10 Must-have Items in Your Makeup Bag

Makeup case.
Most women won't leave the house without makeup, but what separates a must-have item from something it would just be nice to have?
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Most women would just as soon leave home without makeup as they would walk out the door without wearing pants. Makeup is an essential, which is why one of a woman's most important accessories is her cosmetics bag -- the little pouch that holds every tool she needs to look fresh-faced throughout the day and night.

For some women, that little pouch isn't so little anymore. When you have to buy a bigger purse just to accommodate your makeup bag, you're carrying around way too much stuff.


So, what are the true essentials? It's slightly different for everyone, of course, but there are some old standbys you can always use to touch up your look. They're the basics you don't want to be without -- and the products you can justifiably spend some cash on, since they can make or break any look.

In this article, we'll check out the 10 items that definitely belong in your go-to kit, and find out why they're essential. We'll also learn how to pick the best types makeup basics for your skin, and see how the must-haves can work together to create a great-looking face.

10: Moisturizer/Lotion

Applying a layer of makeup over dry, parched skin is like trying to paint the surface of a cracked desert floor. To keep your skin hydrated, and provide a smooth palette on which to create your makeup magic, you need to have a good moisturizer handy and use it every day.

Moisturizers and lotions are designed to lock water inside your skin so it doesn't dry out. Yet you don't want a product that's too heavy or greasy--it will just block your pores and lead to breakouts. Look for the words "oil-free" or "noncomedogenic" on the label--those are cosmetic-speak for, "it won't clog your pores." Some moisturizers incorporate an SPF 15 or 30 sunscreen, which will do your skin the extra favor of protecting it against sun damage.


After you wash your face in the morning, smooth on a thin layer of moisturizer while your face is still damp. Let the lotion dry fully before applying your makeup. Moisturize again before you go to bed and you'll wake up with radiant looking skin.

9: Concealer

Woman applying concealer to face.
Smooth away imperfections with a dab of concealer.
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Unless you're uniquely blessed by nature, your face has blemishes and imperfections, like dark spots, scars or dark circles under your eyes. Concealer can make those blemishes fade, if not disappear entirely.

Concealer comes in liquids (good for dry skin), creams and sticks. Liquids are the lightest form of concealer, while sticks are the most solid and opaque.


Concealers also come in a variety of shades, and you want to make sure you find the one (or one palette) that best matches your skin tone. The general guideline is to go one-half to one shade lighter than your skin. A lighter concealer is best for minimizing darker areas--like those circles under your eyes. Darker concealers help hide puffiness.

There are color-correcting concealers, too, which come in green, blue and yellow. Green neutralizes red, so you might use it to mask red spots like scars or acne. Yellow hides bruises well. These work a little differently on different skin tones; for example, people with browner complexions should use peach or orange-colored concealer to hide bluish or grayish splotches on skin.

After you apply concealer, use a sponge to blend it in. Top it off with a light layer of translucent powder to set the stage for a flawless face.

8: Translucent Powder

Makeup should never scream "made-up." Ideally, it should look natural and effortless. Translucent face powder can give you that effortless look. When applied correctly, it's invisible, but it creates a flawless, perfectly blended look.

Translucent powder is a sheer, fine and colorless substance. It's applied all over the face in a light layer, and it has a few different benefits:


  • It smoothes out the borders between each makeup element (foundation, eyes, cheeks)
  • It controls oil and shine
  • It "sets" foundation and concealer so they last longer and don't streak
  • It can tone down mistakes (like too much color on the cheeks)

You can apply translucent powder to your eyelids, and around your lips, nose, forehead and chin to reduce shine.

Translucent powder comes in different shades to match your skin tone, and in a couple of different forms: loose powder and pressed powder. For an on-the-go makeup bag, you'll probably want to go with pressed powder. It's less likely to leak out all over the bag, and it typically comes with a built-in applicator so you don't have to carry a separate brush.

7: Eyeshadow

Make eyes pop with a splash of color.
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Eye color can be dramatic for evening or understated for daytime. Eyeshadow comes in pencil, cream and powder forms, making it very versatile. You can wear it just on your lids, or make it do double duty by applying a thin line of dark brown, gray or black eyeshadow just above and below your eyelashes in place of eyeliner.

Neutral eyeshadow shades produce a classic look that accentuates your eyes. You can also go with colors that match or complement your eye color (peach highlights blue eyes, while any neutral tone goes well with brown eyes). For a more dramatic look, choose a bright color that "pops" and draws attention to your eyes, or blend several shades together to heighten the effect.


Luckily, eyeshadow often comes in handy "expert coordinated" palettes, in which you'll find three or more colors in one little case. It's a space saver, and it can help you identify the right combination of colors for your look.

Before applying eyeshadow, start with a thin layer of concealer, followed by a powder to smooth out your eyelids. Use a separate brush for each color of eyeshadow you're applying, so the colors don't run into one another.

6: Set of Brushes

You stopped painting with your fingers when you graduated from kindergarten, so why are you still putting on your makeup that way? Your face is the canvas, and makeup brushes are the tools you need to make it a masterpiece. Using a makeup brush will also keep your hands off your face before they can leave behind a layer of dirt, oil and bacteria that can cause breakouts.

You'll find a different brush for just about every type of makeup:


  • Blush brush -- tapered at the sides with a rounded tip
  • Eye shadow brush -- soft bristled with tapered sides and a rounded top
  • Lip brush -- firm, tapered bristles
  • Powder brush -- soft-bristled, large brush
  • Brow/lash groomer -- rough bristles with a square or slanted tip

You don't need to buy every single one of these; just don't use one brush for everything, unless you want to wear blush on your eyelids and eyeshadow on your cheeks.

