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Calling all Makeup Beginners! This Expert-Approved Makeup Guide Is for You

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Have you ever found yourself shopping for new beauty products and feeling totally confused over why there were so many options? Do you really need to contour your face and apply bronzer? What’s the difference between an eyebrow pencil and an eyebrow gel (and how do you even fill in your eyebrows)? After a while, your shopping cart can seem redundant, while every YouTube makeup tutorial can simply sound like noise. The good news? If you feel like this, you’re not alone. Whether you need a makeup for beginners tutorial, or you love trying all the latest beauty trends, we’re giving you a little refresh on all the basics. 

Buckle up, because we’re about to school you with our crash course in simple, must-know makeup knowledge. Say goodbye to creasing, learn how to make dry skin appear hydrated (and oily skin appear matte), get the best use of makeup brushes, eyeshadow palettes, lip balm, and more. We’ve got the best hacks for how to apply makeup for beginners, thanks to makeup artist tips and tricks. Whether you want to up your face makeup game or turn heads with a killer eye makeup look straight from Sephora, these makeup tips from the pros (with our own IPSY editor input as well) will have you making a mad dash for the drugstore or beauty supply store (depending on the makeup products you fancy). Now, what are you waiting for? Keep scrolling and get to applying!

About the Experts:

Yesid Castro is a Los Angeles–based hairstylist and makeup artist, as well as a salon owner and educator for the global brands Laura Mercier, Shiseido, and Bumble and Bumble. Castro works with both editorial and red-carpet clients.
Cara Lovello is a celebrity and bridal makeup artist in New York whose clients include Chrishell Stause, Real Housewives stars Melissa Gorga and Romana Singer, and reality star Nicole Polizzi (aka Snooki). 
Robert Sesnek is a New York–based celebrity makeup artist whose clientele include celebrities like Hailey Bieber, Kendall Jenner, Vanessa Hudgens, and more. His work has been featured in Vogue, Vanity Fair, ELLE, and in campaigns for Ralph Lauren and Redken.

First Things First: What Are All These Products?

Whether you’ve totally mastered your everyday makeup look or you have no idea how to put makeup on, most of us could use a refresher when it comes to what’s in our cosmetic case. Read on for how to apply makeup, step by step, with our comprehensive guide below.

A photo of different shades of ANASTASIA BEVERLY HILLS Luminous Foundation on a pink background

Complexion Products

  • Primer: Primers come in gel, cream, or spray form and can create an even canvas for your makeup application by filling in fine lines and blurring large pores. We’re fans of this step because it helps the makeup glide on evenly, last longer, and avoid lookingcakey.

  • Foundation:Even if you’re only into makeup for beginners, you’ll want to have at least one trusty foundation at your fingertips. Foundation can come as a liquid, cream, or powder, and is meant to even out your skin tone and smooth over imperfections. Unsure which formula is right for you? Check out our breakdown of powder and liquid foundation. Tip: We always factor in what coverage we’re looking to achieve. You can get foundations ranging from sheer coverage (like a skin tint or tinted moisturizer) to full coverage

  • Concealer: Concealer is meant to provideunder-eye brightness or additional coverage over select areas, like dark circles, breakouts, acne scars, and more. Depending on the look you want to achieve, you can opt for a concealer with either a matte or dewy finish. Just like with foundation, we appreciate that there’s a coverage level for everyone’s preference. Want to know more? Here’s our guide on how to apply concealer.

  • Highlighter and Contour: These two are the secret behind the perfectly chiseled faces we often see on celebs and influencers. “Contour colors always recede, meaning they will add depth, where highlighter brings that light forward,” says makeup artist Robert Sesnek. Together they add an overall dimension. Because everyone has different skin types, we recommend playing around with liquid, powder, and cream formulas to figure out what’s most flattering on your own individual face. 

  • Blush and Bronzer: There’s often confusion between contour and bronzer when it comes to makeup for beginners. But it’s important to remember that contour creates shadows, while bronzer creates a natural, sun-kissed glow that accentuates and lifts your cheekbones and other features. Bronzers come in liquids, creams, and powders (brush up on the differences with our tips for how to apply bronzer). On the flip side, blush is used to add a hint of color to your cheeks and comes in liquid, powder, and cream formulas.

  • Setting Products: You have a few options to set your makeup. When we want to lock a look in place, we love the waysetting powder does the trick. When we want to smooth fine lines and blur pores, we apply finishing powder, which also gives an airbrushed finish. And when we want to secure our look while adding a little dewiness, setting spraygets the job done. Sesnek says he never skips the setting step. If setting the whole face feels like too much product or leaves the skin too matte, we just powder select areas (like our T-zone and under our eyes), while leaving the other areas dewy.

BELLE EN ARGENT Panchromatic Eyeshadow Palette in Nude Intuitive Vision

Eye Products

  • Eyeshadow Primer: While most primers for your complexion contain silicone or water, we suggest priming your lids with designated eyeshadow primers because they offer more grip. This allows your eye makeup to stay in place all day. 

