Help me figure out this whole makeup thing.
August 20, 2011 10:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 30 year old woman and I've never worn makeup before. I think I'd like to start, but it's all so overwhelming.

Up until this point I haven't really needed to wear makeup. I look ok without it, and my jobs have all been very casual - jeans and tshirts, maybe khakis if we expected a client to drop by. Now I'm working in a much different environment. Even though the dress code is business casual and I can get by with no makeup most of the time, there are times when I think I need to look a bit more polished. It just feels weird to be in a meeting with the CEO talking about matters that involve vast sums of money and being the only woman in the room who's not wearing makeup. Hell, I think even some of the men were wearing makeup.

I don't want to go overboard on this. I'm hoping for a really natural look and a minimal amount of work in the morning. I'm also hoping to do this without breaking the bank.

I am really truly clueless. I feel like I should have learned all this when I was twelve, but here I am. What's the bare minimum I need to get started? Are the salespeople at places like Sephora or MAC going to be able to help me even though I have no idea what I need/want? What's worth spending more money on, and what can I get on the cheap at Target or Walgreens? Any other advice?
posted by Kicky to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (56 answers total) 108 users marked this as a favorite
if i were you, i would make an appointment with an artist at mac, sephora, or even one of the makeup lines at nordstrom. tell them what you've told us here, and they can put together some looks for you. they'll show you what colors they're using, how to apply, and even apply the colors to a drawing (of a face) to remind you of what goes where.
posted by violetk at 10:31 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am younger than you, but still started wearing makeup much later than most women. I went into Sephora and told them what I wanted (you could tell them that you just want to look more polished for work.) They will try to over-sell to you -- there were a few things I decided I really did not need or would not use, but for the most part, I bought what they showed me, and have used various parts in various combinations. I have also gone to the MAC counter in Nordstroms for a eyeshadow "tutorial".

In my experience, almost everything can be bought at a drugstore (and certainly mascara, eye liner, cover up, powder...) but it takes some trial and error. I like to look at what brands my friends buy (it helps that I live in a dorm), ask for their advice, and go shopping (at Target or whatever) together. But I would splurge a little for the nice stuff the first time around so you can get a sense of what you're looking for and how to use it.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 10:34 PM on August 20, 2011

Go YouTube and watch videos! Seriously, just start by typing "makeup videos" and you'll end up finding other useful keywords too. The girls apply makeup step by step into the camera and they show the products that they use too. Sometimes they have their boyfriends try doing the makeup and some of the boyfriends are pretty good! It's pretty easy to find someone who is similar to your coloring and whose style you like.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:38 PM on August 20, 2011

Best answer: Do go to a makeup counter, but keep in mind they are trying to sell you something, so be a bit skeptical about their miraculous claims. They will get you started on how to apply makeup properly, though, so it's worth a shot. If you haven't really worn makeup before, start slowly. Get some mascara, a lightly tinted lip gloss, and a few different colors of eyeshadow and eyeliner.

Do you pluck your eyebrows? This tutorial is really good. via

Here are some tips that might help:
-If you wear a heavier/darker color on your eyes, kepp the lips pretty neutral. Vice versa applies, too.
-An eyelash curler makes a big difference. Get a nice one.
-good brushes are important.
posted by annsunny at 10:38 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would probably not ask advice of someone who is trying to sell you a product because in the end they are going to do what they are paid to do whether or not it's the best thing for you (most of the time). There are about a bajillion YouTube videos about how to apply makeup. If you want to experiment with colors without breaking the bank, I'd suggest checking out E.L.F. Cosmetics. They aren't top quality but they are decent and you can afford enough makeup/brushes to learn and play around. As for learning, I personally like PrimpPowderPout's YouTube channel. She's great. She also uses one of elf's larger eye shadow palettes, so if you happen to buy that and want to try out one of her looks, it should be easy for you. (I'm just a fan of elf and PPP! No relation at all.)
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:42 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd suggest visiting or making an appointment for consultation at a Bobbi Brown or Laura Mercier counter at a Nordstrom's and talk to a makeup artist there since they do understated but polished looks. When I talk to my friends I generally recommend five things: eyeshadow, mascara, gel blush, concealer, lip gloss. I would prepare to spend department store prices for concealer so that you can get help finding your shade but the rest once you know what you're doing will be able to be picked up from A drugstore. Makeup videos are great for tutorials. But don't be afraid of a makeup counter, really. They can't make you buy. Let them try things on you and then walk outside and look at yourself in natural light. See if products feel heavy on your skin. Ask questions. You'll start to see what works and what you don't need. Good luck!
posted by nuala at 10:51 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

The thing about getting tips (especially at the counters) is that it becomes a slippery slope with buying products, even when you request a "natural" look.

When I want to look polished without putting a lot of stuff on my face, I use three things: concealer, lip gloss, mascara. I use an old toothbrush to groom my eyebrows, and pluck them a little between threadings. I save the big guns (tinted moisturizer and mineral blush) for nights out.

If you feel like you look okay without make-up then embrace that, because many women don't have that kind of confidence at all.
posted by swingbraid at 10:56 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to go minimalist, just start with clear lip gloss, a loose face powder, and neutral eye shadow. With all of these, you're just applying a light gel/powder and it's almost impossible to make mistakes.

These are ALL things you can buy at Target or Walgreens, no sales assistance needed.

From there, you could get more adventurous with eye liner (pencils are easier to start with than liquids), mascara, and lip color, OR go back to the basics and also add in concealer and foundation.

You should be fine buying eye liner, lip color, and mascara at a drugstore, but I'd go with a pro for foundations and concealer, which really need to match your skin tone.

