Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo
Photo of makeup routine
Photo of makeup routine
Original photo by Rebecca Karlous

15 Essentials for a Beginner’s Makeup Routine

If learning the basics of makeup is one of your New Year’s Resolutions, you have come to the right place. The process can seem overwhelming at first, but once you discover which essentials to get and how to use them, it is just a matter of practice before you become a pro. Read along to find out which products to keep an eye out for on your next Sephora trip!

1. Primer

First things first – setting a smooth base for your foundation. This is absolutely essential especially if you like to apply hydrating skincare products (e.g., essence, serum, and moisturizer) before makeup, which could cause foundation to slide around easily. With the right primer for your skin type, your foundation will last longer and become less susceptible to smudging (which means no more patches of foundation under your face mask).

Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer

If you have dry skin, look for primers that focus on hydrating your skin such as the Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer. This Allure 2019 Beauty Award Winner moisturizes and provides a dewy glow with aloe water, cannabis seed extract, and hyaluronic acid.

However, if you have combination or oily skin, try to look for primers that do not leave such radiant or dewy finishes. The Rare Beauty Pore Diffusing Primer blurs the look of pores and helps fights shine all day, perfect for those with oily t-zones.

2. Foundation

Foundation can be particularly overwhelming for makeup beginners. Picking the right shade isn’t even the hardest part, you also have to narrow down which foundation is best suitable for your skin type.

If you tend to find noticeably dry patches on your skin when applying foundation, try alternatives like tinted moisturizer or BB/CC cream. These products are known to be more lightweight, hydrating, suitable for sensitive skin, and tend to have a more natural finish.

Charlotte Tilbury Beautiful Skin Foundation

Light coverage: Bare Minerals Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30, ILIA Super Serum Skin Tint SPF 40, and Makeup For Ever Reboot Active Care Revitalizing Foundation

Medium coverage: Sephora Best Skin Ever Foundation, Charlotte Tilbury Beautiful Skin Foundation, and IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation

Fenty Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Foundation

If your face has a tendency of getting shiny shortly after cleansing, or if you prefer to use a foundation that has better coverage for pores and blemishes, opt for an oil-free formula that has a more matte finish. Below are great options for long-lasting, transfer-proof foundations:

Full coverage: Fenty Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Foundation (my personal favorite), Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Smoothing Foundation, Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Foundation, and NARS Soft Matte Complete Foundation

Or… if you are blessed with normal/combination skin type, and you do not have immediate skin concerns, check out the Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation and Rare Beauty Liquid Touch Weightless Foundation. You get the best of both worlds: hydration and smooth coverage!

Rare Beauty Liquid Touch Weightless Foundation

3. Beauty blender

Beauty blenders evenly blend liquid foundation for a seamless finish. Don’t fall for the expensive beauty blenders out there! Just be sure to find one that does not absorb too much product. I highly recommend the Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge. *Tip: To ensure a smooth application, dampen the sponge and let it dry slightly for about five minutes before use.

4. Eyebrow razor and/or tweezers

(Skip this step if you have very thin or fully shaped brows.) Before applying pencil and gel, it is best to first identify and define your natural brow shape so that you don’t end up overdrawing them. Eyebrow razors and tweezers help clean up any extra, stray hairs, and they even keep you from spending money on threading and waxing. They can be found at almost any local drugstore or Target.

5. Brow pencil or brow gel

A good brow pencil can allow you to easily adjust how boldly or how softly you want to frame your face. If your eyebrows are on the sparse side and in need of shaping, thin pencils are great for gently filling in bare areas and defining those arches and tails. The Anastasia Brow Wiz and Benefit Precise Waterproof Eyebrow Definer feature ultra-fine tips that create precise, hair-like strokes, plus they are smudge and transfer-proof! 

Anastasia Brow Wiz

On the other hand, if you feel like your brows are already shaped and only really need to be fluffed and filled, the Kosas Air Brow Tinted Volumizing Eyebrow Gel and Benefit Gimme Brow + Tinted Volumizing Eyebrow Gel lift and lock your eyebrows while adding a slight tint. 

Benefit Gimme Brow + Tinted Volumizing Eyebrow Gel

6. Eyeshadow primer

One of the most underestimated makeup products: the eyeshadow primer. The Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion is a holy grail for all my ladies out there who also struggle with eyeshadow creasing. (This is an absolute must for those with oily skin!) Prepping your eyelids with primer helps your eyeshadow last throughout the day and maintain its vibrancy, so you can even sweat (or even sneak in a quick nap) while wearing your favorite eyeshadow.

Urban Decay Eyeshadow Primer Potion

7. Eyeshadow

For beginners, if there is one piece of advice to follow, it’s this: start neutral, and start small. Avoid piling palette after palette into your cart, because chances are you’re going to realize later that you don’t like half the colors. Do not be afraid to experiment, but stick to a small range of common colors first so you can easily narrow down what best suits your eye shape and complexion.

Too Faced Beauty Born This Way The Natural Nudes

Here are some starter eyeshadow palettes that feature a mix of neutral, everyday mattes and shimmers: Bare Necessities Eyeshadow Palette, Tarte Tartelette in Bloom Clay, Tarte Tartelette Toasted Eyeshadow Palette, Too Faced Beauty Born This Way The Natural Nudes, and Urban Decay Naked3 Eyeshadow Palette. If you have fair to light skin, start out with caramel, peach, and dusty rose shades. If you have medium to dark skin, start out with cinnamon, terracotta, and rose gold shades. Once you get the hang of blending, try creating different eye looks. *Remember, base colors on the center of the eyelids, then darker shades on the outer corners!

