While technically I've only been a beauty editor for four years, I've been a hopelessly addicted product whore—especially when it comes to makeup—since I first discovered the stuff on top of my mom's vanity. Growing up, I don't really remember a time when I wasn't talking about makeup, making lists of makeup, fantasizing about makeup, taking screenshots of celebrities' makeup, and/or begging my parents to take me shopping for makeup. Luckily for all parties involved, I found the ultimate career path for me to pour my passion into.
In my entire lifetime, I've tested hundreds, if not thousands, of makeup products, and while there have been plenty of flops, there have been just as many triumphs—holy-grail discoveries that make me want to sing hallelujah and shroud heavenly light above my trove of rid-or-die gems. And below, I'm doing just that! Here's to 29 makeup products that have made a huge difference in my regimen and that I routinely recommend to all of my friends, family, and, well, you! If you're in the market for a new, satisfaction-guaranteed haul of makeup finds, keep scrolling!
If you're someone who thinks primers are an unnecessary step—and expense—within your makeup routine, A) I used to be you and B) you definitely haven't tried this magical multitasking elixir from Augustinus Bader and Victoria Beckham Beauty. It boasts the same patented TFC8 technology you'll find in the brand's iconic face creams, but special additions like wrinkle-blurring powders, highlighting peptides, and amberish gold pearls give it a kick of flair à la Posh. It's great worn alone, mixed with foundation, or as a first step before you apply the rest of your products.
TBH, I’m always switching up my foundations and have a few core formulas I really, really like, but if I had to choose just one to use for the rest of my life, it’d be this lightweight, hydrating blend from It Cosmetics. As the name suggests, your skin will still look like skin, but just a more even, airbrushed, believable glowy version of its foundation-less self.
In my personal experience, tinted moisturizers are one of the stickiest (read: impossible) products to feel satisfied with. Until I met this glorious formula from Saie, that is! It provides a little more coverage than the average tinted moisturizer without giving you so much coverage that it becomes a full-on foundation. It's less oily and dewy than other formulas I've tried in the clean beauty category but still gives you a naturally radiant finish. The fact that it also has a dose of SPF is just the cherry on top. Rarely do I call a makeup product perfect, but this one comes pretty damn close!
I've lost count of how many concealers I've tried at this point, but I always, always, always come back to this one from Urban Decay. It does everything a concealer is supposed to (aka flawlessly camouflages circles or pigmentation, barely—if ever—creases, stays put forever, and is super buildable without looking cakey), so I've pretty much pledged lifelong monogamy at this point. It also has the best matte finish I've ever tried with a concealer. I can't stand a concealer that's glowy (why would I want to attract attention to the areas of my face I'm trying to diffuse?) but it's not so matte that my skin looks like an extra in The Walking Dead.
Setting powders are yet another notoriously annoying beauty product to shop for, but this one from Charlotte Tilbury is absolutely genius. Not only do a few quick swishes around your face help flatten shine and grease with zero chalkiness, but it also just makes your skin look so amazingly airbrushed. It prevents your makeup products from migrating and is essentially like a filter in a compact. It's by far the best setting powder I've ever used, and I've pretty much tried them all.
Under-Eye Brightening Powder
This is one of the very first beauty products I reviewed back when I was an intern at another publication, and my love and dedication haven't dimmed even though it's been about six years! I'm hyper-aware of my dark circles, and I always want to look bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, so this powder is my secret weapon for one, setting my concealer and helping prevent unwanted creasing, and two, tricking everyone into thinking I get 10 hours of sleep every night when in reality, it's about half of that.
This matte bronzer from Too Faced is another oldie but goodie that I still insist on using because I haven't found anything better in the seven-ish years since I first discovered it. The color is subtle, the texture is blendable, and I like to use it almost like a contour to lightly sculpt my nose, cheekbones, and jawline. Plus, for what it's worth, it smells like chocolate.
Since I use the Too Faced bronzer more like a contour powder, I use this iconic luminous bronzer from Hourglass to warm up my complexion with a touch of natural-looking color and ultra-subtle glow. Don't fret—this isn't the type of shimmery bronzer you still have nightmares about from your pre-teen days, it's the type of bronzer that just makes your skin look perpetually healthy and sun-kissed in the most elevated way imaginable. I take a big fluffy brush and swirl it around my temples, forehead, chin, cheekbones, and also on the bridge of my nose just where the sun would naturally hit. (It’s brilliant with a freckle pen, which I will get to shortly!)
I dare anyone who says they don't like powder blushes to try this one from Hourglass and remain unswayed. It’s the shit. The colors are so stunning, the formula blends so well, and since the mosaic of colors also makes it a little bit like a highlighter and bronzer, you're kind of getting three products in one. It's disturbingly good, and I've gotten all of my friends hooked for life. (Radiant Magenta and Diffused Heat have become my two signatures if your shopping cart is looking for a starting place!)
