Sunscreen is a must. Either built in to the foundation or tinted moisturiser, or used underneath. As high an SPF as possible. Be careful of built-in sunscreens, some aren't anywhere near as good as a product intended solely for sun protection can be.
Foundation and Primer
Test several types of foundation. Even if your skin is smooth and near-perfect, foundation helps other makeups stick properly. A good foundation will either feel good on your skin, or feel like nothing at all once it's dried.
If your skin isn't near-perfect, a foundation will usually smooth out the colours of your skin and leave you with a much more even-looking skin tone. It can also reduce the visibility of broken capillaries or other blemishes.
Go to many makeup counters, and get the staff there to apply foundation, telling them you're trialling foundations. Leave the foundation on at least half the day, and keep notes on what they feel like and look like. (If you prefer ethical stuff, research which makeup companies you want to use before you start testing.)
There's also primer, which is usually a cream and it helps keep foundation and other makeup on your skin. It doesn't colour your skin. I'm not aware of primers which include sunscreen, but if I found one I'd be on it in a flash.
- primer only.
- primer then foundation. Any foundation type.
- no primer. Primer is optional, and many people don't use it or don't like it. When trialling foundations, if the company has primer, have them put primer on one side and no primer on the other.
- Tinted moisturisers. These have the least colour, but will smooth the appearance of your skin to some extent. If you want to hide broken capillaries or other blemishes, use a concealer under them. Many have sunscreen built in.
- Cream foundations. Colour in a cream. Many include sunscreen, some are their own primer.
- Mineral powder foundations. Colour in a powder. The powder often acts as a barrier-type sunscreen, which is the highest SPF possible. However, to get the barrier effect, you need to apply enough powder to completely cover your skin. Many people love powder foundation - including me. Since purchasing it, my skin has become less tanned (great!) and I need to replace mine with the next shade paler.
- 'face powder'. Some people get shiny-faced with a cream foundation, and this is just a coloured powder in a matching shade. Face powder isn't intended for covering facial colouration or blemishes, but is great for making a shiny face look more naturally matte.
When testing your foundations, if you mention an interest in concealers, you'll discover many blemishes, marks, and variations in skin tone you never noticed in your own face. The makeup sales staff will have concealers in a bewildering variety of colours and intensities of concealment. Decide which, if any, blemishes or colour variations you actually want to hide, and use whichever concealer/s hide them to your satisfaction. The rest of the markings you can consider of no more significance than the unique patterns of colouring in your pets' fur. They make you you, and not some photoshopped barbie doll.
To start with, buy an inexpensive kit with lots of colours - there are always some around. You'll play with them, and decide which colours suit you best, and what types you like to use.
There are a lot of options in colour and shape. For eyebrows alone, you can dye them, or use eyebrow pencils, or eyebrow powders. You can pluck them or leave them natural, or even take them off completely. And there's no 'right' way, it's all to your personal taste. That's just the eyebrows!
Colour and shape is all down to your artistic choice. I'll speak more about colour and shape in the section on application.
In Australia, there are a couple of companies that produce makeup tools aimed at the low-middle end of the market. They do reasonably good tools, certainly good enough to get started with. There are probably similar companies elsewhere.
- Pick up a sponge set for creamy sunscreens, primers or foundations. You'll learn which shape and type of sponge suits you best as you try them, so if there's a bag of mixed types, go for that as your first sponge purchase.
- Pick up a big brush to use for powder foundation, face powder, or blushes. If you chose two or three of those, buy two or three big brushes.
- Pick up a stiff-bristled brush for eyebrow powder, if you want to try that.
- Pick up a set of eyeshadow sponges and a thick and thin eyeshadow brush, if you can get both sponges and brushes cheaply. You'll decide which you prefer after you've used them for a while. Otherwise, get the brushes - most eyeshadows come with sponges. Lousy sponges, but good enough to decide if you want to get your own later.
- Pick up an eyeliner brush, some people love them, some hate them. You won't know until you try.
