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Your Ultimate Guide to Makeup Bag Essentials, Straight from a Top Makeup Artist

If your makeup bag is filled to the brim with old products (or begging for an update), don't head to the cosmetics counter without reading this first.

The spring cleaning bug hit me hard this year, especially when it came to my closet and my makeup bag. Working in this industry affords us plenty of perks, including lots of beauty samples, but more often than not, that really bold shade of designer lipstick I got lucky enough to scoop up just sits in my cosmetics case for eternity, never to be worn. When I decided to go through my collection one day, to say it was overwhelming is an understatement: There must have been dozens of brushes, mascaras, eye shadow singles, lipsticks and different iterations of liquid eyeliner that I've hoarded over the years. No wonder putting makeup on in the morning was getting to be such a chore — I could never find what I actually needed to use in my heaping pile of products.

So, I started to edit. First, I trashed products that were over a year or two old because, ew. Then it got a little trickier: I found myself holding onto high-end products even though they weren't quite a match for my skin tone or suitable for everyday wear, and I couldn't figure out which of the 15 eyeshadow brushes I'd accumulated were actually useful. At this point, I realized I needed an expert opinion, and Rebecca Perkins — the co-founder of Rouge New York and the former makeup department head on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" — was just the woman for the job. "Most people don't get rid of makeup, so they hold onto things that are past their prime," Perkins told me before we got started. "Our job is to give women permission to let go of something and to help them streamline their beauty bag. You really don't need a tinted moisturizer and a BB cream."

On its menu of services, Rouge offers a "ransack," in which a staff member will sit down with a customer to go through the contents of her makeup kit, providing insight on what she should keep, toss and add to get the day-to-night looks that she wants. I'll admit, I was a little shy to bring my hot mess of a makeup bag to Rouge, but I asked Perkins to sit me down and tell me what she'd advise me to buy if I was starting my personal cosmetics kit from scratch. Read on for her ultimate guide to creating a well-rounded makeup bag, and shop some of our picks below to get you started.


Perkins insists that the foundation of every beauty routine starts with the skin, and the key things that you need for skincare are a good gentle cleaner, sunscreen, moisturizer and a physical exfoliator — a facial mist can help prep the skin for makeup and add a bit of dewy moisture as well. These can vary by the needs of your skin, and she's a firm believer in the power of retinol

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Perkins says that having both a shimmery nude and taupe color in your arsenal are key, and will become your go-tos for every day. Another must-have is a black eyeliner pencil or gel eyeliner (which is applied with a thin brush), which can take your look from day to night, depending on how much you apply. When it comes to mascara, the fatter the brush is, the better, and an eyelash curler is always a good idea. To fill in your brows, go for an automatic pencil in a color that's one shade lighter than your natural brow. Brow mascara to set them (it can be clear or colored) is an optional item you can incorporate, too. 


Once the eyes, brows and lashes are done, Perkins suggests continuing with your foundation, concealer and powder. Consult with a professional before choosing shades, so you can figure out what works best with your skin tone. Perkins suggests splurging on the highest quality concealer that you can. Depending on how much coverage you want, you can go for a lightweight tinted moisturizer or a more substantial foundation, but Perkins recommends keeping both in your kit. You can add products for your face based on your personal preferences, including a flat contour color for under the cheekbone, a cream or powder highlighter and bronzer.


Blush is a very personal choice, and shades can range from pink to gold, and can be shimmery or flat — regardless, the most straightforward way to put it on is to smile and apply upward from the apples of your cheeks. If you want to incorporate bronzer into your routine, be careful to choose the right undertones for your skin. A little shimmer here is fine, but make sure it's not too much.


It's easy to go overboard when it comes to lip colors, but Perkins insists you really need just two in your kit: one that's more neutral for every day and one that's a bolder color that you're drawn to. The daily shade should have some moisturizer with just a hint of color, and make sure to do some trial and error with brighter lipsticks to make sure they have the right undertone for your skin. If you'd like, you can prep your lips with a liner to help the color last longer.


Be sure to buy your brushes individually, as sets normally include at least a couple that you don't need. For the face, Perkins suggests using a concealer brush and a duo-fiber foundation brush, which — as opposed to a sponge — apply the least amount of product most efficiently, as well as an angled blush brush. For eyes, pick up a crescent shadow brush, an angled eyeliner brush and a pointed blender brush. Finally, the brush you use for face powders should be on the smaller side.