20 Makeup Artist Secrets Every Woman Should Know
Cakey makeup, the wrong foundation shade, lipstick that travels—there are lots of things that can ruin your look. But these genius makeup tips will help you look gorgeous every day.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
Makeup tips for a flawless face
Whether you consider yourself a Picasso with a blush brush or a cosmetics novice, it never hurts to pick up a few new makeup tips and tricks. After all, the best foundations, concealers, eye shadows and mascaras can make you look younger, more put-together or just fabulous in pictures—if you know which products to use and how to use them. Makeup artists know all the tricks of the trade, of course, and you’ve probably occasionally found yourself wishing you knew what they know.
Well, the first thing they know is that makeup shouldn’t make you look like a different person. Instead, it should play up what already makes you beautiful. “I try to help my clients find the best version of themselves by enhancing their natural features,” says Chicago-based makeup artist Vanessa Valliant. “I want all women to accept themselves and embrace their unique, natural beauty.”
Lucky for you, there are a bunch of simple ways to do just that—without having a personal consultation or being a makeup whiz yourself. We spoke to top makeup artists around the country to round up the tips that will help you look gorgeous every day with minimal effort, from finding the best makeup for older women and every skin type to learning how to apply every product properly. We’re not exaggerating when we say that these makeup hacks just may change everything for you.
Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for more makeup tips, humor, cleaning, travel, tech and fun facts all week long.
Start with prepped skin
Think of your skin as an artist’s canvas. If it’s dry or bumpy, your makeup isn’t going to sit well on top of it. “Taking an extra couple of minutes to make sure your skin is exfoliated, moisturized and primed will make your makeup application look 10 times better!” says Los Angeles–based makeup artist Shanell Sorrells. “Between each step, let the product soak in for 20 to 30 seconds.” Once your skin care is all set, you can start applying your makeup. Consider adding a primer after these steps—it will give your foundation something to cling to, which will make it last longer. Plus, it will fill in fine lines and wrinkles, giving you a more youthful, airbrushed look.
When it comes to finding the right moisturizer and primer for you, consider your skin’s needs. For example, if your skin tends to be oily, you may want a mattifying formula. As for an exfoliator, Sorrells likes Dr. Dennis Gross’s Mini Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel Pads. “They help address dry patches and textured skin,” she says.
Highlight one favorite feature
Love your blue eyes? Or maybe you’ve always appreciated your fuller lips. If you’re short on time, pick your favorite feature to highlight. “It may sound obvious, but you’ll feel most confident when you look in the mirror and see that feature done up,” says Sorrells. An easy way to make that feature the center of attention is to keep the rest of your face neutral and add a pop of color to that area. You can use a bold liner to make your eyes stand out or a bright lipstick to get a notice-me pout.
Having different palettes that offer lots of color options (from neutral shades to brights) can make it easy to go bold when the desire strikes. This 18-shadow collection from Pat McGrath Labs will take you from everyday gorgeous to nighttime va-va-voom with a simple swipe of your eye shadow brush.
Start light, and then add
Less is more when it comes to applying your makeup products. After all, it’s easier to add more than to remove products once they’ve already been applied. This is especially true of concealer. Too much can actually draw attention to whatever you’re trying to hide. “So, start with a small amount, and add as needed,” says makeup artist Aimee Carr, founder of Voodoo Makeup. “Dab a little on, and then stipple it into the skin with a brush to blend.” If you need more, add a bit more product and blend again. This will allow you to get the perfect amount.
Choose a concealer with a doe foot applicator (a small sponge at the end of a wand), like the one on Tarte’s Shape Tape Full Coverage Concealer, which comes in a wide range of hues. Bonus: This full-coverage formula lasts for 16 hours and contains shea and mango butter for a serious dose of hydration.
Use fluffy eye shadow brushes
Have some crinkles or crepey skin on your lids? How you apply your shadow can either accentuate them or diminish them. Chances are, you’d prefer the latter. When it comes to swiping on shadow, many people use a flat brush—and that’s a mistake. “Use a fluffier brush instead of a flat brush for a beautiful airbrushed look,” says makeup artist Janelle Thomason, founder of Cosmakery Cosmetics. A flat brush will be precise, but the fine tip can also deposit a lot of pigment into fine lines and make them pop. A fluffy makeup brush will naturally diffuse the shadow and won’t leave behind harsh lines.
