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If you’ve never used makeup before, it can be quite intimidating to start. There are many different makeup products, colors, shades, tools, brushes, and techniques. You might watch a makeup 101 YouTube video “tutorial” where the beauty guru has a glitter cut crease done in 2 seconds, while you’re still wondering what brush to use first.
This is normal. It’s totally okay to not know where to start! There are a LOT of things you can learn about makeup, but it’s very normal to be overwhelmed when you’re beginning.
Here are my best suggestions! If you want to learn about makeup 101 for beginners and where to start, keep reading.
Why do you want to wear makeup?
The reason you want to wear makeup could determine the type of products you should use – and could be completely opposite of what someone else needs.
For example, stage or dance makeup is very different than natural “no-makeup” makeup. These two makeup styles will require very different makeup products to achieve two distinct looks.
If you want to start learning makeup to be creative, do intricate eyeshadow looks, have bold colors, for full coverage, or for stage makeup, check out these articles after you finish reading this one:
- 7 Tips for a Perfect Cut Crease
- $100 Full Face of (GOOD!) Makeup
- Best False Eyelashes for Beginners
- Most Blinding Highlighters
Not ready for more intense makeup quite yet? That is OKAY!
Most people want to learn the basics of makeup application before jumping into more “intense” makeup styles. It’s totally normal if you only want to learn a few simple makeup styles to wear to school, work, or special occasions!
Understanding your skin type and care
The first step in our mini makeup 101 course is understanding your skin.
Before you even buy any makeup products, you should understand your skin type.
There are a few main skin types: Dry, oily, normal (neither dry nor oily), and combination (which is a combination of 2 of the other types, often meaning you have oily and dry patches on your skin simultaneously).
Your skin type can change over time, depending on your age, location or climate, and the time of the year. In the winter, most people tend to be more dry than they are in the summer. Likewise, hot summer temperatures often cause your skin to become more oily.
Your skin type is important to understand because different makeup products are formulated for different skin types. For example, mattifying products are great for oily skin, and hydrating or dewy products are great for dry skin.
Knowing your skin type will help you choose makeup products that will work best for your individual needs.
It is equally essential to understand the importance of skincare.
Knowing how to properly cleanse your skin and remove your makeup is a key factor and something you must learn. Why? Sleeping with makeup on or wearing makeup for multiple days is very bad for your skin!
Any time you wear makeup, you should take it at the end of the day. You should come up with a good two step cleansing routine to ensure you get all the makeup off your skin, every single day. Yes, every day. I recommend using an oil based cleanser, then a water based cleanser. An oil based cleanser will remove makeup effectively, and oil cleansing is very hydrating for your skin. The second cleanser will remove any traces of oil left by the first cleanser.
Exfoliating your skin is also important. The process of exfoliating (both chemically and physically) removes dead skin cells that are on the top layer of your skin. If you put makeup on top of the dead skin cells, it will look super patchy, flaky, and overall bad.
Chemical exfoliating tends to be more gentle on your skin and is recommended by many professionals. If you must use a physical exfoliant, avoid rough ones such as apricot or walnut scrubs which cause micro tears in your skin. Instead, opt for a more gentle sugar scrub. It’s recommended that you exfoliate your skin 1-3 times a week, but the frequency of exfoliation will depend on your skin’s sensitivity, the products you use, and how gentle you are.
My two favorite affordable chemical exfoliating products:
The Basic Makeup 101 Products
You can alter this shopping list based on your own comfort level and budget. These are my basic product recommendations, which does NOT include every type of makeup product – but this list makes a perfect first “kit” of makeup.
Foundation or BB Cream
Foundation can be liquid, cream, or powder. It covers the entire face to even out your skin tone and cover imperfections.
If you’re just getting into makeup foundation might feel very intimidating, and that is normal. It can be hard to find your foundation shade (though it will help if you read my guide on how to do that). Furthermore, you have to get used to wearing a layer of product on your entire face – if you touch your face a lot through the day, you’ll rub it off.
After you get the hang of it, foundation is super easy. There are many different levels of coverage, so you can get a foundation that is sheer or fully covers your skin. Foundations come in different finishes, allowing you to choose a matte or a dewy finish. There are so many foundations out there that you can choose one that is perfect for your individual needs.