Before you buy a makeup brush set, test it out. In a good-quality brush, the bristles should all move in one direction to give you more control over application. When you pull on the bristles, they should stay firm. If clumps of bristles fall out in your hand, find another brush to carry around.

5: Eyelash Curler

Woman using eyelash curler.
Use an eyelash curler to transform your peepers.
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Nothing can take you from drab daytime to dramatic nighttime like an eyelash curler. Within seconds, an eyelash curler can make your eyes pop, and turn even the measliest lashes into a beautiful frame for your eyes.

You have three options when it comes to eyelash curlers:


  • A crimp curler is the classic design. You close it and then pull it along the length of your lashes to create a dramatic sweep. Just remember to always use a crimp curler before applying mascara. Otherwise, you risk ripping your lashes right out.
  • A precision eyelash curler uses the same basic technique as a crimp curler. However, it's narrower, so you can fit it all the way to the base of your lashes to get more oomph out of them.
  • A heated eyelash curler lets you curl without crimping, and it can take on even the most stubbornly straight eyelashes. Unlike precision and crimp curlers, you use this curler after you've applied mascara. If you want to get the same look but can't afford a heated eyelash curler, just warm up your regular curler with your hair dryer for a few seconds.

4: Blush/Bronzer

A blusher can give you that rosy-cheeked, healthy look--but only if you pick the right shade and apply it correctly. It's isn't that hard; simply match your blush color to your skin tone. The lighter your skin, the paler your blush should be. Women with fair complexions usually look best in pink or coral hues. Wine or burgundy accentuates darker skin well.

Blushes come in powders and creams. Powder is quicker and easier to apply, but creams sit more smoothly on dry, parched cheeks.


There are some rules to putting on blush, though. Don't apply blush in the middle of your cheeks, unless you're planning to run off and become a circus clown. Follow the line of your cheekbones. If you're over 50, your cheekbones may have dropped a little, so make sure you know where they are and stick with them.

On top of your blusher, add a brush of shimmery bronzer to give your face a sun-kissed glow. Don't just bronze your cheeks -- make sure you also get the sides of your nose, your forehead and your chin to give yourself an all-over, natural-looking tan.

3: Mascara

Mascara can take eyes from sleepy to sultry in a flash.
Christopher Stevenson/Getty Images

Thick, long eyelashes are a beauty must. Some women wear fake eyelashes to achieve a sultry, dramatic look. Most women go with the lower-maintenance approach: a layer of mascara.

Mascara can lengthen, thicken and separate lashes, depending on which one you use and how you apply it. Thinner mascaras with finer brushes create more natural looking lashes, and thicker versions with fat brushes make thin lashes look broader and bolder.


You can start your day with top-lashes only (a more natural look) and then add the bottom lashes and one or two extra coats to transition to night. Let the mascara dry after each coat. Then run an eyelash comb through your eyelashes to separate them and remove any clumps.

When it comes to buying mascara, you have a few choices. Waterproof mascaras will stay with you through a day at the office or poolside, although they can really dry out your lashes if you use them every day. Black mascara complements darker hair and complexions. Blue, green, turquoise and brown mascaras stand out when set against lighter lashes. Leave the weird colors, like red and hot pink, for Halloween.

2: Lipstick/Lip Gloss

No matter your skin tone or style, chances are you wear something on your lips. Polished lips can complete an overall makeup look or stand on their own as attention-grabbers.

So, lipstick or lip gloss? Lipstick is more opaque, and tends to stand out more than gloss (although that depends a lot on color choice). Gloss provides more of a subtle shine, and can make lips look plumper.


Both glosses and sticks come in a huge array of colors. Your lipstick color should match your skin tone, not the bright blue shirt you're wearing. Brownish pinks, soft pinks, light red and beige lipsticks are the best accents for lighter skin, while darker reds, burgundies and browns play better off dark skin.

You can also pick from different lipstick textures. Creamy and moisturizing lipsticks look good when you first apply them, but you'll be reaching for the tube again within hours. Long-wearing lipsticks will stay colorful through a full eight-hour day, but that resilience makes them harder to remove at night. To accentuate thin lips, first apply a neutral-colored lip-liner just outside of your natural lip line, and then fill it in with lipstick.

1: Eyeliner

Woman wearing eyeliner.
Eyeliner helps add a little dose of glam to a pedestrian makeup routine.
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Eyeliner defines and accentuates the shape of your eyes. It can add a touch of glamour to an everyday makeup palette.

When you shop for eyeliner, you'll notice that you have a few different options:

  • Liquid eyeliner gives eyes a dramatic look -- but only if you can apply it without smearing, which isn't always easy. Use liquid liner after you've put on eyeshadow, but before you apply mascara. Remove extra liner from the applicator first, and then run the liner only over your upper lash line.
  • Gel eyeliners are similar to liquids, but you may have to apply a few coats to get the look you want.
  • Powder eyeliner softly fills in the lower lash line, and it can be a good add-on if you're using a liquid eyeliner along your top lashes. Apply it using a thin, stiff brush, shaking off the excess to avoid smudges.

Neutral eyeliner shades -- browns, grays, and blacks -- are best for everyday. If you're going out for the evening and really want to make an impact, you can add a touch of color.

When you apply eyeliner, don't go for the Cleopatra look. Start at the inner corner of your eye and work your way only to the outer corner -- no further. Trace a thin line to start. You can always retrace it for a darker, more impactful look.

Lots More Information

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