Start in slow, with one new "addition" a week. That will give you time and experience in applying each new product, plus you'll be a less self-conscious than just showing up to work one day with a new made-up face.
posted by whitewall at 10:57 PM on August 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

Powder. Shimmery eyeshadow. Mascara. Lipgloss. Done!!!
posted by Go Banana at 10:59 PM on August 20, 2011

If you've never really done makeup before, start small. I'm not one for makeup, so all I use daily is - MAC concealer (mainly for dark circles under eyes), MAC powder foundation, MAC blot powder. Tint my eyelashes every now and then so I don't have to do mascara. Takes absolutely no time at all.
posted by mleigh at 11:11 PM on August 20, 2011

Try asking the women on They're actually pretty supportive of each other and might be able to give you the basics. Generally, the standard is to be made up but not actually appear to be made up. This is not a trashy bunch.
posted by Gilbert at 11:19 PM on August 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am useless with makeup myself, but the eyebrow plucking comment made me want to say: if your eyebrows are unruly at all, get them done at a good salon once a month. Then you don't have to think about it, and you will look more polished without really doing anything.

I say this as a woman who makes only two nods to femininity: eyebrow waxes and pedicures (during sandal season).
posted by cabingirl at 11:21 PM on August 20, 2011 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't go to the counters/Sephora without having a general idea of what you want/need. If you really don't know much about makeup you're kinda walking into the lion's den at those places -- I'm sure there are some very sweet and helpful men and women working at the makeup stores, but I haven't really met any of them (sorry).

For a simple, polished work makeup look I would do:

1. some skin "perfecting" item. Foundation, powder, tinted moisturizer, or even just concealer. Sounds like you probably have great skin (since you haven't felt like you needed makeup before), so probably light coverage will do the trick. One important thing for looking "polished" -- get any shininess under control. You could accomplish a nice skin tone evening and shininess reduction with tinted moisturizer and loose powder. I would get expensive-ish tinted moisturizer (go to the counters/Sephora to try different brands) and a cheap drugstore loose powder.

2. curled eyelashes and mascara. Don't spend a lot on mascara -- drugstore ones are great and you need to replace these every 3 months to keep your eyes safe.

3. maybe some eyeliner for extra polish. This is where I would splurge a bit on something that stays put. I like Smashbox and Makeup For Ever pencil liners. For work you should stick with non-metallic or glittery liners.

4. blush. Blush is actually really important and makes a big difference. I think this is another thing you really don't need to spend a ton of money on. I use Sonia Kashuk, from Target.

5. lips. For the most polish, I would go with real lipstick instead of gloss. It looks more professional. Again, steer clear of glittery or metallic and go for a cream finish or even matte.

I would just start with this stuff. You can venture into the eyeshadow thing later if you really want to go further, but for now I really don't think it's necessary.

Check out makeupalley and beautypedia for makeup reviews. The Sephora site also seems to have lots of reviews for its products.

You might want to check one of Bobbi Brown's books out of the library for some guidance on color choices and application tips.

Have fun!
posted by imalaowai at 11:51 PM on August 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

I was like you! The best advice I had was don't scrimp on the base layer but go budget the rest of the way. Second best advice - eyes OR lips but never both unless it's a special occasion. So, don't go over the top with heavy eye make up and bright red lips - just go one or the other and you'll look more natural. Kind of goes with my gran's other advice - cleavage or legs, never both or you'll look like a cheap tart.

I find a tinted moisturiser is great as, like you, I've got clear skin that doesn't need much coverage (I use Benefit or Mac). I then use a cheaper version of Benefit's Benetint on my cheeks and lips most of the time, but the real thing isn't too pricy and lasts for ever. If I want a bit of gloss then I just use Vaseline lip balm.

I think my eyelash curler is my best friend, it cost next to nothing and opens my eyes up once I've added Maybelline Black Lash mascara, which is cheap as chips but also highly recommended by friends who work as make up artists.

Again, if you are new to eye make up - I found Benefit's Big Beautiful Eyes kit really helped me at first. It was pricy but it told you exactly where to use the makeup inside the box. Now I am better at it, I buy cheaper versions from E.L.F. like others have recommended above.

I found Lauren Lukes really helpful!
posted by ozgirlabroad at 11:56 PM on August 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Zoe Foster's Amazing Face book is brilliant for tips on where you can cut corners and which products need the dosh outlaid.

She does tutorials on YouTube and she's a reasonably regular contributor on Mama Mia a blog of assorted stuff I often enjoy. Fronted by Mia Freedman-she's been in mags for years but in the last few became famous. Smart, funny and often wildly inappropriate. Love them both.
posted by taff at 12:04 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, one brilliant Zoe Foster tip...people often try to do the "nude" tone for lipsticks which is a pale beigey horrible Colour. If you are really trying to do a nude/neutral lipstick...match it to you GUM colour. It was a bloody revelation to me. It's true. Brilliant and easy to remember. Also...test lipstick colour not on the back of your hand, but on your finger tips, to seenif it goes with your skin tones.

Google her, Zoe Foster, even if you don't buy her book, she's a true font of useful makeup information.
posted by taff at 12:10 AM on August 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

My absolute favorite resource for cosmetics info (and fun reading) is Foxy Voxy. Her blog is nominally geared towards academics--a category that typically isn't as fashion-forward as the corporate world, and is working with a limited budget--but her advice is useful across the board. She reviews all kinds of products, posts news updates, and is also happy to give personalized advice. She gets a fair number of questions along the same lines as hers, so you might find some older posts that are relevant. Or you can just submit an "Ask Voxy" request for help using the form in the sidebar.

She's been away from the blog for the last couple of months over the summer, but it's still active, and I expect new posts to come along any day now. Meanwhile, there's a treasure trove of information to peruse. I agree that, as a newbie, you may not want to get your advice from a salesperson before doing a little background research.
posted by Superplin at 12:13 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I generally don't bother with makeup day-to-day but I do have a super basic approach for when I need it. I got good at simple eyeliner (black, but you can buy a couple cheap ones and see what makes your eyes pop) and some lip gloss/lipstick. I find that eye shadow is pretty forgiving since you can get cheap but good multicolor palates at the drug store, and at least one color is bound to work (CoverGirl is my go-to). The one thing I was really glad I got professional advice about was what lipcolor to go for. Clear or lightly tinted gloss is great, but it was invaluable for me when the guy at the Shisheido counter told me to go slightly darker than the natural color of my lips AND showed me what that meant.
posted by brilliantine at 12:17 AM on August 21, 2011

I'm another one who thinks you should go to Sephora or Nordstrom's or some such place and get a consultation with one of the makeup artists. Pick one who looks nice and explain to her you're definitely wanting a natural look and that you've never worn makeup before. I'm afraid if you try to go from zero to doing it all yourself you'll get it slightly wrong, and a clown look is fine on an early teenager but not on a 30-something professional. It's really not easy to pick the colors that are going to suit you yourself with no makeup experience. For example many women swear by black eyeliner but it makes me look ill - I need a brown or olive eyeliner to suit my coloring.

