Last summer before starting my full time job, I learned everything I could about makeup. I am now imparting my knowledge onto you. Here is Saanya’s ultimate guide to (beginner’s) makeup:
Matte vs. Dewy Finish
I quickly learned there are two finishes that one can go for when talking about makeup: matte or dewy. For my oily skinned girls out there, matte is the preferred look. Think about matte meaning less “shiny.” When you have oil seeping out of your pores, you usually prefer to look matte. The other option is dewy. This means to have a natural glow to your skin and it looks slightly “wet”. Think about this being like a radiance that makes your skin look moisturized. There is no right finish when it comes to makeup. Makeup is all about personal choice and freedom, so look up pictures of both to decide which finish appeals to you.
What Products do I buy?
When I first went to Sephora and Ulta to choose my products, I honestly was so overwhelmed with the choices. The first thing to decide is a budget. It is quite easy to go overboard on makeup so go into the store with a price in mind. For each product I mention in this post, I will offer a drugstore and a high end option. Now let’s walk through the products you should consider purchasing. Remember, this is all subjective so if you feel like skipping a product on here, it is totally fine. I am just presenting you with all of the options. I have bolded the ones I think are necessary for beginners in their makeup collection.
Eyebrows – When I first started, the idea of filling in my eyebrows terrified me. However, eyebrows actually make the biggest difference on a person’s face. Just doing your eyebrows can make you look more put together even if you don’t have time for makeup. When looking at eyebrow products there are three options: powder, pomade or pencil. I first started with a pencil because I think that is the easiest to control and use quickly. However, go to the store and see what you feel most comfortable to try.
The key to picking a color for your eyebrows is to get one that is actually lighter than your real eyebrows. That is what helps them look more natural when applying the product. Once you become more advanced, the ideal combination of color is to put product two shades lighter than your eyebrows at the front and then product one shade lighter at the back.
Here are my product recommendations for each type mentioned above:
- Drugstore – NYX Eyebrow Cake Powder: $6
- High End – Benefit Cosmetics Foolproof Brow Powder: $24
- Drugstore – Covergirl Easy Breezy Brow Sculpt + Set Brow Pomade: $9
- High End – Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Pomade: $18
- Drugstore – LA Girl Shady Slim Eyebrow Pencil: $6
- High End – Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz: $21
Eyebrow Gel/Wax – The purpose of eyebrow gel is to make sure that your eyebrow hairs stay in place all day. Eyebrow gel can be clear or tinted. If you have eyebrows that are pretty full and do not need to be filled in, you can get away with using a tinted eyebrow gel to keep them in place. Some eyebrow powder sets (like the NYX one above) come with eyebrow wax that you can use for the same purpose.
Here are my product recommendations for eyebrow gel:
- Drugstore – Colourpop Brow Boss Gel: $6
- High End – Anastasia Beverly Hills Clear Brow Gel: $22
- Drugstore – Essence Make Me Brow Gel Mascara: $3
- High End – Benefit Gimme Brow Gel: $24
Primer – Primer is the first thing that goes on your face before applying concealer or foundation. Personally, I am not completely sold on the hype of primer. I think if you moisturize properly before applying makeup, it should suffice. However, there are people out there that believe it works wonders. Nowadays, there are so many primers on the market for pretty much any concern (ex. acne or redness), but there are four major categories of primers that you should start with: pore-filling/blurring, illuminating, mattifying or hydrating. Primers can come in the pretty much any form (cream, gel, wax, spray, oil etc.).
Here are my recommendations for primers:
- Drugstore – Maybelline Face Studio Master Blur Primer: $10
- High End – Smashbox Pore Minimizing Primer: $39
- Drugstore – Lottie London B.A.E Primer: $10
- High End – NARS Radiance Primer: $36
- Drugstore – Milani Prime Shield Mattifying + Pore filling Primer: $10
- High End – Bobby Brown Primer + Mattifier: $38
- Drugstore – J CAT Beauty Fresh Dewy Hydrating Face Primer: $8
- High End – Too Faced Hangover Rx Primer: $34
Color Corrector – People who have redness,dark circles or hyperpigmentation sometimes use color corrector underneath base makeup. The point of a color corrector is to use the opposite color on the color wheel to cancel out a concern. The most common colors are green (redness), purple (yellow spots), pink/orange (dark circles and hyperpigmentation) and yellow (veins or purple bruises). Color correctors come in palettes as well as singular products because a lot of times someone really only uses one color. This step is not necessary if you have a foundation with coverage that you are happy with, but you can experiment with color correcting and see the effects for yourself.
