Beauty For Beginners: A Cheat Sheet

Are you a complete newbie when it comes to makeup? Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. This is a judge-free zone where you can learn about tips and products that will help get you started on the beauty basics. Many people struggle to know where to begin when it comes to makeup. Teenagers have to follow parents’ and teachers’ (sometimes strict) rules; older women might be embarrassed to be starting later in the game; and as anyone can attest, there’s so many products available at every price point, that it can be overwhelming.
Whether you need to figure out how to do your makeup for prom, want to start looking more pulled-together at work, or have a young daughter/niece/granddaughter/sister who needs a bit of help, this slideshow is here to guide you. We put together a roundup of the best starter beauty products at both low and high price points, as well as handy tips on how and why to apply them.
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Before we get to the makeup, however, it’s important to first talk about skin care. Oftentimes, people turn to makeup as a solution for their skin woes, but makeup can only do so much. It’s always a good idea to take care of your skin as best you can first and foremost. It will allow you to feel more confident without makeup, and it will provide a better base for makeup when you do wear it. If you have skin issues like acne or rosacea, you should see your dermatologist before doing anything else — especially since they can often recommend what types of makeup to wear and avoid.
Other than that, most people should keep on hand the following skin-care products: makeup remover (whether it be wet facial towelettes or a liquid remover), a cleanser that is suitable for your skin type, a moisturizer (even those with oily skin can benefit from a light moisturizer), and of course, a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 to be worn daily to protect your skin from the sun. Makeup removers and cleansers are important for preventing breakouts and eye infections, while a good moisturizer can help you avoid flaky dry patches and uneven makeup coverage. A gentle chemical exfoliant (one that includes BHAs or AHAs) can also help to create a smoother surface for makeup.
Once you have a good skin-care routine going, it’s time to have some fun. After all, makeup should never feel like a chore or something you have to do for others. Experiment to see what you like. Don’t worry if you’re not sure about spending the money on something because there are options: You can find many affordable dupes at the drugstore, get free samples (just ask!) or cheaper travel sizes from Sephora and many makeup counters, and usually return most beauty products to Sephora or CVS.
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You can also discover new products by signing up for a monthly beauty subscription service like Ipsy or a beauty product swap with other women. And remember: The Internet is teeming with information about beauty, so always try to Google dupes or swatches if you’re not sure about purchasing something.
Finally, get excited! Many women undoubtedly wish they could discover their first beloved lipstick all over again, or go back in time and give their younger self a helping hand with their makeup. Everyone makes mistakes when they’re just starting out, but not everyone has a cheat sheet. Here’s yours. (You’re welcome.)
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Primer
Primer is one of those random beauty items that people tend to forget about or pass on. Unfortunately, you’re not getting the full mileage out of your makeup if you’re not using primer. Worn under your makeup, it can help decrease oiliness, dryness, oxidization (which is when your makeup turns orange on your skin), and the appearance of pores. It also provides a smoother base for your makeup to glide on and helps to increase the longevity of your makeup throughout the day.

Budget Buy: The best drugstore primer isn’t even technically a primer; it’s not even a beauty product. Monistat Chafing Relief Powder-Gel is primarily used by runners, but if you look at the ingredient list, it’s quite similar to high-end primers and works just as well. For this reason (and the under $10 price tag) it’s a popular beauty hack for those in the know.

Splurgy: Smashbox Photo Finish Foundation Primer is one of the best primers that beginners can purchase for two reasons. First, it comes in a wide range of varieties to best suit your skin’s needs:oil-free, the green color correcting (for redness), luminizing oil-free, SPF 15, light oil-free, and hydrating oil-free (for those with dry skin). The other reason why this — generally expensive — primer is a great choice for beginners or those on a budget is that you can easily find it in a smaller travel size for just $10.
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Brushes
Brushes are another makeup staple that people often neglect. Sure, you can use your fingers to put makeup on, but for most products, it’s not ideal. Not only can you cause breakouts if your hands aren’t clean, but you probably won’t get the most flawless application. Plus, who wants makeup all over their hands? This is where brushes come in. There are different brushes for different products and areas of the face; you can buy brushes separately depending on what you know you’ll need, or you can save some money and time by just getting a set.

Either way, try to start your collection with a big fluffy kabuki brush (for blush, bronzer, or a light application of foundation), a smaller, flat foundation brush for heavier coverage, and a very small stiff brush that you can use with gel eyeliner to fill in brows or even to apply concealer. If it’s angled, that will help a lot with doing a cat-eye liner. You should also try to find a few eyeshadow brushes, because a good eyeshadow brush makes a world of difference.

Budget Buy: Eco Tools 5-Piece Mineral Brush Set is a great, affordable set of brushes for your face, while the Real Techniques Starter Kit has five versatile eyeshadow brushes. Both sets also include a handy case.

