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Makeup for Beginners: Your List of the Essential Products to Create Your Kit

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So, you’re brand spanking new to makeup and you just don’t know where to start. Or you’ve already been using makeup for years and aren’t *completely* sure you’ve got everything you need.

Loyal reader, you’ve clicked onto the right place!

As a beauty editor and personal beauty consultant, I’ve helped my fair share of people put together their first kit. And I’ve also spoken to LA-based makeup artist Amy Galloway to get her insights too.

Together we’ve put together a helpful list of products that makes up the perfect beginner’s cosmetic bag. No overwhelm, no confusion, just the essentials.

I can almost guarantee you won’t look back (unless it’s to check yourself out in the mirror…).


Image – Bodnarphoto/Adobe


The makeup essentials every beginner needs

Every beginner’s makeup bag needs at least five items. “I recommend investing in a good foundation and concealer, as well as essentials like lip balm or lip gloss, lengthening and volumising mascara and a flattering brush,” says Galloway.

I couldn’t agree more; you’ll be able to create a great no makeup-makeup look with these 5 basic essentials.

If you want to experiment with different colours and looks though, you’ll need a few more products.

Here’s our full list of the 15 makeup essentials that will give you the freedom to create tons of makeup looks, whatever the occasion.  

  • Base product
  • Concealer
  • Tinted lip balm
  • Mascara
  • Foundation brush
  • Eyeshadow palette
  • Blusher
  • Eyeliner
  • Lip colour
  • Brow gel
  • Highlighter
  • Contour
  • Bronzer
  • Eye makeup brushes
  • Other tools (like an eyelash curler and setting spray)

Now let’s dive into exactly why each of these products has made it onto the list, how to use them, and some affordable options.


1. Base

There are lots of different types of base products. Foundations provide an all-over coverage in lots of different finishes (matte/glowy/powder), whilst things like tinted moisturisers and BB creams are for those who like a sheer, more natural finish.

Once you’ve decided which kind of finish you want to go for then find your perfect shade. To do this, it’s best to go into a department store or shop to see the shades in the flesh. Finding the right shade for your skin tone online can be really confusing and can often go wrong.


Image – Courtesy of writer


You’ll also want to take into account your skin undertone (the hue underneath your actual skin tone, which affects how colours sit on your skin).

The undertone types are cool, warm and neutral. To identify yours, look at the veins on your wrist. If they are purply-blue, you probably have a cool undertone. If they’re green, then you’re more likely to be warm. And if it’s a bit of both then you’ll be neutral. 

Still confused? Take a look at our beginners guide to working out your undertone (and finding the perfect shades to suit it) here.

My favourite matte liquid foundation is Revlon ColorStay Foundation For Combi/Oily Skin (£13.99 from Boots UK /$15.99 from Revlon US) as it glides on beautifully and isn’t too thick (or expensive). 


PRO TIP: The best way to know whether a foundation is the right shade for you is to run it along your jaw line. If the colour blends seamlessly into your skin, and you can’t see a line, then it’s the right colour for you. If it stands out, then you’ll need to think again.


2. Concealer

The same formulation rules apply for your concealer. Choose a texture that you enjoy wearing and that you like the finish of.

You can get liquid, cream and stick concealers. Liquids are usually more sheer than a cream or a stick. If you’re using a concealer for the main purpose of covering up breakouts, choose one that doesn’t contain light-reflecting pigments so that you don’t draw attention to your spots.


Image – Olgaarkhipenko/Adobe


If you’re using it to brighten your under-eye area, go for one a shade lighter than your natural skin tone.  To pick the perfect concealer shade for your skin tone, undertone and preferred look, check out our guide to finding the right concealer for you.

My all time favourite concealer is Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer (£25 from Look Fantastic UK /$32 from Nars US). It’s really smooth, not cakey, and blends seamlessly into the skin.


3. Tinted lip balm

To begin with, you may want to go au natural with your lip colour. A clear gloss or balm is easy to apply and mess-free, plus it adds a bit of a sheen to the face.

