There are some beauty products that are just acceptable, nothing special. And then there are some that are amazing. Here’s a quick run-down of a few of my favorites.
- A good primer to go under foundation. They make your skin look smoother, your makeup adhere better, and your look last longer. My current one is Lancome La Base Pro, which is great partly for the fact that it’s colorless and thus works for every skin tone. For a slightly more brightening effect, light skin tones can also go for BeneFit’s That Gal, which has pigments in it that are supposed to work for all skin tones, but it’s been my experience that lighter tones are more visibly affected.
- A blush that’s not a powder! Powders are fine if you’re careful with them, but it’s easy for them to feel caked on, once you get primer, concealer, foundation, and then blush. If you’re wearing a powder-finish foundation, you’ll want to stay with the powder, but otherwise, it’s a good idea to have some options. One I like is L’Oreal Magic Smooth Souffle, which is an airy cream blush.
- A massively volumizing mascara. My favorites are the ones with really fat brushes, like CoverGirl Lash Blast 24 Hour, which has enough brush surface area to carry a good bit of mascara, but has enough bristles to actually get some separation, which isn’t always guaranteed. Nobody likes clumps. If you have some issues with clumping out of that one, though, there’s another one in the Lash Blast series I’ve been meaning to try, called Clump Crusher. Feel like spending some money? BeneFit’s They’re Real! mascara is one I wouldn’t hesitate to drop the cash on again. If you feel like trying that and the primer I mentioned above, there’s a set with trial sizes of both available at Sephora.
- Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey. Seriously, there’s a reason that this one has a massive cult following and is the only color of Almost Lipstick still around. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t look good in this lipcolor. It’s neither too cool nor too warm, neither too dark nor too light. The color is sheer enough to work for any skin tone. I cannot say enough good things about this lipstick. Also, right now, Belk is doing a gift with purchase for Clinique that also includes their *other* top-selling classic, the Dramatically Different moisturizer. (The moisturizer is great, but use it at night and get one with some SPF for the daytime.)
- Diptyque’s Eau Duelle fragrance. This is quite possibly the perfect vanilla. It’s resinous, dry, and a little spicy, without the cupcake feel that makes so many vanilla fragrances seem slightly childish. On my skin, which usually loses fragrances quickly due to a slightly higher temperature than normal, it lasts a good 5-6 hours. And while I’m all about bucking gendered marketing to wear what you like, this one is intentionally gender-neutral to begin with, from the scent itself to the minimalist clear bottle with its black and white label.
- A good set of makeup brushes. This is a pricy thing (figure on at least $5 per brush, even at the big box stores, for something good), but it’s so worth it. You’ll need a foundation brush, a fan brush for blush or bronzer (trust me on this–it’s a lot more natural application than one of those big round things), an eyeliner brush, an eyelash comb, and at least one eyeshadow brush–a real brush, not a sponge applicator.
- Most importantly of all: if you’re going to wear foundation, go to a cosmetics counter and have a professional match you up with a color that is perfect for you. This is the one detail that will be most noticeable if it’s not right and completely invisible if it is, so don’t be afraid to try multiple brands before making a decision. If you can, get a sample to try in other kinds of light, because the fluorescent lighting used in department stores isn’t ideal for color matching. Barring that, it’s a good idea to have the person at the counter do your makeup and let you walk around for a day wearing it so that you can see how it looks outside the store. If you only have one area where you can splurge, go for the best foundation you can, and make sure the color match is dead on.
These are the items that I’d recommend for someone just starting to explore their look, or someone looking for good, solid basics. You can always branch out from here, but this is a good place to start. Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to try something new!