Help Me Makeup
September 17, 2016 8:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm a grown-ass woman (48 in a couple of weeks) and I have no idea how to wear make-up. I just never really learned. I don't like wearing it and only do it for rare special occasions, maybe twice a year or so, and whenever I do I realize that I don't really know what I'm doing. I have decided that this is unacceptable at my age, and so I turn to the sage wisdom of AskMe.

I'd like to have two make-up looks -- one casual for the occasional sort-of-dressy occasion, and one fancy-night-out look. I would like the casual look to be the bare minimum: foundation, blush, eye shadow, mascara, lipstick. Do I REALLY need more than that? What is the minimum I need to get by for the natural look?

And then the fancy-night-out look would be for special occasions like weddings or banquet type events, and ideally would be a little more striking and, well, fancy. My assumption is that this would just build on the casual look but maybe add some more shading, eyeliner, eyebrows, powder, maybe bolder colors, something like that. I don't even know! What do I need?

And then how do I choose colors that work with my skin tone (which is light with cool undertones, according to some WikiHow article I read) and eye color (blue)? I've got a small cosmetic bag full of miscellaneous blushes and eye shadows in colors that don't suit me, and no real idea how to put them on appealingly. Can anyone point out some online resources that might help with that? Application tutorials would also be very helpful. Articles, videos, what-have-you.

I know my best bet would probably be to walk into the nearby Ulta or the cosmetics department at Macy's and just get a one-on-one consult, but if I felt comfortable doing that, I wouldn't be asking Metafilter, and probably would have done it a long time ago. I expect I will remain a no-makeup gal most of the time, but it would be nice to have options available to me when the occasion suits. Any help is much appreciated!
posted by stennieville to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (40 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Subscribe to Lisa Eldridge's channel on YouTube and poke through her videos. I think her stuff would be perfect for you. She has a ton of great ones, including basics -- stuff like how to choose the right color foundation, how to apply foundation, how to do your makeup in ten minutes, etc. She also has a bunch on day looks, evening looks, spring looks, etc. And not incidentally, she has several videos on how to apply flattering makeup on "mature skin," as she puts it, which usually means women somewhere around your (and my) age.
posted by holborne at 8:28 PM on September 17, 2016 [28 favorites]

It's hit or miss depending on the makeup artist, but I have always liked the advice I got from Sephora. You could book a lesson with them and they're really helpful when it comes to advice about your shades, application techniques, etc. The tutorial is free although you have to buy around $50 worth of products. I think that's still a good deal.

There are also hundreds of YouTube tutorials on makeup application. These were interesting and you get plenty of useful tips, but I still found the Sephora tutorials more helpful.
posted by theappleonatree at 8:31 PM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can go even more minimalist than what you listed as your bare minimum if you want. Here's what I wear as a 41 year old woman who works in academia:

1. Eyebrow powder to fill in my brows. I find pencils too fiddly and heavy-looking, so I buy powder and apply it with an angled brush.
2. Concealer to even out any red spots
3. A bright lip, usually in a matte red lipstick or an easy to apply gloss (or the second on top of the first)
4. A tiny bit of blush

I don't do anything to my eyes because mascara, eyeliner, and eyeshadow have been frustrating and messy all my life.
posted by MsMolly at 8:47 PM on September 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Just for reference, I'm 42, and I work part time at the educational arm of a high-end cosmetic company.

Your main focus should be skin care. With an excellent skin care regimen, your day to day cosmetic needs are minimized. My guess is if you aren't big on makeup, you're probably already doing something right with your skin care, or you would have tried learning to spackle over flaws a long time ago--if I'm wrong, you should take some time to determine, by yourself or with a professional, what your skin type is and what your areas of need might be, and find products that suit you.

Next, if you have a hair stylist you frequent and trust, you should ask them for their thoughts next time you visit. In most states makeup training is part of a cosmetology licensing program and even if your regular stylist isn't an expert in that area they will very likely have some guidance for you. I'll go ahead and add that a good cut and color often goes a long way toward a complete look and you may find you need less or different makeup with just the right haircut or slight color adjustment.

I think videos are fun, myself, but hard to parse for the beginner who may not know what an equivalent to this MAC eyeshadow or that Nars lipstick might be, or be inclined to fall into an internet hole to figure it out. That's kind of intermediate stuff.
posted by padraigin at 8:47 PM on September 17, 2016 [7 favorites]

Ack, sorry! Somehow glossed over the part about you not being comfortable about asking Ulta/Macy's/cosmetics people. However, I still think this might be the best option for you. The one-on-one consults proved to be the most valuable to makeup newbie me. I always booked the earliest appointment on a weekday (the absence of crowds made me feel less self-conscious).
posted by theappleonatree at 9:06 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd like to have two make-up looks -- one casual for the occasional sort-of-dressy occasion, and one fancy-night-out look. I would like the casual look to be the bare minimum: foundation, blush, eye shadow, mascara, lipstick. Do I REALLY need more than that? What is the minimum I need to get by for the natural look?

