In Her Kit: A Top Celeb Makeup Artist Spills About All Her Favorite Products

Asking a celebrity makeup artist to show off his or her kit is an exercise in patience: It takes a lot of unpacking to see it all. We're talking suitcases stuffed with bags upon bags of makeup. And in the case of Kerry Washington's long-time makeup artist Carola Gonzalez, there's also an entire beauty closet of new launches to explore. But once you lay it all out and organize it, it's pure beauty gold.

Gonzalez's artistry and expansive product knowledge have deep roots. She's self-taught from the late Kevyn Aucoin's Making Faces book: Makeup was a necessary skill to learn during her early days as a model in Miami, back when even the supers had to do their own. Her natural talent couldn't be ignored, and soon she was getting booked as an MUA for photo shoots. Today, besides Washington, her celebrity clients include Leona Lewis, Rashida Jones, and Jaime King.

Gonzalez invited R29 into her West Hollywood home to document all the products that have made it into her suitcases. Then, we asked her for her favorite picks. Then, we asked her to rank those. The result? Makeup that could easily be called the best in the world. Click through for inspiration.

Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On the perfect red lipstick:
"Armani Lip Maestro in 400 [The Red]; that's the one I'm wearing. I'm more of a matte-lip girl, and this one, although it looks matte, feels like satin — and the color lasts forever. It's an amazing shade of red.

"And you can never go wrong with Ruby Woo by MAC. I like to try new shades of red on my clients, but if we're in a rush and I need to finish with a red lip quickly, it's going to be Ruby Woo. I don't have to think about it because it looks great on everyone."

Shop this slide:
Giorgio Armani Lip Maestro in The Red, $36.00 Buy
M·A·C Lipstick in Ruby Woo, $17.00 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On her top concealers:
"Clé de Peau is the king of concealers. Unfortunately it's expensive and doesn't come in a lot of colors, but if you can wear it, it gives you great coverage, [and] it’s silky on the skin — it’s like the caviar of concealers. I use the Hourglass concealer a lot; it's very similar to Clé de Peau, but it’s half the price. It gives the exact same coverage, but it's a little more dewy, so you have to set it.

"The Make Up For Ever Full Coverage is also great, because it gives you a lot of coverage with just a tiny drop. It's good for someone with really dark circles under their eyes. Urban Decay just sent me their Naked Skin Concealer. I don't normally like liquid concealers, but let me tell you, you get a lot of coverage from this and it feels really good on the skin. It's lighter coverage than the rest, but for someone who only wants sheer coverage it's great; it has an amazing powdery finish."

Shop this slide:
Make Up For Ever Full Cover Camouflage Cream, $32.00 Buy
Hourglass Hidden Corrective Concealer, $32.00 Buy
Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Complete Coverage Concealer, $28.00 Buy
Clé de Peau Beauté Concealer, $70.00 Buy
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Brightening Eye Perfector, $13.49 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On the best contour products:
"When I contour darker skin tones, I normally use Ben Nye Creme Shadow in Rich Brown. I apply it before I apply the foundation, and then I apply the foundation on top of the contour cream. If I need to accentuate it a little more, I set it with NARS Powder in Valley. For highlighter, I use Armani Fluid Sheer in No. 10. Those are my favorites. Honestly, there is nothing else out there like these for darker skin.

"Kevyn Aucoin's Sculpting Powder is the perfect shade for contouring light to medium skin tones. If you contour with this, then apply the Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Highlighter — it's pure magic. It's powder, but the highlighter looks great on the skin and doesn't feel powdery; it has a nice sheen and works better than most powder highlighters."

Shop this slide:
Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder, $44.00 Buy
Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze And Glow, $68.00 Buy
Ben Nye Creme Shadow Compact in Rich Brown, $18.00 Buy
NARS Valley Soft Velvet Pressed Powder, $36.00 Buy
Giorgio Armani Fluid Sheer in No. 10, $62.00 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On her kit staples:
"I love Chanel's long-wear eyeliner because that thing does not move! It glides on perfectly and you can blend it, but you have to move fast because once it sets, it's there. That's the best one if you need to count on it to last. But if I want something less intense, like if I want to do a soft smoky eye, I go for my Elizabeth Arden Pencil in Mulberry. It's the perfect shade — not too dark, not too light — and it blends really well. For me, makeup is all about the texture — how easy it is to manipulate and how it blends on the skin.