Yes, the makeup artist will try to sell you stuff at the end but unless you're a complete pushover you can get away without buying everything they recommend. You're going to want to buy high-end concealer and either foundation or tinted moisturizer anyway so if you don't want to spend too much then buy those from the makeup artist and then go to the drugstore and buy the equivalent color lip stick or gloss, eyeliner, etc that they used on you there. If you really hate the look they've given you, just buy the mascara or even tell them you're going to check with a friend before buying anything and walk away. Then try again at another counter another day.
posted by hazyjane at 1:45 AM on August 21, 2011

It would be easy to give you specific product advice if we knew something about your coloring! I have very light skin (but not white-pale, ivory-pale) with pinkish undertones, dark brown eyes and medium brown hair with very warm tones (gold-warm, not red-warm). My skin is oily in the t-zone (forehead and nose), normal otherwise. Here's what I would do for a basic, polished look. There's a caveat that I tend to shop expensive brands and cheaper brands equally, but it's pretty easy to Google "dupe for X", where X is an expensive brand/color of a thing. There are a million beauty bloggers who have done this research for us!

If I wanted to wear makeup that complimented my coloring, and I was wearing very warm-toned colors that day (warm reds, oranges, earth tones, etc):

Start with moisturizer - it makes my makeup apply evenly - I use Neutrogena Oil-Free for Combination skin. I let this absorb while I brush my teeth. I use Stila Natural Finish Oil-Free makeup in shade C, but not all over. I use it around my eyes, nose, forehead, and use a little water to blend it out so it doesn't leave lines - this all serves to even out any pink/redness in my skin. Sounds involved but takes 30 seconds.

I line the outer 2/3 of my upper and lower eyelids (not the 'waterline', which is the inner part of your lashline) with Mac's Powerpoint eyeliner pencil in Duck - it's a dark, greyed out brown. After you draw your lines, use your ring finger to smudge/soften the line a bit. I use a stiff, angled brush and a little pot of eyebrow wax to tame my brows - most eyebrow wax comes in a two-pan compact with brow powder - I never use the powder because I can't get the hang of it looking natural, but doing a little something to my brows makes a big difference. You can buy a cheap pan of brow powder/wax at Target and just use the wax - I bought a pot of wax @ Ricky's in NYC. I finish eyes with a neutral color from lash to brow - Mac Orb, or Bobbi Brown Shell, and two coats of Maybelline Lash Blast Length Mascara in black/brown.

Cheeks get Nars powder blush in Orgasm (I know, I know), and lips get a coat of color with Mac's Spice lip pencil and Mac's Lipglass in Lust or Hard Candy lipgloss in Dolce Vita. Sometimes I like a very sheer red lip, and I use Mac lip pencil in Half-Red and Hard Candy lipgloss in Vixen.

If I were doing the same thing but wanted "cooler" tones, or more rosy/berry colors, I'd use Mac's Powerpoint eyeliner in Industry (dark gray, not quite black), Mac Orb or Mylar for eyeshadow, Tarte cheekstain in Natural Beauty, and Mac lip pencil in Soar or Whirl with Stila's Blackberry Lip Glaze.

YES, this sounds like a lot of work, but I can do either and be away from the mirror in under 5 minutes - I've timed it.

I'd take the advice to hit up a makeup counter and deliver yourself over, but would suggest you take a friend with you for advice (if you feel comfortable with it), and would ask at Sephora for the makeup artist to try Stila, Benefit, or Bobbi Brown products.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:39 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might think this is old ladyish, but is there a Mary Kay consultant in your area? Look it up with You can get very good products and they will teach you to apply it by yourself in your home so that you can do it when they are gone. If you go to a store, they will apply it for you and you will spend hours trying to recreate the look.

If you have time constraints, try a tinted moisturizer that is lighter than your skintone if you can't find an exact match. A darker color will look bad. Get an eyelash curler and mascara. Tweezerman makes a nice eyelash curler that doesn't pull your lashes. Get the Falsies mascara in black. A lipliner in a beige/pink tone and a sheer pink lipstick or lipgloss that isn't too shiny. If you are very light skinned, try a pale pink blush. If blush makes you nervous, there is a product that is meant to be a facial highlighter with different colors-white, pink, green, beige...get that an put it on the apples of your cheeks when you smile. It will give you a slight pink hue without looking made up if you don't have a lot of practice with blush. We don't want you to look like someone slapped you in the face! At the pharmacy (like Duane Read or Walgreens) you can find all of these products.

Wash your face, put the tinted moisturizer all over your face. Make sure you get the spots around your nose and mouth even. Cover the edges of your lips. squeeze a dot on your palm and use your other finger to dot it on your face so you don't apply too much.

Wait a few minutes (so that it soaks in a little) if you put too much, use a papertowel to blot the entire face-don't wipe!

Curl your lashes by crimping and holding for ten seconds. Apply mascara edge of your lashes to the tip in one motion. try not to blink. Do the other eye and then repeat. Just twice is enough.

Put the blush on the apples of your cheeks when you smile.

Put the lipliner on...if you have full lips, on the inside of the edge of your lip, if your lips are thinner, on the outside edge of your lip. Color the inside of your lip with the liner. Apply the gloss or lipstick.