Here are my product recommendations for color correctors:
- Single Color
- Drugstore – LA Girl HD Pro Concealer: $5
- High End – Urban Decay Naked Skin Correcting Fluid: $29
- Drugstore – JCAT Beauty Color Corrector Quad Spectrum Palette: $6
- High End – Stila Color Correcting All in One Palette: $45
Foundation – The main component of your base makeup is foundation. Foundation is used to cover up any blemishes and make your skin look even. When it comes to foundation there is limitless range of options both in product type and product purpose. Foundation comes in liquid, powder, cushion and so many other options and can be for light, medium or heavy coverage. It is also available for a matte or dewy look. You can also get foundations for acne prone skin with salicylic acid in them.
The best way to get the right color of foundation is to match it to your neck because ideally foundation should be brought down your neck to give your makeup a cohesive look. Employees at any makeup store can easily help you pick the right color for your first time. Another thing to keep in mind is that your skin color might be different in the winter and the summer. Most people have two foundations to make sure they have the right color based on the season but save that for when you are more advanced. There are some brands that offer limited color choices in foundations so keep that in mind as well.
When selecting a foundation, another consideration is the longevity and camera effect of the foundation. You want a foundation that will last you the whole day without wearing off. You also want to make sure the foundation does not make you look “cakey” in pictures. An “HD” foundation is meant to help with this and make your foundation appear more like skin in photos.
Here are my foundation recommendations based on finish:
- Drugstore – LA Girl Pro Pro Matte Foundation: $9
- High End – Too Faced Born This Way Foundation: $39
- Drugstore – Neutrogena Hydro Boosting Tint: $15
- High End – Smashbox Studio Skin Hydrating Foundation: $36
- Drugstore – Catrice HD Liquid Coverage Foundation: $11
- High End – Lancome Tent Idole Foundation: $47
BB/CC Cream/Tinted Moisturizer – For someone who does not want to wear any kind of foundation at all, this category is a better option. BB Creams, CC Creams and Tinted Moisturizers are meant to feel ultra lightweight on the skin but still provide coverage. The difference between a BB and CC cream is that CC creams are meant to add a color correcting feature for skin that is redness prone or sallow. If you are looking for “barely there” coverage, these products are the best options.
Here are my product recommendations for BB Creams, CC Creams and Tinted Moisturizers:
- BB Cream
- Drugstore – Maybelline Dream Fresh BB Cream: $9
- High End – Erborian BB Cream: $39
- CC Cream
- Drugstore – Physicians Formula CC Cream: $14
- High End – IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream: $38
- Tinted Moisturizer
- Drugstore – Ulta Tinted Moisturizer: $14 (Most drugstore tinted moisturizers do not have great reviews)
- High End – Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel: $30
Concealer – The next most important product for base makeup is concealer. Concealer has two functions: to cover blemishes and to highlight certain portions of the face. For this reason, most people have two different shades of concealer – one that matches their skin tone exactly and one that is one/two shades lighter than their skin tone. These days, people use concealer for contouring as well, but more on that later. Concealer can come in liquid form or potted. The potted concealer usually has more coverage because it is a thicker consistency. There are also concealer palettes to give you a wide range of color options. This can be a good option if you are really unsure about color. Palettes have concealers that are similar to the consistency of the potted concealers.
In the end, the goal is find a perfect concealer for your needs. The perfect concealer has enough under eye coverage but also does not feel too drying and is easy to blend. I have pretty terrible bags under my eyes so keep that in mind when looking at my product recommendations. Light/Medium for me might mean something different than it does for you.
Here are my product recommendations for concealer:
- High Coverage
- Drugstore – Makeup Revolution Concealer: $10
- High End – Tarte Shape Tape: $27
- Light/Medium Coverage
- Drugstore – Wet N Wild Photo Focus Concealer: $4
- High End – Too Faced Born This Way Concealer: $29
- Drugstore – Milani Conceal + Perfect Kit: $7
- High End – MAC Conceal and Correct Palette: $35
Setting Powder – Setting powder is meant to lock in foundation and concealer to prevent it from cracking and settling into fine lines and wrinkles. Setting powder is available as pressed or loose powder. Loose powder is used for baking. Baking is a technique where you let loose powder “bake” on your face for 5 – 10 minutes so that it can help you have a creaseless, airbrushed look. However, this is a more advanced technique that you do not really have to worry about at this stage. Setting powder for under the eyes can be banana colored to give the appearance of a brighter under eye.