If you’re looking for a foundation, I suggest checking out one of these:
BB Creams are PERFECT for beginners (or for me when I’m lazy, only want sheer coverage, or when it’s super hot outside)!
Using a BB Cream or tinted moisturizer will give you a slight layer of coverage on your skin, without feeling heavy. You typically apply these products like you would a lotion, using your fingers.
Since BB Creams are sheer, it doesn’t matter quite as much if the shade perfectly matches you – this gives you a little wiggle room guessing your shade when ordering online.
My absolute favorite BB cream is this one, but here are a few more options too:
Of course, if you have great skin (or simply don’t care and don’t want to wear foundation or bb cream) you do NOT have to wear a foundation. I go foundation free often, using concealer to spot-correct any discoloration and blemishes, but not wearing a product over my entire face.
Related articles about foundation:
- Ultimate Guide to Foundation
- How to Choose the Correct Foundation Shade
- 13 Foundation Mistakes You’re Making (and how to fix them!)
- What is Tinted Moisturizer?
Concealer, also known as cover up, is used to conceal parts of your skin.
It masks things you are trying to hide, like dark circles, blemishes, and secrets. Okay, maybe not secrets.
I use concealer under my eyes to correct the purple-tinted discoloration from sleepless nights. I also use concealer when I break out to cover stubborn acne marks and hyperpigmentation.
Even if you don’t want to use concealer a lot, I suggest getting one to have when you wake up with an unwelcome visitor (aka pimple) on your face.
When I am wearing light makeup, I will skip foundation and ONLY wear a little bit of concealer. It’s super versatile and easy to travel with.
Here are my favorites and recommendations for beginners:
Concealer hack: Use concealer to prep your eyelids for eyeshadow! Concealer is a great alternative to a separate eye primer.
Related articles about concealer:
Powder is very helpful product that is used to set your makeup in place so it doesn’t slide around or wear off quickly.
When you use a liquid or cream product like foundation or concealer, it can look shiny on your face and move around because it is creamy. This is amplified when you have oily skin, because your skin’s natural oils will cause more shine and slip.
Dusting a light layer of pressed powder or loose powder on top of your foundation and/or concealer will set it in place and help it last much longer.
If you have oily skin, you might even want to touch up throughout the day by adding a little more powder in your T-zone (across the forehead and down the center of the face) or wherever you tend to be more oily.
However, if you have dry skin, powder might emphasize your dryness in a negative and noticeable way.
Instead of using powder over your entire face, you can try setting only your T-zone. If powder makes your skin look dry no matter what, you can skip it entirely – but your makeup might not last as long.
Personally, I don’t use powder very often because I prefer a dewy look to my skin.
Tip: If your skin looks dry and powdery after applying powder, spray your face with a little setting spray and gently press it in with a damp makeup sponge to lock the powder into your skin.
Here are a few great powders to try:
Related articles about powder:
Blush, blusher, rouge – whatever you call it, it’s pretty.
There was a phase where everyone seemed to think that blush was only for old ladies. This isn’t true! Everyone can wear blush, and a lot more people would love blush if they gave it a shot.
Do you know how you look healthy and happy when you’ve spent a summery day outside and got a little bit of color flushed on your cheeks? Blush can do that for you, every day.
Taking a fluffy brush with a small amount of blush and sweeping it from the apples of your cheeks to your temples, and even across the tip of your nose, is an easy and quick way to add some color to your skin. It makes you look happy, vibrant, healthy, and glowing!
These are awesome blushes that I love:
Related articles about blush:
Small Neutral Eyeshadow
You don’t have to wear eyeshadow every day, but it’s likely that you would use a small neutral eyeshadow palette a few times a year, right?
Eyeshadow palettes are a great way to get a few awesome quality eyeshadows for a great price – if you make sure you buy quality products.
Grabbing an eyeshadow palette with a couple shades of brown and a champagne or gold shimmer is truly all you need to glam up your look, especially when you don’t normally wear any eyeshadow.
Colourpop eyeshadows are truly some of my favorite eyeshadow palettes, especially for beginners because they are so affordable!
If you want, you can also match your desired eyeshadow to compliment the color of your eyes. I recommend checking out my article about the best eyeshadow palettes for beginners for a more in depth look at what makes an eyeshadow palette great.