Have fun!! If you want something more descriptive, you can contact me and I am happy to help!
posted by Yellow at 5:30 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

As a little hijack to this thread, because I'm in the same situation as the OP, I would really like some UK specific suggestions of where to go for a consultation. Ideally somewhere not terrifying and full of things that make me sneeze, but I realise that may not be possible.
posted by Lebannen at 5:33 AM on August 21, 2011

If you're like me and have nice skin, all you really need to do are the eyes, and maybe the lips (although I think it looks best to do one or the other). I rarely wear makeup during the day and only tend to do it for things like meetings and interviews.

Face: After washing your face, use a moisturiser with SPF. It doesn't have to be fancy. Right now I'm using Johnson and Johnson day cream from the drug store.

Eyes: Because I wear dark glasses, I do a basic eye with neutral shadow for the day. YMMV. Glasses draw a lot of attention to the eyes to begin with, so you might not want to go out all out on them.

First, apply under eye concealer. I would definitely recommend asking at a makeup counter to get your colour, because this is really easy to get wrong. I use Mac because I feel it gets the closest colour to my skin. As for shadow, this will depend on your eye colour, but you can Google "what eyeshadow looks best on [colour] eyes?" or whatever. Mine are green and I'm extremely warm-toned, so I do light browns and golds. Slightly darker colour on the lid + lighter neutral colour up to the brow bone -- nothing fancy. Some days I wear black liquid eyeliner, some days I don't. Curl your lashes and then apply mascara.

Lips: If you do a heavier eye, lip gloss is fine. I don't wear lipstick, but some of the advice here is really good for if you want to.

I nth the suggestion of using YouTube to find makeup tutorials. You can get really specific, too, by looking for your eye shape or colour or what look you're going for. My mother never wore makeup, so I learned everything from YouTube.
posted by canadia at 6:31 AM on August 21, 2011

Oh my. This feels like it could have been my question about a year ago. Truly. Right down to the part about feeling like I should have learned this stuff when I was twelve.

From my experience, "base layers" and all that were overwhelming. I feel like when you're going from not wearing any make-up to wearing make-up, it's best to start small but with good quality. I tried some drugstore brands but it wasn't until I asked somebody what blush they were wearing and went out and bought it at Sephora, that I realized a fancier brand does actually make a difference. And since I don't wear a lot, it lasts for a really long time.

I use moisturizer (Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream), mascara (Bare Escentuals' Buxom) and blush (NARS in "Orgasm") which seems to be enough to make a difference but not so much that I don't really feel like myself. I don't put anything on my lips usually because I don't like how it feels when I talk and I'm always worried it will smudge but when I got married, I wore a nice apricot colored lip gloss from Clinique that wasn't too sticky or wet.

Good luck!
posted by smirkyfodder at 6:42 AM on August 21, 2011

I read every post, and the only thing anybody missed is that you should discard opened makeup after 90 days of use, especially mascara. I worked for a cosmetics manufacturer, and the preservatives used are necessarily gentle, but do not protect the product very well after that period.

Also, I love the YouTube makeup videos. You will definitely learn how (and why!) to avoid the clown look.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:47 AM on August 21, 2011

I'm going to second going to Bobbi Brown or Laura Mercier if you're looking for a natural look and avoiding MAC until you are a little more familiar with colors and application, only because MAC colors tend to be highly pigmented and if you don't know what you're doing, it's difficult to apply.
posted by echo0720 at 6:59 AM on August 21, 2011

I agree with the recommendation to go to a department store like Nordstrom or Bloomingdale's and try the Laura Mercier or Bobbi Brown counter. Go on a day when they're not too busy and have them show you how to put things together. I really like Laura Mercier, it's very subtle. Great foundations and concealers. I use a primer, tinted moisturizer and concealer from that brand and they've been wonderful. Ask the department store sales clerk to give you a little sample of a foundation and try it out for a few days - that will give you an idea of how well it wears throughout the day and how your skin reacts, before you spend the money for the full size product.

My understated, work makeup is: primer + tinted moisturizer + a little concealer, a neutral eyeshadow, sometimes a little mascara on the top lashes and a little eyeliner on the top lash line. That's it. It doesn't take more than 5 minutes - I am not really into makeup either, I only care that my skin looks healthy. Sometimes I put a sweep of blush, I use Chanel because it is very light.

The eyeliner was the hardest thing to figure out how to use and I don't wear it too much because it's still tricky for me. Black eyeliner can be a little too strong on most - I stick to taupe or brown - and if I use it, I only do the top line because lining/mascara on lower lashes can be a little aging in my opinion. (I have been influenced a lot from French makeup/beauty bloggers who wear very understated makeup and rarely/never have a "fully made up" type of look.)

MAC stuff is fun but they really cater to a customer who is looking for a more dramatic look and fun colors for going out, is my impression.
posted by citron at 7:01 AM on August 21, 2011

halfbuckaroo: "the only thing anybody missed is that you should discard opened makeup after 90 days of use, especially mascara."

For what it's worth, I have never heard that anything other than mascara will go bad after 3 months. It would make no sense for powder/blush/eyeshadow to go bad in that short of a time period. Here is a pretty good chart with timelines for throwing away makeup.

Also, I'm going to suggest that you get some really good brushes. You can go with cheap makeup, but nice brushes will apply better (and feel a lot better on your face). If you decide to go to somewhere like Sephora, look for someone whose makeup is similar to what you're looking for, and ask them for suggestions/help- don't go to the younger girl wearing too much eyeshadow and foundation, look for an employee with a more natural look, because they'll be able to give you a better recommendation.
posted by kro at 7:02 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm a lot like you- never learned how to use makeup as a teen, partly because I had good enough skin to not need it.

I had the worst time finding makeup that suited me, because the salespeople where I live aren't, in general, very knowledgeable about their products, not to mention that over here there's a tendency toward patently obvious (aka circus clown-esque) makeup.

What worked for me was going to a MAC store and having a session with one of their people. I told her what I was looking for (a basic, natural look that was easy to apply for a beginner like me) and she not only gave me a good list of what I needed without selling too hard, she taught me how to put it on.