Once you’re ready to move on from a clear product, a tinted lip balm is a really good balance of balm meets gloss. They usually have a very subtle pigment – enough to define the lips but not dominate them or make you feel too painted.  


Image – Cover Girl


Covergirl do an amazing selection of tinted lip balms (£2.99 from Amazon UK /$6.99 from Ulta Beauty US) that are filled with moisturising ingredients to keep your pout soft and plump.


4. Mascara

If you’re new to eye makeup but want to open up your eyes a little, a great starting point is a mascara. It’ll elongate your lashes and create subtle definition around your lash line.

There are lots of different types of mascara but I would do as Amy suggests and choose a standard volumising and/or lengthening one. These are very easy to find and don’t always have confusing, gimmicky brushes.

To apply mascara, start at the base of your top lashes and brush upwards, twisting the wand as you go to help create a curl. You can build it up to two or three coats, or keep it natural with just one.  


Image – Anna/Adobe


If you do build it up though, make sure you don’t wait for each coat to dry as this could result in your lashes sticking together or the mascara looking clumpy.

For a full guide to (easily) applying your mascara like a total pro take a look at our tutorial here.

I love Max Factor 2000 Calorie Mascara (£6.99 from Look Fantastic UK / $11.99 from Feel Unique US). It’s so easy to use and gives just the right amount of volume and thickness. 


5. Foundation brush

The purpose of a brush is to get more precision out of your makeup application.

If you find the array of different types overwhelming though, don’t worry we’ve got you covered with our complete guide to how to find the perfect foundation brush shape for the coverage and look you want.

I consistently use Real Techniques Expert Face Brush (£8.99 from Look Fantastic UK /$9.99 from Ulta Beauty US) for its softness and amazing price tag. 


Image – Originalpunkt/Adobe


PRO TIP: When choosing yours, make sure the bristles are soft and don’t shed at first touch. If it’s prickly or you notice hairs already falling off it when you try it in the shop, put it back and go for something else. 


6. Eyeshadow palette

Eyeshadow palettes generally combine a mixture of complementary light, medium and dark shades, plus some shimmers or glitters for highlighting the middle of your lid.  

The blend of shades means you can often create loads of different looks just with one palette, making them an essential for anyone who wants to try out a few different techniques or styles.


Image – Newafrica/Adobe


As pretty as palettes can be though, they can feel slightly intimidating if you haven’t used one before.  That’s why we’ve set out exactly how to use an eyeshadow palette here.


7. Blusher

Blusher adds a pop of colour to your cheeks and comes in everything from peach to pink, berry and brown tones.  You’ll find it in liquid, power and cream forms but my most favourite is cream blusher.

That’s because it’s so easy to apply (even with your fingers if you don’t fancy buying another brush), and often gives you a really lovely glowy finish.

To find the *perfect* blusher shade to flatter your skin tone, skin type and hair and eye colour, take a look at our tutorial.


Image – Juno/Stocksy


8. Eyeliner

Eyeliner is one of the quickest ways to change your look and is super fun to play around with.

You’ll find everything from eyeliner pencils to pens, gels and creams, although an eyeliner pencil is probably your easiest to start off with.

Go for a classic black or dark brown for a natural look, or experiment with different colours, glitters and shimmer shades for a more fun vibe.


Image – Colourpop


Colourpop do tons of shades and styles of liner starting from $8 for their Creme Gel Liner.

You can also experiment with different liner looks. The classic winged liner is always a winner, but isn’t always the easiest to pull off.  Take a look at our step-by-step winged liner tutorial (with images) here.


9. Signature lip colour

Whether a lip gloss, stain, lipstick or pencil, you’ll probably want a lip colour that you can turn to for both day and night looks.


Image – Lightfieldstudios/Adobe


10. Brow gel

If you don’t fancy a gel, you could also make this an eyebrow pencil instead.  But a brow product is definitely one for the list of makeup essentials since it helps to groom, shape and define your brows.

