This year I’ve received quite a few e-mails from new readers who just started getting into higher-end cosmetic brands. Being a beauty junkie and beauty blogger, I put dozens of products to the test each mont. This allows me to offer comparisons in order to help others determine differences or similarities across brands, formulas and product families.
For the makeup newbie it can be a bit overwhelming to sort through all the options. Finding good makeup that works for you often has to be done through trial and error. I think we’ve all been at that place where we bought something that ended up not working so well for our skin tone or skin type. Finding a store with a wide range of brands to choose from with a good return/exchange policy is one of the main reasons I really love to shop at Nordstrom. Today I’ve teamed up with them to create a personal beauty guide on how to start building a makeup wardrobe.
Most of my makeup preferences are for natural colors that will enhance features. New readers frequently e-mail me requesting a customized shopping list of my top beauty picks for them to take to the counter. Picking favorites is almost impossible for me since I really do love a lot of brands, but I’ve compiled an edited list that I think will be good for the makeup newbie. I’ve split my guide into three categories: Lips, Eyes and Cheeks.
For lips, if you’re just starting to get into makeup, my recommendations would depend on what kind of look you want. Even if you want a natural color, texture and finish plays a major part in picking out the right lip product. Do you prefer sheer, glossy, velvety, full-coverage? Are you a lipstick or lipgloss kind of person? Do you like shimmer or prefer creams?
Chanel Rouge Allure Glosses offer rich pigment with high shine and flawless coverage. My favorite soft pink is Sensible 15. If you want a no-fuss medium to full coverage lip gloss that stays put, these will give a really pretty shine while adding a good amount of color. There are naturals and brights in this formula to suit a wide range of skin tones. Another really good full coverage lip gloss is the Dior Addict Fluid Stick. These are a hybrid lipstick + lipgloss and it packs in a ton of color with high shine. Whisper Beige 219 is a good natural beige nude that won’t wash out the complexion.
If you prefer to ease into color and want just a tint of color and shine, Chanel Glossimers are among my favorite out of all the lip glosses in the market. Shades range from sparkling light pinks, bright corals, soft rose, beiges to plums. The holiday Chanel Give It Shine Glossimer Lip Trio has the perfect collection of shades to start your lip wardrobe. It has Amour (soft peach), Sweet Beige (nude beige shimmer) and Wild Rose (the perfect rose pink shine). These have a smooth texture with a naturally glossy sheen.
If you want a more budget-friendly lip gloss, MAC Lipglasses are hard to pass up. These are a bit sticky and tacky, but there are a lot of colors and finishes to choose from. Lovechild Lipglass is one of the most universally flattering colors I’ve seen. It’s a soft plum with pink tones and gold shimmer. On me it pulls very natural, on fair skin it’s the perfect plum, on darker or deeper skin tones it also looks good. Laura Mercier Lip Glacés also offer a wide range of colors with a natural finish. Pink Pop is a bright but sheer pink which brings the complexion to life with a sheer wash of bright color.
If you are more of a lipstick kind of person but want something natural, Chanel Rouge Coco Shines are my favorite no fuss swipe-and-go kind of lipstick. Boy 54 is the best classic rose pink shade that adds the prettiest hint of color and shine. The sheer formula won’t be as long lasting as a regular lipstick but the color is flawless and formula is hydrating. These are really good if you’re timid with bold colors and want something to ease into for lips. The sheer glossy formula is slightly transparent and lets you natural lip shine through.
If you want a full coverage lipstick but still want something that looks natural, the NARS Audacious Lipstick formula is hands down the best that has been released this year. The formula is full coverage with an amazing coverage that melds with the lip. If you have dry lips or peeling flakes you will need to moisturize or prep with a lip balm first, but if your lip is smooth, these are the best I have tried. It has a semi-matte and semi-velvety finish but there is a slight sheen to these which prevents it from looking flat. Raquel is my perfect nude pink. Brigitte is a nude pink beige that has more color but is still very natural.
For the eyes, there are a lot of different eyeshadows and liners that I adore. If I were pressed to pick my current top three favorites for eyeshadow, they would be Urban Decay Naked3, Chanel Tisse Rivoli and Dolce & Gabbana Smoky.
The Urban Decay Naked3 Palette is my most reached-for palette. It has 12 shades of neutral rosy-toned neutrals that can create a wide range of looks. There are shimmers, sparkles and mattes all of which have really incredible pigment. The texture of Urban Decay eyeshadows is buttery smooth and this particular palette doesn’t have any glitter shades which is a huge plus for me (and any neutral makeup lover). This is the one palette that goes with me on almost every trip. It’s a palette I find can go with everything. Pink shadow can be hard for me to wear (it often gives me a pink-eye look) but Naked3 is neutral enough to be very wearable. If you don’t feel comfortable wearing rose-colored shadow the next best option is Naked2 which is more neutral and taupe-based.
If having 12 shadows to play with in one palette is too overwhelming and you need something more edited, Chanel Tisse Rivoli is my favorite neutral quad. The texture adheres well to the eyes and layers well. The colors are smooth and pigmented. For something with more dramatic color, Dolce & Gabbana Smoky (swatched here) is my holy grail smoky eyeshadow quad.
For a cream shadow that is a good over wash shadow the Laura Mercier Caviar Stick Eye Color in Rosegold is a good pick. It’s a soft shimmery champagne with rose and gold tones. It is creamy and blends easily on the eyes. You do need to let it sit for a minute or so to dry and then afterwards they last pretty well. It also works as an eye base for powder shadows and helps bring out the pigment.