For reference, here's what I use:

1. Concealer (go one shade lighter than your foundation, and get good quality)
2. Depending on the weather and what kind of coverage I want, either normal foundation or a tinted moisturizer. (Be sure to be very careful while choosing the shade of your foundation; test it out in both natural and artificial light. Very few things can change a look from glam to ghastly as much as bad foundation. Again, get a good brand for this.)
3. Powder (I prefer pressed powder, but loose powder dusted on with a decent quality brush might work better for you.)
4. Eyeliner + mascara (you can go cheap on these, since they have to be replaced pretty frequently anyway. In my experience twist-ups work better than liquids or gels for the beginner.)
5. Lip balm (seriously, do not forget this. Your lips will thank you for it. I like Burt's Bees or plain old Vaseline.)
6. Lipstick (get a shade that works with your complexion even if it isn't a 'nude'. And a lip liner to match.)
6. Gloss (clear or tinted, but make sure that you don't gop it on.)

I don't use eyeshadow or blush, but that's just me. The best way to figure out what works for you is to get a bunch of cheap drugstore ones and play with the colours. But if you can find it, Urban Decay's Naked Palette is a great set of work-appropriate neutrals. Another thing that I haven't seen mentioned here is brushes- a good brush can really make a difference. MAC does nice ones.

Nthing the Youtube makeup videos- if you can find one that matches your style and skintone you can learn loads.

Good luck!
posted by Tamanna at 7:03 AM on August 21, 2011

Best answer: I use a minimal makeup routine that I'm really happy with. I despise eyeshadow. The idea is just to play up my natural looks and look a little more polished. I'm pale with dark eyes, and this is what I use:

Bare minimum:

1. Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer (the product isn't horrifying as regular foundation, and it has a built-in sunscreen, which you should always be using anyway). ($42, Sephora)
2. Benetint from Benefit (as a blush, sometimes on lips). (Sephora)
3. Lip balm, usually tinted. ($3, Drugstore)
4. Soft black mascara. I got a sample of Yves Saint Laurent Faux Cils this summer and I love it with all my heart. But since mascara has such a short shelf life and that YSL is so expensive, I'll find a drugstore alternative that's waterproof. ($5, Drugstore)

Then sometimes:

5. Lipstick -- that tip about gum matching really does work. ($6-18, Sephora, drugstore) I don't bother with a lip liner.
6. Pressed powder. I like Benefit Get Even ($30, Sephora) and apply with a big soft brush.
7. Eyeliner. Rarely, just along the inside of the upper lid. ($8, drugstore)
8. Benetint Eye Bright. Makes me look bright eyed, bushy tailed, etc. ($20, Sephora)

That's it. It's nice to have just eight things in a teeny makeup bag these days. I think the thing that's making the most impact is the skin-care routine: drink lots of water, Perricone Nutritive Cleanser ($38, Sephora) and a moisturizer at night.
posted by mochapickle at 7:47 AM on August 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm also 30 (in two weeks!) and don't generally wear makeup. But when I do, here's what I use:

Sunscreen. This is your most important thing. Find one that doesn't smell awful to you. Use it every day.
Pressed powder, have the makeup people help you choose a shade and the right brush. Remember that your shade will change if you get a tan, and the winter color for you will be different from your summer color. Do not wear your summer powder in the winter. People can tell, I promise.
Lipstick. I have used the same color for three years. Any other color just looks "wrong" or, worse, exactly like the color I have in my bag. So my advice is to pick two that you like, because I'm in trouble if this color (Clinique, a different grape) gets discontinued.
Mascara that you can wash off. That's right, not the waterproof stuff. How often do you cry at a party or get stuck in the rain? Pretty much never, right? Go with the stuff that doesn't require six other products to remove. Those products burn.

I personally don't wear eyeshadow because every makeup counter person who has ever showed me eye shadow techniques makes it clear that I'm not wearing make up on the rest of my face. The contrast is awful. So, if you can find a way to wear eyeshadow that doesn't draw attention to the "need" for foundation, go for it.
posted by bilabial at 7:52 AM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I didn't start wearing makeup daily until I was about 30. I have not-great skin, so my must-have is tinted moisturizer (I like laura mercier), applied with a good makeup sponge for easy even coverage. I actually now use a base (the makeup forever base in green) because I tend towards redness, but that is really not necessary for most people. The only other thing I wear is tinted eyebrow gel because I dye my hair and the gel helps make my eyebrows stand out less from my hair.

I think minimal, professional makeup is all about making you look like whatever people that think "that woman must not be wearing any makeup but she looks good" look like. Meaning, if you have bad skin, even it out with some color. If you have short or invisible eyelashes, make them visible with mascara. If you tend to look wan, wear a little blush (Nars Orgasm is the most popular blush for good reason, but you need a good$$ brush to apply it well and naturally). There is no one product that everyone must wear. I will wear more makeup if I'm going to stand up in front of a room of 200 people and give a talk, but I would feel very uncomfortable going one on one with my CTO in eyeliner because I simply cannot wear it and make it look natural.

All that said, if you can figure out what parts of you would look better with a small bit of polish, you can definitely go someplace like sephora or mac and say "I want an everyday mascara that won't run" or "I need a foundation/tint" and they will be useful at helping you find a product to match your needs.
posted by ch1x0r at 8:51 AM on August 21, 2011

I'd start with getting recommendations for/looking up makeup artists in your area that offer one-on-one lessons; all the better if they accompany you to Sephora/Ulta/your local department store's makeup counters to help you with trying on and purchasing products. Once you've got everything in hand, you'll be able to get professional advice with application techniques and looks.
posted by evoque at 9:01 AM on August 21, 2011

I feel like a broken record, but for cosmetics reviews and information: Paula Begoun Cosmetics Cop and - it's free and very helpful. No, you don't need the expensive stuff. She reviews product by product and has a lot of information about various ingredients and why/how things work.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:33 AM on August 21, 2011

Make up is not necessary to be taken seriously at work. Just keep your hair nice and eyebrows shaped and your face clean, and you will be fine. Add some mascara if you must. Otherwise, don't worry about it unless you think it would be fun to change things up.
posted by yarly at 9:41 AM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you want to try out some higher-end things in sample size and don't want to spend $elevnty-million at Sephora or a MAC counter, I might suggest trying out Birchbox. You answer a short questionnaire and they send you a box of samples (and occasionally a full-sized item) once a month for $10. Here's what I got the first month I subscribed (June). What I like about it is that I can try things that are suitable for my skin/hair type and my lifestyle and maybe find something new. I can take a risk without risking a lot of cash.