Here are my recommendations for setting powder:
- Drugstore – Catrice Prime and Fine Powder: $9
- High End – MAC Mineralize Skin Finish Powder: $35
- Loose powder
- Drugstore – Coty Airspun Powder: $6
- High End – Laura Mercier Loose Setting Powder: $39
- Loose powder (colored)
- Drugstore – Makeup Revolution Loose Powder: $8
- High End – Huda Beauty Easy Bake Powder: $34
Contour – Contouring is an advanced technique where you make certain areas on your face darker in order to appear more sculpted or “chiseled.” There are cream, powder or liquid contouring products. Liquid contouring products are usually darker shades of concealers. The best contouring color is two shades darker than your skin tone. Contouring is a step that usually comes once a person is familiar with makeup and wants to get more advanced.
Here are my product recommendations for contour:
- Drugstore – Elf Contour Palette: $6
- High End – Anastasia Beverly Hills Contour Cream Kit: $40
- Drugstore – Makeup Revolution Contour Palette: $10
- High End – Lorac Pro Contour Palette: $45
Bronzer – Bronzer is used to add dimension and color to someone’s face after foundation. The right bronzer color is one to two shades darker than your skin tone. Sometimes, people who have a bronzer that is two shades darker than their skin tone end up using it for contour as well.
Here are my recommendations for bronzer:
- Drugstore – BH Cosmetics Only Brilliance Bronzer: $10
- High End – Benefit Hoola/Hoola Lite Bronzer: $30
Blush – Blush is used on the apples of the cheek to add a natural flush to the skin. Some people like a more pinky, vibrant blush while others like a more toned down peach blush. It all depends on preference. Blushes can be powdered or cream. There are also blush palettes that allow you to have multiple colors available for use.
Here are my blush recommendations:
- Drugstore – Milani Baked Blush: $8
- High End – Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush: $38
- Drugstore – Elf Cheeky Glow: $4
- High End – Glossier Cloud Paint: $18
- Drugstore – NYX Blush Palette: $12
- High End – Beauty Bakerie Blush Palette: $38
Highlighter – The purpose of highlighter is to add some glow and shine to certain areas of the face. Similar to blush, highlighter can be a powder, cream and come in a palette. Highlighter shades vary by skin tone. Medium/Dark skin tones usually gravitate toward bronze/gold highlighters while lighter skin tones use silver/champagne colors. It it best to skip this step if you have textured skin because highlighters enhance texture.
Here are my highlighter recommendations:
- Drugstore – Wet N Wild Megaglo Highlighter: $5
- High End – BECCA Shimmering Skin Perfector: $38
- Drugstore – Loreal Lumi Drops: $11
- High End – CoverFX Custom Enhancer Drops: $42
- Drugstore – Makeup Revolution Highlighter Palette: $12
- High End – Anastasia Glow Kit: $40
Eye Shadow Primer – Eye shadow primers helps eye shadow last throughout the day and prevents it from creasing. Most people just use concealer as primer and then set it with a neutral eye shadow shade, but I personally like to use a eye shadow primer for the best look.
Here are my recommendations for eye shadow primer:
- Eye Shadow Primer
- Drugstore – NYX Proof It Primer: $7
- High End – Urban Decay Primer Potion: $24
Eye Shadow – Eye shadow, like foundations, is another limitless category. There are so many single shadow or palette options. It can get quite overwhelming, but focus on starting eyeshadow by getting neutral colors and then work up from there. Eyeshadow is still an area I struggle with after all this time. Eyeshadow colors can be matte or shimmery. Additionally, you can get palettes with warm, neutral or cool colors. Warm colors are like red and orange tones. Neutral colors are beige and browns. Cool colors are like greys, purples and greens.
Here are my eyeshadow recommendations:
- Single Shadows
- Drugstore – Colourpop Single Shadows: $5
- High End – Lancome Single Shadows: $22
- Drugstore – Elf Cosmetics Palettes: $10
- High End – Anastasia Beverly Hills Palettes: $42
Eyeliner – Eyeliner is what goes in your lash line and what is used to make the classic cat eye that is popular these days. Eyeliner can be liquid or gel and be matte or shiny. It also comes in many colors. Sometimes, I just use black eyeshadow as eyeliner when I want a more muted look. Attempting to perfect eyeliner is a pretty difficult skill to master and may take some time so be patient with it.