"I don't ever want a film of powder on my clients; I want it to be sheer, so I use MAC's Blot Powder. It's very sheer, and it gets the job done. I use Clarins skin mist if we are working for a long time and the makeup starts looking old. It's a great way to bring the makeup back to life."

Shop this slide:
M·A·C Blot Powder Pressed in Medium, $26.00 Buy
Chanel Long-Lasting Eyeliner in Noir Intense, $32.00 Buy
Elizabeth Arden Beautiful Color Smoky Eyes Pencil in Mulberry, $19.00 Buy
Clarins Fix Make-Up, $27.00 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On her favorite lip colors:
"For a bright-fuchsia lip, Blkr by NARS. I love the shade; it's one of my favorites. For a dark lip, I love Chanel's Rouge Noir or Charlotte Tilbury's Night Crimson, a wine, burgundy-ish color.

"I love color, so I tend to go toward a bold lip; that's my preference. If I do a nude lip, it's normally a pink-nude, not a beige-nude. For me, everything has to pop, even if it's subtle. If you look at my work, you don’t see a lot of beige notes. I like to use something that will bring you to life, ya know? For a pink-y nude, I use Tom Ford's Spanish Pink."

Shop this slide:
Chanel Rouge Allure Luminous Intense Lip Color In 109 Rouge Noir, $36.00 Buy
NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in 413 BLKR, $26.00 Buy
Tom Ford Lip Color in Spanish Pink, $52.00 Buy
Charlotte Tilbury K.I.S.S.I.N.G Lipstick In Night Crimson, $32.00 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On the best foundations:
"The look you want to achieve is the most important part of picking a foundation: dewy, matte, satin, etc. But it also has a lot to do with the color. There isn't a single brand that has every shade, so sometimes I have to leave the formula I want to use on a client because they don't have the right shade. But at the end of the day all these foundations are great, or they wouldn't be in my kit...

"Tarte's foundation is my favorite, and it's what I wear. It has a powder finish that isn't quite matte; it's still radiant. It feels like a liquid, but looks light, like a mousse. It doesn't make sense that it's radiant and matte, but somehow it [is]. It has great coverage, and you can build on it.

"If I want super-luminous skin, I go to Giorgio Armani, because that’s the one that gives the most radiance. The finish is beautiful; you’re going to glow. If I want sheer coverage, and they have your shade, I go to La Mer's tinted moisturizer, which is light but still has coverage. Another one that has lighter coverage and more colors is by Charlotte Tilbury.

"The Tom Ford foundation has great shades for darker skin tones; I use it on Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Kerry [Washington] can wear this brand as well. Hourglass Immaculate is amazing for a matte finish — you don’t even have to put powder on! It's great for if you're going to be out and about all day and night and don't have time for a touch-up.

"Kerry’s foundation is Marc Jacobs in Cocoa Light. It’s a light gel, and I love the way that it feels and blends on the skin."

Shop this slide:
Marc Jacobs Beauty Genius Gel Super-Charged Foundation, $48.00 Buy
Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Full Coverage Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15 Sunscreen, $39.00 Buy
Hourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation, $42.00 Buy
Tom Ford Beauty Traceless Foundation SPF 15, $80.00 Buy
Charlotte Tilbury Light Wonder Foundation, $45.00 Buy
La Mer The Reparative Skintint Broad Spectrum SPF 30, $95.00 Buy
Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation, $62.00 Buy
Beautyblender The Original Beautyblender, $20.00 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On how she learned to do makeup...
"When I was modeling in Miami, I often felt worse after I had gotten my makeup done than when I walked in with nothing on my face at all. I didn’t understand how a professional makeup artist could make me look worse, and make me feel ugly! Not that I was the most beautiful girl in the world, but isn’t makeup supposed to enhance your beauty? So I decided to learn how to do my own makeup, and bought Kevyn Aucoin’s Making Faces. I started practicing his techniques on my face, until I felt comfortable and sure of what I was doing. To tell you the truth, it was pretty easy; it felt like I knew what I was doing all along. After that, I got camera-ready before every job, and felt good, pretty, and secure in myself, which in the end is the most important, especially if you have to stand in front of a camera."

Shop this slide:
Kevyn Aucoin "Making Faces" by Kevyn Aucoin, $21.99 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On the newest bronzer technology:
"The bronzer I use on myself is by Sisley. There are powder bronzers [and] there are cream bronzers, but I love this because the finish is somewhere in-between, almost like a gel. I love the shade because it’s brownish, which makes [me] look tan. It doesn’t have an orange undertone, which a lot of bronzers do."