I have a very low-key makeup style (I work in healthcare and I'm also a doctoral student.) Overall I'd recommend spending a little more on foundation, blush, and moisturizer, a little less on mascara, eye makeup, and lipstick/lip balm. Once you find the perfect foundation, blush and moisturizer, you can play around with other colors (which is why you might want to save a little until you find a look you like, then upgrade if you want.)

Good luck!
posted by absquatulate at 9:48 AM on August 21, 2011

Seriously, I would start with asking a friend/neighbor/aunt/mom/sister/coworker for a quick ten-minute lesson. The counter-folk at major makeup retailers don't err on the natural side and definitely want to sell you things and convince you you 'need' things you might not at all.

I'm a bit older than you are and wear very light makeup. Pressed powder, mascara and a little lipgloss. My mother has been selling Mary Kay since I was 13 years old so I've had more facials and lessons than most makeup wearers but at the end of the day I don't like the way any of it feels on my skin so I get away with the bare minimum. As in most days? I comb my eyebrows and put on the lipgloss.

My spouse also enjoys the fact that I can go in and wash my face and still come back looking exactly the same instead of like someone new. I find this hilarious.

Anyway, my point is, start small. I have friends and family who insist they keep a spare, natural makeup routine but then they itemize the 70 products they use each morning including primers and setters and it seems a little ridiculous. They don't look better, they just look as if they have a whole lot of makeup on.
posted by pink candy floss at 9:57 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I agree that makeup counters can be overwhelming even for those of use that have been wearing makeup since we were 12. Makeup artists' idea of what "natural" looks like is vastly different than most casual people. I do think that if you have problem skin and really need coverage it's good to go to a counter to get the right color (it's cheaper than buying drugstore stuff then throwing it out when it doesn't match).

Besides that, I would ask a friend for a quick lesson if at all possible. I suggest taking this on starting in stages:

1. Take a look at your eyebrows and decide if those need shaping. Go professional, at least at first.

2. Curl your eyelashes and use mascara. Done.

After you get used to that you can start thinking about eyeliner, eyeshadow, etc. If you start to like it I suggest then going to makeup counters or Sephora to get some advice.
posted by Bunglegirl at 10:05 AM on August 21, 2011

Me too! I did some research and found that for 90% of most circumstances you encounter outside your home, just wearing lipstick alone is good enough. And it's an easy way to start, too, since it requires no special application skills like eyeliner or anything.

I use Outlast Lipstain by Cover Girl. It's like a Sharpie marker for your lips. Not squoodgy or anything, you can't even tell it's on, and it won't come off on your cup or anything. Great stuff!
posted by ErikaB at 10:27 AM on August 21, 2011

As someone who USED to wear the full thing (foundation, concealer, powder, mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, blush, and lipstick) and has now switched to nothing at all (allergies, plus my skin freaks out less if I just use moisturizer), I don't think you'll enjoy or remember to do more than tinted moisturizer, mascara, liptint and powder or blush if you need it (or like it).

A lot can be learned by having someone else teach you, but I'm here to suggest you start out where most teenage girls do and get a couple of makeup books from the library (I suggest Kevyn Aucoin or Bobby Brown, or heck even women's magazines if there's something in there you like) and find a couple of looks you want to try. Buy whatever you need to do these looks from Target or Walgreens or wherever, get some makeup remover and go to town.

Once you know what you like, go to the fancy department stores and get quality versions of your favored tools, and heck maybe even a session with one of the makeup artists. Or maybe you'll like what you find at the drugstore.

I haven't bought makeup since I got married a few years ago (yeah, I really don't wear anything anymore) but when I wore makeup some of the drugstore brands I liked were:

Cover Girl for foundation things like powder and stuff (they have more colors than Revlon and L'Oreal and since I'm scary pale, they always had something in my color. If you're darker complected they usually have that range covered as well)

Revlon for lip stuff because they have a really wide range of colors and formulations (sheer, all day, moisturizing, etc)

L'Oreal for fancy things like fashionable eyeshadow and nail colors. Their thing is to be more "high fashion" than the other brands so if you want something more trendy, try their display.

Some helpful links: L'Oreal's look finder

Revlon's virtual makeover thing

Cover Girl's "Makeup Mirror"

There's probably more of these on the internet, sponsored by various magazines and the like (Elle has one, for example)

All these tools will help you figure out how much to wear and what color, but until you're used to stabbing your eye with a pencil or smearing weird lotions on your lips very, very carefully, all the tools and products in the world will just remain in your bathroom, unused.
posted by fiercekitten at 10:31 AM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh and for lipstick color, I like the "match your gum color" tip! I usually pick the color that looks closest to my actual lips. Something in the middle of the color range. You don't want anything too dark or too bright, and probably not an actual red.

Ignore what you see people wearing on television. They're made up professionally for the cameras, it's practically like costume make-up. Check out what real women your own age are wearing around you at work, at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, etc.
posted by ErikaB at 10:31 AM on August 21, 2011

Best answer: Jane Feltes has a series on The Hairpin called "How to Be a Girl" which includes some videos on makeup basics. She tends toward a more involved makeup look, but her techniques can be applied with a lighter hand as well.
posted by illenion at 10:50 AM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I could have written this recently, with the added motivation of bad skin making me look even more like a teenage. A few years ago I went to The Body Shop and had them show me what to use and how to apply it, and bought about half of what they suggested. I could have gotten away with less. Overall it was successful - their prices seem reasonable, they are easy to find, and I had people tell me I looked extra nice without realizing I was wearing makeup.