For liners and mascara, a simple classic black is a good place to start. Not all black eyeliners are good though. Some pull grey in undertone or can smudge easily. Finding good eye makeup that you don’t have to worry about throughout the day is essential. My favorite mascara is the Armani Eyes to Kill Stretch because it grabs every little lash and volumizes, holds the curl, doesn’t smudge, doesn’t clump and defines the lashes really well. For me this one lasts all day without budging.
For liners, the Tom Ford Liquid Eyeliner is hands down the best liquid liner I’ve tried. It’s extremely pricey but it is worth every penny and will last you a very long time. There are two ends with different sizes of tips which allows for precise application and complete control. If you’re new to liquid liners, this hands down is the best one I’ve tested. It makes applying liquid liner super easy. If you prefer a pencil liner, Burberry’s Effortless Kohl Eyeliners were just released this year. Jet Black is one of the deepest and richest black liners I’ve tried and it stays put all day from morning to night. It comes in a twist up pencil format with a built in sharpener at the end which I find very convenient (especially if you carry it on the go or when you travel).
Out of all the beauty products I own, I would say blush, bronzer and highlighters dominate my makeup collection by far. Picking out a few favorites was a difficult task. For the face I’ve narrowed down my recommendations to a few items that will multi-task.
If I could only wear one blush palette for the rest of my life I would pick out the Hourglass Ambient Lighting Blush Palette. It has three shades in a mirrored compact that cover all the shades you could need to go with any look. Luminous Flush is a coral pink, Incandescent Electra is a soft peach, Mood Exposure is a plum rose. The colors are very pigmented with easy to control buildable color. There is a bit of highlighter mixed into each blush which gives these a luminous glow. Those who don’t like shimmer need not fear with this one. The shimmer is finely milled and very natural on the face. It’s impossible to overdo but the pigment is rich enough to add visible color.
For a bronzer and highlighter, Charlotte Tilbury Filmstar Bronze and Glow offers both in one convenient mirrored compact. The bronzey shade can be used as a contouring powder, although I like it as a bronzer on me. The highlighter is a pale warm gold champagne which has a high frost but looks very natural on the skin. The two combined can be used on the cheeks, temples and eyes.
Liquid illuminators are also something I consider in a makeup wardrobe. They can be used as highlighters on top of powder/foundation to add a glow or they can be used under blush to help color adhere better. I like to use these on the eyes occasionally to highlight. If you need a bit of shimmer in your foundation these can be mixed in. My favorite liquid highlighter is the Soleil Tan de Chanel in Sunkissed. It’s a pale golden champagne that dries to a semi-matte finish which means it stays put all day long. If you want more color options or want something more dewy, Armani Fluid Sheers are classic staples that will give you that glow from within look.
I hope you found this introductory guide useful! Whether you are new to higher-end makeup or want to know what my current favorites are, I hope this provides an edited list of recommendations for you to start exploring. If you could recommend your top 5 beauty picks to a makeup newbie, what would they be? I would really love to hear what your favorites are!
This post was sponsored by Nordstrom. All opinions are my own. For more information please refer to my Disclosures.
I typically limit myself to a couple of mascaras I use at any given time since I keep them for 3 months max before tossing but I’ve been testing new ones and I’ve discovered some new favorites. I have half a dozen I’m using right now and I’ve picked out my favorites to share.
When it comes to my lashes, I’m really picky with mascaras or lash primers. I have really straight ones that often don’t hold the curl with most mascaras even with a lash curler (my essentials here). I also find a lot of black mascaras turn grayish looking after they dry on my lashes, smudge or end up feeling crunchy and flake during the day. When it comes to mascara I look for something that will last all day without clumping, flaking, smudging and something that stays a true lush black color and holds the curl.
I’m hesitant to try lash primers and lash serums because I don’t like having an extra layer of product on my sensitive eyes. I’m a novice in this area so if you have any recommendations I am all ears.
The mascara and lash products I have in rotation right now:
Shu Uemura Lash Builder ($33) is a lash builder serum to help create a longer lusher lash look, I’ve been testing this for a few weeks and am still undecided on what I think but it’s been in my lash rotation, it darkens and defines the lashes when you apply it but I haven’t seen a visible difference after I apply colored mascara, reviews seem to indicate you will see results over time
Diorshow Maximizer Lash Plumping Serum ($28.50) is something I’ve used for several years, I don’t use it everyday but it’s a favorite base that helps mascara adhere better to the lashes and makes it catch the lashes resulting in a fuller look, I like that it doesn’t impact the curl after using a lash curler
Guerlain Maxi Lash Waterproof ($30) is something I discovered thanks to RaeView, it’s the first waterproof mascara I’ve tried that doesn’t make my lashes feel crunchy, this one needs 2-3 uses to break it in, it gives lush rich black lashes, volumizes, doesn’t clump/flake/smudge and defines the lashes nicely, I haven’t tested it at the beach or pool but it seems to be sweat proof and lasts all day
Giorgio Armani Eyes to Kill Stretch ($32) is a staple in my beauty arsenal, I’ve repurchased this numerous times (probably a dozen tubes by now), it’s my favorite mascara of all time because it does everything I want – lengthens, defines, thickens, darkens the color and stays put, it’s easy to apply and gets the little corners easily because of the tapered brush tip, the bristles are well designed to grab on to the lashes and glides on easily
Chanel Le Volume de Chanel ($30) is the only Chanel mascara I like, it’s a lightweight mascara that glides on easily and doesn’t clump, it stays put and doesn’t dry to a grayish finish like other Chanel mascaras do (at least for me), I like the Black and Bleu (navy) for fun, but mostly use the black
NARS Larger than Life Volumizing Mascara ($25) is another favorite that I’ve repurchased numerous times, it is one of my favorite volumizing mascaras that doesn’t flake or smudge, this one has a big fluffy brush so it can be prone to clumping after a while due to buildup, I wipe down the brush with a small piece of paper wrapped around the tip (tissue or paper towels will get caught in the bristles, so paper actually is best to clean the brush) and then it’s back to perfection
If I were pressed to pick just one mascara to live with the rest of my life, it would be the Giorgio Armani Eyes to Kill Stretch. If you’re looking for something more wallet-friendly, a few other less expensive favorites I’ve tested and purchased numerous times include Clinique High Impact Mascara ($16), Topshop 3d Curve Mascara ($20, or in this Eyeliner/Mascara Set for $24) and MAC Plushlash Mascara ($16) has been a long-time favorite. I’ve tried dozens of drugstore mascaras (literally) and for some reason they’ve all turned grayish in color on my lashes and I’ve never found one that holds the curl.
