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Editor’s Picks: The Makeup Essentials That Belong in Your Makeup Bag

The must-haves.

I'll let you in on a little secret about beauty editors. Many, if not most, could be featured on the show Hoarders, thanks to massive beauty product collections acquired over the years of working in magazines. Anything extra-special (like limited-edition palettes, or with the name Tom Ford attached) goes straight into what we call "the archives." Not to be used, EVER, but pulled out every once in a while to just fondly gaze at. (I know, we're weird.)

But then there are the masses and masses of everyday prodz—dozens of mascaras, lip liners, eyeshadows, you name it—that we keep on hand. Not just because having to actually purchase makeup strikes fear in our hearts (since the one perk of our jobs is that we have an abundant supply). It also brings us immense joy to be able to reference a product collection (Clarins, 2005) and then actually locate it, or, most importantly of all, to be able to search our stash and then gift friends/family with the exact perfect shade of blush/foundation/lipstick.

From The Styling Edit Archives

And so I'm probably the wrong person for reader Melody to ask "how much makeup is TOO much?" But I'm going to give it a try anyway—because if there's one thing I know after all of these years in the biz, it's what you really need versus what's just nice to have.

Here's Melody's question:

I love makeup, but I'm still 17. Definitely old enough to wear makeup like I appropriately do everyday, but since I've fallen in love with collections and things like that, I find myself buying products that I don't really need. Up till now everyone around me has been fine with it, but now my friends and parents are starting to question me about why I still want to buy more even when I have way more than I use on a daily basis.

I love makeup and I definitely use it appropriately (and I'm a big fan of YouTube channels and your blog and other beauty blogs, so I guess it had started to feel like owning so much makeup as nothing out of the ordinary). I just wanted to ask, for a regular 17 year old, how much makeup do you really think is a bit too much? Maybe it's just my storage that's making it seem very cluttered and everywhere.

Okay, first things first—I DO have too much makeup. But, as I said, it's my "job." So by no means am I expecting all y'all to run out and buy every single thing I mention on this site.

That said, I think there are certain things that should be in everyone's tool kit. So if you find yourself running out and buying every hot product-of-the-moment or latest limited-edition collection just because the packaging is pretty, etc., you'll want to hit pause and make sure that you at least have the basics first.


1. A good concealer and concealer brush

No matter what state your skin is in, trust me: we all need concealer. (Even if you don't have any redness or blemishes to cover up, everyone gets a bit of darkness around the inner corners. This is my life-changing tip for looking instantly well-rested.) Formulas that are too liquidy won't give you enough coverage, so look for one that comes in a pot or stick. And definitely invest in a professional concealer brush—you'll get MUCH better results.

2. Translucent setting powder and a domed eyeshadow brush

Notice that I didn't say tinted powder. Those, especially if you pile 'em on to touch up your makeup throughout the day, can give you a really dry, cakey, heavily made-up appearance. The new translucent ones, applied just in the areas where you get shiny, disappear right into your skin for a more flawless-looking complexion. (So flawless, in fact, that they're what makeup artists use for high-definition TV.) These powders are also colourless, and therefore work on all skin tones. Just make sure you apply a teensy tiny amount with a small brush because a little goes a loooong way. This is not the kind of powder that calls for swirling a big, fluffy brush—if you do that you'll look like you're ready for a Kabuki show.

3. Black mascara of your choice

Everyone looks good in black mascara—but the formula you choose is up to you. There are so many good ones out there!

4. A high-quality eyelash curler

Toronto-based makeup artist Dino Dilio taught me that it IS possible to curl your lashes with your mascara wand, but it's definitely easier with a good lash curler.

5. Pink or peachy-pink blush and a blush brush

My favourite! I think everyone looks better with a hint of colour on the cheeks. Pink or peachy-pink tones are universally flattering, but go for a matte, not shimmery finish for the most modern effect. Right now, I'm partial to cream formulas because they're easiest to blend, but powders, gels or stains can work too. (Powders can go on top of both cream or powder foundations, but ideally you want to wear a cream blush on top of a cream foundation. Cream on top of powder can go cakey.)

6. Eyeshadows in a) beige, b) taupe and c) dark brown/grey/navy. And eyeshadow brushes!

I'm all for creativity in the eyeshadow department, but these are the classic shades you'll return to again and again and again. (Also? Appropriate for a 17-year-old. Melody can wear just the pale-ish one for day, all over the eyelid, and use the others for special occasions.) The taupey colour would be for shading the crease, and one or two of the dark ones for lining or creating a smokey effect. Again, texture is personal preference: I like applying waterproof creams with my fingers for all over the eyelids, but powders or gel pots will give you more control with the darker colours. Invest in a fluffy brush for lid work, and definitely an angled one for lining effects.