I know nothing about you/your skin, but BB cream or tinted moisturizer (Laura Mercier used to be the go-to before BB creams, you can get your skintone matched at Sephora, or ask for samples if that freaks you out) will mean no need to fuss with foundation. It's usually a multitasker-- moisturizer, spf, and light coverage all in one.

If you want heavier coverage, maybe look for samples, find out which brand you like. Or just plunge in and buy what interests you. Tons of swatches and such online.

A cream blush is easy to apply with the tips of your fingers-- just a couple light dabs on the cheek and blend with your fingertips.

For mascara, you can always go with black-brown if you find black too severe or messy. I use NON-waterproof mascara, because I hate fixing mistakes with anything but a little tapwater. This is an area where drugstore stuff will definitely do-- CoverGirl LashBlast is good. For super lightweight, natural, unmessy, unclumpy mascara, Clinique Naturally Glossy is pretty low maintenance. It will offset your eyes without being too much of A Look.

Eyeshadow is not a necessity, but you can do whatever you want with eyeshadow. I recommend an eyeshadow primer if you're going to go that route.

Lipstick is not strictly a necessity, but I think it's an easy way to take a look from very natural to slightly dressier. Look for a pinky-nude shade that's similar to your natural li (or sheer) but a little rosier, and I think that will suit most daytime occasions. I often wear just moisturizer and rosy-nude lipstick when I'm just running out for errands or get get a bite to eat (it's a bit of an edgier look without mascara, but add mascara + BB cream + maybe a little blush and voila, ready for work).

In terms of fancy-night-out looks, this is where you can have fun. I would recommend looking at photos on pinterest or anywhere online, looking for three things:

1) Women with similar coloring/features to you,
2) Looks you REALLY like,
3) What you like the most about that look (the lip color? the eye? the balance?)

From there, break it down. If you love the lipstick shade, make it about the lip. If you love the eye makeup, you can do a natural or nude lip. Think about which looks look best with the kinds of outfits you wear. I enjoy matching my lipsticks to my outfit in fun, complementary ways-- a raspberry lip with forest green top, a red lip with a peachy pink sweater, etc. It's good to have balance-- with a pastel outfit, a bright, bold lip can offset and keep it from cutesy. With a blue dress, a coral-tinged shade. With a menswear look, a classic red lip can liven it up. Etc.

I'm not the world's biggest eye makeup expert because I have hooded lids so it generally looks like I have one shade of eyeshadow on no matter what I do. But lid + crease + brow bone + liner looks are basically paint by numbers, and you can buy a little kit (Smashbox has some nice natural/nude ones) with matched colors, of course.

I find that my favorite, truly "natural" makeup look for me has these components:
- A BB cream or tinted moisturizer
- A rosy-nude lip in a semi-matte shade
- A very lightweight, black-brown mascara
- A bit of subdued highlighter on my nose/chin/cheekbones (Touche Eclat Radiant Touch is great, though expensive)

No eyeshadow, no eyeliner. Sometimes a dab of rose-y or fawn blush, depending on the season.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:11 PM on September 17, 2016 [15 favorites]

Also, it's definitely easier to approach sales people in cosmetics stores with a particular goal in mind-- "I'm looking for a medium-weight concealer in my skintone, can you help?" is a bit simpler than "build me a look!!"
posted by stoneandstar at 9:11 PM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

You mention foundation and blush, but no powder? If you're using liquid foundation, you shouldn't apply blush right over that. It will look streaky.

I used my allotted lifetime supply of makeup in my late teens and early twenties, so I keep it minimal these days most of the time. I love BB and CC creams, because they can even out your skin tone without making it look like a mask and requiring powder and blush, like traditional foundation does.

My natural look for work is: BB cream, curled eyelashes* with mascara, and chapstick or lip gloss. If my skin is acting up, I will also use a tiny daub of concealer.

If I am going out, I will sometimes do the whole powder, blush, eyeliner (rarely eyeshadow, because I find it harder to apply well), lipstick thing. I like a bright lip, but I find that these days (I'm 43), I have fine vertical lines where lipstick bleeds. I think at our ages we need to use lipliner in order to keep the lipstick on our lips only. I just haven't bitten the bullet and researched/bought lipliner yet.

* Curling your eyelashes may seem like one of the more frou-frou grooming activities one can do, but I find it makes a HUGE difference in my eyes. A good curl followed by mascara to set makes my eyes look noticeably bigger. YMMV. If you already have big eyes, this won't be your must-have like it is mine.
posted by mysterious_stranger at 9:13 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh, and last-- get nice brushes for your eyeshadow, don't use the shitty little ones that come with makeup. The experience is much better with a brush, and you can watch a few videos to see the technique for picking up color on the brush and blending.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:13 PM on September 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

You only need as much makeup as you'd like--and as said upthread, probably the best thing you can do for a "look" is to keep your skin clear and well moisturized.