Sephora’s Pro Crease Brush is a great shape. Swirl it over shadow, then tap it to remove excess product. Gently sweep it across your lids and you’re good to go. Talk about one of the easiest makeup tips ever!
Smooth your lips for perfect lipstick application
What sounds more appealing: smooth, supple lips or a sandpaper-y pout? The answer is obvious. But if you apply lipstick on a dry mouth, you’re going to get that bumpy look, not to mention uncomfortable dryness. So, rather than slicking on product and hoping for the best, prep your lips before applying color—and not just with lip balm. “First, exfoliate your lips with a lip scrub to remove any dead skin cells,” says makeup artist Sarah Roberts, founder of A Beauty Edit. “Then, add a lip primer to your lips to moisturize them.”
To keep your mouth in tip-top shape, you could also consider an overnight lip mask, like Winky Lux’s Lip Sleeping Mask. It contains moisturizing ingredients, including hyaluronic acid and vitamin E, that seep into skin overnight for the ultimate in hydration.
Keep lipstick in its place
As you get older, you tend to get little lines around your mouth. And, unfortunately, when you apply lipstick, the color can bleed into those fine lines and draw attention to them. A lip liner can prevent products from sinking into the lines on your face. While many people think picking a shade that matches their natural lip shade is the way to go, that can actually alter the color of whatever lipstick you apply on top of it. “Instead, pick a lip liner that blends well with your shade of lipstick,” says Roberts. “Line around the edges of your mouth and then fill in lips. Then apply lipstick directly from the bullet or with a brush.”
Reach for a one-and-done product
Believe it or not, you don’t need a ton of products to get a complete look. A makeup hack many pros swear by is using just one product on your eyes, lips and cheeks. Not only is it easy, but it also gives you a cool monochrome look that’s breezy, natural and effortlessly gorgeous. What is this magical makeup product? “A cream lipstick works well as a multitasking product for your eyes, lips and cheeks,” says Eve Dawes, founder of Dawes Custom Cosmetics. “For the lips, apply as normal. For cheeks apply a small amount to the fleshy part of your thumb, rub your thumbs together and then gently dab onto your cheeks. For eyes, your fingers work best, as the heat helps the product to blend easily.”
Picking the right shade is key, and this guide to choosing the right lipstick for your skin tone will help. Of course, super-bright colors may not be quite right for all three spots. Instead, opt for a pinky nude, like Charlotte Tilbury’s Pillow Talk.
Fix mistakes without starting over
No matter how good you are at executing these makeup tips, mistakes will still happen. Don’t let it throw you off course—and don’t feel like you have to start over completely. Instead, focus on removing the small area you messed up. “Wait until the eyeliner dries completely before attempting to remove it—otherwise it will smudge,” says makeup artist Rachel Davis, owner of Raye Beauty Co. “Then, use a pointed Q-tip dipped in eye-makeup remover to take off the mishap.”
The best makeup removers tend to be oil-based. Not only do they help makeup slide off skin, but they also tend to be more gentle. You can also make things super easy by investing in cotton swabs that come preloaded with an oil-based makeup remover. Glamnetic’s On-the-Go Oopsies Waterproof Makeup Remover Swabs have precision tips that allow you to fix mistakes in a flash.
Apply makeup in the right order
Whether you’re going glam or you want a more natural look, the order in which you apply your makeup makes a difference. “I recommend applying eye makeup first,” says makeup artist Mandie Brice. “This way, if shadow falls on your face, you can easily wash it away without having to redo your face makeup.”
For even easier cleanup, consider using eye shadow guards. Put these gel pads underneath your eyes as you do your makeup, and they’ll catch any falling shadow. When you’re done, remove them and toss them in the trash before going on to apply your concealer and foundation. Genius, right?
Don’t drag your brush
Foundation that isn’t blended properly is a big no-no. And while there are a variety of tools out there to choose from for blending, a buffing brush is what makeup artists tend to gravitate toward. “This fluffy type of brush helps you get maximum coverage,” says Sorrells. “Just be sure never to drag the brush, which can create visible lines. Instead, move it over the skin in a buffing motion.”