I wasn't entirely thrilled with how long the powder stayed on, and wanted makeup known to be non-toxic (mmm, tasty lead...), so after using everything up out of laziness I went to an independent place. I got lucky and the woman was great about only selling me things that I use. She suggested buying Ecotools brushes from Whole Foods or Target rather than their expensive brushes. I did get some eye makeup that I asked for but have not yet gotten confident enough at applying.
posted by sepviva at 12:09 PM on August 21, 2011

I recently bought this book and found it very helpful. For what it's worth I'm a total klutz at makeup.

Eye makeup has always been the hardest for me and it was from this book that I FINALLY learned how to do eyeliner without it looking slightly weird. Here's the trick. Start from the outer corner and make short strokes as close to the lash line as possible until you reach the center of the eye or a little past. THEN, switch the the direction you're holding the pencil so you're now coming athe lash line from underneath and continue from the center to the inner corner. It's like magic. I am no longer a freak.

Another thing that's always been hard for me is choosing colors. I found finding my "season" a la '80s style color me beautiful type websites really helped me identify colors that might look good on me. Here is one super simple guide. The clothing suggestions are directed at men but the colors would be the same.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:40 PM on August 21, 2011

Best answer: If you are near a Nordstrom they have a makeup personal shopper program. I tried this out and really enjoyed it. I learned both about new products and new techniques for applying them. I think it's great because instead of going straight to a counter where they push one brand with some strong products and some weak the consultant is able to cherry pick the best of all the lines. It's free although the expectation is that you are going to buy some product at the end.

Basic makeup items differ for each person depending on your situation. Just to add a data point to your quest I'll list what I use and how in the hopes that you can find something to work for you: I prep my cleaned skin with Dr. Hauschka toner and Caudalie Serum, specifically for reducing redness. I use Clarins Day Screen SPF 40 because I am allergic to nearly every other sunscreen I've tried. I mix a primer into the sunscreen and apply it to my t-zone because I have oily skin and the primer really helps to control that throughout the day. I use both Laura Mercier's and Smashbox's primers and they both work for me.

I use Neutrogena Healthy Skin foundation, applied lightly to my t-zone with fingers because that looks most natural on me. I use Clinique concealer, patted in to the skin with my ring finger for the lightest touch and on days when my eye circles are extra dark I add a little bit of Neutrogena Eye Perfecter to the darkest spots. I have a lot of trouble with mascara due to watery allergic eyes but I've been happy with both DiorShow Waterproof and Trish McEvoy in black, applied only to the top lashes, in one coat. I use Kiehls tinted lip balm on my lips. That's my basic routine and it takes me less than 5 minutes to complete.

To look more fixed up I add Christian Dior Contour blush applied with a Sonia Kashuk Blusher Brush. I put Too Faced shadow primer in Candellight on my eyelids because they are oily and without it any eyeshadow slides right off. I apply a Mac paint pot with my fingers, patting a light amount on my lids only. I use neutral colors like Soft Ochre, Bare Study or Rubenesque. I apply a very tiny amount of Everyday Minerals Champagne highlighter, again with my fingers, under the curve of my eyebrow and along the outside top of my cheekbone, blending it out until it's only a very subtle glow. I also tightline my eyes with Mac Carbon Eyeshadow using the Laura Mercier Eyeliner Brush, wetted with a little bit of water.

And at the end of the day I wash it all off with Philosophy Purity Cleanser. This all may look like a lot if you are coming from nothing but I'm in no way a big makeup person and if I can get the hang of it, anyone can.

Sephora is a great resource because they will make you up a sample of almost anything for you to try out at home and if you do buy something and aren't happy you can return it even if it's been opened. I have not had great success with either Sephora or Ulta's suggestions for products, however.

One thing I've found extremely helpful when I try out new makeup looks: Take a picture of yourself in indoor and outdoor light so that you can get a more detached idea of how it looks on you. Best of luck. It seems daunting at first, mainly because there are so many options but don't be intimidated and you'll soon fall into a routine with products you are happy with.
posted by tinamonster at 12:45 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just want to say that going to a Mac counter or Sephora might not be the best thing if you don't wear any makeup normally. I've done this a few times and ended up with what felt like a clown face. Best experience was when I was a teenager, my mother called up the fancy department store's makeup folks and asked if anyone was particularly good at doing "minimalist" makeup for someone who doesn't normally wear any. She made an appointment and I learned a lot from that. My best experience with more natural makeup lately has been Bobbi Brown cosmetics.

You could even call a couple of nice salons to see if they could to a makeup tutorial and mention during the phone call that you don't normally wear makeup so would like to start with the basics so it's not a huge shock.
posted by belau at 4:19 PM on August 21, 2011

Best answer: For a very basic makeup look that is natural but adds an extra "polish," I would wear tinted moisturizer, mascara, and blush. Use powder if you're oily, and lipstick and eyeliner for special occasions. Once you're used it it, it should take about 3-5 minutes.

You can buy everything at the drugstore except the tinted moisturizer, which i recommend buying from somewhere you can try out the shade before you buy it to make sure you get a perfect match. I like Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer - it looks very natural but evens out your skintone really nicely.

For the other products, there are good options at the drugstore. Maybelline Full N Soft mascara, Maybelline gel eyeliner (I think that's easier to apply than pencil eyeliner), Milani blush, NYC powder, Revlon lipstick.
posted by insectosaurus at 5:47 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

It just feels weird to be in a meeting with the CEO talking about matters that involve vast sums of money and being the only woman in the room who's not wearing makeup.

Embrace the weirdness. Be the weirdness. Love the weirdness until the weirdness goes away. Get used to being where you are because you are competent rather than dress-code-friendly.

Makeup is an embuggerance. You've done well to resist the "need" for it until now. Keep doing that. Tell the Borg to go to hell.

Starting to think of your real face as "unpolished" or in any other way imperfect is a slippery slope to nowhere good.
posted by flabdablet at 6:45 PM on August 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Get your eyebrows professionally shaped at a salon. This can make a huge, huge difference in how polished you look.