Shop this slide:
Sisley Paris Phyto-Touche Illusion D'Été Bronzer, $115.00 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On her personal makeup-bag favorites:
"My eyebrow pencil is by Dior, and I love it. You can make it light, or you can make it dark; it only comes in one universal color, and it really is great for anybody. I could use it on a blonde or a brunette, and can make the brows as light or as dark as I want [based on the pressure].

"[My lip balm] is actually a balm for cracked nipples, but I use it on chapped, dry, dehydrated lips. For me, it works better than any lip balm on the market.

"The Hourglass No. 7 Brush isn't really a foundation brush, but it’s my foundation brush. It’s so easy: I put a few drops on the brush, just buff it on. It looks really natural; this brush is the bomb because of the texture it gives your skin."

Shop this slide:
Kevyn Aucoin The Sculpting Powder, $44.00 Buy
Lansinoh HPA Lanolin, $6.59 Buy
Hourglass No. 7 Finishing Brush, $65.00 Buy
Dior Diorshow Brow Styler Ultra-Fine Precision Brow Pencil, $29.00 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On doing Washington's makeup:
"Kerry is a spokesperson [for Neutrogena], so every time I create a look I am very true to using Neutrogena. I create looks based on what I can do with their products, because at the end of the day I put myself in the audience's shoes. When I like something, I want to know what product it is — and I want to know the truth! I don't want to lie, which happens in the industry all the time.

"The things I use most are the shadow compact in Coco Mauve, the blushes in Flushed and Vibrant, and the lipsticks. I use Plum and Raison the most, and I use Warm Caramel, too, which I used for her at the Golden Globes last year. The mascara is pretty gentle, and I use the cloths a lot, too. The concealer pen is great for touch-ups during the day.

"They don't have a match for her skin, so for foundation I use the Genius Gel by Marc Jacobs in Cocoa Light, or the Tom Ford Traceless Foundation — that's my second pick for Kerry."

Shop this slide:
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Blush, $7.99 Buy
Neutrogena Lip Color Stick, $7.99 Buy
Neutrogena Healthy Skin Brightening Eye Perfector, $13.49 Buy
Neutrogena Nourishing Long Wear Eye Shadow, $9.49 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On her go-to mascaras:
"Mascaras are tricky. They can look great when you apply them, then all of a sudden they're smearing or flaking — it's like they start to fall apart. [Finding ones that work] has been my biggest challenge.

"I found Sisley’s, but it’s very expensive. For the people who can afford it, it's my number-one suggestion. My number-two is the CoverGirl LashBlast; it's the bomb... But I also like Neutrogena's formula, because it's really good for sensitive eyes. It's a softer, more natural look.

"A good tip for a full lash is to curl your lashes and apply a coat of mascara, then brush through it with a second, clean mascara wand. Do that like five times, or until you reach your desired volume. Don't let it dry between coats, though, or it will get clumpy. You'll see the biggest difference. I'm wearing, like, six coats today."

Shop this slide:
Sisley Paris So Intense Mascara, $67.00 Buy
COVERGIRL LashBlast Volume Mascara, $7.49 Buy
Neutrogena Healthy Volume Mascara, $8.99 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On faux lashes:
"I'm in love with these new Double Individuals lashes; they put two individual lashes together so you get way more volume. I can't even use regular lashes now; I need these for all my clients! To apply them, do one coat of mascara, then just pop them in where there are empty spaces. Then, you have to curl your lashes again, but very slightly, because you don't want to over-curl them; aim for about 25% of the curl you normally go for."

Shop this slide:
Duo Clear Eyelash Adhesive, $6.99 Buy
Ardell Double Individual Medium Lashes, $4.99 Buy
Velour Lashes Lashes, $30.00 Buy
Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On vetting new products:
"I try them on myself. I really can't try new things on my clients until I've tried them. I need to know how they feel on the skin, what the texture is like, and how my skin reacts. If my skin is happy and I like it, I finish it [and then get it for my clients]; if not, I move on to trying something else."

Photographed by Katie McCurdy.
On what separates a good product from a bad one:
"There are so many products out there, and they all have a function, so the trick is to understand the function — because, at the end of the day, that's what is going to allow you to get the result you're looking for. Unfortunately, the consumer doesn’t get to try it all. We experience it all as professionals, but the consumer doesn't, because who has the money to try everything? The most important things to look for are the finish, the texture, and how easy it is to work with."
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!
Show More Comments...