Related articles about eyeshadow:
- Ultimate Guide to Eyeshadow
- Best Eyeshadow Palettes for Beginners
- Best Eyeshadow For Every Eye Color
- 7 Tips to get a perfect cut crease
If you only want to use a single makeup product to transform your look, choose mascara.
Mascara is a dark brown or black liquid applied to the eyelashes. The mascara coats lashes, making them appear darker and bolder. Different mascara formulas have different goals, such as making your eyelashes appear longer, curled, or more voluminous.
You can go to the drugstore, grocery store, or look online and be overwhelmed with the endless different mascara options in front of you. There are at least 50 different mascaras in my local Walmart alone!
These are my top two mascara recommendations for beginners:
If you want to learn more about why I recommend these particular mascaras, I have an entire post about the best drugstore mascaras for beginners! They are both affordable, accessible, and work for a lot of people.
Related articles about mascara:
Brow Product of Choice
If you’ve never done your eyebrows before (shaped them, filled them in, etc) you probably think you don’t want to.
Until you do it. Then you always have to “have your brows on” like me, haha!
Brows are super important. They truly frame the face more than any other feature, and the appearance of your eyebrows will transform the rest of your face and makeup.
I have a lot of information about brows, including shaping, products, and more in this post: The Ultimate Guide to Brows.
For beginners, I definitely recommend brow gel as the easiest product to try. Using tinted brow gel will keep your eyebrow hairs in place, add a bit of volume, and add color which will make them seem more full and groomed. Brow gel is applied with a tiny applicator that looks like a miniature mascara wand. It’s pretty fool proof, and any product you accidentally get on your skin can be easily wiped away.
If you have sparse patches in your brows that you want to fill in, a brow pencil or powder is the answer for you. Use a light hand and a shade lighter than you think you need – your brows will be more shaped, symmetrical, and look the way you want them to look.
Some people love using a brow pomade (a gel-type formula you apply with a brush), but in my opinion it’s a lot harder to get the hang of using a pomade. Because of this, I recommend starting with a pencil or powder before trying out a pomade.
Here are some of my favorite affordable brow products:
Lipstick is the most popular lip product, but there are many types of makeup items you can apply to your lips. Here are the main ones:
Lipliner: Used to line the outer perimeter of your lips and as a base for other products, but can also be worn alone. Helps prevent lip products applied on top of liner from smudging and feathering. Comes in a pencil form and typically lasts much longer than lipstick, making an awesome base for your lip products.
Bullet lipstick: The classic, twist-up lipstick in a tube. Often a satin finish, but available in more glossy or matte varieties. Transfers onto other objects (straws, glasses, people) when your lips touch them.
Liquid lipstick: Applied with a doe foot applicator as a liquid that dries down on your lips. Longer-lasting than a traditional bullet lipstick. Usually matte, and transfer-proof (or at least somewhat-transfer-proof). Can be drying on your lips.
Lip gloss: Shiny, glossy, and sometimes sticky. Lip gloss can be clear or tinted, with or without glitter. Typically more hydrating on your lips.
There are so many colors and types of lipsticks out there; your favorite will depend a lot on your personal preference.
Awesome products to get you started:
The Basic Makeup 101 Tools
There are so many makeup brushes and sponges out there, but you really only need a few to start!
For foundation and concealer, makeup sponges are the best way to blend it out quickly and effortlessly. You can use a brush for these products, but I find sponges to be easier to master.
Awesome sponge recommendations:
Related articles about makeup sponges:
- How to use a makeup sponge
- 10 Reasons why you should use a makeup sponge
- How to clean a makeup sponge
Brushes are where you can easily become carried away and buy way more than you need.
Truly, you could pick out a few individual brushes designed for the few products you have. This is a great way to go if you know what shape brushes you like.
However, brush sets tend to be more cost effective than individual brushes – especially when you have none to begin with.
But there are so many sets – what should you look for?
Because you have an eyeshadow palette and a few powder products (blush, powder, brow powder) to apply, you will want a variety of face brushes and small eyeshadow brushes. Find a set that includes both and you’ll be set.
I personally really like BH Cosmetics brush sets, as well as elf cosmetics and wet n wild brushes. Here are my recommendations for beginners:
This set has everything you need for the products in this post, plus some extras (like the eyeliner brush!) for branching out in the future. They are very soft and good quality, too!