So my basic look takes me literally 5 minutes to put on: I do a BB cream foundation (I use the Bare Minerals liquid thing, a couple of dots around my face that I blend in with a brush). I am hopeless at matching my difficult-to-match skintone, so I always go to Sephora to get matched for foundations. I know you said you're not comfortable with them, but I really do recommend Sephora for a pleasant, no-hassle interaction. They've never tried up push anything on me or upsell anything (they might pick out an expensive brush, but are happy to offer something else if you tell them you want to spend less on a brush) and they only do what I ask. If you have the time, go on a weekday morning or early afternoon when it's less croweded and overwhelming.

I sometimes use a little bronzer or blush, sometimes I don't. I put on eyelid primer (I recommend Urban Decay's primer) and sweep one neutral color on my eyelids (I tend to stick to browns, bronzes, or peachy-browns) and line just my upper lid. I use brow gel to tame my ridiculous brows. I sweep on some lipstick with SPF in it (I like the Fresh brand) that's in a neutral rosy color. Done.

At night I just swap in a sparklier version of my fairly neutral eyeshadow, a bolder lip color, and sometimes fill in my brows a little bit. This might take me... 6 minutes because I try a little harder on my eyeliner.

I watch a lot of YouTube videos because I admire people's skills, but I've come to accept that I have neither the skill nor the patience to ever care about, like, blending different eyeshadow colors, and that's ok for me.
posted by TwoStride at 9:15 PM on September 17, 2016 [5 favorites]

I am a 48 year old man, so you can take this advice with that in mind. I would also suggest youtube, but along with that, if you have access to a fancy department store or a Sephora store, they have makeup artists in-house who will give you a makeover of sorts. The fancier the store the better because they will be well educated as far as makeup trends and new products. I just googled it and there is a Neiman Marcus in Bellevue, WA that doesn't look like it's too, too far away. I would imagine that you could find a sympathetic person in any of these places. I've had multiple friends over the years who are makeup artists and they all really love helping other women look their best. If going into one of these places, or putting yourself in this situation makes you uncomfortable, just think what you'll gain. (Maybe have a glass of wine first, or chug a beer in the parking lot). Plus, remember they work on commission so if you're friendly and honest they'll give you good service because they want to make a sale. Maybe you could make this your hobby for a while. Go to different makeup counters and get different tutorials from different people. I can imagine it would be really helpful.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 9:18 PM on September 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

Gosh, sorry. Seconding theappleonatree in glossing over this part of you post. In my defense i was too lazy to hobble off and fetch my reading glasses.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 9:22 PM on September 17, 2016

Yeah, big ups to BB cream for rare makeup users! (And definitely if you can bring yourself to it, the Sephora people have never been anything but super-helpful when I have exactly the same makeup issue, that I rarely use it and have no great idea how to do it and everything is expired and looks outdated anyway.)

You may enjoy Birchbox -- I do -- because for $10 a month I get a little present in the mail of makeup (and moisturizers and sunblocks and hair products and so on), in shades that are usually MOSTLY okay for me (you fill out a profile), in little bitty sample sizes, with instructions (and videos on the website), that I can experiment with in the comfort of my home with no interacting with makeup counter humans. Sample sizes are just about the right size for me to actually use maybe half of it before it expires and I have to throw it out anyway, and since when I was in a wedding a couple years ago I discovered ALL of my makeup was expired and had to pitch it and buy all new for around $80 (grumble grumble), $10/month for a fun little present in the mail seems like a bargain, especially since it keeps me in much nicer moisturizers and hair products than I would otherwise buy! (With the samples I don't want or like -- hello dry shampoo! -- I take them to my book club, where someone always wants them, or offer them to my 12-year-old cat-sitter who is super into makeup experimentation and it is THRILLING.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:28 PM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, one other way to get a good sense of colors for your complexion: flip through a fashion magazine or two and find a model who has coloring simlar to yours with normal-looking makeup (often in the "daytime look" or sports spreads, or the covers. I periodically flip through Glamour and Shape for this kind of thing. The magazines almost always lists the makeup brand and color that they used for the look; I'll jot it down and do a search for similar-looking colors in brands I like. I find it especially helpful for finding lipstick shades, because I like really neutral, just-better-than-nude looks and sometimes it's hard to figure out what something called, like, "early sangria" looks like on a person and trying lipstick at the stores creeps me out.
posted by TwoStride at 9:29 PM on September 17, 2016

For a minimalist look, you can really ditch the blush. To my eye, visible blush puts you over the line into a more made-up look. For work, I usually get by with a tinted moisturizer with SPF (Laura Mercier) + a cream eyeshadow (MAC Paint Pot) in a neutral-pinkish color + black-brown mascara (best thing to economize on if necessary). If I'm feeling ambitious, I'll tightline my upper lid with a very very dark blue powder eyeliner. The great thing about eye makeup is that it tends to stay on all day. Lipstick/gloss requires constant reapplication.