Splurgy: Let’s forget about brushes for the moment. I’m sure you never expected to see the day that you spend $20 on a tiny sponge, but here it is. The Beauty Blender has taken the beauty world by storm ever since it was invented by makeup artist Rea Ann. The price and strange shape can be off-putting, but it will give you flawless coverage. Just make sure to wash it after every use (which is something you should do with all brushes and makeup applicators regularly).
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Foundation
Foundation might be the trickiest beauty product to buy and wear, but the truth is not everyone needs it. For those moments when you do need flawless full coverage, foundation is there for you. The key is to find the right shade for your skin tone, and a finish (matte or glowy) that agrees with your skin type. The best thing you can do is go to Sephora or a makeup counter and ask for a few free samples (and Sephora also offers color matching). Once you have a better idea of what your skin shade is and whether you’re warm or cool toned, you’ll find it easier to shop for foundation — either at the drugstore or the department store.

Budget Buy: L’Oréal True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous Foundation, at only $13, is suitable for all skin types (even those with sensitive skin), comes in 15 shades for each skin tone, and even comes with a handy pump. It will give you a glowing, medium coverage that won’t look cakey or come off during the day.

Splurgy: There are plenty of amazing high-end foundations out there. Dior, Kevyn Aucoin, Make Up For Ever, and Armani all have cult followings for their foundations. However, for those just starting out, Clinique is probably the best jumping off point. It has several different lines of foundation to address various skin concerns: the original Even Better Makeup with SPF 15, Acne Solutions Makeup, Redness Solutions Makeup, and more. Within each range, a wide variety of shade options are offered. Best of all, it’s high-end makeup without a completely shocking price tag. Sephora also has foundation sets from popular brands such as BareMinerals that include foundation, as well as primer, brushes, and more, making it a great way to get started while saving money.
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BB Cream
BB cream is a great option for those who don’t need the full coverage of foundation or those who don't want to deal with the hassle of applying multiple products. It's an easy day-to-day makeup that usually has sun protection built in, along with a host of other great skin-improving benefits. Brushes aren’t really needed for this either, and you probably only need a primer if you have very oily skin. It would be hard to find a more low-maintenance, multi-tasking product than this!

Budget Buy: Revlon PhotoReady BB Cream with SPF 30 is a great drugstore BB cream because it offers more coverage than a tinted moisturizer and won’t look orange on fair skin. It also gives a great, subtle glow. The only downside (as with many BB creams) is that it is doesn’t come in a wide variety of shades.

Splurgy: Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream with SPF 35, on the other hand, comes in 10 shades — that's a lot for a BB cream — and promises to reduce oil and fine lines while improving hydration.
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Concealer
When choosing a concealer, it’s important to decide what you’ll mostly be using it for: under-eye coverage for dark circles, or to cover up scars and acne. Most concealers are able to do both, but if you’re particularly concerned about one more so than the other, that can guide your decision.

Budget Buy: Maybelline Fit Me Concealer comes in six shades, from light to dark, one of which is sure to match your skin tone while concealing blemishes and undereye circles. It’s creamy, easy to blend, and just the right consistency.

Splurgy: NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer is the more expensive version of Maybelline’s concealer, but the radiant glow that it imparts is worth the extra money. It comes in 10 different shades — we recommend trying it out at in store to see which works best on you. Also, make sure to err on the lighter side of your skin tone (you don’t want it to be darker) and always remember to put concealer on after your foundation, not before.
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Blush
Blush is fun because there are so many options. Of course, that can also make it a little overwhelming. It’s worth owning at least one though because it can inject so much life into your face.

Budget Buy: Milani Baked Blush is a drugstore staple for many, and for good reason. Their blushes have long-lasting, high-impact pigment that’s easy to apply. Try Luminoso, a universally flattering peachy-pink shade.

Splurgy: NARS The Multiple is not just a blush: it’s an all-over color stick that can be used on the cheeks, lips, eyes, and wherever you want some color. It comes in 13 shades, and there’s also a matte version. It doesn’t require any brushes; simply use your fingers to blend it in. Its flexibility and ability to multitask makes it the perfect beauty splurge for a beginner.
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Highlighter and Bronzer (Contouring Duo)
Highlighter and bronzer can be worn alone — highlighter brightens your face while bronzer adds dimension — but worn together they can change your whole face. You probably won’t want to contour your face every day, but a contouring set is a good thing to have on hand. As for how to apply it, simply sweep the bronzer under your cheekbones and the highlighter on top of your cheeks, browbone, nose, and forehead — the "high" points of your face — then blend well.

Budget Buy: The incredibly affordable beauty-line E.L.F. often has stellar products for only $1 to $5. Their Studio Contouring Blush & Bronzing Powder combines a blush with the bronzer, instead of a highlighter, but in the lightest shade (St. Lucia) the blush has the same highlighting effect. It also comes in a cream version.

Splurgy: Make Up For Ever Sculpting Kit is a chic makeup staple that will make contouring seem like a much less intimidating endeavor. There are four different shade duos available, and each kit includes a powder bronzer and highlighter.
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Mascara
Mascara is intensely personal. Everyone has their own strong opinions about their lash lengthener of choice. Some swear by using nothing but Diorshow, while others insist that drugstore mascara more than holds its own (and others just stockpile free sample sizes — smart). Whichever mascara you choose, just make sure to buy an eyelash curler and use that as well! It will open up your eyes and make your lashes look even longer.

