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Applying Makeup: 10 Tricks I Swear By

The beauty editor tips and tricks I wish I knew 20 years ago


Group of Women Applying Make Up
Jamie Grill/Iconica/Getty images

Makeup done well can make eyes pop, it can plump up a wrinkled face and play down a large nose. It can even out teenage acne and play down undereye circles. In this article, I'll show you how to apply makeup, what order it should be applied in and I'll share some of my favorite tricks along the way.

Is There an Order to Applying Makeup?

I don't believe in beauty rules, only tricks (although when I first started writing, I was all about rules, but I've softened my stance). You don't HAVE to do anything when it comes to beauty, but if you abide by some tricks you'll likely end up looking better. And this remains true when it comes to order in applying makeup.

A basic rule of thumb is to start with your face first. A flawless face means you'll likely need less eye makeup or lip color and we all know less is more when it comes to makeup. After the face, move on to the eyes and then to the lips.

Moisturize First, You'll Love Me For It

Dry skin needs to be hydrated before "wet makeup" such as creamy foundations, gel blush and concealers are applied. After a good sunscreen (at least SPF 30), you should start with moisturizer, a rich facial balm (if it's winter) or a foundation primer to plump up skin and fill in fine lines and large pores. With a moist face, you'll find your foundation glides on smoothly.

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Time to Brighten the Face

If you have an uneven skin tone, concealers can be a complexion saver. Dot a pink- or peach-colored corrective concealer onto the dark areas under eyes and in the corner of eyes and around the nose and mouth.

The makeup artist's secret is to brighten the face with a highlighter like Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat.


Blush or Bronzer Adds Color

Once your foundation and concealer are applied, it's time for blush or bronzer -- if you need it. My cheeks are naturally rosy but if your skin lacks color, it's good to add that bit of pop with blush. I love to add a sweep of bronzer to my skin as my tan fades, but it's important to find the right shade of bronzer so you don't end up looking fake baked. Yes, this has happened to me.

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Powder is the Last Step for the Face

A sweep of powder sets your makeup and keeps your skin from appearing shiny. You can wait until after your entire makeup is done or apply at this time, it doesn't really matter. For some older women who want to play down fine lines, I recommend skipping the powder and patting on a bit of balm or moisturizer to cheeks to give your face a dewy, fresh-faced glow. Sometimes I spray Evian water on my face to get that dewy look. It's up to you. Remember, there are no rules!

Now, Onto the Fun Part: "Lifting" Your Face

Once you have your "face in place" it's good to step back and check out what parts of you need what makeup artist Bobbi Brown calls "lifting." This is where you evaluate what parts of you need definition.

Check out your brows. So many women forget how important the brows are to making your face pop. Brush brows with your finger or an old toothbrush and tweeze any stray hairs. Fill in sparse spots with a brow pencil or a soft eyeshadow that matches your brow color. Set brows if needed with a spritz of hairspray applied to finger and brushed onto brows.

Moving onto your eyes, you may find at this point all you need is mascara with a swipe of powder on your lids to keep the grease at bay and to even out the skin tone. I like a lighter look for day, but at night, it's always fun to play with shadows and liners.

I like to apply eyeliner first, setting it with shadow, but you can apply liner over shadow for a heavier look. It's up to you. There are a lot of techniques to eyeshadow application which I describe in Eyeshadow: How to Apply It, My Best Picks & More.

With eyeshadow, it's best to set makeup with a primer or at least a powder to keep the shadow from melting into your eye crease. If you have oily lids, I strongly suggest a primer, which allows the shadow to "stick" to your lids without moving for hours at a time. If you have dry skin, a light dusting of powder works fine, here. If you are blending a few shadows into your lids, make sure to apply a base of powder over your primer or onto your naturally moist lids. Blending is much easier when shadows are applied on a dry surface.

For eyes, I like to play up the color of my eyes because they're blue and I like it when they stand out. I usually use copper colors, but blues work well, too.

Finish your eyes by curling lashes and applying mascara. If you have light hair and skin, brown is better than black, especially for day.

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Finally, the Lips

Usually lips are your very last step. You can go all out with a liner first, or just apply a sweep of gloss. Because nothing really stays on lips for a long time, be sure to keep your gloss or lipstick in your bag or pocket to refresh as the day goes on. I find some long-lasting lip stains (Chanel is my favorite) will last for hours, but you can also fill in lips with a liner to keep color from fading fast.

See 16 Lipstick Tricks and Tips.

Consider a Consultation With a Makeup Pro

If you're new at makeup application or just seeking out new ways to make up your face, I highly recommend booking a consultation with a makeup expert. Years ago I attended a makeup seminar held by renowned beauty expert Trish McEvoy. In one short seminar at Bendel's in New York City, I learned a lifetime's worth of great beauty tricks.

Sitting down with a professional and having them show you how to use your current makeup properly is a great investment in yourself and makes a great gift to a family member or friend. I advise bringing all of your makeup and makeup tools with you for your makeup lesson. This allows the pro to evaluate your stash letting you know what works and what doesn't for you. She or he can show you how to use what you've got already and introduce you to new products they love or think will work on your face.

Consider asking for a few looks including a smokey eye, a basic daytime look and a great night-time face.


How to Find a Makeup Expert

I strongly suggest foregoing the department store makeup counters for a real makeup expert who offers "makeup lessons." While some department store makeup artists will spend quality time wit you teaching you tips and tricks, you're expected to buy products and you are usually limited to one brand of makeup.

Make sure to book a "makeup lesson" with the expectation that you'll be learning how to use your current load of makeup. This usually involves a fee, which is better than that free makeup lesson where you end up spending $2000 on pricey lotions, powders and eye creams. Don't get me started on pricey eye creams.


At Home, Invest in a Makeup Mirror & Great Brushes

Eva Scrivo's beauty secret lies in her lighted makeup mirror. It's important to have flattering light, but the magnified side allows you to get in close for precision application. She also suggests sitting vs. standing when applying makeup. This is a rule I never follow myself, but it makes sense that the more comfortable you are, the better effort you'll make with your makeup application.

Don't underestimate the value of great makeup brushes. You don't need a bevy of them, just like you only need about 3 expensive knives in the kitchen, you need about 3 or 4 really good makeup brushes. I go over more on makeup brushes in Makeup Tools 101: A Beginner's Guide.

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