Where should I start with makeup?

First Steps

Before going out and splurging on a bunch of makeup, think about your goals. Do you have acne or dark under-eye circles you’d like to cover up? Do you want to be able to look more “polished” for work? Do you want to be able to do a “smokey eye” for going out? Do you want to be able to put on a full face of makeup occasionally for special events? Whatever your goal is, keep that in mind as you go forward.

If you’re mainly interested in doing makeup for the workplace, you don’t need to learn how to do a smokey eye or a full face of foundation (unless you want to!) – you can highlight a few facial features in just a couple minutes in the morning. If you want to cover up acne, you can just get some concealer and, if you want, foundation. If you have dark under-eye circles you want to cover up, you can just use some corrector and concealer. And so on. You don’t need to go from zero to a full face of makeup; just think about your goals and which features you’d most like to highlight.

What makeup products should I start out with?

A great place to start is your eyebrows. If you’ve never shaped them, then just a little tweezing (or waxing or threading) can really make a difference to how polished your overall look is. After that, unless you have very full and dark eyebrows, you can fill in your brows a little; this is especially helpful if you have light-colored or sparse brows.

After that, simply using mascara and some kind of lip product can immediately make a difference to your face — and if you want to keep your makeup routine very simple, you can just leave it at that! Of course, there are a lot of other options:

If your cheeks are naturally colorless, using a little blush can help you look healthier. If you have dark circles and/or blemishes, concealer and (optionally) corrector can help with that. If you have facial redness, foundation can even out your complexion. If you want to add more definition to your eyes, you can wear eyeliner and/or eyeshadow. It all depends on your individual preferences.

Here’s a sample “starter” makeup kit with a product from each category:

  • Eyebrows: NYX eyebrow cake powder ($3.60) or Wet n Wild brow pencil ($1); see here for specific recommendations for different hair colors
  • Mascara: Jordana Best Lash mascara ($3)
  • Lips: Revlon lip butter ($6.50) in Peach Parfait (if you have light skin), Pink Truffle (if you have medium skin), or Fig Jam (if you have dark skin)
  • Blush: Milani baked blush ($8) or Wet n Wild blush ($2.25); color recommendations here
  • Eyeliner: Milani liquid eye pencil ($7) – I recommend starting out with an eyeliner pencil, but if you want gel or liquid, you could try Maybelline Lasting Drama gel liner ($6) or Physicians Formula Eye Booster 2-in-1 Lash Boosting Eyeliner + Serum ($11)
  • Under-eye concealer: Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Eraser Dark Circles Concealer ($8)
  • Blemish concealer: L’Oreal True Match crayon concealer ($8) – note that neither this nor the Maybelline concealer has a good shade range extending into dark skintones; if you have dark skin, you’ll need to either look at Black Radiance, Black Opal, Iman, etc. or look at something more mid-to-high-end.
  • Under-eye corrector (optional; if you have dark under-eye circles): Pixi Correction Concentrate ($12)
  • Foundation: Get matched at Sephora, then if you really want something from the drugstore, try Revlon Colorstay for oily/combination skin ($13) if you have oily skin, or L’Oreal True Match Lumi ($13) if you have dry skin; see my foundation page for more recommendations
  • Face primer: Rimmel Fix & Perfect Primer 002 ($8)
  • Setting powder (optional; if you have oily skin or have trouble getting your makeup to last): Essence All About Matt ($4)
  • Finishing powder (also optional; if you want to add a soft “blur” effect to your skin): ELF HD powder ($6)
  • Eyeshadow: Wet n Wild Comfort Zone ($5)
  • Eye primer: Milani Eyeshadow Primer ($7)
  • Brushes (more brush recommendations here):
    • For liquid foundation: Real Techniques Expert Face Brush ($9) or Miracle Complexion Sponge ($6)
    • For blending out concealer (optional): ELF Studio flawless concealer brush ($3)
    • For blush: ELF Studio blush brush ($3) if you have a small face, ELF Studio complexion brush ($3) otherwise
    • For powder (if applicable): ELF studio powder brush ($3)
    • For eyeshadow: ELF Studio eyeshadow C brush ($3) and Essence of Beauty Crease Brush Duo ($6)

Total cost, depending on how many optional items you buy (prices near you may vary): $83.75 to $126.60 plus tax

How do I know what kind of makeup will look good on me?

Before you can know what kind of makeup will be the most flattering to you, you need to understand your facial features and coloring. Your complexion has a big impact on what makeup colors will look best on you. Here are some links about this:

Also, you don’t need to find products that flatter you via trial and error; there are many resources online. After you have a foundation match, you can search the Makeup Alley boards for product recommendations from people with a similar skintone to yours. Note that most people use MAC foundation shades as a common reference point. So after finding a good foundation match, you can determine your approximate MAC shade by filling in your existing foundation match(es) at Findation, or by Googling (for example) “NARS Gobi MAC foundation” and seeing what people online have written is the approximate MAC equivalent of your shade. Then you can search for things like “NC15 blush recommendations.”

I also recommend checking out makeup bloggers with a similar skintone to yours to see what products they use; I have a spreadsheet here of makeup blogs sorted by skintone, hair color, eye color and type (hooded/monolid), and skin type.

Aside from complexion, eye shape/type makes a big difference for eye makeup; see here for information on determining your eye shape/type. If you have a non-“standard” eye type and keep applying “standard”-style eyeshadow, it will not be as flattering to your eyes as it could be. I struggled with eyeshadow for over a year, feeling like it never looked good on me and never would, until I realized I had protruding eyes and followed advice specifically for that eye type — and found that eyeshadow finally looked good on me after all! Here are a couple of helpful links about eye shape:

Face shape can also affect things like blush placement. Here are a couple of helpful links for figuring out your face shape:

  • Face shape flowchart from The Beauty Department
  • Face shape quiz – you’ll need to register on YouBeauty, then upload a picture of yourself. Your face may be a combination of shapes (for instance, both long and heart-shaped) – however, this quiz will only give you a single face shape as a result. It’s still pretty helpful.

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