7. Eyeliners, preferably waterproof, in dark brown, navy, grey and/or black

I don't use eyeliners now unless they're waterproof—the staying power is so much better, especially if you're lining the inner rims. Same classic colours here, with the addition of black. (If you do the waterlines trick on the upper lash line, it makes your eyes pop without being at all detectable... and of course, black liner is an essential for evening.) For Melody—I don't love a ton of eyeliner on teenagers, so these are best for evening or special occasion looks.

8. Lipsticks in nude, red and a bright or two of your choice

Everyone needs a few options in their lipstick wardrobe. A good nude, of course, is key to pair with any eye-emphasizing looks. Find one that's got a hint of pink or peach so your mouth doesn't look pale or chalky. The wrong shade of nude can be very, very wrong. Red and bright lipsticks might be a bit too much for teens, so I'm busting out the special occasion rule here again. (Pair them with a fresh face and minimal eye makeup.) Still, I'm of the school of thought that everyone can wear red lipstick, if they find the right shade. And with all the fun brights coming into style now (corals, oranges, pinks), you can definitely have some fun with colour.

9. Clear, peach or pink lip gloss

Lip glosses are fun, sure, but most don't impart a ton of colour—so you can probably get by with just one or two. If you do find yourself longing for more colour, just layer them on top of your lipstick (either directly or blotted first) for a shiny, pigmented effect. I think this is one product that women tend to collect dozens of when they don't really need to.

10. Lip balm

Dry, flaky lips are never a good look!


1. Foundation and a foundation brush

Crazy that I put this in the non-mandatory category? Well, I don't think everyone NEEDS to wear foundation. I love a "real skin" effect, so if your skin is good, you can probably get by with just concealer and a touch of powder. But if you do think you need some extra coverage for any discolourations, redness or blemishes, the most important thing is to find the right shade. Plus you want to make sure you're not making any of these 7 mistakes!

2. Primer

Primer is magical, and I love it, but I don't wear it every day. I do recommend it for underneath your foundation, and the mattifying ones are amaze if you have skin that's on the oily side.

3. Eyebrow pencil or powder

If you have very light or sparse brows then yes, this will probably be an essential for you—but not everyone (including myself) necessarily needs the extra eyebrow emphasis on the daily. (In fact, it can make you look quite harsh and Joker-esque if your brows are already pretty defined.)

4. A matte, not-too-dark bronzer

I know, I know, some peeps are addicted to bronzer (you know who you are). I'm not a huge fan of them for year-round, but they can look great in the summer, especially to camo an Eagle. Powders are generally easier to work with than cream formulas.

5. Illuminators and highlighters

Bringing a bit of light to the tops of the cheekbones or the inner corners of the eyes can be gorgeous, and you can also mix illuminators with your foundation for a glowy-skin effect. But you have to be careful with shimmer. I don't like it all over, and certainly not for broad daylight. These can be fun extras, but not a necessity.

6. Black liquid liner

That gorgeous wingy liner look is a makeup classic, but it's also quite tricky to master. You'll probably get more versatility out of your regular black waterproof eyeliner, which can achieve a similar look anyway.

7. Lip liner

Unless you have issues with feathering lip colour, you don't really need a lip liner AND lipstick. (They're so '90s, non?) Plus, lipstick formulas are getting smarter and staying put better these days, so the bleeding effect is less likely to happen in the first place.

8. Coloured (green, blue, purple) mascaras

Not a fan. Almost always, your eyes are going to look ten times better with plain jet black.

9. Crazy eyeshadow and eyeliner colours (green, yellow, orange, bright blue, etc.)

These are so pretty on the runway, and I'm definitely guilty of encouraging experimentation, but you're never going to get as much "wear" out of them compared to the classic shades I mentioned above. A couple of fun shades are no big deal, but if you find yourself buying your 12th electric blue eyeshadow, then it's time to reassess.

10. Lip stains

Big lip stain fan here! Ideal for the lip colour novice, you get a hint of pigment without the thicker, lipsticky finish. Yep, I love 'em, but you can get a similar effect by just blotting your lipstick with a tissue, you know.

So those are MY must- and nice-to-haves... and this is what I use to organize it all:

It's a desk drawer organizer from, like, Staples! And it tucks nicely into the top of a bedroom dresser drawer, with all these little sections to help organize your makeup. Cool, huh? (Of course, I have extra storage elsewhere for the "archives," etc. This is for what I use regularly.)

So tell me:

What are YOUR makeup must-haves and nice-to-haves?

How much makeup do you think is "too much?"

How do you organize your stash?