Build Your Makeup Kit: The Ultimate Guide


Being well organized is essential. Whether you’re a minimalist whose makeup kit rarely holds more than a lipstick and powder or a working makeup artist who routinely totes around a complete collection of cosmetics, it takes a plan.


Home Makeup

Organize your makeup either in your bathroom drawer, on top of the counter, or in a box. Keep basics and items used only occasionally separate. At least twice a year make sure your colors and formulas are working. Basics include:

  • Concealers and correctors
  • Foundation or tinted moisturizer
  • Powder (two colors)
  • Eye shadow (three to four basic colors)
  • Eyeliner (powder and gel)
  • Mascara
  • Blush (powder or cream)
  • Lipstick, gloss, lip pencil

Everyday Bag

Pack the following essentials in a small bag:

  • One or two palettes that contain your foundation, concealer, blush, and lip color
  • A compact of pressed powder with a mirror
  • A basic eye palette—the smaller the better
  • Mini mascara
  • Lip gloss
  • Mini brushes
  • Small sample sizes of face cream

Evening Bag

Tiny purses don’t lend themselves to toting around lots of products, so you need to be selective. Pack the following items:

  • Lipstick or gloss
  • Lip pencil
  • A powder compact
  • Customizable face palette (containing
  • concealer, foundation, blush)
  • Mini perfume
  • Breath mints

In Your Desk Drawer

It’s worth investing in duplicates of your makeup kit to keep in your office to freshen up before a big meeting or for reapplying if you need to go straight out after work. These basics include the following items:

  • Concealer
  • Foundation
  • Pressed powder (with mirror)
  • Blush
  • Lip balm, lip color, and/or gloss
  • Black eyeliner and white or silver eye shadow to create an evening eye
  • Mini brushes
  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste set


Collect deluxe samples from makeup counters-they are perfect for travel.

In Your Gym Bag

After a workout, you will want to clean your face and start your makeup from scratch. So be sure to bring the following items to the gym:

  • Face-cleansing cloths
  • Moisturizer
  • Customized face palette, or at least a tinted moisturizer, lip color or gloss, and mascara

For Travel

Keep your travel kit packed at all times so you never have to worry about arriving somewhere only to realize you’ve left something important in your bathroom cabinet. Invest in several small plastic bottles, label them, and fill them with your essentials. Purchase mini brushes, mascara, and a small eye palette. Include the following items:

  • Travel-size shampoo and conditioner
  • Body and facial moisturizers
  • Makeup palettes with all your basics
  • Mini mascara
  • Face powder, bronzer (great for the travel weary)
  • Self-tanner
  • Lipstick or gloss
  • A brush roll of travel-size brushes
  • Tweezers
  • Hairbrush and hair spray
  • Perfume in a mini or compact version
  • Perfumed body creams are also great


Brushes make all the difference in makeup application and in your makeup kit. Everyone from the most skilled makeup artist to the woman who wears only the basics can benefit from using the right tools. Consider investing in at least a few key brushes. High-quality blush, eye shadow, eyebrow, and eyeliner brushes are basic. Good brushes are not hard to find. Look at those made by makeup artists’ lines as well as less expensive versions available at beauty and art supply stores. To find out which brushes you need and which ones are good quality, familiarize yourself with a variety of styles, shapes, and bristle types.

Assessing Brush Quality

Before purchasing brushes, you have to know what you are looking for and which brushes are worthwhile investments. Assess the quality of a brush by testing the way the bristles feel against the skin and by running your fingers through the bristles to make sure that they don’t shed. It’s important to test how a brush feels when you hold it in your hand. It needs to feel comfortable and easy to maneuver.


Brush Size

The brushes that come with most makeup compacts are too small and narrow for proper blush application. Toss them and use a brush designed specifically for that purpose instead.

Natural Bristles

Natural bristles (such as squirrel, goat, pony, or sable) are very soft and offer a more blended, natural application. They’re best for working with powder-based products—blush, powder, and eye shadow.

Synthetic Bristles

Synthetic bristles are the best choice for brushes that will be used with creamy products, such as concealer, gel liners, and lip colors. They are generally stiffer than natural hair, so they give you greater control and a more precise application.

Tool Guide

This alphabetized glossary describes the different types of brushes as well as other tools you might want to keep in your kit. It will help you decide what brushes work best for a specific need or technique.


This needs to be wide enough to cover the apple of the cheek. The bristles should be soft, natural hair with beveled and curved edges.


This is thicker and fuller than a blush brush and has a flat profile. It is designed for sweeping and pressing bronzer over cheeks, forehead, nose, and chin to provide natural-looking warmth to the skin.