- Pick up a lipstick brush. I've never met someone who started using them who didn't love them.
Personally, I use baby shampoo (no more tears!) to remove makeup. You need to use something that will take even waterproof mascaras and long-lasting lipsticks off, but honestly I've found soap or shampoo gets rid of almost all makeup. The shampoo is gentler on my skin and eyes than soap, so I use that. When I brush my teeth, I also brush my lips lightly. That gets rid of lipstick and any dry, chapped skin on my lips.
Sales staff will promote the virtues of their cleansers - frankly, use what works and leaves your skin in good condition. Even if it's soap or shampoo.
Skin that has been stripped of its sebum by soaps and cleansers needs replacement sebum. Myself, I use a vegetable-oil based massage oil (or even olive oil from the supermarket). I put a few drops on my palms, and lightly rub it over my skin. An avocado mask is also an excellent sebum-replacer. Peel an avocado badly (so you keep avocado on the inside of the peel), eat the yummy bit, smear the skin with the avocado and avocado oil inside the peel. Wash the avocado off your face with water when you're sick of it sitting there.
I never exfoliate my face with anything more harsh than a facecloth. All you need to remove are the actual flaking-off cells - the rest of the dead cells are supposed to be a protection for the living cells underneath.
I clean my brushes and sponges with either soap or baby shampoo, rinse them with water, and leave them where they'll dry thoroughly. I ensure the brushes are placed so the bristles will dry smoothly and in the right position.
If you use natural bristle brushes, a weekly smear with a light massage oil or a little bit of olive oil from the kitchen will help keep them in good shape. Put a drop in your palm and lightly brush each side of the brush over your palm. Start with the big brushes, you don't want a whole drop of oil on a tiny brush! With the big brushes, work the bristles lightly with your fingers, to try to spread the oil over the whole brush.
When to throw things out
Never keep an opened mascara longer than 3 months. (For this reason, I don't bother to use mascara. I don't use it often enough.)
Liquid eyeliner also touches very close to the eye. Toss that every three months too. Pencil eyeliner is less vulnerable to bacterial propagation, as every time it's sharpened the outer layer gets taken off.
Get rid of any cream that looks like it's separated, or that has started to smell.
Get rid of any lipstick with a taste or texture that's changed from how it started out.
Get rid of anything that's a different colour from how it was when it was new.
Powders and pressed powders (like eyeshadows) last longer, but don't use anyone else's, and don't use them if they look, smell or feel 'off' or odd.
You can see lots of different 'when to discard' articles on the 'net. Some will say to get rid of even your powders every six months. Other than mascara or eyeliners, I'm not that vigilant - if I was, I'd never use any makeup! I certainly don't use anything often enough to use it up in six months, and I won't buy things that are mostly wasted.
- Always use hygiene and courtesy when you're using testers.
- If there are applicators provided, take your sample with the applicator, and don't reuse an applicator that's been on your skin. This is usually how blushes and concealers are tested.
- If a foundation is in a common-use tester, apply the foundation to the base of your cheek, where the jawbone is. You can check how well it matches the base shade of your skin, and still stay clear of your eyes, mouth and nose.
- Test lipstick shades with the skin on your hand, usually the skin between your wrist and thumb. Never use a tester lipstick that's available for common use on your lips.
- If you want to test a lipstick on your lips, go to a makeup counter where the staff apply the makeup. They put a sample of the lipstick into a clean dish, and then apply it from the dish with a disposable brush. That level of hygiene is necessary.
- The hygiene rules for your lips are even more important for your eyes. Common use eyeshadow, eyeliner or mascara never goes onto your eyes. Always test the shades on your arm - usually the underside of your arm is a decent approximation for your eyelid colour.
- If staff are applying eye makeup for you, ensure they use the dish-and-disposable-applicator method. If they don't, leave. You don't want an eye infection!