What are your holy grail lash primers, serums and mascaras? I’ve been researching lash serums and would love your thoughts on any you’ve tried.
The most frequently asked questions I’ve received have been focused around hand and nail care. I review lots of nail polishes and change colors frequently and taking care of my hands has always been a must. I’ll go through my hand and nail care routine and answer some questions that I receive on a regular basis.
I’ll share a bit of background on my nail/hand care routine and history. I played the violin when I was younger and kept playing through through college. This required me to keep my nails extremely short with only a sliver of the white tips showing. Out of habit and personal preference I’ve always kept my nails on the shorter end, although in recent years I’ve started growing them a bit longer. You can see the difference then in 2010 vs. now in 2014. For everyday hand activity I’ve had a diverse work history that has required a lot of typing from number crunching and market research. I tend to type with my hands at an angle (rather than having finger more at a 90 degree angle) so my nails don’t tend to hit the keys as much as someone who holds their hands at a more perpendicular angle to the keyboards. Some frequently asked questions:
Are your nails always professionally manicured? Or do you maintain them yourself? My manicures are a mix of both professionally applied nail polish and DIY. For the longest time I couldn’t properly do my own nail polish for a full manicure. Being able to paint one’s nails doesn’t always come naturally, it takes lots and lots of practice. I would say my manicures are 50/50 done myself versus at a professional salon.
How often do you get professional manicures? It varies depending on what I’m testing out, swatching, and also time constraints. I would say it ranges from every other week to once a month.
Your nail polish seems to have a long wear life without tip wear, I work at an office job that requires a lot of typing, how do you avoid tip wear? Tip wear will probably depend on how long your nails are, if they are on the long side there will be a lot of surface contact which can lend to more tip wear. I recommend keeping them on the shorter end to avoid breakage. Make sure you use a good base coat, brush the tips of the nails with a bit of color to cover the end of the nail, make sure your top coat covers not just the top of your nail but brush over the tip end as well.
What base and top coats do you use? I’ll go into what I use below, I usually use Deborah Lippmann Rehydrating Base Coat and Chanel Top Coat but it varies depending on what brand of color I’m using.
My nail polish never lasts more than 3 days, it starts to peel and chip no matter what brand, help? Several things could contribute to short-lived manicures. For prep, your nail might not be entirely clean. Even with polish remover, if you’ve used oils or lotions, there could be remnants of product still lingering on the nail. Use a nail cleaner or polish remover that helps clean (more below). You could be loading on too much color too soon. While it may seem to be a time saver to load up more color for 1 coat, don’t do it. Apply your polish in thin coats even if it looks uneven the first coat. The second or third (for sheerer colors) will smooth out the surface. You also might not be covering your entire nail tip with top coat – doing so will make sure you covered the entire nail.
What advice would you give to those who are a novice to DIY manicures? I would recommend getting your nails professionally manicured the first 3-4 manicures you have so you can observe their application technique in person. You really only need salon manicures every once in a while for a clean up. It’s easy to maintain your nails yourself in between salon visits. You don’t necessarily have to do it yourself, as some can vouch, manicuring your own nails can sometimes take longer and be more frustrating.
Do you need to stick with the same brand of polish and base/top coats? Or can you mix and match? I don’t think you need to stick with the same brands, although using the same can often be best. Different brands have different formulas and don’t always work well together for me. For example I’m super picky with top coats – I don’t like any sign of shrinkage where the top coats dry and shrink over the nail polish leaving a visible line around the edges. (Seche and OPI do that with Chanel for me). I like to mix and match.
The items I use are going to broken down into the following categories: Removers, Treatments, Tools, Base Prep and Top Coats. Like most beauty routines, I believe nail care items should be built slowly over time with testing or by researching reviews online.
