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How to apply makeup: 6 makeup tips from professionals

Here are six quick and easy takeaways from professional makeup school that you can add to your beauty routine.
Makeup Artist Secrets
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You could say that I have a love/hate relationship with makeup. Some days I enjoy playing with all the different colors and get excited when my smokey eye turns out perfectly.

But then there are those days when my liner refuses to go on straight, my bronzer makes me look crazy or my lashes refuse to curl (Amy Schumer knows exactly what I'm talking about). That's when I want to toss my makeup bag out my bathroom window.

I had one of those days last week and after walking into work wearing two very different winged tips on my eyes, my editor assigned me a new story: Go to makeup school and write about it.

Here's how you can reap the benefits of my makeup education.

Tip No. 1: Invest in great tools

makeup brushes
Are expensive brushes worth the cost? Yes, say professional makeup artists.Paul Hakimata - / featurePics

At Napoleon Perdis' Makeup Academy in Hollywood, Rebecca Prior, NP's National Educator, begins the first lesson by introducing us to our tools.

"To me, tools and products are equally as important as the makeup skills that you have," she says. For example, let's say you were using mediocre brushes, mediocre products and had average skill. Just by improving the quality of your brushes and using more richly pigmented products, the application would immediately be better, even without improving your technique. So if you really want to apply your makeup like a pro, Los Angeles-based educator Felicia Alva says, "Do what the professionals do: Use the proper brushes for application."

Here are the eight basic makeup brushes you need:

  1. Foundation brush
  2. Concealer brush
  3. Fluffy powder brush
  4. Blush brush
  5. Small blending brush
  6. Flat eyeshadow brush
  7. Precision angle brush
  8. Lip brush

Once you have your tools, you need to know how to hold them. "Where you hold a brush on the handle affects your control," says Make Up For Ever educator Lijha Stewart. "The closer your fingers are to the barrel (the silver section beneath the brush head), the more pressure you put on the brush and vice versa." In general, if you want to apply color evenly, place your fingers on the center of the brush handle. Another tip: You can easily turn a fluffy brush into a flat, angled brush by wrapping your hand around the bristles and flattening them.

Tip No. 2: Mix primer with your foundation

When I first head of Make-up Designory's Beauty 101 class on foundation, I anticipated a bore-fest. I'm barely paying attention as lead instructor Gil Romero goes through the three different types of foundation: liquid, powder and cream. Yawn.

foundation cosmetics

It seems like Romero read my mind, because he immediately hit me with this tip: "You can wear cream foundation as is for opaque, full coverage or you can break it down to be more translucent by mixing it with some primer," he says. What? Isn't primer only supposed to go on before foundation? But Romero says this is a surefire way to retain the foundation's coverage without it looking caked on. Plus, you get to reap the long-lasting durability that cream foundation has over liquids and powders. Prior says this also helps the makeup blend seamlessly with the first layer of primer on your skin.

I raise my hand at this point and ask if cream foundation is OK for oily skin. This is a selfish question, because I struggle with an oily T-zone by mid-day. Make-up Designory educator Yvonne Hawker (who also wrote the school's textbook) says everyone can use cream foundation, but those with oily skin should use a damp sponge to apply it. Most foundations have oil in its formula to give the coverage blend-ability. Using the sponge will "pick up the pigment, but not the oil in the foundation." You'll still get great coverage without the shine.

For dry or combination skin types, "use your foundation brush and buff the foundation onto the skin, concentrating on the center of your face, which is typically where your skin has the most discoloration," says Hawker. "The further you get from the center, the less coverage you want."

Tip No. 3: Love your flaws — but conceal them if you'd like

woman applying concealer

On the third day of makeup school, there's a color wheel on the whiteboard. "The key to being a successful makeup artist is being able to identify someone's undertones and know how to manipulate the color wheel to get rid of unwanted color," says instructor Gina Sandler.

And when Sandler says "unwanted color," I immediately tune in because I want to learn how to cover up my zits, the stubborn redness around my nose and the bluish hue under my eyes. She says opposite colors cancel each other out, so green-pigmented concealer covers redness, and orange-y concealer removes blue. "If you use your beige concealer, it'll only make those areas look muddy," says Prior.

