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How to Create a Makeup Routine that Works for You




Want to know the ultimate secret to doing your makeup like a pro? It's not a holy grail tutorial, 30-second trick, or one-size-fits-all product. It's knowing which areas to concentrate on to make your features look fabulous no matter how little or much time you have. 

Almost every makeup look you can imagine follows the same basic steps, maybe skipping a few or spending more time on others depending on the occasion. Most importantly, though, nailing your makeup look is about your personal style and what makes you feel confident. If you feel naked without highlighter or just don't like blush or contouring, throw those YouTube and Instagram tutorials out the window and do you.

It's also knowing which makeup brushes to use to save yourself time, money, and energy without compromising quality. Our editors' current favorites are from COMPLEX CULTURE, a brand whose mission is to make applying makeup simple, stress-free, and sustainable. Their recent release of sustainably-sourced and ergonomically-designed makeup brushes do just that. They're handmade with velvet matte biodegradable handles and cruelty-free, vegan Syn-Tech™ bristles that feel as soft as real hair. Each brush was thoughtfully designed with a unique shape to serve multiple purposes, with a clear description on every handle so you never have to wonder if you're using the right brush. 

To take even more of the guesswork out of your makeup application, we're going to break down the foundations of a makeup routine, step by step. Consider these less as hard and fast rules and more as a jumping-off point for you to express yourself and create your own unique makeup routine.

A girl in black shirt looking at herself in the mirror while holding her hair back

Step 1. Skincare First, Makeup Second

Healthy, moisturized skin doesn't need much makeup to look its best. Some people really enjoy creating multi-step routines and regimens—like this one for glass skin—but at a minimum, your daily skincare should include a cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, and lip balm

Why these skincare products? Cleanser (true to its name) cleans and refreshes your skin, while a toner clears out your pores and deep-cleans any grime your cleanser might have left behind. And serum, moisturizer, and lip balm all work to keep your skin hydrated and healthy (and yes, you do need to use a moisturizer, even if you have oily skin).  

Beyond the basics, there are also unique products created for every skin type and skin need, from spot treatment for blemishes to creams that target under-eye circles and puffiness. And one of the best ways to care for your skin is to give it a concentrated dose of one or a few skincare ingredients in the form of a face mask. For example, choose an exfoliating blackhead mask or a salicylic acid-infused acne mask to target blemishes and clear your pores, or try a moisturizing chamomile-infused mask to soothe sensitive skin

And while your skincare routine will be unique to you (much like your makeup routine), one thing all our skincare routines should have in common is a healthy dose of SPF. We know, we know, you've heard it a thousand times, but it's true: there's no better skincare product that a good sunscreen to keep your skin protected from harmful UV rays. Don't want to add an extra step? Try a moisturizer with SPF. This skincare product will hydrate your skin while protecting it from the sun's rays. 

YENSA Tone Up Primer Essential Glow

Step 2. Prime for Perfection

Whether you're using a semi-sheer BB cream or a full-coverage matte foundation, a primer that suits your skin type will keep your face makeup intact all day. Check out our favorites for oily skin, dry skin, and pores to keep your makeup from slipping, or wear a primer like YENSA Tone Up Primer Essential Glow on its own for an instant skin-boosting effect.

You'll also want to use an eyeshadow primer if you're planning on wearing eyeshadow or liquid eyeliner. This keeps colorful and detailed looks from creasing, fading, or smudging as the hours pass, so you don't have to worry about touch ups throughout the day (or night). 

An image of a model in black shirt holding the skin on the side of her eye while looking at herself in the mirror

Step 3. Even Out Your Skin

Should you apply foundation or concealer first? While ultimately it's up to you to decide how much coverage you need and the best way to get there, we've broken down when you should apply concealer first and when you should start with foundation below.

If a full face of makeup tends to feel heavy and cakey on you: Start with concealer to cover up dark circles and any areas with blotchiness, redness, hyperpigmentation, or acne. Apply your favorite formula with the COMPLEX CULTURE Precision Concealer Brush, which has angled bristles designed to hug the contours of your under eyes and deposit pigment onto problem areas. After that, you may not need more coverage other than a BB cream or CC cream.