I used to use cheap nail polish removers from CVS and Target, but after I started changing my nail polish frequently, I found that they made my nails and fingers extremely sensitive and that my nails started to peel (the actual nail). Based on reviews and recommendations I’ve found several new removers that are gentle for sensitive fingers but still very effective in removing all traces of polish. Items shown above described left to right:
Zoya Remove + Big Flipper is a 3 in 1 product that removes color, preps the nail and conditions. I discovered this thanks to the recommendation of Café Makeup – we discussed nail care, I shared my finger woes, she said try the Zoya, it’s “so good.” She was right. Read the reviews on Zoya or Makeupalley and you’ll see others agree. There are different size options, I like the Big Flipper because it has an easy push down dispenser.
Sephora Formula X Delete Nail Polish Remover is another love (reviewed here). This is another item I bought based on online reviews. It has a similar push down dispenser lid. I like this one because it’s compact and the design is very sleek and simple. The easy to use pump action makes it super handy – you don’t have to flip over the bottle and risk ruining painted nails if you need to clean edges or mess-ups.
Dior Dissolvant Abricot is an ultra luxurious and pricey non-acetone remover, it has a rich abricot scent formulated with ingredients to nourish, hydrate and strengthen. I found it was extremely effective in removing Dior’s Gel Top Coat and dark polish underneath. I’m not a fan of the price and those sensitive to fragrance may find this too heavy. I went through one bottle pretty quickly and repurchased a second. It’s the only remover I’ve tried that has a slightly moisturizing/hydrating feel. If the bottle were about 3-4 times larger I think I could justify the price for more frequent use.
Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover is the only cuticle softener that I’ve tried but I was lucky to find a really good one on my first try. It comes in a milky white liquid with a dropper. Apply to the cuticle area for a minute and then push back with a cuticle tool and it removes excess cuticle skin easily. This is a definite must for anyone who does their own manicures. It’s gentle but super effective.
I attribute good looking hands to good hand care. I’m almost always carrying one to two hand creams in my purse. I rely on L’Occitane because they come in travel sizes, a variety of scents and have fun packaging. Plus the formula is hard to beat. For extra care I’ve discovered layering oil into hand cream can help give an added boost of moisture. I prefer hand creams that absorb quickly into the skin and that aren’t greasy feeling so it doesn’t ruin paper, clothes or get everywhere you touch. My current loves, left to right:
Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil is as good as it gets (there’s a mini version as well). A little goes a long way with the dropper, you only need a little bit. It’s not greasy but can get sticky, I recommend applying this with precision to the cuticles and rub in quickly. It has Jojoba Oil, Coconut Oil, Mineral Oil and smells amazing. I use this about once a week and it keeps the cuticles looking really good.
Caudalie Divine Oil is a must for me (review here), unfortunately they’ve changed the packaging of the mini size and it doesn’t come with the spray pump dispenser. When I visited the Venice Boutique, they had hand massage treatments and they mixed the oil with their Hand and Nail Cream (review here) which is another staple of mine. I can’t rave enough about these.
L’Occitane Hand Creams have been a classic for me for years (check out the L’Occitane Hand Cream Bar), they can be on the pricey side for the side, but the formula is worth every penny, these come in a variety of scents and special formulas, my current favorites are the Shea Butter Honey (soothing and creamy) along with the new Vitória-Régia from the Viva Brazil collection (lush sweet floral). L’Occitane has monthly gift with purchase promotions in stores and online, it’s one of the few brand newsletters I subscribe to that I don’t mind receiving weekly (they have good deals). I’ve converted so many of my friends to L’Occitane as these hand creams make good small gifts or add-ons (just add a box of Godiva chocolate or small bouquet of flowers).
Estee Lauder Re-Nutriv Hand Cream was a huge step-up gift with purchase from Neiman Marcus at one of the Estee Lauder events they had a year ago in store. I was a bit intimidated by the size and packaging as it looks like an intensive treatment. It is indeed an intense hand cream but still very gentle and is the best at smoothing lines. You can see the effects immediately and over time it does improve the overall look and appearance of your hands.
My tools are very basic, items were either found at local drugstores or Ulta. There are a wide number of tools out on the market, I’m sure there are more experienced nail experts who know more about tools, my picks were picked out without much research or planning.
Revlon Nail Clipper is an older version that I have, they’ve gone through a few revamps and upgrades in packaging design but the overall shape and size remains the same
Tweezerman Nail File I’ve picked up various nail files over the years, I find Tweezerman to be sturdy but with a rough enough surface to be effective on harder nails but not too harsh, the ones from Sephora that I’ve bought come with a plastic storage sleeve which is convenient for storage (and makes sure it doesn’t scratch your other products)
Ulta Crystal Nail File if you’re one who hates the feeling of filing nails, you need to check out Crystal Nail Files, a multitude of brands have these such as OPI and Sephora. These have a unique fine-grade glass surface that is good for sensitive or thinner nails, it gently smooths edges and also has a tapered precision tip to clean beneath the nail.
Tweezerman Pushy Cuticle Pusher is a smaller tool for cuticles, I prefer smaller shapes, although some prefer ones with larger curved tips to match the natural shape of the nails. I find the Tweezerman one to be small enough for my small fingers, it’s sturdy and effective for me. For any kind of cuticle removal or care, I recommend you proceed with extra caution. Don’t push too hard and be extra gentle with the cuticles – this is where I recommend you observe a professional several times before attempting on your own.
Revlon Cuticle Nippers are another basic drugstore purchase, I’ve had two from Revlon, both have lasted over 5 years, just make sure you clean them regularly with warm water and soap (I use antibacterial dish soap) or alcohol. I wouldn’t recommend using cuticle clippers regularly, I use them to clip hang nails or only use if the cuticles have been softened and properly prepped.