Okay, so if powder blushes just really aren't your thing, then let me present Nudestix’s creamy and dreamy blush sticks. After years of hoarding, I have just about every shade from the brand, and they’ve become my go-to on days when I just want a dab of makeup since they melt so beautifully into the skin for that ultimate "I woke up like this" effect. Try it with Saie’s Tinted Moisturizer, and thank me later! Plus, who doesn’t love a product that comes with a built-in brush for fast, goof-proof application?
If you’re trying to streamline cheek regimen—aka blush, bronzer, and highlight—or if you’re going to be traveling a lot this season, it doesn’t get smarter than Nars’s cult-loved cheek palettes. The brand has everything you need to look rosy and glowy in two minutes, flat! I splurged for this limited edition palette earlier this fall, and am so glad I did since it’s become one of my most-used products since.
Growing up, I totally hated my freckles, but as I’ve matured and have come to accept my skin and features in all of their natural glory, my tiny spots and dots have become one of my favorite traits. My summer smattering pretty much disappears the second the clock strikes fall, so I’ve become newly obsessed with using Freck’s cult-loved, patented formula. Sure, you can use other tools like a liner or brow pencil for a similar effect, but Freck’s special technology ensures your application actually sinks into your skin and foundation (rather than just sitting on top) for the most believable result.
After blush, a balmy highlighter is my next favorite secret weapon for achieving a natural-looking glow. And honestly, nothing can beat this stick from Merit. It melts into the skin, it won't clog your pores, it's made with clean ingredients, and it's so easy to use. I don't like to apply it directly to my face. Instead, I work the tip of my finger into the balm, and then I start tapping it onto the areas of my face where I want the light to catch—the tops of my cheekbones and temples, my brow bone, my Cupid's bow, and a teeny bit down the bridge of my nose.
Ever since I tried this admittedly random highlighter from TheBalm, every other powder formula has basically been dead to me. Powders can easily look fake and tacky (IMO at least) but this one, when applied to the high points of your face, will just make you look like a glowing orb of perfect lighting. Normally, I just apply the Merit balm and call it a day, but for special occasions or big nights out, I actually layer this over where I’ve applied the balm for a radiant, 3D effect.
Powder Eye Shadow
I can count on my hand the number of times I've done a "statement" eye look, and my typical M.O.—be it day or night—is something relatively simple (neutral hues are my jam) with just a hint of shimmer or sparkle to catch the light when I blink. I’m obsessed with Kaja’s adorable (and ingenious) 3-in-1 bentos, and the color combos are just too good. I have about five I use on the regular, and I would be lost without them.
Cream Eye Shadow
If you're looking for a clean, not overly ostentatious way to make your lids glisten this season, I highly recommend these liquid gel pigments from Exa. You can choose from a foil or glitter finish (this bundle. is such a great deal!) and due to their supreme ingredient profile, they actually help hydrate and protect your lid area—even peeps who veer sensitive in the eye arena. The formula is easy to apply, blend, and layer, but once you smudge it out to your liking, it won't budge until you're purposely taking it off. Plus, the glittery finish is unbeatable and looks "sophisticated sparkly," not "a kindergarten craft table just exploded on me" sparkly.
I almost always gravitate towards liquid liners, but for some reason lately, I've been loving the softer results of a gel formula. This one from Almay is perfect—the velvety smooth texture delivers great pigment so you can literally sweep it across your lid in just one go and have a satisfying payoff. And while it smudges enough to let you play with your shape, it won't keep moving once you've headed out the door. The brown shade called Deep Chestnut is divine, but I also keep the plum and black on standby.
Considering how much I love liquid liners, I kind of feel like it's a cardinal sin that I only just tried this best-selling liner from KVD Beauty. Seriously, folks—I don't think I'll ever look at another one again! With just one or two quick flicks, you can achieve the perfect, I mean perfect, dainty wing, and the super-fine tip is so easy to build and maneuver around your eyes and lashes.If you're into chunky liner or dramatic cat-eyes, this one probably won't be thick enough for you, but if you're like me and want a kick of extra definition around your eyes and just an extra little somethin' somethin' when creating your wing, you'll flip for this.
This stuff is ridiculous. I know the bizarre little rod shape has you suspicious (believe me, I was too!), but I've never tried another lash product that lifted, lengthened, and curled so well with so little effort. This won't give you tons of volume, but if you're after a sky-high extension effect, this prismatic little tube is well worth the $50 plunge. Truly, I don't remember what life was like before this little baby, and I've even gotten our Editor in Chief Kat Collings obsessed! Her words, not mine: "I guess it would be dumb not to buy this."
I'm a pencil girl through and through, so Kosas's Brow Pop has been my jam ever since it landed on my doorstep earlier this year. This pencil delivers the perfect amount of pigment, and the shape of the tip is great for definition, shading, and filling in your brows whichever way tickles your fancy. Plus, Kosas, per usual, took its pencil to the way next level by infusing it with hair growth-promoting ingredients like castor oil and panthenol provitamin B5. Oh, and is it just me, or does the adorable packaging give off Lisa Frank/Jelly Roll pen vibes?! Super into it.
