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A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Apply Your Makeup Like the Pros

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If you’ve watched a makeup tutorial on YouTube or followed a beauty hack on TikTok, you’re not alone if the step-by-steps seemed ultra-complicated. What happened to going over the basics for beginners? Now, it’s all about the most epic wings, eyelid embellishments, and negative-space eyeliner.

If you have a bathroom drawer full of makeup products and want to know how to apply that makeup like an absolute pro, keep reading because this step by step guide is for you.

To break down makeup application 101, we chatted with makeup artists Matin Maulawizada and Amanda Bell. Between the two, you’ll have endless expert tips on how to apply makeup for everyday as well as some can’t-miss product recommendations for your next special occasion. 

About the Experts:

Matin Maulawizada is a New York-based makeup artist. He has painted the faces of celebrities including Mandy Moore, Claire Danes, and Tracee Ellis Ross.
Amanda Bell is a makeup artist in London. She has been professionally glamming for more than 25 years and is currently the Pixi Beauty Global Director of Education and Artistry.

Here’s How to Apply Your Makeup Step by Step

1. Start with Moisturizer

No matter your skin type (dry, oily, or combination), it’s important to hydrate both morning and night—and to never forget sunscreen in the A.M. Maulawizada recommends using your cleanser and toner (this is especially important at night!) before applying moisturizer. Then, he gives his skin a little relaxing massage.

“I take the moisturizer and warm it up between the palms of my hands and then massage it into the skin with upward and outward circular motions,” he says.

The AHAVA Essential Day Moisturizer is the perfect lightweight cream for everyday use. It soaks in quickly so you can apply SPF and foundation on top without any pilling. It’s also rich with Dead Sea water, amino acid, and vitamins E and B5 to strengthen and nourish skin.

2. Pat on Your Primer

While you don’t need a makeup primer all the time, it really helps keep your makeup on—especially on a busy or warm day. “A proper primer is meant to allow your makeup to wear the same all over your face,” says Maulawizada. “Meaning that the makeup won’t disappear or set on the surface on the dry areas of the skin and will not separate on the oily areas such as the T-zone.”

If you have dry skin, look for a hydrating makeup primer, like CIATÉ LONDON Watermelon Burst Hydrating Primer. It’s infused with watermelon extract, which is packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, and hyaluronic acid to lock in all that non-greasy hydration. Those with oily skin should opt for an oil-absorbing or pore-blurring primer.

Something to be mindful of is that the type of primer you use can affect the finish of the foundation. “A primer with a glow can make the base look more airbrushed and have a softer lit-from-within appearance,” says Bell. “Whereas, a more matte-textured primer can make the base appear more velvety.” If indeed a matte finish is what you’re after, the lightweight ELIZABETH MOTT Thank Me Later Face Primer will keep your complexion shine-free and minimize the appearance of pores. We don’t even think about our makeup looks without putting this product on first. 

Close-up image of a woman applying liquid foundation on her face with a makeup brush

3. Apply Foundation

You can apply foundation with your fingers, a makeup sponge, or a foundation brush—it’s all up to your comfort level. Maulawizada prefers using his fingers only when applying a small amount, such as one layer of lightweight liquid foundation or a BB cream.

For a more full-coverage look, he prefers distributing the foundation evenly on a synthetic brush. He first applies the foundation to the flat parts of the face and finally, with less on the brush, applies it to the T-zone. “This will create the illusion of less makeup,” says Maulawizada. 

4. Conceal Where You Want More Coverage

Just like foundation, you can apply concealer with either a makeup brush, beauty blender, or just your fingers (Note: A brush will give you a more full-coverage makeup look). Still, when it comes to concealer, a little goes a long way. You really only need to apply it to the areas you want to hide.

Dot concealer under your eyes to cover dark circles, starting small and building up as needed. “Concealer can get very cake-y on the delicate skin around the eyes,” says Maulawizada. Then, apply a little to any blemishes or red spots, allowing the formula to set for a few minutes before applying any type of powder on top. 

It’s also important to note different types of concealers and the purposes they serve. “Concealers with a creamy texture are more versatile,” Bell explains. “You’ll be able to use them under the eyes and on other parts of the face, as they blend seamlessly into the skin. Richer and thicker formulations, like concealer in a stick or pot, are superb for covering spots and blemishes."

If you opt for a creamy formula, Bell advises to “pat in with clean fingertips or a makeup sponge.” With richer stick and pot concealers, “It’s worth investing in a precision concealer brush,” she says. “These allow you to be very targeted with where you add the extra coverage. Once you have applied these types, dot gently with your brush to blend into the skin.”