A good buffing brush will have densely packed bristles and a flat top. Pick your foundation, whether that’s a moisturizing foundation for mature skin or one with a matte finish, and then apply it directly to the brush or to your face before using the brush to glide it over skin. In general, a quarter-sized dollop of foundation should work for your entire face.
Find a perfect match
Visible makeup lines aren’t cute—and neither is foundation that’s a shade too light or too dark for your skin. Where people often can see that your foundation is the wrong color is along your jawline, since there’s generally a slight variance in tone between your neck and face. “So, you should always swatch your foundation on your jawline in natural light to ensure it blends with both your face and neck,” says Davis. “This gives you the correct match every time.”
It’s also helpful to look for a foundation line that includes lots of different shades. If you’re choosing from just a handful of options, you’re less likely to find a perfect match. Bobbi Brown’s Skin Long-Wear Weightless Foundation has 42 different shades to choose from, making it easy to find one that will work for you.
Blend concealer with a damp sponge
Once you have your foundation on lock, follow this makeup tip to ensure your concealer is also blended properly. After all, even if you buy the best concealer in the world, it will look terrible if it’s not blended well. Turns out, a little water is all you need. “Concealer is easily blended when using a damp makeup sponge,” says Davis. “The sponge helps to warm it up into the skin so that it blends seamlessly.”
Important: Once you’re done, don’t just toss the wet sponge back into your makeup bag. If you do, you risk it picking up tons of bacteria—which will be transferred to your skin the next time you use it and potentially cause breakouts. To avoid this, consider getting a silicone sponge case. This one from Beautyblender allows for ventilation to help the sponge dry out between uses.
Soften eyeliner as you get older
A makeup tip that’s ideal for those with lines around their eyes: Skip the harsh liner. A stark black line can age you. Instead, go for a softer line in a warm brown or charcoal gray. “My favorite quick and easy way to play up the eyes is using powder eye shadow applied with an angled liner brush,” says Davis. “It gives a softened and defined look that makes your eyes pop.”
By having an angled liner brush in your makeup tool kit, you’ll be able to use any shadow you want to softly line eyes—just like eyeliner, only better. Look for a brush with short bristles and a fine tip, which give you more control over where the shadow goes. For daytime, a thin line along your lashline will define eyes. At night, go with a thicker line for a smoky vibe. Want to help your shadow last? Wet your brush before applying the powder shadow.
Highlight your pout
You’ve probably heard makeup tips about using a highlighter on cheekbones to make them pop, or down the bridge of your nose to slim it. But there’s another spot you may want to consider adding a little shimmer. “A quick and unexpected way to fake poutier lips is to apply highlighter on your cupid’s bow,” says Davis. “This creates the effect of a fuller upper lip.”
Because this is a small area of skin, you’ll want to pick a highlighter shade that isn’t too look-at-me. ColourPop’s Super Shock highlighter comes in a soft champagne color called Flexitarian that will bring just enough attention to the area. When you’ve finished your makeup, simply dab a little highlighter on your pinkie and dot it right in the cupid’s bow. It’s that easy!
Get natural-looking brows
“One of the biggest mistakes people make while filling in brows is going for a shade that is way too dark,” says makeup artist Aisha K. Ashi. “You want to go for a shade that is slightly lighter than your hair for a natural look.” This slightly lighter shade will fill in holes without overwhelming your natural brows. Plus, if your brows are too dark, it can draw attention to fine lines and crow’s feet, which will age you. Ready to get the job done? Makeup artists suggest using gentle strokes and a light hand.
Brow Wiz by Anastasia Beverly Hills is an ultra-fine pencil that will let you make very small strokes that blend in well with your brows. No one will be able to tell the difference! For fuller brows naturally, try one of our favorite eyebrow growth serums.
Avoid spidery lashes
Chances are, you aren’t going for a Tammy Faye Baker look. So, if you want to avoid super clumpy lashes, you need to take a few precautions. “The first? Make sure your lashes are squeaky clean with no residue,” says Sorrells. “Then, don’t pump your mascara wand. Instead, slowly twirl it before taking it out to ensure there’s an even coating of product on the brush.” From there, you’ll want to wiggle gently from root to tip to get a clean, lengthened look.
