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The Ultimate Guide to Makeup Bag Essentials for 2017

It's time to whip your beauty stash into shape.
The ideal makeup bag is a pared-down one. Photo: @tamirajarrel/Instagram

The ideal makeup bag is a pared-down one. Photo: @tamirajarrel/Instagram

Spring gets all the love when it comes to cleaning, but the truth is that there's never a bad time to get your most important accessory — your makeup bag — in order. If you're feeling the urge to purge last year's leftover cream blush and that half-crumbled eye-shadow palette that makes a mess every time you open it but are overwhelmed by the idea of throwing out something you really need, stress no more. We asked makeup artists Vincent Oquendo and Molly R. Stern for the lowdown on what you've absolutely gotta have — and what you can go ahead and chuck.

First off, it goes without saying that anything that's noticeably goopy, gunky or falling apart should take a swift trip to the trash can. Yes, even the expensive stuff. Lots of cosmetics come with a Period After Opening or PAO mark — it's that little symbol on the back of the package that looks like a little jar with a number on it. That number gives you the manufacturer's estimate for how long after the first use a product will stay in peak condition. Anything beyond that threshold needs to be chucked too. 

Next, take a Marie Kondo moment and really ask yourself which products you love. Which ones would you happily buy all over again? Which ones do you only use a couple of times a year? Which ones are you just holding onto because you haven't found anything better, or someone gave it to you as a gift, or you spent money on it and you feel bad throwing it out? That's right, chuck that last group, too. Odds are, you'll be down to a very scant bag, and that's okay. Now it it's time to start refilling that baby — with the right stuff this time. 


The key to makeup that looks great all day is starting with a solid foundation. No, not that kind. We're talking skin-level products that set up your face for cosmetic success. A lightweight, broad-spectrum sunscreen is a must, for all skin types, all times of year, but you also want to make sure that your skin has a proper dose of moisture to prevent patches, flakes and creasing later on. "I love a lightweight facial oil to prep and prime the skin before makeup," says Oquendo. For oilier types who only need a light infusion of moisture, Stern suggests a lightweight facial spray for dewy oomph without the midday slick.


If there's one category where you'll want to shell out for high-end makeup, this is it. Oquendo and Stern agree that high-quality foundation and concealer are essential for making the rest of your makeup look its best, so test as many as you need to to find the right formulas and shades for your complexion. "I love a liquid foundation because I like to sheer it out on the skin to make it look luminous and perfected, not caked-on," says Oquendo. As for concealers, keep an eye out for brands that offer options for both warm and cool undertones for the most natural looking coverage, and make sure to match them up against the area you plan to use it on — no matter what your mom told you back in the day, your wrist isn't actually a perfect match for your face.

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If just thinking about those giant bajillion-shade eye shadow palettes gives you hives, fear not. You don't actually need a ton of eye shadow shades to get a gorgeous everyday look. "I think everyone needs a neutral shimmering shadow," says Stern. She recommends a cream formula because they're easy to apply (even for the brush-challenged) and versatile. "Apply it to the lid for a daily smoky look, or just to the crease to add definition," she says. She also suggests having a matching matte shadow on hand to layer for a more dramatic evening look.

For those who crave options, Oquendo is a palette fan, but he suggests seeking one out with shades you're actually going to wear — that lime green may be alluring at first, but if you're only going to swipe it on for Halloween, there's no need to lug it around with you year-round. The good news is that both artists agree that eyes are an ideal place to go for less-expensive brands, as a lot of drugstore formulas for eyeliners and mascaras are on par with their pricier brethren. Go for a gel-style eyeliner, suggests Oquendo, for the best control and staying power. And don't even wrestle with the black-versus-brown mascara debate. "Always black mascara," he says.


For those of us who favor a quick makeup routine, cheeks often get overlooked, but Stern says that's a mistake. "A flushed, healthy cheek looks great on everyone," she explains. Oquendo is a fan of cream blushes, which you can apply lightly and buff out for a super-sheer flush, or use to pump up the volume for a more "I-just-got-back-from-teaching-my-daily-Bikram-class" glow. In either case, choosing a brighter shade is a better bet, because while you can tame down a ferocious color, it's more difficult to boost a neutral shade. And as for those highlighting and bronzing skills you've been honing over the last couple of years, both experts say it's okay to hold onto that contour. "Just pull it back for 2017," says Stern. "More subtlety will be a welcome change."


Modern makeup brands have moved away from formulas that make a giant set of brushes a must have. In fact, if you're a true tool-phobe, you can pretty well apply all of the essentials with every makeup artist's favorite tools — your fingers. If you're not feeling the arts and crafts vibe, though, Stern says there are really only two must-have tools everyone needs in their kit: a small, firm-bristled brush that you can use for concealer and foundation as well as a fluffy one for all of your powder and blush needs. Of course, a Beautyblender (to make sure everything looks seamless) and a volume-boosting lash curler never hurt either. 

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