I started wearing makeup more regularly relatively late myself, and I hate to say it, but if you're not going to consult with an in-store person (and even they are not infallible), a lot of finding what works on you is just tedious trial and error. Fortunately, Sephora, and most department stores, have generous return policies. You can also read reviews on Makeup Alley--they tend to be more honest than the Sephora reviews, and users generally identify what they think their skin tone is, etc., which gives you some clue as to whether it will work for you.
posted by praemunire at 9:43 PM on September 17, 2016

I would like the casual look to be the bare minimum: foundation, blush, eye shadow, mascara, lipstick. Do I REALLY need more than that? What is the minimum I need to get by for the natural look?

Not really, you just want to add a little definition to your features, and that does it.

Eyebrows are pretty important in terms of framing your eyes and face. If you've got any sparseness or grey going on, you might want to fill them in. (I think most people look good with a variation of taupe for eyebrows, almost regardless of skin/hair [although yes, deeper taupes for deeper colourings]. Because dark colours on eyebrows (brown, definitely black) read as much darker than they are - they come across as flat and severe, because pigment doesn't reflect light like actual hair does [unless there are sparkles or something in there to make up the difference, and that doesn't look great, imo]. Also, eyebrows aren't straight blocks of colour, some skin shows through, even with thicker brows, and it's hard to replicate that, even if you're drawing little feathered lines. With taupe, you're just filling in space to suggest a line, and your natural eyebrows will define the colour. (If your brows are grey, might want to just get them dyed. Do not get permanent eyebrow tattoos, no matter how fuss-free people make them sound. Won't get into why here, update if you want to hear that.)


2nd focusing on skin care. Exfoliate, for sure, to a) get the turnover you want for a glowing look and b) keep pores tidy & therefore smaller-looking. Use some kind of AHA, vitamin C serum (for antioxidants), and sunscreen. More info at and the boards at

Re foundation: You could go a few ways, it all depends on your skin type and needs. Less is usually more, imo - ideal to let as much natural skin show through as possible, I think. If you can do with just concealer over areas that you'd like to correct (e.g. undereye circles, scars) + just a bit of powder over your T zone, that'd be great, imo. If you want a more "finished" look, you could do a light foundation under that. For events/evenings, maybe go for more coverage, if you want.

To get foundation/concealer colour right: really suggest getting face-to-face advice, it'll save you $$, time, and aggravation. Sephora's good; I've found that the beauty people in my country's biggest drugstore franchise are also usually pretty solid. (I think they all have to have a few years of cosmetology experience. YMMV, ofc.)

I like some of Wayne Goss' videos. Ignore the stuff on contouring, check out the ones on how to do eyebrows, eye makeup, etc. (I think both he and Lisa Eldridge are often a little over-the-top with foundation.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:04 PM on September 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding Lisa Eldridge. There's really nothing like binge-watching a ton of makeup tutorials to really orient you in the world of makeup, and she's an actual adult who does very very wearable looks (her meeting-the-ex video is A++ soothing).

I really recommend just taking it slow, feeling out your comfort level, and adding products to your collection gradually, and just enjoy the process. For instance, do you want to go for affordable drugstore stuff, or do you want to splash out on fancier higher-end products? For reference, I'm a real makeup fiend and love having a makeup bag full of Hourglass, Chanel, Nars and Kevin Aucoin, but there's really no need to go that expensive unless you want to.

So take your time, experiment, and do things gradually. Start with a little BB cream or foundation (for the record, I've never found a BB cream I liked and I go straight to foundation - either Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua or Chanel Perfection Lumiere - which I dab all over my face and swiftly blend with this el cheapo but excellent brush - it takes no time at all and I prefer the finish), bit of concealer, and powder. My suggestion is don't underestimate the power of blush - it can really bring your face to life. A swipe of mascara and you're done. Work up from there to more ambitious looks, if you feel like it and are inspired. Watch a killer eyeshadow tutorial? Go treat yoself to that Urban Decay Naked palette and have a play. Wanna try a strong lip? Head on down to MAC and grab a couple lippies and try it out. Even contouring can be fun - I do a sneaky l'il contour most days, and it's really not much effort.

Oh! And speaking of brushes! BUY BRUSHES! A gorgeous set of brushes makes applying makeup an absolute pleasure. After a lot of hemming and hawing, I recently pulled the trigger on this brush set from Zoeva and it was one of the best makeup investments I've ever made. I seriously use every brush, with the exception of the angled liner brush, but that's just because I don't really use any products involving angled liner just yet. It's amazing how much faster and more fun putting on makeup can be when you have the right tools.
posted by nerdfish at 11:13 PM on September 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Before you go shopping, check out for advice regarding products. When it comes to cosmetics (especially the pricier lines), there appears to be precious little relationship between quality and price.
posted by she's not there at 12:06 AM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The thing about makeup is that it's kind of a chicken-and-egg deal; you don't wear it often so it feels odd/gross and so you don't wear it often.

My first recommendation would have been a consultation at Sephora (I splurged on one and it was amazing) but since you've said you don't want to, I would recommend getting a few basic products from the drugstore and playing with them until you figure out what works for you.