The type of mascara you buy can also make a difference. Volumizing formulas are more likely to get clumps. Lengthening formulas, like Benefit’s They’re Real! Magnet Extreme Lengthening Mascara, are more likely to thinly coat lashes to add length, not volume. Can’t forgo a volumizing formula? As you slide your wand out of the tube, angle it so excess product catches on the rim. Having a brush that’s not packed with too much product will help you avoid a clumpy look.
Make your blush work for you
Hot makeup tip: Looking like a clown with two bright spots on your cheeks is not a good look. To get a softer look, it’s all about the brush you pick—and your skill with it, of course! “Try using a fluffy, less-dense brush for a more diffused look,” says Sorrells. “Dust it over your blush, and tap it a few times to shake off excess product. Then, apply the blush in a swirling motion, starting at the apples of your cheeks and moving upward toward your temples.” You want to stop as the brush approaches the corner of your eye. Extending blush further than that will look unnatural.
When shopping for a brush, look for something large with a domed shape—like the Ultra Plush Blush Brush from Real Techniques. To ensure it will give you that diffused look, the brush should have bristles that are loosely packed. You’ll know this is the case if you dust it over skin and it feels light and almost tickle-y.
Watch the shimmer
“If you have mature skin, be mindful of super-glittery products,” says Sorrells. “The shiny particles can fall into wrinkles and draw attention to them.” For example, a high-shimmer shadow may look pretty in the packaging, but put it on and it can put a spotlight on your crow’s feet. “Instead, opt for sheen over sparkle, which can bring youthful dewiness.” This is also an important makeup tip to consider if you wear glasses.
Laura Mercier’s Caviar Stick Eye Shadow offers a creamy texture that has just enough shimmer. It comes in a variety of neutral shades (think: champagne and rose gold) that work on all skin tones. Glide it onto your lids, and blend with your fingertip, stopping at the crease. One more expert-approved makeup tip: Use your ring finger to blend it in. Because this finger is non-dominant, it is a bit weaker. This means you won’t tug the delicate skin in this area too badly.
Make sure makeup stays put
If you’ve done a full face of makeup, the last thing you want is for it to all wear off by lunch time. “I am a fan of using both a setting powder and a setting spray,” says Davis. Dust a translucent powder over your entire face with a big, fluffy brush. Translucent is key because colored powder may affect the color of your makeup. Oh, and go for a loose powder, rather than those pressed compacts we all used to carry back in the day. Loose powder blends more easily.
When it comes to a setting spray, mist it over your entire face. Milani’s Make It Last Setting Spray is a smart buy because it can also be used as a primer. Spritz it on before starting your makeup, and it will give your products something to cling to. Then, spritz again once you’re done with your makeup, and it will lock everything in place.
Don’t use old makeup
You may be getting older, but your makeup shouldn’t be. “The fresher the formula, the better it goes on,” says Sorrells. “Old makeup can get clumpy or may not work as well.” So, pay attention to expiration dates. The general rule is that foundation and concealer are good for up to a year, eye shadow is good for up to two years, and eyeliner and mascara are good for three months. Lipstick is also good for about a year. Nearly all products have a little icon that looks like an open jar with a number on it. This is known as the Period After Opening (or POA) symbol. For most products, it can be found on the back or bottom of the bottle, tube or canister. While the FDA doesn’t require this symbol to be added, they do require manufacturers to ensure their products are safe. Because of this, most have chosen to incorporate this symbol, which tells you how long you can keep it once you open it. So, if the number is 12, you know it’s good for 12 months. Here are some more makeup symbols to keep an eye out for when buying makeup.
Of course, you might forget how long you’ve had each product before doing this mental math. An easy way to remember? Buy expiration stickers, and place them somewhere visible on your product. This simple yet brilliant makeup tip will help remind you when it’s time to replace an item in your beauty lineup.
- Vanessa Valliant, makeup artist
- Shanell Sorrells, makeup artist
- Aimee Carr, makeup artist and founder of Voodoo Makeup
- Janelle Thomason, makeup artist and founder of Cosmakery Cosmetics
- Sarah Roberts, makeup artist and founder of A Beauty Edit
- Eve Dawes, founder of Dawes Custom Cosmetics
- Rachel Davis, makeup artist and owner of Raye Beauty Co.
- Mandie Brice, makeup artist
- Aisha K. Ashi, makeup artist