Here are my product recommendations for eyeliner:
- Drugstore – Elf Eyeliner Pen: $6
- High End – Stila Stay All Day Liner: $22
- Drugstore – LA Girl Gel Eyeliner: $6
- High End – Inglot Gel Liner: $17
- Drugstore – LA Girl Eyeliner: $5
- High End – Marc Jacobs Highliner: $25
Eyelash Primer – Eyelash primer is applied before mascara and allows the lashes to look longer.
Here are my eyelash primer recommendations:
- Eyelash Primer
- Drugstore – NYX Primer
- High End – Smashbox Primer: $23
Mascara – Mascara is used to make eyelashes look fuller and longer. The ideal mascara adds volume and length without clumping up.
Here are my mascara recommendations:
- Drugstore – Essence Mascara: $5
- High End – Wander Beauty Mascara: $24
False Lashes: To add a dramatic effect to your eyes you will need lashes. The best last glue is the Duo glue for $6.50. Lashes can come in many different styles from natural to dramatic. This is a pretty advanced step so beginners do not need to worry about putting on lashes just yet.
Here are my lash recommendations:
- Drugstore – Ardell Lashes: $5
- High End – Lilly Lashes: $20
Lip Liner – Lip liner is used to outline the lips and make them appear bigger. I like to fill in my lips with the liner as well because it lasts longer than lipstick. This way, there is always a color to my lips. Lip liners come in a multitude of colors. You want to buy a lip liner that is similar to the lip color you are applying so that no one can tell you have liner on.
Here are my lip liner recommendations:
- Lip Liner
- Drugstore – Milani Lip Liner: $5
- High End – Charlotte Tilbury Lip Cheat Pencils: $22
Lipstick – Lipstick is color added to your lips and comes in a wide variety of colors. There is a large trend for matte liquid lipsticks these days that can sometimes be drying but allow for a nice matte lip look.
Here are my recommendations for lipsticks:
- Matte Liquid Lipsticks
- Drugstore – NYX Liquid Lipsticks: $9
- High End – Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick: $22
- Drugstore – Loreal Lipsticks: $10
- High End – MAC Lipsticks: $18.50
Setting Spray – Setting spray is the last step in makeup application. It allows your makeup to stay in place all day. Similar to primers, setting sprays can give you a matte or dewy look.
Here are my setting spray recommendations:
- Drugstore – NYX Matte Setting Spray: $8.50
- High End – Urban Decay All Nighter: $32
- Drugstore – Catrice Dewy Spray: $8
- High End – Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist: $48
Makeup Brushes – In order to apply all of the makeup mentioned above, it is important to have the right tools. For beginner’s, it’s usually best to buy synthetic brush sets that give you all the brushes you need. Additionally, the beauty sponge is a popular applicator that gives foundation a more natural finish.
Here are my makeup brush recommendations:
- Brush Sets
- Drugstore – Real Techniques Brush Sets: $15-20
- High End – Sigma Brush Sets: $60+
- Beauty Sponges
- Drugstore – Morphe Highlight and Contour Sponge: $7
- High End – Beauty Blender: $20
Example Makeup Kits (and Cost)
Now that I have recommended all of my favorite products. I want to show you two example kits I would get if I went to buy makeup as a beginner along with their cost. Keep in mind these are example ranges but you can also mix and match from both categories. Remember, it is always important to walk in with a budget and it is totally okay to skip something or opt for a more affordable alternative.
Drugstore Example Kit: $115.50
- LA Girl Shady Slim Eyebrow Pencil: $6
Essence Make Me Brow Gel Mascara: $3
LA Girl Pro Pro Matte Foundation: $9
Makeup Revolution Concealer: $10
Catrice Prime and Fine Powder: $9
BH Cosmetics Only Brilliance Bronzer: $10
Milani Baked Blush: $8
Elf Cosmetics Palettes: $10
Essence Mascara: $5
Loreal Lipsticks: $10
NYX Matte Setting Spray: $8.50
Real Techniques Brush Sets: $15-20
Morphe Highlight and Contour Sponge: $7
High End Example Kit: $376.5
Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz: $21
Benefit Gimme Brow Gel: $24
Too Faced Born This Way Foundation: $39
Tarte Shape Tape: $27
Laura Mercier Loose Setting Powder: $39
Benefit Hoola/Hoola Lite Bronzer: $30
Anastasia Beverly Hills Palettes: $42
Wander Beauty Mascara: $24
MAC Lipsticks: $18.50
Urban Decay All Nighter: $32
Sigma Brush Sets: $60+
Beauty Blender: $20
I have my products. How do I put them on my face?
Okay, now you have purchased all your products and have them in front of you. How do you actually apply them? Below is the order I apply my makeup in. It is not a strict order, but use it to guide your own application process.