Nthing everyone who says skincare is important. High SPF sunscreen and sunglasses during the day, remove your makeup and moisturise (Ponds cold cream is cheap and comparable to lots of fancy products; my mother, aunt, and grandmother all swear by it and they hardly look their ages.)

Casual makeup: You have two options: Your-face-but-better, which is basically SUPER natural and meant to look like you're not wearing makeup at all - so BB cream, maybe a hint of blush if you're pale, mascara, eyeliner. The other - which I prefer and which looks better on my dark skin - is a sweep of eyeliner and a bold lip. Red lipstick, if you find one that works for you, just brightens up your face like anything.

Fancy makeup: Add blush and eyeshadow! (Pro tip: play up your eyes OR your lips, not both unless you want to risk looking like a MAC model.) The thing I've realised about foundations is that they take a while to get used to; start with a powder foundation, then try liquid if the powder doesn't feel like enough coverage. Boots No 7 does a surprisingly good one that doesn't trigger even my ridiculously finicky skin.

Re: knowing what colours look good on you... absent a Sephora consult, the best thing to do is get one of those cheap drugstore palettes and experiment away. If you want to go a little more high-end, the Naked palettes are pretty iconic, and Maybelline does decent dupes for much less. In general, in order to get good at makeup you have to practise. Take a few minutes every so often to experiment, even if you never wear your looks out. You'll feel more comfortable when you do get gussied up.
posted by Tamanna at 12:31 AM on September 18, 2016

If this is truly a twice-a-year thing for you, another option is to go to a salon and get your makeup done before your event. It will cost a little more money, but frankly buying a full face of non-drugstore makeup will cost you $200 anyway and won't come with a professional application, and will expire within 2 years. You might as well consider spending $50/event (+ tip) to have someone else take the lead. You can also observe their techniques and learn over time.

I recommend Blushington, if you have one near you.
posted by samthemander at 12:36 AM on September 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

nthing Lisa Eldridge.
I am in exactly the same situation as you - 46 and only now getting to the stage when I want to wear make up. Two things I've learned are firstly that the makeup assumptions I remember from the 80's when I was a teenager are completely outdated - products have completely changed - so if you have any lingering 'rules' in the back of your mind you can safely ditch them. Secondly, I have hooded eyes. It sounds stupid but I didn't realise and I couldn't understand why the 'looks' on the Internet didn't work.... A quick image search will let you know if you do too (lots of older women have them) and then you can search for specific tips and looks.
posted by Heloise9 at 1:05 AM on September 18, 2016

Same age as you. If I could afford it, I'd treasure and pamper my face and body with the natural products of Living Libations. Our faces (body and skin) look beautiful when we take care of them.

(I have no affiliation with them. so wish I did...)
posted by mirileh at 1:21 AM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely binge on Lisa Eldridge. She has looks from no make up to very glam and she explains things and gives relevant considerations as she goes. After watching a few of the videos you'll pick up themes and concepts come together.

Where on the spectrum from dry to oily is your skin? To me that is probably the single most important consideration in picking products - the perfect colour won't do much good if the formulation is not suited for your skin type - it'll either not last or feel uncomfortable on your face. The good news is that products will generally say what skin they are suited for. If your skin is oily 'long lasting' is often a good indicator that something is more likely to stay where you put it as opposed to sliding off after a while. But if your skin is dry these formulations may feel off on your face.

In the last few years a lot of cream/liquid products have surfaced where 15 years ago you'd have mainly powders. And these tend to be quite easy to apply and blend, not least because you can normally apply them with fingers. As a rule you apply all 'wet' products first, then powder and apply any powder products. If you apply powder blush over unpowdered foundation it can indeed look streaky because it won't blend properly.

So assuming you've picked a suitable bb/cc cream/foundation personally I'd go with a cream blush, that you dab on lightly and blend with clean finger. You don't rub, you just keep tapping around the area lightly.

With blue eyes I'd then probably look for a beige/gold/taupe/copper/brown eyeshadow pencil - that range of colours will bring out the blue. For a basic look perhaps a shade a couple of shades darker than your skin. I have blue eyes and I like the more intense coppers and browns for a still fairly basic look but if you never wear make up you may want to work your way up to that - it just looks more 'different' in the mirror. You can blend these eyeshadow pencils/sticks with fingers although I prefer to use a brush. Nthing that a good brush goes a long way. For eyes stay away from too much shimmer - the stuff just highlights the fine lines that most of us have by the time we go through our forties.

And some mascara. If you find that you end up with panda eyes after a short while try waterproof mascara, if that doesn't fix it go for tubing mascara.

Finish with a lip colour that is in the spectrum of the blusher so pink with pink/pink red, peach with peach/brownish shades etc.

Finally, please do work up the nerve to go to Sephora and tell them you want to be colour matched for things. They have a nifty gadget that they hold to your skin and it assess colour type and brings up a list with say pink or a nude lipsticks that should work. Clearly it is not infallible but the sales person will then pull some of these off the shelves and test them on you. This kind of thing is useful because you'll try colours you'd not have picked yourself and may be pleasantly surprised.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:34 AM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

nthing practice. I get bored and do new eye makeup all the time. If I were only experimenting in the morning or right before a big event, I would NEVER wear makeup because I've had plenty of fails, which are very frustrating when you're in a hurry or just trying to go through your morning routine.