For base coats, I look for something that helps protect bare nails. I look for items that won’t turn the nails yellow, items that aren’t drying and that also don’t make the nails peel. I’ll highlight the ones I use briefly, let me know if you need more information on any of these, I find they all work well with other brands such as Chanel, OPI, YSL, Dior, Tom Ford and NARS.
Sephora Formula X Nail Cleanser (reviewed here) is a relatively new discovery for me but I find that having a completely clean nail surface before using base coat or color really makes a difference in the wear of nail polish
Sephora Formula X Base Coat (reviewed here) is a sticky formula that helps polish adhere well, I like this best with the Formula X polishes but I’ve also tried (and love it) with Dior, Marc Jacobs and Chanel
CND Stickey Base Coat is a classic that I’ve repurchased multiple times, it’s an affordable option that works well with all brands I’ve tried
Deborah Lippmann Rehydrating Base Coat is my most-frequently used base coat, I don’t usually have nails that peel except when I do a lot of swatching and comparisons on the fingers, this helps immensely
Sephora Formula X Shine Top Coat (review here) is an awesome top coat but is on the thicker side, it works best with Formula X brand nail colors, when I used The System and their Nail Color, I had a manicure last over 7 days without any tip wear or chipping
Rescue Beauty Lounge Top Coat is another item I’ve repurchased (I’m on my third bottle), it’s just as good as Chanel, some say it’s better, mine has a pinkish tinge because I didn’t let my pink nail polish dry long enough and had some color transfer
Dior Gel Coat is a top coat I’ve found works best with Dior Polishes (Chanel v Dior post here), it works well over other brands for a gel-shine finish and lush look, but can be prone to cracking on certain brands
This sums up my hand and nail care favorites. I hope this give you a comprehensive overview on my personal hand and nail care routine. To recap, I definitely think you can maintain your hands and nails on your own but regular salon visits help keep hands looking better. You don’t need an expensive salon to maintain your nails, there are a lot of good ones that are more affordable.
This post contains some items that were sent for review consideration. Most items were purchased by me. Press samples include Sephora The System, Tatcha Indigo, L’Occitane Vitória-Régia. For more information refer to my Disclosures.
By popular request, I’ve gone through all my face and cheek brushes and picked out my favorites. I’ve been testing a number of brushes over many years (over a decade from my college days) and built my collection slowly over time. My experience with face brushes has been similar to that of my eye brushes. I started with a small handful of tools from Stila, Trish McEvoy and MAC. For many years I only had 4 face brushes and to this day I still think most can accomplish most of what you need for face makeup with a powder, blush, foundation and bronzing brush.
I’ve learned through makeovers, artist tips and a number of other blogs that there are a number of brushes with different materials, shapes, lengths and densities to help you apply your makeup better. I see face brushes like art tools – you probably need a few, but there are so many different kinds out there, they are fun to play with and experiment with.
The brushes I’ve picked are from more mainstream brands that are easily accessible.
There are a number of makeup artist brushes that look and sound amazing
from other blogs but I haven’t ventured into the artist brands. I’ve broken down my favorites into three categories. Face powder, blush and contour, and creams.
For all over face powders, whether it’s loose, pressed or powder foundation, I look for dense but soft brushes that will pick up product well and apply it evenly over the face. A more fluffy brush will give a sheerer application. I like larger ones that will cover your entire face with a few brush strokes.
MAC #134 ($53) is a brush that is currently only available at MAC stores/online but it has been released and re-released at other MAC counters numerous times, this is my favorite large flat powder brush, it’s dense, soft and perfectly rounded tip for easy powder application.
MAC #129 ($35) is the ultimate multi-taskers, it can be used for powder, blush or contour, for those who prefer a smaller brush for more precise control or someone who wants one brush that can do multiple things, this is your best option.
Chanel Powder Brush #1 ($65) is a well-designed brush with a domed tip, the bristles are slightly stiffer than MAC but the Chanel is still very soft and picks up powder well, I like this also with pressed powders such as Les Beiges and Dolce & Gabbana’s powder foundation because it applies powder evenly on the face.
Tom Ford Bronzer 05 ($115) is one that will break the bank but Tom Ford brushes are extremely well made, designed and deliver flawless makeup application. I purchased this as part of a brush set a couple holidays ago when they had a gift card event. This is the largest densest bronzer brush I’ve ever seen it feels like a soft kitten. If you look up reviews on this brush you will see it is well loved by many others (ie Café Makeup, RaeViewer, Temptalia)
Burberry Beauty Brush ($52) is my favorite short kabuki brush although a number of other brands are very similar in shape, size, material and feel. I purchased mine from Nordstrom although they don’t stock it online at the moment. You can still find it at Burberry. I like this for powder or bronzer. The reason I prefer this one is the handle is square while most other brands are round. This fits perfectly in my hand and I find it easier to hold. (MAC and Chanel are very similar in how they perform.)
Many cheek brushes are multi-purpose and can be used for both cream or powder. I don’t tend to use these for creams but I’ve had artists use these on me before for cream. I’m listing a number of brushes here that I love.
Tom Ford Cheek Brush 06 ($78) is a luxuriously soft blush brush, it picks up just the right amount of powder to apply color to the cheeks. As The Non-Blonde noted, this one is as plush as it gets. I find it perfect for Tom Ford blushes but works well with other brands. I personally don’t like it with super pigmented matte blushes because it will pick up too much color (like some NARS or MAC mattes/brights). For most everything else this one is perfect.