Clear Brow Gel
You'd think making a reliable clear brow gel would be pretty straightforward, but considering this new discovery is the first one I've ever truly loved and become unequivocally obsessed with, apparently, it's not! This little dose of heaven gives me everything I want from a clear brow gel. The vegan formula boasts growth-enhancing and hair-strengthening peptides, plant extracts, and antioxidants to encourage the bold, bushy brows of your dreams, and the lightweight formula also provides the perfect amount of hold for lifted, but not overly stiff, brows. Plus, unlike so many clear brow gels I've tried, it doesn't move and/or lift off the other brow products I've applied (like pencils or powder) beforehand.
I'm not a huge lip liner person (Charlotte Tilbury's iconic pencil is the only one I've ever felt I need in life), but that's all changed now thanks to Mario Dedivanovic's most recent lip launch. The color range is stunning, and I love that there's a brush on the other end which really makes your application look 100% natural—especially if you're like me and you like to overline a little to create the illusion of a fuller, more lifted pout. It's a full-coverage matte formula and it even has a special lip-lock technology to help extend the wear of your lipstick.
I used to be such a lipstick junkie, but whether from the pandemic or just lipstick fatigue, I kind of fell off the bandwagon in the past couple of years, especially when it comes to bright bold shades I used to love. Well, Byredo's delicious new red, (aptly called Made Red) has rewound my love for a stunning, statement-making lip moment. The tube feels like a collector's item in and of itself, but the precise hue of this red and the light shine and luminosity it imparts is truly next level. I recently wore it to Who What Wear's holiday party and received so many compliments. If you're on the hunt for the ultimate red lipstick, A) you're looking at it, and B) you're welcome.
Lip Oil Balm
I can't get enough! You get the best of all worlds with these balm-oil hybrids from Róen: long-lasting hydration and shine courtesy of good-for-your-lips ingredients (think luxe plant-based oils and antioxidant power players), plus a flattering breath of color. People won't actually think you're wearing anything on your lips, they'll just think you have great lips naturally.
I know you're sick of hearing about this product. I mean, I find a way to work it into practically every single story I write! That said, it's pretty much my favorite beauty product I own, and while the investment is steep, it's totally worth it considering it lasts forever and is about four different products in one—a lip plumper, a lip gloss, a SPF, and even, dare I say, a stain, since the plumping effect gives your lips a pretty little flush of color. I'm obsessed, and once you try it, you will know why!
This lip gloss/balm hybrid from Westman Atelier is a dream come true for anyone who loves a really juicy lip moment but doesn't want to compromise on safe, high-quality ingredients. Enriched with organic goodness, this lip balm translates like a gloss thanks to its epic shine factor while simultaneously delivering a subtle hint of color to enhance your natural lip color.
If you're like me and want to be able to smear something on your lips, dab it around for a little bit of diffusing magic, and walk out the door without having to think twice about it, you'll fall head over heels for this lipstick palette from Rouje—Jeanne Damas's beauty brand which captures that quintessential French-girl beauty aesthetic. These palettes come in both a powder and cream formula, so pick your poison, apply, and luxuriate in your perfect dose of long-lasting color and hydration.
True story: I'm so addicted to this shimmery tinted balm from Nars (and that naughty shade name, hehe) that I panic-bought a new tube when I temporarily misplaced my nearly used up original. Knowing full well that it would likely show up eventually, I still impulse-bought a replacement because I just don't want to know what life feels like without it. As I mentioned, I love Deep Throat, but the original Orgasm shade is another fave.
I'm sorry, but there just isn't a better setting spray. There just isn't! I love that I can mist my face with a lickety-split "T" and "X" motion and go on my merry way for the rest of the day or night without having to worry about where my makeup is going. (Pro tip: make sure to lightly spritz your lips for an extra dose of lippie insurance, too!)
Next: 7 Reasons Margot Robbie's Skin and Makeup Always Looks Flawless
Erin has been writing a mix of beauty and wellness content for Who What Wear for over four years. Prior to that, she spent two and half years writing for Byrdie. She now calls Santa Monica home but grew up in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and studied writing, rhetoric, and communication at University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. She studied abroad in Galway, Ireland, and spent a summer in L.A. interning with the Byrdie and Who What Wear family. After graduating from UW, she spent one year in San Francisco, where she worked as a writer for Pottery Barn Kids and PBteen before moving down to L.A. to begin her career as a beauty editor. She considers her day-to-day beauty aesthetic very low-maintenance and relies on staples like clear brow serum (from Kimiko!), Lawless's Lip Plumping Mask in Cherry Vanilla, and an eyelash curler. For special occasions or days when she's taking more meetings or has an event, she'll wear anything and everything from Charlotte Tilbury (the foundations are game-changing), some shimmer on her lids (Stila and Róen do it best), and a few coats of the best mascara-type product on earth, Surratt's Noir Lash Tint.