Also nthing that if you really don't care, having a good skincare routine + natural mascara or something is probably going to tide you over until big events, when you can just have your makeup professionally done. Makeup is veryyyyy expensive in the long run, especially considering the stuff you buy and try and don't like and waste.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:43 AM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm a high school special education teacher and for the first few days I have the kids take this Learning Style Inventory (learning styles are NOT the same thing as Multiple Intelligences, but there's definitely overlap).

Depending on the results you get, you can take in all the very excellent answers here and decide what works for you.

I am HUGELY tactile, so for me, I can look at all of Lisa Eldridge's videos and those will NOT make sense. I cannot learn from a video.

However, I CAN learn when I do something hands on. Hence, I go to Sephora.

I also did not want to go to Sephora, but it is painless and within 20 minutes you can emerge with confidence in the right products and KNOWING how to use them.

I suggest figuring out how you best absorb information, then proceed. But I still think Sephora is probably your best bet. I'm NOT a shopper and don't like chatting with salespeople, but Sephora is great. You'll get the right colors and everything you need in one visit, then you can order online forever.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:04 AM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am blonde and have very fair skin, and my lips are naturally pretty red as is. Here is my daily look:

• sunscreen and concealer or tinted moisturizer with sunscreen. If you are not wearing sunscreen daily you absolutely need to start now. I have freckles and I like them so I go pretty minimalistic with base. I'll use concealer only when and where I need it, and a tinted moisturizer if I'm having a bad skin day. Otherwise, my face is bare.
• latex-based mascara. I get my eyelashes permed and tinted every six week, but the tint is subtle so I usually wear mascara. I like latex-based because I live in a humid climate, I teach and practice hot yoga, and I have allergies. Latex mascara (also sometimes called tubing mascara) doesn'r run or smudge. It kind of "peels" off at the end of the day with a little warm water and light rubbing.
• cheek stain. I like to wear blush to balance out the color of my lips, but I hate powder blushes. I put a tiny bit of either gel blush stain or cream blush on the apples of my cheeks, and that's all.
• eyebrow pencil. Again, I am blonde, so filling in my eyebrows really makes a difference in looking "finished." I like Anastasia Beverly Hills because the pencil is SO TINY and there is a spoolie on the other end for blending.
• lip stain/matte lipstick/lip gloss. Lately I've been loving a bold matte lip in a fucky color, which works well with a minimalistic look. The old rule of "play up one feature" still applies, and usually my feature is my lips. But since my lips are so red already I can get away pretty easily with a gloss or a tinted balm. I like Clinique's chubby sticks for super-moisturizing tint. I also still love Mac's Lipglass. I like to minimize how many products I have, so if I can find a lip & checck tint that doubles as my blush I'll often use that. If I'm going with a bold matte look I'll add a little concealer around my lipline just to make the lipstick look cleaner/more defined.

My nighttime look:
All of the above, plus a liquid cat-eye. I have found that felt tip brushes are the easiest to apply liquid liner.

I live in Amsterdam where the hold contouring and highlighting thing isn't really practiced. People here are work a more natural look with maybe ONE trend thrown in — think funky lipstick colors, or cateye, or bold brow, but only one at a time. You absolutely do not need to go crazy with make-up. It can be super fun to play around and it's easy to get lost int he sea of makeup tutorials on Youtube, but I would recommend figuring out a signature look and sticking with it.

Finally, something to remember: pretty is a set of skills.
posted by Brittanie at 4:05 AM on September 18, 2016 [8 favorites]

Nthing the recommendation to bite the bullet and visit Sephora and have them do a skin-tone check and a basic make-up application. I was in a similar situation to you a couple of years ago and did that - it was super helpful. I still do many of the same basics that they recommended then - it was very useful. (For instance, I'm super pale and would never have chosen the bronzer they recommended - would never have used bronzer, at all - but it makes a huge difference, while still looking very natural.)

They will email you a list of specific colors/shades of various items that match your skin tone for future reference, too.
posted by Medley at 7:13 AM on September 18, 2016

I'd suggest prioritizing your features and learn how to deal with one at a time.

Skin: if your skin is good then leave it alone except for some well matched concealer under your eyes and maybe around your nose if it is red. Optional : Maybe an illuminating powder (like from hourglass) if you want to have a glow from within look. As for blush- get a soft peachy cream blush stick (nars multiples) you can swipe on and blend w fingers. I think the right color blush makes everyone a thousand times prettier.

Eyes: get your eyebrows shaped professionally at least once. If your brows are sparse or light get them tinted. This is a game changer. Eyelash curler and a simple mascara (maybaline lash discovery is my favorite and has a tiny easy to use wand). Optional: color correcting cream lid primer (benefit's lemon-aid is awesome and makes you look super awake). For more advanced looks practice eyeliner. Liquid eyeliner has a steep learning curve, but a powder eyeliner is slightly easier and gives a softer look.