  • Eyeshadow: Eyeshadow is pigmented powder or cream applied to your eyelids to accentuate your eyes. The colors come in a variety of finishes and shades, ranging from matte to shimmering to duochrome and satin. They also contain varying levels of pigmentation. 

  • Eyeliner: Eyeliner is used to define the eyes, enhance their shape, and create different looks. When it comes to eyeliner, we switch back and forth between gel, liquid, or pencil, depending on our vibe (and the time and patience we’re working with at the moment). If you’re unsure which one is right for you, turn to our guide on which eyeliner you should use.

  • Mascara: Mascara is used to enhance eyelashes. Depending on the formula, you can make your lashes look fuller, thicker, longer, or darker (or all of the above if you hit the mascara jackpot).
A photo of BENEFIT COSMETICS gimme brow volumizing eyebrow gel products

Eyebrow Products

  • Eyebrow Gel: Eyebrow gel keeps brow hairs in place. The formula is usually either clear or tinted, natural, or extra-hold. 

  • Eyebrow Pencil: Eyebrow pencil is used to draw in hairs and allows you to achieve the most natural-looking finish. Not only does a fine tip create strokes that resemble real hair, but “the wax texture mimics real brow hairs,” says Sesnek.

  • Eyebrow Powder: Powder is perfect for filling in sparse spots and is a great go-to for beginners, says Sesnek. In fact, if you don’t have a powder on hand, you can use an eyeshadow to achieve the same effect. Just be sure to select a shade most similar to your eyebrow color.

A photo of different shades of MANNA KADAR COSMETICS Lipsticks on a red background with a ribbon

Lip Products

  • Lip Primer: Lip primer is used to keep your lip products in place and create a smooth canvas for your lip products. 
  • Lip Pencil: Lip pencils enhance the shape of your lips and are used as an outline to set parameters before you apply lipstick. We implement this step because it also prevents our lipstick from bleeding. Additionally, if we want to create a fuller pout, we use our lip liner to contour our mouth and lightly over-line.
  • Lipstick: Lipstick adds color to the lips, further enhancing your mouth’s fullness. It’s available in a variety of forms, from liquid lipstick to matte lipstick, and comes in every shade under the sun. 
  • Lip Gloss: Lip gloss creates a glossy finish and can come in a variety of colors, from completely translucent to highly pigmented. “Depending on the formula, I always find the best way to use lipgloss is when it is applied with the original applicator and spread with the finger,” says Castro.

8 Beginner-Friendly Steps to Applying Makeup

1. Prep Your Skin

Close-up of a model applying serum on her cheeks

Before you even reach for makeup, it’s crucial that you prep your skin with skincare. “Always cleanse and moisturize for your skin type,” says Sesnek. “Makeup will never lay properly without it.” When your skin isn’t properly prepped, you won’t be able to achieve an even, flawless finish. Instead, your foundation will look heavy and gravitate toward the dry parts of your complexion while your concealer gets cakey. 

2. Apply Primer

Close-up of a model applying primer on her face using her hands

Not all primers are created equal, so to achieve the best results, it’s best to select the right primer for your skin type. We also rounded up the best primers according to Ipster reviews if you need help picking the perfect primer for your skin. “Apply primer in fine, sheer layers,” says Sesnek. If you use a heavy hand, the primer will start to ball or pill (not the look we’re going for). Instead, we focus a thin coat on our forehead, cheeks, and chin. “This allows it to blur and mattify in these areas (aka. the T-zone), which are usually the areas that are the oiliest.”

3. Grab Your Foundation and Concealer

Close-up of a model applying applying foundation on her cheeks while wearing a shimmery nude eyeshadow

Now that your skin is prepped and primed, you can start applying your makeup. While typically, you’d start with foundation first and then concealer, occasionally we reach for concealer first. If you’re unsure, our IPSY story on whether to apply foundation or concealer first is a great refresher.

We dab a few dots of foundation on the T-zone, focusing on the forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin. Next, we recommendusing a foundation brush to blend it in. While you can also certainly use a makeup sponge or even your fingers, using a foundation brush is quick and easy, making it a great option for beginners (and anyone who’s looking to simplify their makeup routine). To achieve a natural finish, start with a small amount of product and blend up and out. For more on that technique, check out our story on how to apply foundation with a brush.

Now that your foundation is applied, you’re ready to apply concealer. Focus on any areas you want to conceal: under the eyes, around the nostrils, and any blemishes or dark spots. When it comes to covering up, it’s important to dab, never drag. “When applying concealer, you never want to spread it, but always dab it in place, allowing it to saturate the area you are trying to cover,” says Castro.

Spot apply on blemishes and lightly dab, using either your ring finger, a concealer brush, or sponge. To conceal under the eyes, draw two inverted triangles under your eyes and blend the edges into the foundation by lightly dabbing. Not only is the upside-down triangle technique pretty foolproof, but it also brightens up the entire face. The end result? A gorgeous glow.

