It’s not just you, makeup is confusing. Especially if you’re just wanting to get started wearing makeup. Knowing where to start is hard, but it’s not impossible. I will help you jump right in to the beautiful, fun, and exciting world of makeup!
This post will assume that you’re wanting to achieve a “natural” look, and that you’d prefer to purchase less expensive products in the drugstore price range.
Know that This is a Journey
Finding the right makeup products takes time, practice, and patience. I wish it wasn’t so, but there are going to be products you purchase that just don’t work for you. I know this is frustrating because it will feel like such a waste of time and money. Try not to get discouraged, and don’t try new makeup products or techniques right before you have somewhere important to go! Trust me on that one!
You’re Going to Need Some Tools (Brushes and a Sponge)
There was a time in the distant past, when I didn’t even know makeup brushes were a thing. The first time I tried eyeshadow was a disaster, and I didn’t try again for a very long time. I’d like to save you from that frustration.
If you’re going to wear a liquid foundation, then I highly recommend a sponge. Almost any sponge is better than no sponge, and I haven’t really seen huge differences in the sponges I’ve tried. The sponge I’m using currently is from Eco Tools (a brand sold at Walmart) called the Bioblender. This sponge is biodegradable, affordable, and the performance has been great for me. I LOVE the biodegradable aspect, and I’m always looking for ways to make my life more eco-friendly.
Link to purchase Bioblender Sponge at Walmart.com (retails for $4.88), and it’s also at Ulta (2 for $9.99)
Know that brush sets can be really hit or miss. They seem like such a good deal because you get so many for so cheap, but I’ve found that there can be lots of duds in those sets. Or you’ll find that several of the brushes included just aren’t the right shape or type for what you personally want to achieve with your makeup. That said, if you have absolutely no brushes currently, you can definitely purchase a set and then build from there. It’s really hard to know what brushes you should buy or will need when you’ve never tried any brushes at all.
Brush Sets Worth Considering:
Colourpop Stone Cold Makeup Brush Kit – 15 Brushes for $32. I haven’t tried this set personally (but I’m strongly considering purchasing it). I love the eyeliner brush I have from them so much, and Colourpop has such a great reputation for price/quality, that I’m fairly certain a beginner would be happy with this set. See this set on Colourpop’s website.
E.L.F Cosmetics 19 Piece Brush Collection – 19 Brushes for $50. This set includes my favorite Flawless Face Brush and Concealer Brush as well as several other brushes that look really useful. Available at Ulta.
The lists/links below are specific brushes that I think are great to start with and are widely available.
Minimum Brushes Needed
- Powder brush (if you intend to wear face powder). My favorite powder brush is the It Brushes for Ulta Airbrush Blurring Kabuki Brush – The closest product they currently have retails for $32 at Ulta. This helps me get a lot of powder on fast and buff it out evenly. I like this far better than any other traditional powder brush I’ve tried. The only drawback is that it has a short handle so it doesn’t store easily in a cup with the rest of my long-handled brushes.
- Blush Brush – E.L.F. Cosmetics Angled Blush Brush – Retails for $6, link to purchase at Ulta
- Eyeshadow Blending Brush – E.L.F. makes a decent blending brush – E.L.F Fluffy Eye Blender Brush retails for $4 at ELF Cosmetics, or it can be purchased in this set from Ulta link to purchase from Ulta. As you get more advanced with eyshadow, you may prefer different types of blending brushes such as smaller size if your lids are smaller, or to make more detailed eye looks, frequently I prefer a tapered blending brush.
- Eyeshadow basic brush for placing shadow on lid – E.L.F. makes a white handled one for $2 that is great. I recommend you purchase a few of these actually. This brush has a nice amount of stiffness that really helps pack on shadows with shimmer and sparkle. This is one of the few white handled ELF brush I recommend, the white handled ones are usually cheaper, but I think the quality is noticeably lacking. Most of my other ELF brush recommendations are for the black handled brushes (especially face/powder brushes), but in this particular case I think the cheaper white handled option works very well. Ulta only carries the black handled ELF Eyeshadow “C” brush which retails for $4 (also a great choice, just costs $2 more). I’ve seen/purchased the white handled one at several retailers though – check Walmart and Target.
- Eyeliner brush – my favorite Angled Liner Brush is from Colourpop and retails for $6. Grab the Colourpop one if you’re going to make a full order from Colourpop’s site, otherwise just grab one from ELF. The E.L.F. Small Angled Brush retails for $4 and can be purchased from Ulta.
Level-Up Brushes – if you’ve already got the basics covered, these brushes will advance your makeup technique
- Bronzer Brush – I use the E.L.F. Flawless Face Brush from Bronzing/Contouring. Retails for $6 at Ulta.