A photo of a model applying contour on her nose using a black makeup brush

5. Add Back Some Color to Your Face

Bronzer is super versatile because it can be used as contour or just as a burst of warmth like you just got back from a beach vacation. When applied as a contour to sculpt your cheeks and jaw, you want to only add color where the sun would naturally tan your face. “[Focus on] your hairline, bridge of the nose, and the high points of your cheeks,” says Maulawizada. ”Contour should mimic the color of shadow on your skin,” he adds, so be careful not to choose a color too deep for your skin tone. 

For traditional bronzer application, Bell recommends the continuous “3 shape” method. “Tap off the excess powder off your brush and start at the forehead,” she suggests. “Sweep under the cheekbone and continue backwards towards the hairline, working down towards the jaw on the outer periphery of the face. Then sweep along the jawline, as this technique refines the bone structure while simultaneously adding warmth. I would choose a brush that’s relatively fluffy but tapered (rather than rounded) to achieve the sculpting results.”

A matte bronzer like Manly Beach from the NOMAD COSMETICS NOMAD x Sydney Bathers Kiss Of Sun Palette is perfect for blending onto the high points of the face. It contains macadamia oil to soften and moisturize your skin so it feels soft to the touch. It’s never overly heavy no matter how much you want to sculpt. Plus, you have multiple colors to choose from, so this palette will transition with your skin tone through the seasons. 

After bronzer, you’ll want to apply blush, using the newly popular draping technique. “You take the blush higher than just the apples of your cheeks,” Bell says. “It gives an incredibly vivacious look, really adding a pop of color and also adding extra dimension to the face. Start at the apple of the cheek and sweep the brush higher towards the hairline in a teardrop shape. This draping technique works beautifully with cream, gel, liquid and powder blush.”

While the application method works equally for varying formulas, the applicator itself differs. “For a gel and liquid, I like to use a soft makeup sponge,” Bell says. “For a powder blush, I use a soft fluffy cheek brush so I can blend the blush into the skin in a soft circular movement for an effortless look.”

THEBALM COSMETICS Will Powder Blush in Worth the Wait is a skin-brightening, natural-looking rosy blush that is buildable with a fluffy blush brush so you can keep applying until you’ve reached your target color. We love that it gives the perfect healthy looking flush without being too heavy. 

6. Highlight the High Points

A makeup look isn’t complete without highlighter. You can go for either a swipe so blinding you can see it from space, or simply a natural-looking glow. “Highlighter can be applied wherever you want to bring attention, like cheekbones or even clavicles,” says Maulawizada. He warns that although a tip-of-the-nose highlight is trendy on YouTube, it can look a bit dramatic and unnatural IRL. (Unless you’re going for that, of course, then rock on!) 

Using the same NOMAD COSMETICS NOMAD x Sydney Bathers Kiss Of Sun Palette, play around with the pink and golden highlighters in Balmoral and Tamarama Beach. Use your finger to dab just a tiny bit onto your cheeks, brow bones, and cupid’s bow or grab a fan brush and go all in layering on the glow.

A photo of a woman applying a shimmery bronze eyeshadow using a small brush

7. Experiment With Eyeshadow

There are numerous ways to apply eyeshadow, but when it comes to the basics, there are a few things to remember. “The light shades similar to your skin tone act as a base,” explains Maulawizada. “A darker shade creates shape and definition, as well as contours the eye. Shades in between are for the lids to marry the two seamlessly.” 

And that shimmer? Add it to the inner corners of your eyes to make them look big and bright. ITTSĒ The Van Ness Magnetic Eyeshadow Quad has every eye shadow color you need for a soft glam with intense color pigment payoff. The buttery texture is ultra-blendable when used with a flat shadow or crease eyeshadow brush. 

8. Define Your Eyes With Eyeliner

There are those who can’t live without eyeliner and those who only bust it out on special occasions. But it’s always nice to have a basic black liner in your makeup bag for when the feeling strikes. Maulawizada likes to use a pencil eyeliner to make eyeshadow deeper and more dramatic. “It can be dotted between lashes to create a fuller lash base,” he says. “And of course as a liner sharply or smudged to create definition around the eyes.” 

We love the TARTE tarteist™ Double Take Eyeliner in Black because it’s dual-ended for all the possibilities. Use the liquid eyeliner side to create crisp lines or sharp wings. The clay-infused gel pencil on the other side is perfect for applying to your waterline to make your eyes pop. If you make a mistake, no worries! Take a q-tip soaked in micellar water to clean it up.

Close-up image of a woman putting on mascara

9. Swipe on Mascara

Makeup artists usually apply mascara a bit differently than us normal people. If you often just layer it on, try this trick from Maulawizada. “After curling the lashes, I wiggle the mascara at the root of the lashes and work it to the tips,” he says. This creates a full, dark lash line at the base of the lashes. The TARTE SEA surfer curl™ volumizing mascara allows you to skip the lash curler (if you so choose) since it both curls and adds volume at the same time. The vegan formula contains vitamin E and marine algae to condition lashes so you’ll never get that crunchy, spidery look no matter how many coats you apply. Most importantly, it’ll never smudge or smear.