4. Set Your Base

Close-up of model applying setting powder on her nose using a black powder brush

We swipe a brush or velvet puff into your setting powder, and tap it to remove any excess. We always want to ensure that it’s evenly covered before applying it to the skin. Next, press it into your face to ensure you don’t move your makeup around in the application process. Focus on areas that often seem to need a touch-up throughout the day (typically the T-zone). If you have a special occasion or just want to create a more airbrushed finish, you could also “bake” your makeup. Check out our full baking tutorial if you want to perfect your technique.

5. Create Dimension

Close-up of a model applying contour below her cheeks

Contour comes in powder, liquid, and cream formulas, with powder being the most foolproof and therefore ideal for beginners. Using an angled brush, focus on the areas you want to create dimension. “I always like to start under the jawline first,” says Sesnek. Next, place contour under the cheekbones, around your hairline, and on the sides of your nose. “Contour takes a little longer to perfect but it makes a world of difference, especially in photos,” Sesnek adds. Check out our tips on contouring based on your face shape to take your glam to the next level.

If you’re still slightly intimidated by the idea of contouring, Sesnek recommends practicing with a bronzer. “Use a beige-y or non-orange matte bronzer to get your skills up,” he says. Apply the bronzer under the jawline, on the sides of the cheeks, and the perimeter of the forehead, just like you would with contour. The beauty of practicing with bronzer? “There is more wiggle room, as it tends to be more forgiving,” he adds.

When it’s time to apply highlighter, we recommend focusing on the “high” points of your face that the sun would naturally hit. “Adding highlighter above cheekbones, by the eyebrow arch, down the bridge of the nose and blending very well will give the most realistic dimension,” says Sesnek. While highlighter comes in a variety of forms, our team mostly opted for pressed powder highlighters when first learning to do makeup, since it’s the simplest for beginners to use. To apply, dip your brush in the product and tap it to remove excess powder. Next, lightly glide it over the high points mentioned above. If you’re not sure which one is right for you, check out a few of our favorite highlighters first.

6. Add Back Some Color

Close-up of a model applying blush on her cheeks

When selecting the right bronzer, be sure not to go more than a shade or two darker than your regular complexion (and don’t forget to check out some of our favorite bronzers). Once you have selected your shade, you’re ready to begin bronzing. Using a fluffy brush, blend bronzer around your hairline, on your cheekbones, and on your jawline. The easiest way to remember this? Just think of the number three. For a flawless application, draw a number three on your face, starting at your hairline and then continuing down to your cheekbones before rounding it out under your jawline. We’ve found that blending in circular, sweeping motions helps create a flawless finish, and dusting some on the bridge of the nose completes the look of a sun-kissed glow.

When it comes to blush, it’s best to select a hue that brings out your skin’s natural undertone (check out our favorite blushes for a little beauty inspo). Next, using a brush, apply blush to the apples of your cheeks to create a subtle, natural-looking flush, moving your brush in circular motions to blend as you go. “A foolproof way to apply blush is by smiling and dusting on the excess, allowing the brush to hug the cheek by brushing upwards,” says Castro.

7. Focus on Your Eye Makeup

Close-up of a model applying shimmery nude eyeshadow on her eyelids using a small brush

When it comes time to apply eye makeup, the choice is really yours. Do you want to create a natural makeup look for the day? A smokey eye for date night? Do you feel like trying your hand at the edgy negative space liner for drinks with friends? Depending on where you’re headed and what you plan on wearing, you can tailor your eye makeup to match your mood. Our rule of thumb is to always have eyeshadow, eyeliner, and mascara on hand—everything else is up to you.

Once you’ve applied your eyeshadow, you can move on to your eyeliner. “As a beginner, I would use a creamy, non-waterproof pencil closest to the lashes and start slowly until you become more comfortable applying eyeliner or adding wings or feline flicks,” says Sesnek. Keep Q-tips close by for fuss-free cleanup.

Brows deserve attention all on their own. You can either make your brows look fuller or enhance your natural shape using a variety of products, like brow pencils, powders, or gels. If you aren’t sure which product is right for you, stick to these guidelines: Use a pencil for the most natural-looking approach that mimics your real hair. Use a brow powder if you want to fill in sparse spots. And finally, whip out the brow gel when you need to keep unruly brows in place. “I personally use all three formulas, sometimes all on the same set of brows,” says Sesnek.

Castro’s favorite eyebrow formula is the combination of pencil and brow powder. “It simply adds dimension and the powder sets the pencil in place guaranteeing longevity and a more natural look,” he says. 

8. Swipe on Your Lip Products

Close-up of a model applying clear lip gloss on top of her nude lip color

If using a lip primer, prep lips before you begin. Next, use your lip liner to outline your mouth. We’ve been able to create the illusion of a larger pout by contouring, or lining slightly over our lips. Next, fill in your lips with liner. Use this as an outline and apply your lipstick. For more tips, check out our comprehensive guide to applying lipstick like a pro.

With these expert tips, the right products, and a little practice, you’re ready to take your makeup routine to the next level. It’s all about expressing your creativity and finding the look that makes you feel like the most confident version of you. Most importantly, remember that how to put on makeup properly starts with going at your own pace.

Want in on all the IPSY fun? 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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Article Last Updated March 3, 2023 12:00 AM