Lips: personally I never got much into lipsticks - I always feel like I'm playing dress up. So at least for me I stick to sheer colors and balms (Clinique almost lipsticks). Sometimes if I want to put something dressy on I'll use a lipliner slightly darker than my lips and kind of smudge it in. Colourpop lippi stick in lumiere is great for that.
posted by KMoney at 7:21 AM on September 18, 2016

Best answer: I just went and looked at Lisa Eldridge's channel, btw, and she breaks it into sections, one of which is all "Basics" -- 19 different videos, including "Makeup Essentials Tutorial" and "Choosing the right shade of foundation." In a different section, she also shows how to do a "no makeup look." So she definitely has stuff for beginners.
posted by holborne at 8:58 AM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm much the same as you, and I've been delighted to discover the eylash tint. It costs me about £15 and lasts for about six weeks. I'm the very last person to normally go into a salon for a beauty treatment, but this:
a. Looks like mascara but a little subtler (YMMV - it will be more striking if you have light lashes)
b. Doesn't require putting on and cleaning off every day
c. Saves you from dry, crusty eyelashes and having to remember not to rub your eyes all fecking day for fear of smearing your mascara.
d. Works well for my lower lashes, which I've never been able to mascara without them clumping and making me look like a badly-painted baby doll.

Seriously, it's great. The first day I had it done recently, one of my colleagues was all like "Ooh, you're wearing make-up", when I arrived in the office, so it was definitely visible, but it very quickly became normal and pretty subtle, especially as the intiial colour subsides a little after the first day or two. I just looked as if my eyes were particularly clear with zero effort or hassle.
posted by penguin pie at 9:05 AM on September 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

Maybe go with a friend to a makeup counter so you don't feel so pressured to buy a ton of stuff? You don't need 7 different skin products to tone, firm, soften, moisturize, etc. At a makeup counter you can try different types of foundation, blush, mascara, brow stuff.

A sheer foundation will even your skin tone. One that moisturizes if you have dry skin. Apply fairly sparingly. A smidgen of water will help in applying it if it feels too heavy. I own a concealer for booboos. I like Maybelline waterproof mascara, powder blush from covergirl/cvs in a color that works for me, and I just started using brow powder. Black eyeliner doesn't suit me; I have a taupe eyeliner that I like and it's forgiving of imperfect application, and some shimmery taupe eyeshadow for going out. I've never adapted to wearing lipstick, but Burt's Bees makes tinted lip gloss that I like.

Now I kind of want to have my eyelashes tinted.
posted by theora55 at 9:57 AM on September 18, 2016

Response by poster: OMG, you guys, thank you so much for all your awesome, helpful and thoughtful responses! Lots for me to parse through here. I will start marking best answers soon (there will be lots!), and might have follow-up questions. In the meantime, keep 'em coming! I'm learning a lot already.
posted by stennieville at 10:38 AM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of my biggest takeaways from Lisa Eldridge's videos (yes, I'm another convert) is that your foundation needs to be matched to where your jaw meets your neck. I've always used the back of my hand and bought terrible colours as a result.

I'm four-oh, and my everyday make up is this: nude eye shadow, black eyeliner, black mascara and red lipstick. It works with my colouring and can be applied within two minutes. If I feel less rushed, I sometimes fill out with my eyebrows with a dark eye-shadow and an angled brush. This makes a huge difference on days I feel I look tired & fatigued.

I had to up my game re occasion makeup recently. I hate makeup counters, so I brought a friend who proved excellent at warding off zealous up-sellers. I bought a primer to smooth out pores on my cheeks, a light foundation, a gel blush (FAR easier to apply than any powder blush I've tried), a light concealer and some fine powder. It feels like a lot to put on my face and I've had to practise. I've also had to use more actual skincare products (like a moisturiser) than I normally would. Products on my dry skin makes it dry out even more. My favourite new thing is definitely the gel blush - so easy to apply and it looks lovely on top of the foundation & underneath the powder. I've kept using nude eye-shadows as I'd rather play up my lips even with occasion makeup. I just fancy up the eyeliner swoop (this needs practise!).

Unlike my teen years & twenties, I just try to stay as neutral & classic as I can these days. No crazy colours or OTT statements - just very understated with a bold lip.
posted by kariebookish at 12:34 PM on September 18, 2016

I'm 35, and I never wore makeup until about a year ago. I still go through phases of wearing it more often to hardly ever. I really encourage you to try to find something you find fun or enjoyable about makeup if you decide to wear it more regularly. Alle Connell has a series of articles and youtube videos that both cover makeup basics and psychological stuff around wearing makeup (covering up flaws vs. self expression, people being judgy about beauty regimens, etc.) I also got a lot out of Kevyn Aucoin's Making Faces; it has a variety of looks on a variety of people, and really clear, illustrated explanations of how to achieve them. And if you have a femme friend, ask them to play with makeup with you, this was probably the most helpful for me.