Here’s another option: a small eye brush set, and a small face brush set. Bonus! The face set comes with one of the sponges listed above.
If you don’t want to buy a whole brush set, I understand that as well. Check out these individual brushes; they should cover the few powder items listed in this post.
Elf cosmetics and wet n wild have some of the cheapest (yet still good quality) makeup brushes on the market.
Related articles about makeup brushes:
- Ultimate Makeup Brush Guide for Beginners
- Best Rated Makeup Brushes on Amazon
- How to Wash Makeup Brushes with Dish Soap
Important Tips and Things to Learn
I think we can all agree that this makeup 101 post is getting long enough! Here are some other awesome posts I’ve written that beginners should read:
- The Correct Order to Apply Makeup – this post walks you through the orders in which you can apply makeup products.
- Cheapest Full Face of Makeup (only $55!) – this post has more suggestions for all the products above, as absolutely inexpensive as you can get!
- $100 Full Face of (GOOD!) Makeup – this post has slightly better suggestions than the one above. If you have a bit more money to spend, I suggest going for these ones for sure!
- Ultimate Sanitization Guide – makeup can get really dirty! It’s important to disinfect it every now and again.
- Makeup Expiration Chart and Tracker – unfortunately, makeup expires. This will help you keep track of when you bought your makeup and when it will need to be replaced.
- Check out the makeup glossary – definitions for all the beauty things you didn’t even know existed.
If you want or need help choosing any makeup product, reach out to Kailey.
I run this blog and I love helping people! Why else would I have written a 3,000 word post about where to start with makeup?
Ways to ask me questions:
- DM on Instagram
- DM on Facebook
- Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Comment below!
I hope you found this makeup 101 guide helpful! If you have any questions or comments, get in touch with me and leave a note in the comments.
What did you learn from this article?
Thank you for sharing your favorite products with us. I learned a lot and I am looking forward to trying many of them.
Thanks, Peter! I hope you love the products.
What you said about how it is important to know what your skin type is before you purchase makeup was really interesting to me. If you are trying to pick out a makeup look that is good for you, it might be a good idea to go online and see if you can find a guide or tutorial to find. I would imagine that you would be able to get a lot of ideas from a website that has guides for styles for all kinds of skin types.
Hey Thomas! Skincare really is important – our skin is the base of our makeup, after all! There are definitely resources out there about skin preparation for all sorts of skin types. YouTube is a great way to find skincare routines from many people! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment 🙂
I already do my makeup regularly but I want to do it more and better so thank you
You’re so welcome, I am glad that this helped!
While I did read your information unfortunately I am not a first time makeup wearer, but am a 65 year old woman who decided to let her hair go grey. They grey ended up being a lot of silver and white. Not liking all the white I added grey lowlights and am trying to decide about that one! Anyway, I am really after some specific information on the mature woman and how to now do makeup totally differently than I have done all of my life.
Good reading though. Thanks
I’ve seen some beautiful grey, silver, and white hair – I bet yours is lovely! I’ve had a few requests like yours to share information about makeup specifically for mature skin, and it is on my list of things to add to the blog – since I’m a youngin’ it will take me more research than normal, because I don’t want to share tips that work for me on a mature makeup post but wouldn’t work for you 🙂
thank you for your feedback, I hope this info was still helpful for you! -Kailey
I’m 16 and I have never worn makeup in my life, but I am interested. This was definitely helpful with determining which products to use and how to use them. I have absolutely no clue as to how any of this works. I’ll probably just use a tiny bit of concealer and eyeliner.
Hey Kailey – Thanks for this post! I’ve wanted to get into make up for a while but have always found it intimidating. This post has helped me immensely to go out and buy my first sets! Cheers 🙂
Hi Kailey, I just read your post. It’s super informative. But I have no idea on what will suit my skin tone. Can you help me on where to check how to choose the right products for me. Will employees to Sephora can help me choose. Because I don’t have even the slightest idea of the right shade that will suit me.
Hi! Yes, employees at Sephora (OR Ulta) can probably help you choose a great color match for your specific skintone and undertones – sometimes it is hard to capture those tones properly over photos, so I bet they would be able to help more than I can over the internet. I hope you are able to find your perfect match!