Chanel Blush Brush #4 ($54) is one my smallest blush brushes. It’s shaped and tapered in a way to layer blush easily. It’s a softer less dense brush so it works for a lighter application. If you’re one who likes to go easy on the blush but still wants to be able to control how much color goes on the face this is the best option.
MAC Duo Fibre Brush #187 ($42) is a classic must-have for highlighters. It’s the perfect brush for those Mineralized Skinfinishes to swipe a light blend of shimmer over the cheeks. I’ve had artists use this with foundation and cream products as well. It’s versatile and works well with any kind of highlighter whether it’s pressed, loose, or cream.
MAC Brush #168 ($35) is a classic contouring brush. It’s a good sturdy white hair brush with an angled tip. I find it medium-sized which makes it good for being able to control where you place the powder. It’s also a good brush for blending around the face.
NARS Contour Brush #21 ($42) is a new brush from NARS, you can read my detailedreview here, I usually don’t like angled brushes because I am more comfortable with more traditional brushes, this one makes contouring easy especially for those who aren’t pros at contouring (like myself).
MAC Brush Tapered Face Brush #138 ($53) is another harder-to-find brush, it’s made a re-appearance on limited-edition collections at counters, you can still find directly from MAC. For me this is the ultimate contouring brush because it’s shaped to place product right along the sides of the face where you want contour. It’s specially designed to streamline and enhance the makeup technique of
sculpting and shaping. Per MAC, “use the chiselled side for contour shaping of facial
planes; the pointed tip for applying and blending powder blush,
highlighter or face powder.” It’s another multi-functional brush that works well as a powder brush.
Tom Ford Cream Foundation Brush 06 ($72) is the ultimate blending brush for creams. If you ever try this at the Tom Ford counter they will demonstrate how it works with their foundation stick and blends the product on the face to perfection. With most brushes you will see some kind of streaks and still need blending with fingers or a sponge, the Tom Ford applies cream product (foundation or highlighter) streak-free.
Tom Ford Foundation Brush 01 ($72) is another cream brush designed to apply makeup streak-free. In my mind you don’t need both 01 and 06 (although the Tom Ford counter convinced me otherwise). They both perform the same for either liquid or cream foundations. If you’re trying to decide between one or the other, I would recommend 06 because it’s more unique in shape. If you want a standard foundation brush you can find many cheaper options. I find it a staple in my weekly makeup routine. It cleans easily – I use Bobbi Brown’s Brush spray cleaner after each use to lightly wipe it down but do a thorough washing after 2-3 uses.
Chanel Foundation Brush #6 ($45) is a classic foundation brush that is soft and applies foundation quite well. In my mind most foundation brushes are almost identical (i.e. MAC, Chanel, Prescriptives etc) in the bristles. The main difference is in the handle size. I like Chanel because it’s shorter and easier to travel with. I still get streaks no matter what brush I use (with the exception of Tom Ford) but this one works very well.
MAC Duo Fibre Brush #187 ($42) is repeated from above, I like this for cream highlighters because it will cover a large area with fewer swipes. It also works well for blending harsh lines or edges.
For face brush storage, I love Muji Acrylic Holders but they aren’t easy accessible for me and are often sold out online. I’ve used recycled candles from Jo Malone, Diptyque and Henri Bendel as alternatives. I also found clear jars from Crate and Barrel to be good for shorter brushes, tools or pencils. Stila and NARS Paint cans are also good for storing brushes if you are able to find them. Click on the Diptyque tag below for more storage ideas.
I usually use Neutrogena Body Wash to clean my brushes as the most economical method. I buy the large size at Costco which I use as a regular body wash anyways. I know many recommend baby shampoo but I always find it leaves a film on my brushes from the conditioning properties (might just be me). For those brushes that need extra work, I have three go-to’s for cleaning brushes which include MAC Brush Cleanser, Bobbi Brown Brush Cleaning Spray and Brush Cleanser (review here). These tend to be on the pricey side so frequent usage of these cleansers isn’t an option for me.
I realize this is a rather large and extensive list of brushes. You definitely do not need as many as I have collected over the years. I’ve been testing brushes for over a decade now (not to date/age myself) and have acquired them over time. Brush sets can be your most economical way to buy many at one time at a good price but those deal sets tend to be of lesser quality than individual brushes.
If I had to narrow my list down to my top picks these are what I’d narrow down my absolute essentials to: Chanel Blush #4, MAC Duo Fibre #187, MAC #134 or MAC #129, Tom Ford Cream Foundation 06, NARS Contour Powder #21.
I hope you found this brush guide helpful. The options can be overwhelming with all the shapes, sizes, materials and brands. To simplify your choices try thinking about what makeup products you gravitate towards in categories and whether it’s a powder, cream or liquid. Pick one for each main category to start.
While tools can be used for multiple areas, having more than one brush helps keep your makeup application cleaner and easier. For example while a powder brush can also double as a bronzer brush, having one brush for each product will prevent you from mixing products and accidentally brushing bronzer all over the face from left over product if you dip it into powder and bronzer (I’ve done it before and my entire face was several shades darker than the rest of my body).
What are your must-have face brushes? I would really love to hear what your tried and true are, new discoveries or staples. Also if you want to share how you store your face brushes I’m all ears. Do you store them upright in containers or put them in a brush roll?