- Primer – Apply primer all over your face after you have cleansed, moisturized and applied SPF.
- Eyebrows – Using short hair like strokes, fill in your eyebrows to the shape you would like. Remember to be sparse towards the front to prevent boxy eyebrows.
- Eyebrow Gel – Work the eyebrow gel through your brows.
- Eye Shadow Primer – Apply the primer all over your lid and then set it with a neutral shade shadow.
- Eyeshadow – Work with one or two colors max to create a neutral eye look. If you go for a bold eye look then make sure your lipstick is nude. It is best to have either your eyes or your lips be bold, not both.
- Eyeliner – Apply liner in whichever style you choose.
- Eye Lash Primer – Apple primer to your eyelashes in an even coat.
- Mascara – Apply mascara 1-2 times on your lashes in an even coat. For the least clumping, vibrate the wand with your hand when you apply.
- False Lashes – Apply lash glue on the lash band. Wait one minute for the glue to become tacky and then apply the lashes to your lash line using tweezers.
- Color Corrector – Apply color to affected area and then pat it to blend.
- Foundation – Using a sponge or brush, apply an even layer of foundation all over the face.
- BB Cream/CC Cream/Tinted Moisturizer – Using a sponge or brush, apply an even layer all over the face.
- Concealer – Apply to blemish for a cover up. Apply to the under eye area, middle of the forehead, nose and chin area for highlight. Blend with brush or sponge.
- Setting Powder – Apply using a fluffy brush to all of the areas that you highlighted/the rest of your face.
- Contour – Apply to the cheekbones, forehead, sides of the nose and under the chin. Blend with sponge or brush.
- Bronzer – Apply to same areas as contour.
- Blush – Apply to the apples of your cheeks lightly.
- Highligher – Apply to the highpoint of your cheeks, nose and cupid’s bow using a fan brush.
- Lip Liner – Apply to the outline of the lips. If you wish to overline, apply a little bit outside of the lip outline. Fill in lips if desired.
- Lipstick – Apply even layer all over lips.
- Setting Spray – Mist spray all over face and then pat in with sponge for the best effect.
I am starting to get the hang of this. What else should I know?
Now that you have been practicing, it will slowly start to become easier and eventually you can learn more skills. You are on your way but there are just a few more things I would like to cover:
- Marketing/Feeling Overwhelmed
When I first became introduced to the world of beauty, I became obsessed with makeup. I wanted every new product that was marketed to me. I went to Sephora and Ulta multiple times per week and spent so much money trying to keep up, until I finally realized I couldn’t. The rate that brands introduce new products is way faster than I can use up any of my own products. In the end, I was just wasting money and space gathering so much makeup that was physically impossible to use up. I want to save you from that pain and exhaustion. Yes, makeup is great and I love it but to a certain extent. Everyone has one face. Maintain your limits when it comes to purchasing makeup. If it starts to stress you out or feel like a burden, you are doing something wrong. Also remember, makeup expires. Each product has a little can with an expiration date listed so try to make sure you keep up to date on your expired makeup and throw it out.
- Cruelty Free and Clean Beauty
Shortly after getting into makeup, I decided to go cruelty free. This means I only use certain brands that have cruelty free status. It is pretty easy to find a list of brands online that are cruelty free and there are some great cruelty free products out there. I encourage everyone to give it a try if they can. The products above are not all cruelty free because I wanted to be inclusive, however, I will be writing a cruelty free guide so keep an eye out for that.
I also recently became interested in clean beauty. There is a clean beauty tag at Sephora now and I really want to learn more about the ingredients I am putting on my face that can be harmful. Once I have enough knowledge, I will definitely make a guide on that as well.
- Budgeting/Store Loyalty Programs
Like I have said multiple times now, it is important to watch your money with makeup. Once double edged sword to this are store loyalty programs. Sign up for them because you can get coupons and deals. However, I caution you. A lot of people end up over spending to try to reach the next “level.” Remember to only purchase what you actually need.
- Storage and Inventory
The final thing I would like to talk about is makeup storage and inventory. When you are starting with your collection and it is pretty small, it makes sense to use acrylic organizers or even dollar store bins. As the collection grows there are other options like the IKEA Alex drawers (I think having this much makeup is actually so crazy — so hopefully you never get here).
Make sure you have a makeup inventory tracker to make sure you know what you have before you go and purchase more. You can also use this tracker to write down products you are interested in trying out, expiration dates, brands you love etc.
This brings us to the end of my makeup guide. Everything I know, I have now told you.