A brush with stiff, short bristles cut on an angle. Designed for applying shadow to the brows. Look for a synthetic/natural blend of bristles, as the 100 percent synthetic brushes are too stiff and don’t deposit color as effectively.


This is for brushing brows into place. It has stiff bristles cut straight across, like a toothbrush.


This should have firm but soft bristles that aren’t too hard or scratchy, since the brush will be used on the delicate skin under the eyes. Look for a brush with glossy synthetic hairs, as these slip along the skin. The ends of the bristles should be tapered to help you place concealer in hard-to-reach spots, such as the inner corners of the eyes, and apply stick foundation to cover any redness around the nose.


A soft, fluffy, natural-hair brush with long bristles designed to blend eye shadow and eliminate lines of demarcation on the lids after applying multiple shades. It is also great for applying powder to set corrector, concealer, or foundation around the eyes or over blemish cover.


A round, flat-head, natural-hair brush. Short, dense bristles apply a greater amount of shadow in the crease to contour the eye.


A wide, flat-head brush that can gently sweep eye shadow color over the entire lid, from the lash line to the brow bone.


Wide enough to cover about half the eyelid. This brush has natural, soft, rounded bristles with beveled edges that deposit a sweep of shadow across the lower lid without leaving any harsh lines.


A small-head brush with a slightly rounded point. This brush has soft, flexible bristles that help smudge liner to create a smoky look.


This has straight, stiff (often plastic), fine teeth and is designed to separate lashes immediately after applying mascara (while the lashes are still wet). Mascara wands work just as well and are more convenient.


Look for a basic metal version with rubber pads. An eyelash curler shapes lashes into a natural-looking curl. Replace pads regularly. To avoid breakage, always curl the lashes before applying mascara.


This small brush has very short, dense bristles cut on an angle. It is designed to use with shadow to strengthen thin brows or as an alternative to an eyeliner brush.


With flat, dense, synthetic bristles that are slightly rounded at tip, this brush can be used wet or dry to apply a precise line at the lash line.


The bristles on this small brush are synthetic, dense, and curve to a point. Perfect for the precise application of liquid or gel eyeliner.


A natural or synthetic brush used to deposit shimmer, bronzer, powder, or blush.


A natural or synthetic fluffy, curved brush that can be used to apply bronzer, blush, or powder.


Synthetic bristles in this full, flat-edged brush deposit just the right amount of foundation onto the skin.


Firm, long bristles come to a slightly pointed tip. This brush allows for the precise placement of lip color. Bristles can be either synthetic or natural.


A natural-hair, large, fluffy brush with soft bristles that bevel to a slight point (for navigating around the nose and under the eyes). Designed for use with both looseand pressed powders.


Using Your Fingers

Nothing beats the warmth of the fingers to blend makeup into the skin. Lipstick can be blotted onto the lips to create a stain effect. Face cream, balm, or oil rubbed between both palms and then gently pressed onto cheeks adds moisture and a youthful glow to the face. I use my hands to warm concealers, blend foundation, and mix lip shades together. I also use my hands to work makeup into the face so that the makeup feels like a part of the skin and not like a mask.


A velour puff that’s about the size of your palm. Designed to press powder onto the face to lock foundation in place. Can be hand washed or tossed in the dishwasher (at least once a week).


Disposable sponges are invaluable. Wedge-shaped ones are great for applying foundation around the nose and other hard-to-reach places, as well as for blending. Don’t bother washing them—toss dirty ones, and take a new one. Higher-quality sponges can be washed and reused many times.


Short, firm, natural-bristled brush used with foundation for spot touch-ups and for hard-to-reach areas around the nose and mouth. This brush can also be used to touch up concealer and apply eye shadow.


It’s well worth investing in a good pair. Look at the Tweezerman or Rubis brands. Tweezers that are angled at the tip are easier to control than those that come to a sharp point. Always cover tweezers’ tips with the included rubber cap when they are not in use.


Has your signature fragrance or favorite lipstick disappeared from the market? This happens for any number of reasons. It is possible that the product was not selling well, or it has been reformulated to meet new standards. Discontinued beauty products are available if you know where to look. Use the Internet to do your research. Visit the company’s Web site first. There will generally be information available on discontinued products. Estée Lauder, for example, publishes item closings in advance on their Web site so that consumers can stock up. Specialty Web sites, outlets, and online auctions often carry these cosmetics and fragrances. Do be aware of expiration dates, however. Cosmetics have a limited shelf life and should not be used after the expiration dates posted by the manufacturer.

Finally, if you just can’t locate your old favorite, make a plea. Either e-mail or write a personal letter asking the company to bring it back. Companies listen closely to their customers, and it is not unusual for specific colors or products to be resurrected thanks to consumer demand. At the very least, you will get a response from the company, usually providing reasons for the closing and often samples of similar products for you to try.

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