Ever since I came to own my first tube of clear Maybelline Great Lash eight years ago, makeup has been a part of my life. In grade school, I wasn’t allowed to wear it at all. Experimentation with my giant Markwins eyeshadow and lipstick palette — on sale at Robinsons-May, much to my middle school delight — was limited to late at night, and I slathered on blue eyeshadow and red lipstick with a singular determination.
By high school, I mostly saved makeup for the stage. I loved getting ready for shows. The eyeliner could be more dramatic, the blush rosier, and the lipstick darker. I almost never wore makeup to class, but there was something fundamentally satisfying about making my face look exactly the way I wanted it to before a performance or debate tournament. It was an act of creative expression, but it was also comforting.
Makeup is still a soothing hobby for me. With a blending brush in hand, time spent in front of the mirror feels meditative. I feel most beautiful when I’m doing my makeup. As Kevyn Aucoin notes in his game-changing 1997 book Making Faces, the first step to creating an effortlessly beautiful makeup look is understanding your own face. Makeup shows me myself. It allows me to contemplate my hooded eyelids, my thick brows, and the smattering of freckles on my forehead. When I do my makeup, my face ceases to be beautiful or ugly. It is simply my own canvas, and the products I apply to it allow me to make whatever face I want.
There’s still so much I can’t do and want to learn. I own very few high-end products, partly because I would rather spend my money on Starbucks and John Denver records, and partly because I’m satisfied with how many drugstore products work on my face. I’ll never be able to blend as well as I want, and my eyebrows will never be Instagram-worthy. That said, makeup is something I love. I spend time researching and playing with it, and that leads friends to occasionally ask for my advice about a technique or product. With these kinds of questions in mind, I wanted to start blogging in earnest with an overview of some basic makeup necessities and the specific brands I recommend. I’d like to do the same with skincare, and also dedicate entire posts to foundation or mascara or eyeshadow.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?
Step 0: Primer? Primer.
Primer is controversial. (Makeup, controversial? Hell yeah.) Some people will insist that you don’t need it, while others insist equally as passionately that you need it to fill in pores and mattify (or moisturize) your skin.
I, personally, prefer to use primer. My nose is very oily but my cheeks are very dry, so primer helps even everything out so that my foundation applies uniformly. My take: primer is helpful, but not necessary. You can achieve very similar effects with a rich moisturizer and/or your regular moisturizer mixed with a drop of skin-friendly oil like argan or rosehip oil.
I’m Rihanna garbage, so my current favorite primer is Fenty Beauty’s Pro Filt’r Instant Retouch Primer. I like it because while it’s dimethicone based, it’s not too slippery like some silicone primers. It evens out the texture of my skin, but it still feels moisturizing and almost tacky (in a good way). The texture reminds me of the similarly-priced Too Faced Hangover Replenishing Face Primer, which I’ve enjoyed samples of but never used for an extended period of time.
I’ve also had decent luck with Elf’s Mineral Primer and The Ordinary’s High Adhesion Silicone Primer. Elf is definitely easier to acquire, but if you need to hit the free shipping minimum at The Ordinary, the primer isn’t a bad choice.
Step 1: Choose Your Weapon
I want to preface this by saying that I definitely spent the majority of my life putting on all my makeup, not just foundation, with my fingers. I am not here to judge you for your application choices. But in the interest of even (and sanitary) application, I’m going to go ahead and discuss some of my favorite tools.
Most traditional “foundation brushes” look like something you’d find in a box of paintbrushes. I mostly use my old one to paint on face masks, because I’ve realized that sponges or other brushes do a better job of actually working the product into my skin.
In general, I tend to prefer a blending sponge. My favorite is the one from EcoTools, and the E.L.F. version is great too (it’s more bouncy and not quite as soft to the touch, so it depends on your preference).
Sponge Pros: Sponges are often the best way to achieve smooth, even blending and a natural finish.
Sponge Cons: Blending with a sponge feels like it takes about 8 million years. Also, sponges soak up more of the product than a brush might.
However, the Fenty Beauty launch’s inclusion of a foundation brush piqued my interest. I wasn’t ready to spend $30 on it, but if it was good enough for Rihanna, surely it could work for me. When I saw the EcoTools dupe at Target, I entered a fugue state. It appeared in my cart and nestled itself into my rotation without me even realizing it. My poor sponges have been collecting dust in favor of this fast, easy application method.
Brush Pros: Brushes help you apply a full-coverage layer of foundation fast af, and they’re easier to clean.
Brush Cons: Using a brush can turn into streak city if you’re not careful.
Step 2: You Haven’t Even Talked About Foundation Yet!
Okay, well, now I am. Foundation depends so heavily on your skin type and personal preferences, so I’m not even going to spend a lot of time talking about it here. I suggest you find someone on YouTube with a similar skin type and tone and start investigating their recommendations. For now, I’m just going to mention a couple things I’ve noticed as I’ve started experimenting with makeup more.
I don’t even know what my undertones are, to be honest. Personally, I think it’s most important to understand not just how your skin looks, but how you want it to look. I’ve used foundations which have leaned heavily pink in the past, and I’ve realized that I much prefer a product with neutral or yellow undertones. Similarly, if you have a deeper skin tone than mine, you’ll notice that products may pull red or gray on your skin. Finding a foundation and concealer with a more golden (neutral) undertone might be the remedy to an “off” tinge that you can’t quite put your finger on. (Have I mentioned Fenty foundation comes in 40 shades?)
Foundations will often be labeled as “matte,” “dewy,” or “natural” finish. This essentially refers to how shiny your skin will look after application. If you have skin that’s dry in some places and oily in others, like mine, a dewy or natural finish is usually a safe bet. The drier your skin is, the more important it is to make sure that a matte finish doesn’t cake up.
Like I mentioned, I have oily and dry places on my face, which means I have “combination” skin. I never really thought about it until I started wearing makeup more, but I realized I like how my foundation blends when I apply it primarily on the apples of my cheeks, my nose, my chin, and the center of my forehead. Then, I blend out into the outer areas of my face. You don’t have to apply a completely even layer if you don’t want to! (But if you do, go for it! That’s the beauty of makeup.)
Step 3: Conceal, Don’t Feel (Like You Have to Wear a Makeup Mask)
Concealing has moved from just a blemish-covering technique to a color correcting and highlighting tool. Every YouTube video you watch will include a carefully plotted, scientifically diagrammed application of concealer in a layer so thick it almost makes foundation redundant. Sometimes I do this, and sometimes I don’t. Dark circles are a PART OF YOUR FACE. If the only reason you feel compelled to cover them is because that’s what you see everyone else doing, then who cares! Conceal where YOU want to. The shadows under your eyes can add a natural allure to a smokey look and character to a light daytime application. Every scar and freckle isn’t just there to be covered. Wear no concealer at all, or conceal with precision to create a totally blank canvas. It’s completely up to you — not your favorite beauty vlogger. My favorite concealer is this one from Wet N Wild, hands down. It’s cheap, creamy, and perfect for concealing blemishes or dark circles.
So after these steps, which take about 1,400 words for me to describe but about three minutes in practice, your foundation has been laid. However, it’s also worth noting that some days you might not do all or most of these steps. Kevyn Aucoin preferred to use as little makeup as possible on his models, opting only for touches of concealer or sheer dustings of powder. Other artists love to start with a perfectly primed face. Whatever you decide, own it! I know you look beautiful — you always do!
I know this has been a lot, but we’re just getting started! In the next installment, I’ll be covering one of my most requested topics (no, seriously, the people want to know): contouring. I’ll see you then!