- Highlight brush – I use the E.L.F. Powder Brush (white handle) for a subtle glow (Retails for $3 at ELF), or the E.L.F. Flawless Concealer Brush for a heavy glow (Retails for $4 at Ulta).
- Concealer Brush – Yup, the one from ELF is my favorite! It’s the Flawless Concealer Brush and Retails for $4 at Ulta
- Eyeshadow pencil brush – You’re looking for something with a shape like the Mac 219 brush.
- Eyeshadow tapered crease brush – The ELF Detail Crease Brush is a good example of this type of brush. Retails for $4 at ELF.
I’ve listed my six favorite brushes from E.L.F. Cosmetics in this post on my favorite products from ELF. A couple other brush brands that I’ve been really happy with are Sephora Collection and Sigma Beauty. I have several brushes from each company that have lasted MANY years. They are a step-up in price from Colourpop and ELF, but they do also usually have a few different sets available to choose from.
Base Products – AKA Complexion Products
The amount and type of base products to wear is a really personal decision. Some people wear none at all, and some people prefer very full coverage. I think most beginners would prefer a light to medium coverage foundation. If you have special concerns such as blemishes to cover, or dark circles, those will require additional products to achieve the best coverage results.
Shade matching yourself to select the right product is one of the most frustrating experiences in makeup. Even experienced makeup users struggle with this. Higher end stores and makeup counters will help you shade match. Traditionally, that’s been one of the advantages to buying more expensive products, they let you try before you buy. The idea is that you can get the correct shade the first time instead of wasting time and money on trying a bunch of cheaper products. I think if you take a little bit of time to research how to choose the best shade for yourself before you head to the store, you’ll end up with better results. There are tons of websites and Youtube videos out on the internet that explain how to get a good foundation match.
Another frustrating thing you’re probably going to run into is availability of shades. Just because a store carries a product doesn’t mean that they carry ALL of the shades. Stores will usually have a limited selection on the shelf in the store, and then online they will carry additional shades, and then if you go to the brand’s website you might find even MORE shades. So, if you get the feeling that you aren’t seeing good shades for you in store, head on out to the internet and see what you can find.
Tip: products that are sheer or light coverage are a lot easier to get a flattering shade of because they let some of your natural coloring come through. You’ll probably also feel more comfortable in lighter coverage products if you’re not used to seeing yourself in makeup. This applies to foundations, concealers, and lipsticks. But if you’re trying to cover blemishes or redness, I recommend going for fuller coverage foundations, concealers, and powders.
The ELF Hydrating Camo Concealer is great for beginners. It retails for $6 and comes in 24 shades. The finish is natural-ish and the coverage is medium. Again, you can skip concealer if you don’t need it. I use this one under my eyes and on any dark spots from acne hyper pigmentation. It doesn’t give 100% coverage, but that’s usually the trade off for a product that’s easier to work with and gives a more natural finish.
If you have really dark undereye circles, you will benefit from a separate undereye corrector product. I haven’t yet found a drugstore option for this that I feel comfortable recommending. I use the Becca (now Smashbox x Becca) undereye corrector which retails for $32, but it will last you a very long time and I highly recommend it. This product comes in four shades and is available at Ulta. Use this product, and then top it off with a layer of foundation or concealer.
I have pretty much always used liquid foundation, so that’s the type I’ll be discussing here. My preference is for something medium-full coverage that dries down to a long wearing finish. If you find that you’re not comfortable with wearing full coverage as a beginner, you can always mix your foundation with a moisturizer to make it more sheer. You can also purchase products labeled “CC Cream” in stead of “foundation” and those products will have lighter coverage.
I also tend to prefer foundation formulas without sunscreen. I think it works better to get your sunscreen in your morning moisturizer or a dedicated sunscreen product.
Currently, my favorite drugstore formulas are:
- Milani Conceal and Perfect – Retails for $10.99 and available in 24 shades at Ulta and 45 shades on Milani’s website.
- Revlon Candid – Retails for $8.99 on Amazon. This one’s been a bit trickier to find in stores, but I’ve purchased it from Walgreens. This is different from Revlon Candid Glow – but the Glow option would be good for people needing less coverage.
- Revlon Colorstay – This is a classic that’s been around for decades. It comes in two formulas – one for Oily/Combination skin and one for Dry/Normal skin. The Oily/Combination one comes in 43 shades but the Dry/Normal one only comes in 24 shades – I haven’t noticed much difference between the formulas and usually buy the Oily/Combination one. Retails for $8.47 on Amazon and $14.99 at Ulta.
