I’m sitting in the office reapplying my lipstick after lunch, or I join a Zoom call with a full face of makeup on before the clock strikes 10 a.m. Sometimes it’s when I walk into a beauty store mainlining it to exactly what I need and not sneaking a peek at anything else. Without fail, once a week, someone asks me, “Can you just take me to Sephora and tell me what to buy?”
The questions only increased since I started writing about beauty products for a living, so I figured it was necessary to finally answer it. Listen, I get it: Sephora is a minefield of products, and unless you know what to look for, it’s hard to weed out what’s good and what isn’t. But once you get the products that work best for you, your makeup routine will be forever changed.
After a lot of firsthand testing, I compiled the complete list of what to grab for a full makeup routine. So the next time you’re in Sephora, consider this your beginner’s guide to shopping for makeup.
If you're new to makeup, put down the full coverage foundation and say hi to something natural instead. A
lightweight foundation like this one is easy to blend, won't require a ton of fussing to make it look good, and doesn't get cakey if you need to layer it for more coverage.
I personally love this when my skin is on the drier side because it adds that extra dew and life back to my skin and never clings to dry patches.
This unicorn tint truly works on all skin types (our editors with very different skin types agreed in their review). It's a natural finish with a bit less coverage than the Laura Mercier.
On my oily skin, it leaves me feeling like I can take on the day—even sans powder. I also love how easy the application is—Rihanna even suggests using it with your fingers.
When someone asks me for a concealer rec, I don't have to do much thinking. It's always this. Armani Beauty somehow mastered the art of a concealer that is medium coverage, lightweight, blendable, and natural—all in one fell swoop. On days I don't want to wear foundation, I pop this under my eyes and on any blemishes, and it blends seamlessly into my skin. Heck, sometimes I even like how this looks all over my face more than foundation.
If you're sitting there reading this and thinking, 1. I don't have time for all of that, and 2. the thought of all that dew on my face is making me sweat (same), let me introduce you to Merit's Complexion Stick. It's both a foundation and a concealer but also somehow neither. It's really in a category of its own. I use it under my eyes and over blemishes when I need to run out the door because it blends in about 20 seconds flat. For someone on the go who doesn't want to fuss with makeup but likes a bit of coverage, this will start living rent-free in your bag in no time.
Regardless of skin type, powder is necessary. It blurs your pores, prolongs your makeup, and gets rid of that tacky foundation feeling we all hate. But it's gotten a bad rap for being cakey and drying—until this one stepped in. There's a reason you'll find this in makeup bags all over the world. It's a silky smooth, fine powder that glides right over skin and does everything you want a powder to do without doing what you don't. No dry and crusty skin here.
For a beginner, I'd recommend forgoing cream bronzers for now and heading straight to a powder. When used with a fluffy brush, bronzer can give you an all-over glow that's pretty foolproof (unless you're using a very wrong shade, but we love Fenty's line because none of the shades are orange). For a more targeted application, focus on the 3E method: around the temples, under the cheekbones, and under the jawline.
The first time I tried this blush, I thought to myself, "This would be incredible for a makeup beginner." For one, it is so creamy and emollient that it blends with the lightest touch without compromising on pigment. Speaking of, it's the perfect middle ground: pigmented enough to show up but not too pigmented to give you clown cheeks. The best part is that in the bottom of the product is an attached brush—which I'd normally roast—but it's actually so soft and makes blending out the product a total dream.
I will sing this from the rooftops: If you're new to highlighter, buy a cream or liquid. Powder highlights seem easier to apply and control, but if the powder is too metallic, it can look like a stripe across your face, and if it has too much glitter, well, you know what happens. Cream illuminators have a more natural look, as they often just make your skin appear really dewy or sweaty. Something like this from Merit has a mostly clear base with a hint of color and shimmer to make you look like you're glowing from within.
If you're new to eyeshadow, skip the giant palette and try something like this instead. I love big palettes as a makeup lover because it offers a lot of variety, but when I'm in a hurry, there are too many options and I end up staring at the palette for 10 minutes, trying to figure out what to do. With a palette like this, coming up with your go-to look (and others) is practically guaranteed. Not to mention, the mattes in this palette are so easy to blend and shade your looks, and the shimmers are glitzy and shiny.
Truth be told, I'd probably recommend drugstore mascara for beginners because there are so many high-quality options to try while you figure out what your preference is. But I'd be remiss if I didn't point you in the direction of my absolute favorite mascara on the market. It's so good, I wrote a review the second I tried it for the first time. It lengthens, volumizes, separates, and curls. It's everything you could ever ask for in a mascara.
On the other hand, the one thing I'd recommend you splurge on is a good eyelash curler. Finding an eyelash curler that properly fits your eyes is a bit of a challenge, and Shiseido's is a favorite in makeup artists' kits because it molds around a lot of different eye shapes (almond included). Plus, these last for a long time because it's easy to pick up new pads whenever you place a Sephora order.
Don't fuss with pencils, pomades, and pens as a beginner. Instead, try a tinted gel that will add volume and color to your brows while shaping them in place. This one comes in tons of shades and really makes your brows look thicker without the giant mess that pomades or pencils might cause.
Using a lip liner is one of the quickest ways to look put together, and I'll admit that I'm a bit of a snob and like to keep a really nice one in my bag. "Wherever Walnut" has been my favorite liner for years, and I've used it down to a nub at this point. It stays all day and is a perfect pinky brown, but they have tons of other great shades (I also love Endless Cacao and Up and Down Tan).
And of course, you'll want a gloss to top your liner. Tower 28's glosses are literally the best I've ever tried in my life—no hyperbole. They're not sticky at all, have a bit of longevity, and actually make my lips feel softer. These milky, neutral shades pair perfectly with a neutral liner for that '90s supermodel lip.
I wouldn't recommend splurging on a huge brush set as a beginner (I personally love e.l.f. brushes). Instead, pick up several high-quality brushes that have a few uses. This double-ended brush can be used for blush, bronzer, highlighter, powder, contour—pretty much for any powder products on the face.