- Anything applied by putting a sample into a clean dish and using a disposable applicator is safe. For any common-use tester, use an unbroken stretch of skin that is not near your eyes, nose, or mouth.
- If you're using testers yourself, only use enough to determine whether you like the product.
- At a makeup counter where staff apply the testers for you, it's generally good manners to at least consider making a purchase. The company is investing staff time and makeup on you, and deserves to have you be a real prospect. However, I have a personal rule: I'm honest with the sales staff and tell them the reason for my visit. If they know that I'm intending to try at least a dozen foundations, they can choose for themselves how much time to spend on a one-in-twelve chance that I'll buy from them.
If I ask for a full makeup test, or ask them to teach me how to do a particular look, I feel it's only fair to buy at least one thing from them, usually more.
However, if they take it on themselves do to a full makeup, then whether or not I buy anything depends on how nice they are, how I like the product, and what my finances are like. I've let them know my intention, and I'll remind them a couple of times, but some people are just pushy. I'll buy from the nice ones who are trying to share with me something they like or think will help me, but the pushy ones don't get anything.
Wash your hands and face. Always use clean hands to apply makeup, and apply onto a clean face. Baby shampoo or mild soap is fine.
If your hairstyle is going to go over your face anywhere, brush your hair back and use pins, a hair elastic, or a hairband to keep it out of your way. Do your hair after the makeup.
If your hairstyle isn't going to go over your face, do it either before or after the makeup as you prefer. Keep it out of your face while you're applying the makeup, though.
If the sunscreen isn't built in to your makeup, apply the sunscreen. Blend it in to the hairline, actually in among the hair. Make sure to apply it thickly enough to do you good - instructions will be on the bottle.
Follow the sales staff's instructions. There are so many concealers, and so many methods of application, that I can't be more precise.
Foundation, primer and/or tinted moisturiser: creams
Squeeze some of the cream into the palm of your off hand or into a clean dish. How much depends on how thickly you like using it - if you don't know, start with a bit the size of an Australian 20c piece or an American quarter. Using your dominant hand, dab your finger into the cream on your palm and smear that onto the tip of your nose, then another dab's worth into the middle of your forehead, another onto each cheek, and the rest onto your chin.
Get a sponge, and using smooth strokes of the sponge, spread each of the five dabs into their area of the face - nose and its immediate surrounds, forehead, chin and mouth, and each cheek area. Spread it right into the hairline. Then pat the sponge lightly over each eye area, getting foundation onto the eyelids and the skin between eyelids and eyebrows. Pat the sponge over your lips, you'll want some foundation or primer on your lips for lipstick.
Finally, stroke the sponge along your ears, the underside of your chin, down and around your neck, and along your decolletage all the way to beneath the neckline of the shirt or dress you'll be wearing. The point of this is to blur the edge of your makeup - you don't want a noticeable line where the makeup stops.
Tap a bit into the lid of the powder container, or a clean dish or bowl. How much depends on how thickly you like using it - if you don't know, start with a bit the size of an Australian 20c piece or an American quarter.
Using your powder brush (you bought one, right?), dab the brush into the powder and brush it lightly onto the tip of your nose, then another dab's worth into the middle of your forehead, another onto each cheek, and the rest onto your chin.
Using smooth strokes of the brush, spread each of the five dabs into their area of the face - nose and its immediate surrounds, forehead, each cheek area, chin and mouth. Spread it right into the hairline. Then pat the brush lightly over each eye area, getting foundation onto the eyelids and the skin between eyelids and eyebrows.
Finally, stroke the brush along your ears, the underside of your chin, down and around your neck, and along your decolletage all the way to beneath the neckline of the shirt or dress you'll be wearing. The point of this is to blur the edge of your makeup - you don't want a noticeable line where the makeup stops.
If you run out of powder at any stage, add more to the dish and lightly touch the brush to the powder.
The fun part.