If you want full coverage without full effort: Start with foundation. The COMPLEX CULTURE Angled Foundation Brush works well with liquid, matte, and powder foundation formulas. This brush has angled bristles, too, and a larger surface area to cover your cheeks and forehead as well as around your nose, under eyes, hairline, and jawline. Use it to stipple foundation onto just the areas that need a little extra attention and blend it out, or make downward painter's strokes across your face for all-over coverage.

COMPLEX CULTURE Press & Set • Bronzer brush

Step 4. Set It For Success

When you're satisfied with your foundation and concealer, grab a setting powder to lock it into place. You can use a traditional powder in the same color as your skin tone to set and mattify your makeup, or a translucent powder for an airbrushed, soft-focus finish. To apply your setting powder, use the flat side of the COMPLEX CULTURE Press & Set • Bronzer brush, and dust it onto your face with gentle tapping motions.

An image of a model using the COMPLEX CULTURE Contour • Blush Brush

Step 5. Rouge, Radiance, & Razor-Sharp Cheekbones

Some people love applying contour, blush, highlighter, and bronzer every day, while others wear only blush or bronzer or just contour and highlighter. And some skip this step entirely. Again, you don't absolutely need all four steps in your makeup routine—it's all about which products you enjoy applying, and what makeup look you're after.

To get a rosy flush: Use the fluffy tip of the COMPLEX CULTURE Contour • Blush Brush. Simply swirl the bristles into your blush, then blend onto the apples of your cheeks. Take a look at our guide to applying blush for more tips. 

To accentuate your cheekbones and jawline: Use the narrower edge of that same COMPLEX CULTURE Contour • Blush Brush to carve out your features with a matte contour powder. Swipe side to side, blending up (not down) to lift your features. For more contouring tips, read our how-to guide

To get a sun-kissed glow: You can use either a matte bronzer for a natural look or a bronzer with some shimmer for a more dramatic effect. Take the same brush you used to set your makeup (the COMPLEX CULTURE Press & Set • Bronzer Brush) and dip the rounded tip into your bronzer, then dust it over the bridge of your nose, your cheekbones, and near your hairline for an instant glow.

To get glowing skin: Use the COMPLEX CULTURE All Over Highlight • Powder Brush to illuminate your face and make your features look lifted. Simply dip the fluffy tip into your powder highlighter and sweep it on top of your cheekbones, on your brow bone, the tip of your nose, and Cupid's bow. Use soft, light swiping motions to blend.

An image of a model in black shirt looking at herself in the mirror while using a COMPLEX CULTURE brush to apply eye makeup

Step 6. Eye It Up

Eye makeup is another area where you can really choose your own adventure. Winged liquid eyeliner on bare eyelids? Awesome. A smoldering smoky eye? Also awesome. Something in the middle with a colorful eyeshadow palette? That's cool, too!

COMPLEX CULTURE has a handful of eyeshadow brushes that you can use to craft different looks. Start by buffing a base color onto your lids, crease, and lower lash line with the COMPLEX CULTURE All Over Shadow Brush. You can stop here for a simple, single-color look, or grab the COMPLEX CULTURE Easy Crease Definer brush and a darker shade of eyeshadow to define your crease and upper lash line. You can then use this same brush (or the COMPLEX CULTURE Precision Eyelid brush) to highlight your inner corners and brow bone with a lighter, shimmery color.

Finish your eye makeup with 1-2 coats of lengthening or volumizing mascara. You can then fill in your brows for a bolder look, or just brush them up and out with a brow gel.

A closeup of a model applying bold red lipstick

Step 7. Kiss It Off

In the 2000s, makeup artists would recommend playing up your eyes or lips, but not both. Today, we say don't let anyone stop you from living your best life. Go for a tinted lip balm, a juicy lip stain, a bold red lipstick, or a nude lip color–whichever fits your mood.

To give any pout more definition, start by reverse lining your lips with concealer using the COMPLEX CULTURE Precision Concealer Brush. This keeps your lipstick from feathering and blurs your natural lip line if you're planning to overline them with lip liner.

Want Even More Inspiration?

Ready to play with even more makeup application ideas? Check out our guides to getting these makeup looks:

Or head to our YouTube and Instagram (and of course our blog homepage!) for more ideas.


Want in on all the Glam Bag fun? Take the beauty quiz now to get started. And don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

About the author
Seetha Sankaranarayan
Ipster, gym rat, highlighter obsessed
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Article Last Updated January 4, 2020 12:00 AM