue for Lips and Cheeks
LIPSTICK OR GLOSS
Lipstick can completely transform your appearance. Experiment with different colors — see how you feel with a sassy red, then try a more neutral mauve.
- If you’re new to wearing lipstick, start with a colored gloss at first (they’re liquidy and come in tubes rather than sticks). It can really perk up your appearance but is subtle and doesn’t require precision to apply.
- Also try putting a clear gloss over your regular lipstick — it’ll give you a whole new look!
- I’ve tried all types of lipstick, and don’t see a difference between the grocery store brands and the high-end brands, so just get whatever’s cheap at your store.
You probably don’t need this. Unless you have a very uneven skin tone, applying foundation likely won’t make much of a difference, and may give you an overly made up look.
- Instead of foundation, just use a good concealer to smooth over uneven spots on the skin.
- If you do feel like you need foundation, invest in a good one (from a department store brand), and sample it before you buy it. The grocery store brands sometimes look caked on.
- If you do put some on, make sure to go past your chin-line down to your neck, otherwise you can get a “masked” effect.
I love lip liner for defining the shape of the lips, but it’s not an essential item.
- Find a soft color a bit lighter than your normal shade of lipstick — light colors also give you more room for error when you’re just starting out.
- After you line your lips, color in the entire lip area — this will help your color stay on throughout the day.
- If you’re new to using makeup and/or want to keep it simple, skip lip liner.
You do not have to wear eye shadow to perk up your appearance with makeup, but it can make a big difference if applied well
- If you don’t get the right color or don’t apply it in a flattering way, eye shadow can detract from your appearance. The books below each have great, specific instructions for how to apply eye shadow for a wide range of looks, from light and natural to dark and dramatic.
- Higher-end eye shadows are better, because they have more pigment and less filler — which means the color is richer and they last longer. But the store brands are okay too. If you’re just starting out, just pick up some colors you like next time you’re at the grocery store.
I have so much fun with eye liner. I just love it. Like eye shadow, it can make a big difference in your appearance — but is not an essential item.
- If you do want to play with eye liner, I recommend getting one of the books below for tips about how to use it most effectively.
- The expensive department store brands are a little better, but grocery store brands are good too. Keep in mind that an eyeliner pencil will last a long time (I’ve had mine for five years).
- If you haven’t used eyeliner much before, give yourself time to get it right, and don’t feel frustrated if it takes some trial and error — almost nobody does it perfectly the first few times they apply it.
- Lean in very close to your mirror or, better yet, get a magnified makeup mirror. This makes a big difference in precision application.
- If you’re just starting to wear makeup and feel overwhelmed, skip eyeliner for now.
Powder can come in the form of a compact, or loose powder that you apply with a brush. Unless you have oily skin, you probably won’t use either one much.
- Powder is most useful to put on the eyelids to make your eye shadow go on smooth and last longer, and to dab on overly shiny areas like the chin or forehead.
- I do see a difference in quality between expensive and inexpensive brands; however, unless you think you’ll use it a lot (e.g. if you have very oily skin), I don’t think it’s worth the money to get a high-end brand. Just grab a basic compact from your grocery store.
- If you have dry skin, you can safely skip this altogether.
- Tweezers with square tips are useless. Get ones with a very pointy tip. They cost more, but are worth the investment. (I bought mine for $18 in 1997 and still use them!)
- Don’t worry about all the elaborate eyebrow shaping tips that are out there. Just pick out any hairs that are obviously outside of your main eyebrow line.
- A warm washcloth before and after plucking can ease any discomfort.
EYE MAKEUP REMOVER
One of my most essential items is a special makeup remover that concentrates on eye makeup.
- This is important because it’s formulated to take off mascara and eye liner with minimal rubbing on the sensitive skin around your eyes.
- The high-end brands are much less greasy than the store brands, but either will get the job done. (Lancome usually has them as part of their free gifts with purchase, which is how I keep in stock.)
Keeping your skin moisturized not only makes makeup go on better, but it makes wrinkles slower to appear. Other than simply having a balanced lifestyle, one of the easiest ways to maintain a healthy, vibrant look is to get a good moisturizer and apply it regularly.
- I do see a significant difference in the quality of expensive and inexpensive moisturizers. However, the lower-end brands aren’t terrible. If you can treat yourself to Lancome, Kiehl’s or Bobbi Brown moisturizer, do so! (Might be a nice thing to ask for for Christmas.) But a bottle of Oil of Olay from your grocery store is better than nothing.
An eyelash curlier will give your eyelashes a bit of a lift before applying mascara, which really helps open up your eyes.
- If your eyelashes naturally curl upwards, you don’t need one. Just push them up with your fingers for a moment before and after you apply mascara.
- If your eyelashes naturally point down or straight ahead, you’ll probably like having one of these, and might be amazed by the difference it makes.
- Use it before you apply mascara.
- You don’t need to spend a lot of money on this; the cheap ones are fine.
My top recommendation: Tweezerman Deluxe Metal Eyelash Curler
If there were to be a fire at my house, my makeup brushes are in the top five of my list of things I’d grab once everyone was out safely. I love them! But I wouldn’t say they’re essential to basic makeup.
- If you’re just starting out or want to keep things simple, don’t worry about makeup brushes.
- If you find that you’re enjoying wearing makeup and would like to take it to the next level, definitely invest in quality brushes. You won’t believe the difference they make in applying everything from shadow to blush to lipstick to concealer!
- Don’t even think about wasting your money on cheap brushes. Go to one of the high-end makeup counters at the mall (Lancome, Chanel, Bobbi Brown, NARS, MAC, etc.) and invest in some high-quality brushes.
- If you’ve never used them before, consider buying them in person so that a trained sales person can show you how to use them effectively.
Here are my three favorite books that show you how to apply a wide variety of makeup looks. Each has practical, step-by-step tutorials that really work:
- Making Faces by Kevyn Aucoin
- Bobbi Brown Beauty by Bobbi Brown
- Face Forward by Kevyn Aucoin (unfortunately the late Mr. Aucoin takes some liberties to share his political views in this book, which is inappropriate, but his makeup lessons are spot-on)
If you want to keep it really simple, just start with concealer, mascara, and lipstick or gloss. Applying only those three things can freshen up your appearance and give you a whole new look. Once you feel comfortable with that, add in a little cream blush and lip liner. Then, once you’re ready to really play around with more dramatic looks, break out the eye liner and eye shadow. And, most of all, have fun and remember that you’re beautiful with and without makeup!
I hope this has been helpful! For fellow makeup fans, what are some of your favorite products and tips?