Study your face, and think about what part of your face gets the most compliments. Maybe you have amazing eyes. Maybe your lips are perfect. Maybe you love your high cheekbones, or the shape of your jaw, or the curve of your eyebrows. Maybe you have two or more features you love. Those are the features you'll highlight.
It's usually a good idea to only go all-out on one feature. Strong eye makeup and bright red lipstick can be too 'busy', with each distracting the viewer from the other. Even worse, it can make you look cheap. Make it a rule: go all-out on one feature, and make all the rest only an enhancement of nature. It's the makeup equivalent of Coco Chanel's rule:
When you're done dressing, you should look in the mirror and take one thing off before you leave the house.
Before you start playing with colour, look at people. Not in magazines or on TV, look at people in the street or at the mall. In magazines and on TV, eyebrows are evenly coloured all the way along, and never meet in the middle. Real people have eyebrows that thin on the outer edge, and some meet in the middle. Models seem to have perfectly symmetrical lips and relatively even upper and lower lips. People in the street or shopping malls don't. Magazines portray people with smooth, even skin and delicate lines of blush precisely placed wherever the current fashion is. In the street you see people with cheek colourations ranging from none at all to the entire cheek a dusky rose set in an alabaster-pale face. (I've only seen the extreme version of rose-cheek/pale skin in one person, but I've seen a lot of less extreme versions of it.)
Now you can look at magazines and TV. Look at how differently the professional make-up artists colour different people. A dark-haired dark-eyed woman might get smokey eyes and rich, deep colours; while a pale-skinned redhead is more likely to get a pastel look. However, even the pale-skinned redhead can have smokey eyes, they just have to be a different sort of smokey.
Use the professional looks to see what's likely to be possible on you, and to see what's less likely but are looks you love. Use your research in the streets and at shopping malls and other public places to see what you can really expect, and to see what's normal and human and doesn't require professional techniques, lighting, camera work and photoshopping to achieve.
Colour: main face & blush
There are three reasons to add colour to the main part of the face (as in, not the eyes, lips and eyebrows). One is face painting - playing with adding colour in unexpected places, or intentionally painting ourselves with butterflies or the colours of our favourite sports team.
The second is to simulate or enhance natural colouration. People with little natural colour on the cheeks, chin or forehead may prefer to add some, or those with colour may want to vary the intensity or tone of theirs. If this is your goal, look for people with a base skin tone similar to yours, notice where they have colour and what shade it is, and play with putting similar shades of powder on the same places in your face. Or if you prefer, just use the blushes in your colour kit, or testers in a store, and play with putting blush on your face until you find a configuration you like.
Applying blush to enhance natural colouration is an art - you just do it until you like it.
The third reason is to enhance or highlight contours. This requires subtlety.
The human face is usually lit from above - this is why as teenagers we hold a torch beneath our face to make it look spooky. However, holding a torch beneath your face is a good exercise for learning what our face contours are.
Study your face in many kinds of light, and also with a torch under it. Notice the cheekbones, the jawline, the lines between the nose and the mouth, the shadowing and highlighting around the eyes.
The basic rule to enhance a contour is this: apply light colour to the place where you want it to look like light is falling directly onto it, and darker colour to the place that you want to look shadowed.
If you decide to use lipliner, one good technique is to put a dot each on the two points of the 'cupid's bow' at the top of your top lip, a dot each at each side of the lower lip below the 'cupid's bow' points, and a dot near each of the four corners of the lip. Then look at yourself in the mirror, and wash off and redraw any dots which look wrong to you. Then join the dots.
Lipliner should be on the edge of the coloured part of the lip - don't go past that, it'll look odd. You can apply lipliner as a drawn line around the edge of the lip, or all over the coloured lip - it's your choice. I often use it as a base layer of lipstick, covering my whole lip with it.
Use your lip brush to paint lipstick on your lips: on the coloured part, and if you used lipliner, right over most of the liner. Don't leave yourself with a blatantly obvious line: that only looks good on drag queens.