Then all you need is powder (usually the inside of your wrist should be your guide, but obviously if it looks weird when it's on, go darker), some lip gloss (or I like the long lasting lipstick like Maybelline Superstay, ebcause I only need to apply it once) a shade or two darker than your lips. For eyes, a coat of mascara (brown-black is my daytime standard--you may want to go for full black if you are dark-skinned, but brown-black will still give you a subtle boost).

That's all you need. A tinted moisturizer is nice if you can find one you like, but not necessary--I find they tend to make me feel greasy by the end of the day.

Which reminds me, invest in those Clean and Clear oil-blotting sheets (in the acne care section of the drugstore). Pat one or two over your fact at lunchtime to clear away any shine, then reapply powder. Done and done.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:01 PM on August 21, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! This feels a lot less daunting now. I'm even sort of excited about it!

I know, flabdablet. On one hand I feel like makeup is a tool of the man to keep us down, much like ties and cubicles. On the other hand everyone seems to know how to apply it and wear it except for me. So it's not like I'm choosing not to wear it, I'm just lacking a tool that everybody around me seems to have mastered. Plus, I'll never know if I like it unless I try it.
posted by Kicky at 8:17 PM on August 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Same argument applies to crack, but whatever floats your boat :-)
posted by flabdablet at 8:39 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Search for Lisa Eldrige on you tube and watch her videos. She recently did a 'no make up make up' one that you may find enlightening as to how you could approach make up. She also explains technique very well.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:53 PM on August 21, 2011

I knew flabdablet was a man!!!

Makeup isn't a tool to keep anyone down. Humans want to look 'better', and makeup can help conceal flaws. Natural beauty is great, but being able to change your look is a lot of fun!! There was a study (citation here???) that showed women who wore makeup looked like they were ovulating all of the time. It does more for us than we think.

I use minimal makeup every day and my style is polished and clean-cut. My favorite products for day wear are Tarte Smooth Operator tinted moisturizer, Pixi lip blush, Almay pure blends volumizing mascara in brown, Tarte dark circle defense, Lancome EFFACERNES (waterproof concealer), Benetint cheek stain, and SoftLips in raspberry.

This sounds like a LOT of stuff, but it really isn't. I do not think that you should wear eyeliner, most eyeshadows, or lipsticks when you're first starting out. You should ease into your makeup or you will find yourself turned off of it entirely. Current makeup is very focused on looking fresh and natural. You may be beautiful, but wearing makeup will make you look stunning. It's what it was made to do. Enjoy--and branch out when you've got down the basics! Your thirties are a perfect time to do smokey eyes and bright red lips for evening!
posted by 200burritos at 7:22 AM on August 22, 2011

I was once like you, around 30 before I tried makeup. These days (a couple of months away from 38) I still find it difficult to wear makeup everyday, so I have a very minimalist routine.

Sunscreen is the most critical thing I use. SPF-15 moisturizer daily does the trick.

After that is Bare Minerals foundation powder. That stuff is awesome - gives you a nice even tone and a tiny bit of coverage for good skin without feeling like you have crap caked on your face. I hate the feel of makeup (one of the reasons I never got into it until my 30s when I felt like I needed to finally do it) and the Bare Minerals stuff is weightless.

Blush on the cheeks I avoid. Let's be honest - it's so easy to overdo that and start looking freakish. You can add it later, once you are comfortable with applying and wearing makeup, but definitely get a consult from a cosmetic counter in getting the right color / tone.

The tiniest bit of mascara (I like brownish black instead of a true black, seems more natural with my coloring) to help make my deep-set eyes stand out more, but sometimes I don't bother. Definitely go with a non-waterproof one, to keep the routine simple.

Some kind of lip color / lip gloss. If you don't do any of the above, do that, even if it's just a shade darker than your natural lip color. Lip color makes you look finished, regardless of the rest. Doesn't have to be fancy - tinted lip moisturizer is great! - to look good.

The most important thing? Having well-shaped eyebrows and a good hairstyle that suits you. No matter how pretty you are (with or without makeup), you want your face to have a nice "frame".
posted by southpaw at 10:04 AM on August 22, 2011

I'm 40, and I've been wearing make-up since I was 13. This year I started reading up on the toxins in cosmetics and was fairly horrified. Now I use foundation and blush from my local natural foods store, and I actually love them. My skin is in better shape than it ever has been. I use this brand, but there are more out there. This video gives an overview the cosmetics industry problems. And this book is informative too.
posted by cicadadays at 7:41 PM on August 23, 2011

I hate the "looking naturally polished and pretty"/mandatory-style make up stuff because I feel so inept about it too (bright green eyeshadow for shits and giggles on the weekend, on the other hand...). Given that I agree totally with the baby steps approach mentioned above. Benefit makes something called "highlighter" that comes in 2 tints--high beam and moon beam--depending on your complexion (high beam is pinker and better suited to pearly blueish-pale complexions; I use moon beam which is browner/warmer and works well for my naturally tan, more yellow skin) and is nowhere near as easy to mess up as foundation or powder. It's similar to lightly tinted moisturizers; gently rub in a tiny amount where you want a little more smoothness and glow. It's pretty impossible to mess up, and when I bother wearing it (to go out at night or whatever; I don't need to impress for work but if I did I'd use it then too) I pretty much ALWAYS get compliments about how radiant and glowing and happy I look. On the downside, it's more expensive than drugstore makeup, but I'm still on my first one and have had it forever because you use so little.

Between that (or something similarly light but really good for your skin like the ideal moisturizer/suncreen) and the perfect natural looking lip gloss (very trial and error personal) and taking care of your eyes without make up per se (good brow grooming as mentioned upthread and possibly curling and separating your lashes, the right mascara if you're of that persuasion), you can look noticeably more polished and put together without having to worry about smears, make up removal, clumsy application, etc. It'd be a good first step, if you haven't done that stuff yet.
posted by ifjuly at 7:55 AM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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