10. Stick on Some False Lashes (optional)

If you’ve recently spent any time on social media (and who hasn’t?), you’re well aware that false lashes are bigger and fuller than ever. While magnetic lashes have gained serious popularity in recent years, traditional glue-on falsies still reign supreme. Though this is what we consider an added bonus in a makeup routine, if you do indeed want to take this route, Bell breaks down step-by-step instructions for doing it effortlessly.

  1. Start by applying eyeliner along the upper lash line. This will guide you and give a better finish to the final look. Use a pencil liner for a softer look, or a liquid liner for a refined look. 

  2. Next, curl your lashes. If you can, gently heat your eyelash curler with a hair dryer on very low heat in advance. This will provide a greater, longer-lasting curl.

  3. Apply a coat of mascara. 

  4. Remove strip lashes gently with tweezers from the packet and measure them along the eyes. Cut the strip of lashes to fit your eyes (small sanitized nail scissors should do the trick).

  5. Use a cotton swab to apply a thin layer of eyelash glue to the band. 

  6. The next step is very important: Go in with a little extra glue and add an extra blob on the inner and outer ends of the lash.

  7. Then, wait approximately 30 seconds to allow the glue to get tacky in texture. 

  8. Place the eyelash as close to your natural lash line as possible.

  9. Press down on the center of the lashes first, then the inner and outer corners.

  10. Lastly, clamp your real lashes and the false lashes together with a lash applicator or tweezers. 

MORPHE’s False Lashes in DTLA are a great starter set. Not only are they inexpensive, they also appear more on the natural side and are made by a reputable brand that influencers swear by. Added bonus? They’re vegan and cruelty-free.

Close-up image of a model applying a mauve lip liner

11. Line Your Lips

Applying lip liner can both contour your lips and make your lipstick last longer. Maulawizada prefers lining the lips to contour and then shading in the rest of the lips lightly. When lipstick is applied on top, it creates a plumping 3D effect. Plus, as the lipstick wears off, the liner shows underneath instead of bare lips. 

We recommend a three-in-one lip liner like THRIVE CAUSEMETICS Lip Filler Long Wearing + Plumping Lip Liner in Ghizlan. This natural-looking, plum mauve shade looks gorgeous on all skin tones and the formula is truly unique. It contains hydrating and plumping ingredients to minimize the appearance of lip lines and keep both lipstick and liner from fading and feathering. The long-wearing, waterproof formula is also vegan and cruelty-free—so it basically has it all.

12. Paint on Your Lipstick and Lip Gloss

The order of lip products is what’s most important here. First comes lip liner, then lipstick, and then finish with lip gloss. Maulawizada applies lipstick either right from the bullet or with a lip brush, lining the lips and then filling them in. ILLAMASQUA Antimatter Lipstick in Midnight is the perfect semi-matte, semi-satin lipstick in a true red. 

For a fuller pout, add lip gloss on top, right in the middle of your lips. “Make a kiss pout, then tap the color to the lips,” Maulawizada says. If you’re going for a more laid-back look, just apply lip gloss all over the lips with the doe-foot applicator.

A photo of a model applying a clear lip gloss

13. Set Your Makeup

After all that work, you’ll want to set your makeup look with setting powder, setting spray, or both to maintain flawless-looking makeup all day. Your formula of choice will depend on your skin type and how long you need your makeup to last. Maulawizada likes using a velour puff saturated with setting powder, but you can also use any fluffy brush. 

“Work the product into the puff and tap off any access on the back of the hand,” he explains. “Then, roll the puff where you want to set your makeup until you reach a desired matteness.” Think about where you’re most oily or where your makeup creases, such as under your eyes and around your T-zone. The BELLÁPIERRE COSMETICS Banana Setting Powder in Medium has a yellow tone to diminish the look of dark circles and even the skin tone as it creates a crease-proof finish.

If you prefer your skin to look less matte and more natural, setting spray is a great option either on top of powder or on its own. The COVER FX High Performance Setting Spray is a stellar alcohol and fragrance-free formula that sets makeup for up to 24 hours (seriously!). It contains fermented algae extract to help defend your skin against free radicals and environmental pollutants, so it’s basically like skincare as well. Who doesn’t love a two-for-one?

Eager to try out new makeup products for your routine? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started with your own beauty subscription. Already a member? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and TikTok @IPSY.

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About the author
Elizabeth Denton
Elizabeth is a freelance beauty writer. Previously, she was a beauty & fashion editor at Time Out New York, Seventeen, & Allure. She has more than a decade of experience in the beauty and fashion world, writing for Nylon, StyleCaster, Cosmopolitan & more.
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Article Last Updated March 17, 2023 12:00 AM