Once Sandler shows us how she gets rid of zits, redness around the nose and under-eye bags on one of the students, she then pairs us off and has us practice on each other's makeup-free faces. Immediately, all of my insecurities start bubbling up. My bags, my zits, my dark spots … is someone seriously going to be inches away from them? Then one of the students says, "Ugh, I'm so ugly." Sandler responds, "No, you're so cute! You all are!"

It's makeup school, but it starts to feel more like we're in a group therapy session. Sandler says practicing on each other is key because you quickly learn how to deal with all types of skin tones and facial features, which you will have to become comfortable with if you want to be a professional.

Tip No. 4: Flatter your face shape

woman applying makeup with brush
Daniel Dash / featurePics

So here's a not-so-secret confession: My face is rounder than a Cabbage Patch Kid's and I can't stand my button nose. So when Prior says today's lesson is learning how to contour properly so you can enhance your face shape and features, I'm so eager to learn I actually volunteer to be her model at the front of the class. "Contouring is the art of highlighting and shading," says Prior. "Anything that is lighter than the skin tone will make an area more prominent, anything darker will make that area recede." Here's how you can easily alter your face:

  • If you have a round face and want to make it look more oval: Apply bronzer a shade or two darker than your skin tone in a "3" shape alongside your face: on your temples, the hollow of your cheeks and your chin.
  • If you have a prominent forehead: Shade around the outer edge of your forehead along your hairline to minimize the area with bronzer.
  • If you have a flat or wide nose: Shade alongside your bridge starting from your inner brows. Then highlight down the center of your nose.
  • If gravity is taking a toll and your cheeks are sagging: Apply a highlighter just above your cheekbone all the way to your temple. Use a blush directly on the cheekbone, then use a bronzer in the hollow of the cheeks.

And if you really want to make your contouring stand out, use a sparkly highlighter, which will reflect the most light. Go for a matte finish with your bronzer, which will absorb light and create a stark contrast.

Tip No. 5: Make your eyes pop

woman applying eyeliner

Just like how I learned to use highlights and shadows to contour my face, I found out that I can use the same info to alter my eye shape, too. Whether you have drooping lids, narrow-set eyes or simply small peepers, you can use your knowledge of light and shadow to change them.

  • If you want to add definition: Sweep a light bronzer through the crease of the eye, which is halfway between the lashline and the eyebrow. "As you age, the eye area loses elasticity, and things aren't as shapely as they used to be," says Prior. "This technique is great for mature skin, to give the face more definition." A tip for you blue-eyed girls: an orange-y bronzer in your crease will make your eyes even bluer.
  • If you have narrow-set eyes: To elongate your eye width, apply a black liner to the outer half of both your upper and lower lashlines, connecting at the outer corner.
  • If you have drooping, heavy lids: Use what you just learned about highlights and shadows to lift your eye. Apply highlighter above your crease, from the inner to outer lid. Then blend a shadow to the area that you want to push back, which would be the heavy fold. Make sure to blend the edges from the shadow to the highlight.
  • If you have small eyes: Apply a beige-colored eyeliner to your lower inner rim, which will help make eyes look more open. Then use a black pencil liner along your entire upper and lower lashlines, connecting the lines at the outer corner. The key is to blend the liner with shadow, going outwards. Wherever you place the darkness is where your eye will go, so by smudging the lines, it gives the allusion that your eyes are taking up more real estate on your face.

And the tip I love most for natural definition: Apply a black pencil to your upper inner rim. "It lengthens the eye and it also sharpens the appearance of the eye, giving more fullness to the natural lashline without seeing the hard edge of a liner," says Prior.

Tip No. 6: Think opposites when it comes to color

eyeshadow colors
Photographer: Comaniciu Dan / featurePics

Remember how I learned that opposite colors on top of each other cancel each other out? OK, well today I learned if you place them side by side, they help each other stand out. Simple concept, but super important when you're trying to pick the most flattering eye shadow colors. Here's a cheat sheet:

  • For blue eyes: Since orange is the opposite color of blue, anything with orange in it will make blue eyes stand out more. "It doesn't have to be a blazing sun color — it just has to have orange-y undertones like gold, apricot, or peach," says Prior.
  • For green eyes: Red is the opposite color of green, which isn't to say you should apply a cherry red-colored eye shadow to your lids. But you'll help your green eyes pop if you use colors that have red undertones, like deep plums and wine.
  • For brown eyes: Brown is a neutral color, so any color will work well, says Prior. "But the most standout colors are blue and purple."

This article was originally published on January 12, 2012 on