Budget Buy: CoverGirl LashBlast Volume Mascara manages to make your eyelashes look a million times darker and thicker without clumping them or making them look unnatural. Get the waterproof version and it will last all day through blood, sweat, and tears. Although we really hope your average day is free of all of those things.

Splurgy: Benefit They’re Real! Mascara is beloved because of its incredibly clever brush. The domed tip has even more bristles, which makes it ideal for catching and lengthening the lashes on the very inner and outer corners of your eyes.
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Eyeliner
Eyeliner can be fun to experiment with because there’s so many different kinds, from gel to pencil. For beginners, however, it’s usually best to start with liquid eyeliner because it requires the least amount of experience to get a decent line. Just be careful if you buy an eyeliner pen: If you don’t store it upside down, it could dry out. Gel eyeliners often dry out as well, but if that happens, just mix it with a little bit of coconut oil, and it will be good to go.

Budget Buy: L’Oreal Lineur Intense has a flexible foam tip that will help you create a wide variety of eyeliner shapes with ease.

Splurgy: Stila Stay All Day Liquid Eyeliner delivers on the promise in its name. It truly does not budge, and it’s incredibly easy to apply. It also comes in a huge variety of colors, so you can experiment with softer shades like brown or grey, or a fun color like blue.
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Eyeshadow
Before you buy eyeshadow, you’ll also need to make sure you have eyelid primer and at least one good eyeshadow brush. There’s really no need for an expensive eyelid primer. You can grab an E.L.F. Essential Eyelid Primer for just $1.50 and, despite the low price, trust that this primer will get the job done. Eyeshadow can be very hit or miss if you don’t know what you’re doing, so to avoid the misses just remember to always blend, blend, and blend some more with a decent brush.

Budget Buy: To get the most bang for your buck, you can’t go wrong with one of the large E.L.F. eyeshadow palettes. Their Essential Little Black Beauty Book, in Warm or Cool, includes 48 shades for $6, and their Studio 150-Piece Geometric Eyeshadow Palette gives you hundreds of eyeshadow options for only $15 (plus, it’s gorgeous).

Splurgy: Everyone makes a fuss over the Naked 1, 2, and 3 Palettes, but the Urban Decay Ammo Palette is actually a much better choice. It contains 10 of Urban Decay’s most popular shades in a wide variety of hues that will allow you to create many different looks, and it also includes a brush and Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion. Buy this, and you’ll be all set — for only $34 as opposed to the Naked Palettes’ heftier $52 price tag.
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Brows
You can have a beautiful face with professionally done makeup, but if your brows are a mess, that’s all anyone will be looking at. With the current popularity of thicker, natural brows as seen on celebrities like Lily Collins and Cara Delevingne, brow products are basically the new mascara.

Budget Buy: E.L.F. for the win again! Their Studio Eyebrow Kit contains a wax, a powder, and a double-sided brush for filling in and defining your brows, and the kit is available in four different shades. This will help make even the sparsest of brows look naturally amazing all day without fading or smudging — and it’s only $3.

Splurgy: Anastasia Brow Wiz is an eyebrow pencil that has a cult following among women with impeccable eyebrows who will assure you that it is worth the price. It comes in a handy variety of shades and includes a spoolie at the other end to brush out your brows (tip: brush eyebrows slightly upwards). It’s perfect for the person who has never used an eyebrow pencil before in their life since it’s made to be pretty mistake-proof. The fine tip deposits just enough color that you can easily build up if you need more, and it looks completely natural. Remember, don't color in your brows — use short quick strokes to create hair-like lines that fill in the brow without looking fake or blocky.
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Lipstick
Lipstick is the last step to pull together an entire beauty look. Luckily there are amazing lipsticks (and lip glosses, lip stains, tinted lip balms…) available at every price point.

Budget Buy: Revlon consistently produces some of the very best drugstore lipstick — one could even say lipstick in general. There’s a ton of options, but out of every lipstick in the drugstore, you need to get your hands on a few Revlon ColorBurst Matte Balms. Despite having a matte finish, they’re actually quite soft and hydrating on the lips as the “balm” in the name promises. The twist-up crayon format makes them incredibly easy to apply, and they even have a light peppermint fragrance. Best of all, the price is low enough that you can collect a few. We would recommend getting an easy everyday color, like Elusive (a soft pink), and either Striking or Standout for creating a statement red lip. Striking is a warmer red, while Standout is darker and more blue-based. You could also try Complex, a peachy nude, to offset darker eye makeup.

Splurgy: Sephora is exclusively selling a limited edition Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Lip Tar All-Star Mini x 12 Set for $58. A collection of long-lasting liquid lipstick that would normally cost almost $100 altogether, this will take you from lipstick newbie to lipstick queen overnight. It comes with a lip brush for precision when applying, and you can even mix the 12 shades to create even more lip colors.
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