This is Part 2 of my Essentials Series. Today I’m sharing my favorite eye basics tools and products such as bases, mascaras and brow products. Details listed below for each product, followed by some swatches and extra photos below.
An overview on what I’ve looked for in each category:
Bases – I have normal to dry lids so I tend to look for products that are a tiny bit moist and dry down slowly so I can layer shadows without having to rush. At the same time I want something that will also dry to a finish that is longer-lasting and something that will stay put throughout the entire day. For color I know many like to match the skin color exactly to even out the lids. I prefer something with a bit of shimmer or a few shades darker otherwise the lids end up looking very flat and washed out.
Pencils/liners – I have found many basic browns or blacks are not dark enough or don’t have the right texture. Many look great for a few hours then slide off or fade. Finding the perfect combination of color, texture and lasting power has been a challenge. Sometimes layering a powder shadow over a liner can help extend the wear-life of eye makeup. I usually prefer bronze or navy colors instead of your basic brown or black.
Mascaras – I have very straight lashes so without a mascara to lengthen, hold curl or volumize, I end up with raccoon eyes or look like I don’t have lashes at all. Some long-wear mascaras end up feeling crunchy (if that makes sense) as they stiffen, I prefer something that has a bit more of a glossy looking finish but one that will stay put. Color is also key, I look for mascaras that look like they are a true black. Some dry down to a lighter color than what you see when it’s moist.
Brows – I am still searching for my perfect brow pencil. I found one with NARS in Panama but they discontinued it and came out with a new formula and colors.
My tried and true list of products I’ve found over the years. While this is quite an extensive list, note that these were accumulated over time. There is always debate over shelf life of products, I usually keep items until they dry out, start to smell funny or just don’t perform the same. Some liners/bases have lasted over 2 years – I think as long as you use clean brushes and occasionally wipe down the surface with a paper towel or cotton pad you should be ok. The only eye items I throw out regularly are mascaras at the 3 month mark.
Chanel Eyelash Curler ($34, limited-edition) is a classic black eyelash curler. It was released a few years ago at all counters but you can only find it now at select places like Chanel.com. Detailed review with photos here. It works for my eyelid shape so it doesn’t pinch around the edges and curls perfectly. Since it’s black and I have black lashes, it can be hard to see what I’m curling unless I have good light, but the results are good.
Le Metier de Beaute Eyelash Curler ($18) is a favorite at a relatively inexpensive price for a high-end curler. The pad has a bit more cushion to it but is gentle. This curls my lashes well and fits the eye shape perfectly.
MAC Paint Pot in Groundwork ($20) is a classic cream tan brown color. I like it as a base for 1/2 way up the lid or as a soft contouring shade. It’s darker than my natural skin tone but blends well and stays put. It helps add definition in a subtle way.
RMS Cream Eyeshadow Solar ($28) might sound odd as an eye basic but the gold shimmer makes for a perfect swipe-and-go kind of color. It’s all I need on lazy days and also works well as a base. The shimmery gold color helps brighten powder shadows and also intensifies colors when applied over the cream.
Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Liner in Bronze Shimmer was a classic for years and then Bobbi Brown discontinued it. You may still be able to find this at various outlets (I have and stocked up). The closest color from Bobbi Brown is Chocolate Shimmer Ink (which is still darker and redder). Urban Decay has close matches as well but the lasting power doesn’t match.
Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Cream Shadow in Nude Beach ($25) is another discontinued favorite. It was limited a few summers ago and is my holy-grail nude eyebase with shimmer. I wish it were permanent but the good news is Shore is a close match (just doesn’t have the shimmer).
Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Cream Shadow in Shore ($25) is a good matte nude. It’s an amazing base that covers the lids and helps shadows adhere better. Depending on your skintone you may need something darker – Bobbi Brown has a wide range of neutrals to choose from. Shore is the one that matches my skin the best.
Chanel Stylo Yeux Waterproof in Noir Intense ($32) is the blackest black I’ve found that stays put. It’s darker than Ebene (Chanel’s classic black). I like that it’s a twist-up kind of pencil. The end pops off so you can sharpen the tip.
NARS Larger than Life Long-Wear Eyeliner ($24 each) in Via Appia (bronze) and Rue Saint-Honore (navy) are amazing eye pencils. These are twist up pencils as well with a removeable cap at the end to sharpen the tips. These are rich in color and easy to blend (if you blend quickly after application). Once they set, they don’t budge.
Le Metier de Beaute Dualistic Eye Pencil in Champagne ($36) is the classic taupe pencil that you can use as a shadow base. If you’ve had a makeover from any of the artists from Le Metier de Beaute, they will almost always use this – it’s universally flattering and works wonders to add a bit of color to the eyes.
NARS Volumizing Mascara ($25) is one of my favorite volumizing mascaras. It really does what it claims to do. It volumizes and thickens the lashes. I love that it doesn’t budge or smudge. It’s a rich black color which I love.
Armani Eyes to Kill Mascara – Stretch ($32) is another favorite, if I were pressed to pick one favorite, this would be it. It’s my does-everything mascara. Lengthens, thickens, defines, stays put, darkens and volumizes the lashes like no other mascara. There are several other variations of Eyes to Kill Mascaras. I’ve tried them all and they are all very good. This one grabs my thin lashes better and defines the best out of all of them. Artists I work with from Armani all have their different favorites.