- E.L.F. Flawless Finish Foundation – this one has less coverage than I personally prefer, and it’s not the most long wearing out of the ones I’m listing, but since I’m recommending so many ELF products, I thought I would mention this one and let you know that is really is pretty decent. Retails for $6 and comes in 26 colors at Ulta or 40 shades on ELF’s website.
- Revolution Conceal and Define – this foundation is available at Ulta, and it sets down to a very matte finish. I’d recommend this for oily skin. This deserves a mention because it comes in 50 shades and some of them are specifically for OLIVE undertones. This is the foundation my daughter wears, and it’s been great to find something with a specifically olive undertone for her. The full shade selection is available at Revolution Beauty and retails for $12.00. Ulta carries 40 shades, but not the olive shade we need.
Wet N Wild and Revolution both have glowy bronzers that I enjoy. As long as a bronzer isn’t EXTREMELY shimmery, I find that a bit of shimmer makes a bronzer look more skin-like and easier to blend than a pure matte bronzer. Again, this can come down to personal preference, and you may prefer matte bronzers.
Wet n Wild Color Icon Bronzer retails for $5.49 at Ulta (Sunset Striptease is my favorite shade) Purchase from Wet n Wild *AFFIL*
Milani is a GREAT drugstore option for blushes that have a natural finish. Their baked blushes are legendary! You can find them at your local drugstore that sells Milani. Ulta carries 8 shades and they retail for $9.99. The Milani website carries about 10 shades plus a few exclusive/limited edition shades.
Essence is a great option too! It’s even cheaper, but the shade selection is more limited. Four shades are available at Ulta and they retail for $2.99 – and sometimes they even go on sale for less than that.
I could (and probably will eventually) write a whole separate post on this. For beginning with eyeshadow, I think it’s best to find an affordable palette with a bunch of colors. It will be really helpful if you can find a palette that ranges in colors from very light to very dark (black) and also ranges from very warm to very cool, and also includes both shimmer and matte formulas. This will give you a wide range of shades to experiment with. You can see what looks best on you, and then branch out from there.
If you can’t find a palette that covers all of those, you might try finding a warm palette and a cool palette. Brands often make palettes that are all warm or all cool toned.
If I had to choose a palette for a brand new makeup user today, I would choose one of the following:
- Colourpop Bare Necessities – A 30-pan eyeshadow palette that goes from light to dark. This palette leans warm but should flatter most people. Retails for $34 at Colourpop.com (but Colourpop does lots of sales!)
- Colourpop Stone Cold Fox – A 30-pan eyeshadow palette that goes from light to dark. This is the cool-toned counterpart to Bare Necessities, so choose this one if you already know that cool tones suit you better. Otherwise, most people seem to prefer warm tones most of the time, so start with the Bare Necessities palette. Stone Cold Fox contains some mauve tones also, which are some of my favorites. Retails for $34 at Colourpop.com.
- Tarte Tartelette In Bloom – A 12-pan palette. Contains both warm and cool, light and dark, shimmer and matte. So this is a great starter palette. For some people, this might be all the eyeshadow they’ll ever need. This is a great starter palette, I have an entire post about it here. You can find it at Sephora for $42.
- Natasha Denona Glam – A 15-pan palette that has mostly cool tones, but a few warm and pink shades thrown in. Retails for $65 at Sephora. Pick this one if you want a bit more sparkle.
Milani Cosmetics is one of my favorite drugstore lipstick brands. I’ve got several posts on my blog that show you different Milani lipsticks – these posts are linked here.
I usually pick my lipstick shade last – choosing a shade and sheerness level that goes with the rest of my makeup look. However, you can also do this the other way – choose a lipstick that you really want to wear and then build the rest of your makeup look/outfit around that. It’s completely up to you!
The same thing goes for lipsticks as for foundations – more sheer formulas are easier to coordinate and look more natural because more of your own natural coloring is showing through. With opaque formulas, even the slightest difference in shade can make a big difference.
Summary And Conclusion
If you just have no idea where to start, I’d recommend wandering into a local Ulta or Walmart if you have those available to you. Walmart has lower every day prices than Ulta but doesn’t carry any brands above drugstore level and there is nobody there to help you with color matching.
If you’d prefer to shop online, then I think Ulta, Milani Cosmetics, Elf Cosmetics, and Colourpop are great places for a beginner to start because they all carry a really wide variety of affordable products. I think you can put together a starter makeup kit from any of those places that will be good quality and affordable.
Google is your friend. If you’re trying to purchase a product where the shade matters, Google that product name and the word “swatch” or “swatches” or “dupes” to get images of that product that other makeup users have swatched and compared to other products. This can give you a better idea of how a product will look on different skin tones and in different lighting. The official pictures from brand’s marketing materials can be surprisingly not accurate.
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