To make lipstick last, do several light layers of lipstick. Apply the lipstick, pat it with a tissue, apply another layer, pat with a tissue, repeat. Three times is a good minimum.
To prevent lipstick from sticking on your teeth, wrap a tissue around your finger, stick the tissue-clad finger into your mouth, close your lips around it, and pull it out. That will remove the lipstick that would have stuck to your teeth.
Your eyebrows have a natural line and colour to them. Try to mostly match this line and colour: it will be most appropriate to your face. (Unless you're doing a dramatic look like a Gothic or Punk look, then you can do whatever you want.)
Hold a pencil (or a brush) up beside your nose, vertically. The eyebrow should start about where the pencil crosses the eyebrow line.
Hold the pencil beside the base of your nose, tilt it so that it crosses the eye at the outer corner. Your eyebrow should end about where it crosses the eyebrow line.
Use the eyebrow colour to thicken or darken any thin parts of your natural eyebrow between those two points.
If you're using a powder, just lightly brush it where you need it. Rather than dumping a lot on at once, lightly brush it once, look at it, brush it again if it's not dark enough, and keep repeating until it looks even with your naturally darker sections of eyebrow.
If you're using a pencil, draw thin, short lines. Try to mimic what eyebrow hairs look like, and the angle of those hairs.
There are many, many ways to colour your eye area. I'll describe a classic 3-shade method.
Start by making sure you have a little primer and/or foundation on the eye area. This will help the colour stick.
Using eyeliner, draw a line around the rim of your eyes, just above or on the brow line. If you're going for a natural look, make this a thin line of a colour similar to your eyelash shade, and either leave the lower lid bare or have a line that starts thick at the outside and fades down to nothing. If you're going for a dramatic look, this line can be thicker - as thick as you want it.
For the eyeshadow, use a brush, sponge or your finger, as you feel most comfortable.
Apply the palest eyeshadow shade you intend to use over the whole upper eyelid area, all the way up to the eyebrow. If you wish, apply some below the eye itself: especially on the outer edge.
Apply a median shade on the eyelid and the fold, letting it go onto the upper eyelid area but leaving the most prominent part of the brow bone pale. Let it smudge in the outer corner of the eye.
Apply the darkest shade on the eyelid itself, and smudged slightly into the outer corner of the eye.
If you want to use a fourth shade, have an even darker shade which you apply only into the fold itself. Or you can have an even paler shade, which you apply in a vertical stripe along the very centre where the brow bone and eyelid are most prominent.
Using a brush, sponge, or your fingers, smudge all the shadow colours so they're blended into each other.
Apply mascara with a mascara wand. Pull the wand out of the mascara tube, brush off the excess mascara on the end onto the edge of the tube or onto a clean tissue. Lightly stroke the wand along your eyelashes. Put the wand back into the tube, pull it out again, wipe the excess off, stroke the wand along the eyelashes on your other eye. Repeat until you like the look of your eyelashes. Use lots of light applications, rather than one thick one. And never 'pump' the wand into the tube, that introduces air into the mascara and can make it go off more quickly.
Look: enhancement of nature
To have a look that's very natural, search for lipstick, foundation, blushes and eyeshadows in colours that are already on your skin. If you study your skin, you'll see that you actually have a lot of different shades, especially around your eyes.
Once you have these, apply them lightly.
For a less natural and more 'enhanced' look, choose your eyes or your lips (or some other feature), and apply your makeup a little more strongly there - or in a colour that's a bit stronger than your natural shades.
Decide on one feature, usually your eyes or your lips, and apply makeup in very strong shades on that feature. Use strong shades on other features, but not quite as strong as those on your chosen feature.
For smokey eyes, use dark grey (not black) eyeliner and apply it heavily, apply the mascara strongly, and use eyeshadow colours that range from charcoal-dark to mid-shades. People with darker skin can use darker colours, alabaster-pale redheads should make their smokey eyes in middle tones.
For lips, use a very strong shade of lipstick and definitely use lipliner.