By Terry Eyebrow Mascara in Dark Brown ($38) is something new I’ve discovered. (I’ll have a more detailed review later.) I have the worst brows ever. Everytime I have a makeover or work with an artist, they always ask me “what do you do to fix your brows?” My answer is usually nothing because there’s usually very little I can do to “fix” them. Most pencils are too warm or too dark in color. The By Terry Brow Mascara in Dark Brown is the best brow product I’ve discovered. It helps define the brows and keeps them groomed. It dries to a natural feel (not a crunchy finish like many do). With this one I suddenly have defines brows that don’t look so bad anymore.
Bobbi Brown Tweezers ($30) grip the brows and tiny stubborn hairs. I’ve tried Tweezerman and Anastasia before – both of which are good, but nothing compared to Bobbi Brown. There is something about the design of the tips that helps grip hairs better. I like the classic silver design. It comes with a rubber tip to cap it so you can store it in your purse or makeupbag.
Shu Uemura Slant Tweezers were my favorite of all tweezers. I’m very sad they discontinued this in the US. I keep checking Shu Uemura’s website to see if it pops up again. No luck so far. Bobbi Brown is my close second for now.
Leftover mascara wands are what I use to groom and brush brows or lashes. After my mascara is used up, I wash the brushes with warm water and soap and then they make their way into my brush containers to be recycled and reused.
Eye Basics / Color Swatches
Eye Basics / Tools
I hope this comprehensive post gives you a list of ideas on what to try. We all have unique eye shapes, skin tones and skin types, so what works for you will depend on a number of factors. I hope the descriptions and details above will either help narrow down what to look for. If you can schedule a sit-down session with your counters, I recommend it. Artists have a wealth of knowledge – sometimes scheduling in advance can help them make sure they have extra staff on hand.
I’m launching a series of my favorites and essentials. I’ve been asked by many of you to share what are my holy grails for hand/nail care, tools, foundations and skincare. My favorites change as I discover new products, brands and tips so for this series, so I’m taking extra care to pick out my tried and true. First set includes what my essential eye makeup brushes are.
I built my brush collection bit by bit over many years. My first brushes (MAC, Stila and Trish McEvoy) were purchased during my college years and with careful storage and care, most have lasted quite well since then. Over the years, I’ve added more one by one. I prefer to purchase brushes individually because I usually find the quality to be much better than brush sets from the same brands. I’ve compiled a list of my top picks for eye brushes. When it comes to eye makeup, I’m usually a minimalist and I like to blend a lot.
There are literally hundreds of options out there. If you are new to eye makeup or feel like you’re a novice with application, I’d recommend attending one of your local events at your Nordstrom or Bloomingdales. I’ve learned so much from artists, in particular NARS, Chanel and Le Metier de Beaute. Many of the artists have worked with multiple brands are are free-lance artists. They can help show you different techniques and often can help compare a few different brushes from mainstream brands. If you’re just starting out or have a smaller budget for tools, I’ll share my top 3 picks to get started below.
Brush storage idea:
My Eye Brush Essentials:
What I look for in brushes:
Long handled brushes are easier for me to pick up so I prefer brands that have longer handles (rather than all short). I also look for a brush that will not shed or fall apart after washing. I usually won’t pay more than $50ish for an eyeshadow brush, although I have made the exception for Tom Ford. I prefer brands I can access in person since for me it’s very important to try the brush in person before buying. The brand with the best brush selection and price is MAC, although they don’t have every kind of shape or material (if they did, all my brushes would probably be from them).
Edward Bess Luxury Eye Brush ($40) is hands down the best fluffy all over eye shadow brush. There are dozens of other brushes with a similar shape, but most are not dense enough (the less dense the sheerer the application of color is). The Edward Bess brush is well designed and has enough bristles packed in to really pick up and layer color.
Chanel Brush Large Eye Shadow Brush #25 ($38) is my favorite large/flat eyeshadow brush for a sheerer all over application. It’s a good brush to give your lids a wash of color and applies it evenly.
Trish McEvoy Medium Laydown #40 ($43) is a good brush for cream shadows or blending bases all over the lid. I like that it’s a bit thicker than most cream shadow brushes which makes the blending process easier for me.
MAC #217 ($24) is one of the best multi-purpose brushes. You can use this to apply shadow all over the lids, blend colors together or use this for your crease area. It’s super soft but still well packed to pick up color.
MAC #239 ($25) is another staple. I wish MAC made more brushes this size with different materials because this is the perfect shape for your basic eye shadow application. It’s soft and dense and blends well. It picks up more color than the #217, but I usually use both together.
MAC #226 (discontinued) has been released and re-released a couple times. It’s now discontinued, but it makes the perfect detail brush and for those with creases, is the ultimate crease brush.
MAC #219 ($25) is another great detail brush for smokey colors or to highlight inner corners. It’s pointy at the end for good detail but soft enough for those with sensitive eyes.
Laura Mercier Smudge Brush ($24) is my favorite smudge brush. There are a number of smudge brushes from other brands but this one picks up color the best out of any I’ve tried.
Bobbi Brown Angle ($30) this one was from a set but is the same quality as the individual ones. For liner or brows I usually prefer brushes like the smudge brushes, but this one is great for a thin liner with shadows or creams.
Tom Ford Definer #15 ($50) is another smudge-like brush. The end is really thin but dense which makes for a good cream or gel liner application. I have a weak spot for white haired brushes because they are generally softer than others.