Building Your Make up Collection: A Primer

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

When considering the extensive (and extremely overwhelming) options available in your average store's makeup section, never mind specialty cosmetics boutiques, how do you start to sort through the sea of possibilities and find the best palette for you? Brand decisions aside, there are two primary factors you want to keep in mind, and select your products accordingly: your skin type, and your overall coloring. Secondary issues include the mood you want to portray, how dramatic your style is, the aforementioned issues of brand image, and, of course, your budget. While the secondary considerations I leave for you to explore, once you have a handle on the primary concerns, the rest will simply be a matter of enjoyable experimentation.

Your skin type will be the #1 factor when choosing the form your makeup will take, particularly foundations, blushes, and lip products, as each come in a variety of options. So should you buy a liquid foundation, or a packed powder blush, or a lipstick with extra moisturizers? Consider the following factors about your skin:
  • Dry skin: Look for cosmetics, especially liquid foundations, that provide "hydrating" moisture enhancement, or aid the body's natural moisture retention. Your best blush is a cream because of the moisturizers contained in the products.

  • Combination skin: Cream-to-power bases should work well for you, otherwise figure out whether your skin tends more towards the oily or dry end of the spectrum, and select products accordingly. Your best blush is a powder because of the versatile coverage.

  • Oil skin: Oil free or oil controlling foundations will help neutralize your oil skin, without overdrying. Your best blush is a gel or liquid, perhaps even a tint, since your skin's natural oils will allow blending before the blush dries.

  • Sensitive skin: Look for hypo-allergenic products specifically designed for sensitive skin.
Regardless of your type of skin, keep in mind that your skin is healthier without foundation, and you should at least consider a concealer as an alternative for everyday use, and save foundation for special occasions where more formal makeup is required. If you choose to stick to a cream cover-up, consider a moisturizer coupled with a loose powder for a slight cover.

The form you choose for your lip product is less based on your skin type and more based on the overall state of your lips. Many people recommend that lipstick be reserved for special occasions, and suggest a cherry or berry Chapstick (providing a minimal tint) for daily moisturizing, while adding a light lip gloss covering with a natural colored lip liner. Lipstick itself should be whatever you are most comfortable with, however many have a tendency to dry out your lips, so select yours accordingly.

The second set of selection options involves the selection of your colors…and is the fun part of makeup! So what are the major color categories, and how do you choose the ones best for you? The color categories of makeup break down into three groups: warm colors, cool colors, and neutral colors. In general cooler colors are the most common preference, and go best with people who have skin tones in the olive, rosy brown, and medium rosy categories; hair colors including dark, black, blonde, and all browns except golden; and eye colors including blue, green, and hazel. Warmer colors are more appropriate for those with golden or medium fair skin; golden brown, red, or strawberry blond hair; and hazel, dark brown, or medium brown eyes.

The most critical color choice you have to make is that of your foundation, because even the most beautiful makeup job can look odd with a poorly matched foundation color. You want to match the color as closely as you can to your skin tone so that it blends in to look natural. Start testing by applying along your jaw line (not your hands or wrists), checking carefully with a mirror and good lighting to insure a perfect match. For most people yellow-based foundations will look best, although extremely fair-skinned people do better with a cooler, pink hued foundation. Also select your blush based on season. While seamless blending is the optimal goal, warmer hues (peaches, tan-based colors, etc) are more appropriate for summer because people tend to have more pigmentation due to sun exposure. Contrast this to the cooler, lighter colors more common to winter skin, where you want to use lighter pinks.

Your selection of blush should be as closely matched to the color you actually "blush" as possible. This will insure that the color you apply looks natural and flattering. Cooler, pinkish colors are more appropriate for winter months, while warmer, peachy hues are better for summer. You want to apply whatever form of blush you have chosen to the apple of your cheek first and work your way back. If you apply too much of a powdered blush you can soften the effect with a translucent powder. If you apply too much of a gel, liquid, or stain blush, chances are you will have to remove your makeup and reapply. This should be the very last step in your makeup application process.

The color you select for your lips should complement the rest of your makeup palette without detracting from it. A general rule is that you should be elaborate with either lips or eyes, but not both. If you are applying a lot of color to your eyes, keep your lips neutral and look to a simple lipgloss. If you are keeping your eyes neutral, feel free to add that perfect color to your lips. Never apply lipstick without lip liner, as this will define the shape of your mouth. Avoid browns and oranges in general, as they tend to make teeth look yellowed.

If you still find yourself intimidated, and you would like a little bit personalized advice, many salons offer makeup lessons. Alternately, often department store cosmetic counters, or even specialized stores like "The Body Shop" will offer to do "your colors" in exchange for your patience as they try to sell you the products. If you have not yet built your collection, however, this might be a perfect opportunity to buy quality products that you already know how to apply, and that you already know look good. Most importantly, feel free to experiment with choosing colors and having fun. Applying makeup is supposed to make you feel good about yourself by bringing out the best in your features, so choose items that do just that!