When I first started delving in to the world of makeup, I had literally no idea what I was doing. I tried googling a few resources and watching some YouTube videos, but for the most part all of the words were just jargon I didn’t understand. So having finally done some of he leg work to figure out what you need to get started and figuring out what the hell this stuff is, I decided to break down my “essentials” so that you too can be on your way to looking fabulous.

I am by no means an expert, so we’re going to keep this casual and honest as a guide for real people who have no idea what they’re doing, just like me. These are also all relatively inexpensive because they’re meant to get you started, you may find yourself wanting to upgrade once you get the hang of it.

Here are my go-to picks for keeping my bag stocked:

1. Preparing your canvas: CoverGirl Clean Oil Control Pressed Powder – Everyone needs to start somewhere, and I hate any kind of liquid foundation with a passion, so this little blue compact is perfect for doing some basic cover up and getting you ready to put on other makeup on top. I just dab this all over my face to create an even layer and voila, it takes about two minutes. As a pasty white girl I use the Buff Beige color, but there are plenty of color options to choose from, and you want something that matches your skin color pretty closely. I think I paid $10 USD for it, but you can pick up one for $10-$16 on Amazon.

2. Looking like you aren’t a shut in: NYC Sun’n’Bronze Bronzing Powder – Holy wow, this stuff is awesome. Before you buy anything else, buy yourself some bronzer and a kabuki brush, which is that fat brush in the photo above. Make a face like a fish and dab the powder onto your cheeks starting up by your ears and working your way down, and this stuff does a great job of convincing everyone that you totally didn’t just spend two straight weeks indoors playing Skyrim while everyone else was out at the beach, or something. You can find NYC bronzer for about $6 in stores, or around $4 on Amazon.

3. Pretending you’re Taylor Swift: Maybelline Lip Color – I’ll talk more about lipstick in an upcoming post, but if you want to experiment with lipstick, I can’t recommend Maybelline enough. These colors don’t stick well enough to last you an entire day of drinking and singing along at a music festival without re-application (trust me, I tested this myself) but they are good enough to get you started, and lipstick requires quite a bit of experimentation. I wouldn’t go any cheaper than Maybelline, though, because you want good enough quality that it’s still going to look good. Maybelline has many different lipstick lines, but most run about $5. You can read about some of my favorite shades here.

4. Matching your lipstick to your cheeks: e.l.f. Blush Palette – Blush is tricky, but you definitely want to keep some in your arsenal in case of emergencies or needing to look like you aren’t a vampire, or something. I like to use this palette with some of my lighter shades of lipstick because they otherwise look weird without a little bit of the same pink on my cheeks. Thing is, because blush is tricky, you kind of want to start small and experiment. Grab a blush brush (they should be labeled as such at your local drugstore or big box store) and pick a color (or a few colors!) and dab a little on your cheeks as you grin at yourself like an idiot in the mirror and pretend you’re happy about how much work this all is. e.l.f. is a great brand for folks just getting started with makeup because it comes with instructions and is very cheap. This palette was $6 at Target, and you can also grab one on Amazon for the same price.

5. Feeling like a movie star when you bat your eyelashes: CoverGirl Professional Washable Mascara – I don’t use eye makeup often because my super bold hipster glasses kind of take away from it, but when I decide to get fancy, I just throw on a layer of Mascara. It makes your eyes pop more and straightens out your lashes so you can feel like you’re flirting with people every time you blink. I like this CoverGirl mascara as a place to get started with experimenting and you can pick one up for about $4. I prefer the black-brown, but you might prefer an all black shade.

6. Making art on your eyelids: e.l.f. Flawless Eyeshadow Palette – I mentioned e.l.f. above, but their eyeshadows run about $3 and have instructions literally etched into the little slabs of makeup so that you know which color to put on your brow, which color to put on your lid, which to use on the crease, and so on. Again, I don’t really use eye makeup, but for the price these are a steal and help you master this makeup item that seems a lot more straightforward than it is. Your lids will be looking like a masterpiece in no time! You can pick up a variety of these palettes on Amazon as well.

7. Taking everything to the next level: e.l.f. Makeup Brushes – As with any art form, good brushes are key to making your makeup look awesome. Admittedly, it took me awhile to figure this out and I tried fudging around with the little brushes that come in the compacts and that was just stupid. Do yourself a favor and grab some brushes by e.l.f. to get started, they run about $3 each or you can get a whole starter set for $12. Experiment with which brushes you feel the most comfortable with and which ones do what. Most of the ones by e.l.f. are very clearly labeled (e.g. “blush brush”) so you don’t have to consult a cypher to figure out what the hell you’re dealing with, which is something I love.

8. Making your hair stay as nice as your makeup: Not Your Mother’s Dry Shampoo – This isn’t exactly a makeup item, but I never leave the house without it. Dry shampoo is a miracle product, people. I don’t like to use a lot of styling stuff in my hair and mine also likes to get oily pretty fast, and a few quick sprays of this stuff solves two problems at once. Not only does it keep your hair looking great no matter how long you’ve been dancing or shopping or playing video games on the couch without showering, but it also works great as a texturizer for those of you who are like me who have super short hair. I use a travel size bottle that I got for about $3 (because it fits in my purse better) but you can also grab a full size bottle for $9 on Amazon or at your local store.


And there we have it! These are my picks for how to get started with makeup, no matter how inexperienced you are or how much money you have to spend. I suggest starting at the top of the list and working your way down if you can only buy a few things at a time, and with these pieces you should have all the tools you need to complete all those super obtuse beauty tutorials on YouTube…or at least some of them.

Let me know in the comments what goes in your makeup bag! Or, if you have another suggestion or resource for people getting started with makeup, feel free to include that too! You also may want to read my review of Lauren Conrad’s Style, which is another fantastic resource for figuring out how to get started with fashion and makeup.