Gels are probably the easiest brow product to use since they’re just swept upwards and outwards through your hairs to set them for the rest of the day.  They come in everything from clear to blonde, red, brown and dark brown shades so you can choose whether to go for a really natural look or emphasise your own natural brow colour.


Image – Deniskomarov/Adobe


Pencils are a little fiddlier and require using fine strokes to add colour and definition to your brows. They also come in different shades, from blonde to dark brown.


11. Highlighter

Probably one of the most fun makeup products to play around with, highlighter comes in liquids, creams or powders and is applied to the highest points of your face (like the tops of your cheekbones and your brow bone)


Image – Colnihko/Adobe


12. Contour

Contouring definitely takes some practice to get right but is a great tool for helping to shape and define foreheads, noses, chins, jawlines or cheekbones (if you want to; this one really isn’t a must).

It’s placed where shadow naturally falls on your face (like under your cheekbones and jawline).  It’s positioned in the opposite way to blusher, highlighter and bronzer- which are all used to draw attention to the high points of your face.


Image – Look!/Adobe


You probably won’t need all four products though.  A lot of people use simply use their bronzer as a contouring product and skip adding it to their high points.


13. Bronzer

Designed to be placed where your face naturally gets the sun most (your forehead, nose and the high points of your cheeks), bronzers normally come in a powder form and are applied with a large fluffy brush in sweeping circular motions.


Image – Colourpop


Affordable (but genuinely excellent) makeup brand Colourpop offers both stick or powder bronzers from $7.  I’ve personally used the stick product and the coverage and finish are beautiful. 


14. Eye makeup brushes

If you really want to expand your makeup looks, you’ll eventually need some eye makeup brushes too since the different shapes and sizes are used for different parts of creating each look and help to create an overall more polished finish.

Those long domed fluffy brushes? For applying eyeshadow to your ‘crease’ (the bit at the top of your eye socket) and blending harsh lines.  The small flat brushes? For applying makeup to your lid.  The angled brushes? For applying product to your lash line.


Image – Newafrica/Adobe


I’m a huge fan of Real Techniques brushes as they’re cruelty-free, affordable, and really high quality. Their Everyday Eye Essentials Makeup Brush Set contains 8 brushes (all the ones you’ll need to create a eyeshadow look) for an impressive £19.99 from Look Fantastic UK /$19.99 from Ulta Beauty US.

Once you’ve got your eye makeup brushes though, what do you do with them?  To instantly improve your eye makeup skills, take a look at our 12 pro hacks here.


15. Other tools

To really feel like a pro, you may want to finish off your collection with a few further tools like a makeup sponge (perfect for all over makeup application and giving you a dewy finish), eyelash curlers (to really elevate your mascara look), makeup tool cleaner (like a spray or wash to keep your brushes and sponges clean), a makeup primer, and a setting spray (to keep your new look in place).

To get the perfect makeup application as well, you’ll want to prep skin first (the more hydrated and bouncy your skin the better your makeup looks).  That’s why it’s worth putting together a good skincare routine.


Image – Pixel-shot/Adobe


What order do I do makeup in?

The general rule of thumb for applying makeup is as follows:

  • Eyeshadow (do this first so that you can correct any mistakes easily without affecting the rest of your makeup)
  • Eyeliner
  • Mascara
  • Brows
  • Contour
  • Base
  • Concealer
  • Bronzer
  • Highlighter
  • Blusher
  • Lips


The takeaway

You only need five products to begin your first makeup chapter. See how you get on with those and once you’re ready to move on, it’ll be time to add products like bronzer, blusher, highlighter and eyeshadow. 

The purpose of makeup is to enhance your good bits – not to mask them. Enjoy making the best of yourself and remember, makeup isn’t meant to be a chore. So, the most important rule of all is to have fun with it!


Meet the expert

Amy Galloway is an LA-based makeup artist whose work has been featured in the like of Harper’s Bazar.  She shares her stunning work with her more than 40,000 Instagram followers


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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