Tarte Tartelette in Bloom


Trust me, it’s not worth buying individually packed brushes (which cost at least $10 by the way). The e.l.f. Cosmetics 19 Piece Brush Collection comes with all the essentials and more, including a variety of face and eyeshadow brushes. It even comes with a travel case!

9. Eyelash curler

It may be hard to believe, but simply curling your lashes could actually make a difference to your appearance. Eyelash curlers are essential especially when you’re on the go and you don’t have the time to apply mascara. The Shiseido Eyelash Curler works for all eye shapes in curling and lengthening eyelashes so that you can walk out the door looking (and feeling) more awake. 

Shiseido Eyelash Curler

10. Mascara

Here is a makeup secret that I didn’t learn until…well, last year actually. When you are still in the experimenting stage, you do not need to buy full size products. This especially applies to mascara, a product that many people (including myself) tend to buy a lot of before finding the perfect one. What type of wand best suits your eye shape? Do you prefer lengthening mascara? Volumizing? Both? Do you need waterproof mascara? Luckily, there are numerous long-wearing, multipurpose, and mini-sized mascaras that are suitable for each lash type: Rare Beauty Perfect Strokes Universal Volumizing Mascara, Lancome Idole Lash-Lifting & Volumizing Mascara, and Benefit They’re Real! Lengthening Mascara

Lancome Idole Lash-Lifting & Volumizing Mascara

For those that want a waterproof option, try Lancome Monsieur Big Waterproof Mascara (the best in my opinion). It only comes in full size, but trust me, you wouldn’t want to try any other mascara after the first use.

11. Bronzer and Contour Palette

Everyone deserves a Kim K moment. But should everyone break their banks for bronzer and contour? Absolutely not. That is why I recommend getting a palette that includes both. The Smashbox Cali Contour Face Palette has all the basics you need to add warmth, dimension, and radiance to your face. I bought this palette my freshman year, and I still use it to this day. It comes with six pans: one contour, bronzer, deep blush, brightener, and two highlighters (the highlighters are optional, but definitely a bonus for an everyday look). 

Smashbox Cali Contour Face Palette

12. Blush

Do you remember when Madison Beer revealed to the world her obsession with blush? And the Charlotte Tilbury Glowgasm Wand sold out because of it? Fear not, while the beauty community has lost a beloved blush product, there are still plenty of great options! For beginners, I recommend starting off with powder blushes. The NARS Blush offers various shades in shimmer, matte, and satin finishes, and features silky powder pigments to ensure seamless application. My personal favorite, the Patrick Ta Velvet Blush, is known for its buttery-soft formula that blends into the skin and leaves a radiant finish.

Patrick Ta Monochrome Moment – Velvet Blush

13. Tinted lip balm

“People can’t see my mouth under my face mask.” Ok, but do you want to be sipping your Starbucks in public with pale, chapped lips? I don’t think so. Using tinted lip balm is so simple and effortless, yet it just adds a gorgeous pop of color to your face. Especially now in the winter, it’s so important to hydrate your lips!

Merit Shade Slick Tinted Lip Oil

I have been swearing by Bobbi Brown Extra Lip Tint for years, this tinted lip balm smoothes and softens my lips so effortlessly, and the formula is so lightweight and natural. It is on the pricier side, so if you would like to opt for a cheaper option, check out ILIA Balmy Tint Hydrating Lip Balm, NARS Afterglow Lip Balm. Or… if you’re feeling fancy, check out these two gloss formulas, Merit Shade Slick Tinted Lip Oil and Rare Beauty Stay Vulnerable Glossy Lip Balm.

14. Setting spray

Finally, to top everything off! You wouldn’t want to create your perfect makeup look only for it to crease within the next hour. Setting spray is a quick, easy way to ensure your makeup lasts the whole day.

Rare Beauty Always an Optimist 4-in-1 Prime & Set Mist

Here are great setting spray options if you have dry skin: Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Setting Spray, Milk Hydro Grip Setting + Refreshing Spray, and Rare Beauty Always an Optimist 4-in-1 Mist. All of them set your skin while leaving a dewy glow.

Urban Decay Cosmetics All Nighter Spray

Alright, for my ladies with oily or combination skin, the following locks in makeup while controlling shine: Benefit The POREfessional: Super Setter Pore-Minimizing Setting Spray and Urban Decay All Nighter Spray. Also, have I mentioned that they’re waterproof?

15. cleansing balm

One of the most important rules to follow in makeup: do not wear a single ounce of makeup to sleep. Are you looking at your makeup remover wipes? Put those away, this is not 2010. Cleansing balms do a much more thorough job, plus they do not strip your skin with harsh chemicals. The Farmacy Green Clean Makeup Removing Cleansing Balm gently melts away makeup (yes, even waterproof mascara), SPF, oil, and it hydrates your skin. This product is recommended for all skin types.

Now that you have finished this guide to a beginner’s makeup routine, what are you going to say when the Sephora employee asks you if you need help? That’s right, “No thanks, I know what I’m looking for!”

Sarah Xiao

Rutgers '22

Sarah is a senior at Rutgers University studying Education with a specialization in English, Communication with a specialization in PR, and Creative Writing. She plans on becoming a language arts teacher, where she can share her passion for writing and studying literature in a middle-school classroom. In her free time, she enjoys journaling, baking, online shopping, watching thrillers and rom-coms, and creating fashion & lifestyle content on Instagram.
Similar Reads👯‍♀️