My basic routine is sunscreen (a Japanese one full of -cones for a nice finish and no ghost face), fill eyebrows (ELF palette and an angled brush), curl eyelashes (no mascara), powder foundation or BB cream (Sephora house brand and Revlon, respectively), and lipstick (usually a Revlon balm stain for long wear + not too drying).

Start off playing with drugstore stuff and then get more expensive versions of stuff/colors you like but are unsatisfied with the quality. Stuff that's supposed to match your skin is a good thing to spend more on, especially since that lets you try it out. Match it to your neck/jawline. Get samples at Sephora or buy from a drugstore that takes returns. Use the samples before you buy - indoor lighting is horrible for seeing if foundation matches, you need to see it in a variety of lights.
posted by momus_window at 12:35 PM on September 18, 2016

Chiming in to say I'm a makeup newbie (only time I ever really wore it was 16-23 when I was really into looking like my version of "goth.") Started again last year (I'm 34 for reference) and here are some things I've enjoyed through the reacquainting process.

Having a friend go with me to the MAC store and getting a liquid foundation matched to my skin by the consultant. They did not try to upsell me on anything and were very helpful and nice. I would never have gone by myself.

Messing around with the eyeshadow sets that tell you where to put all the colors. I got a few different ones from E.L.F, and just practiced. They are super cheap and have some pretty colors.

Getting a makeup subscription so I get a little box of things to play with each month. I started out with Ipsy, but tired of the little bags in 6 months, even though they're very cute. Also I felt like I wasn't getting higher quality items from them. I switched to Birchbox and I really like it. Better items, cute reusable boxes that are a good size, and things I would never normally just buy because of the price, but this way I get to try them first. I also got a really nice Pixi eyeshadow palette when I joined that's 7 pretty neutral and lovely shades.

I also learned the hard way not to leave your expensive makeup in a hot car...sad.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 2:53 PM on September 18, 2016

I'm pretty bad with makeup, but blessed with good pores and even, if red-tinted, skin. I'm also lazy beyond lazy. I've chosen to make my investments in two places: lash extensions and good lipsticks.

My lashes are short and straight, so I can't go totally bonkers on extensions. This is not cheap, by the way, but since it's my 'thing' I give myself permission. My lashes always look mascara'd and groomed so long as I use a lash brush to straighten any crazies out in the morning. Good for the every day and for pretty evenings. They need to be done about every 6 weeks, with a fill-in done in the 3rd or 4th week.

Lipstick: I spend $20-25 on each lipstick because I want ones that go on thick and blot down to a reasonable coverage, then last until I eat lunch (or through it, that's always the dream.) I go Ulta and try out shades to my heart's content. If I know I have a night out coming up, I try to wear something that'll match the color of that outfit when I shop, so I know the lipstick looks good. I also invested in a clear lip liner, to keep reds from feathering too badly.
posted by taterpie at 3:13 PM on September 18, 2016

I'm terrible at makeup, too. I get my pale eyelashes dyed. You will always look a little more put together without any effort. You wake up already one step ahead!
posted by Foam Pants at 4:59 PM on September 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can't find the link right now, but i think it's Lisa Eldridge who has a video called something like "universally flattering eye makeup." It, and other of her videos, totally changed my makeup game this past year, by streamlining it and giving me way more tools in my arsenal. I can now go "natural" or crazy glam in way less time than I ever would have thought.

You could do what i did, and totally go down the YouTube rabbit hole for weeks. Or you could just watch a few a day and still learn a ton. Besides Eldridge, you might try searching with the words basic, beginner, or budget, which should give you a great place to start.

Also, do experimental makeup looks at the end of the day, not beginning! It's probably obvious not to try brand new techniques in the morning before work, but i only recently realized how smart it is to try something new right before bed. If it works, I've got a new technique; if it's a disaster, I'm about to wash anyway.

Have fun!

P.s. my top genius makeup tip: a good (not necessarily expensive) face primer and eye primer will make foundation and eye makeup last a lot longer. Eye primer in particular will also let you get away with using cheaper makeup. I get complimented all the time on my dollar store eyeshadow. YouTube is also a great resource for finding out which cheap cosmetics are garbage and which are hidden gems.
posted by jessicapierce at 7:40 PM on September 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am a lip-and-eye makeup enthusiast who refuses to wear foundation/concealer/blush/highlighter/ahhh it's all way too much, so I hear you.

Chiming in to say that you might like the recent trend toward fat pencils. You really can't mess up with an eyeshadow pencil, either from the drugstore or one that's a little fancier. They're not plastered-on-long-wearing, but they also require no brushes or thought, really.

I replaced my every-day lipstick with this and haven't looked back.
posted by athirstforsalt at 8:05 AM on September 19, 2016

just to support athirstforsalt's suggestion, the Clinique chubby stick cheek colour is also great - light but easily buildable color and super blendable with just your fingers.
posted by like_neon at 5:46 AM on September 20, 2016

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