27 makeup mistakes you’re probably making

Now, I’m not a big believer in rules when it comes to makeup. I think you should do whatever makes you happy, and as long as you feel fantastic, you’re going to radiate a confidence that makes you look fantastic.

Having said that, there are some rules that are incredibly important (particularly on the topic of hygiene), and then there are the makeup “rules”. I’ve outlined all the ones I can think of below. My theory is, if you’re going to break the rules, you should really know what they are and the reasons they exist.

makeup mistakes1

#1 - Using dirty makeup brushes
Real Techniques Brushes

If you’re the only person using your makeup brushes, it can be REALLY tempting to skip washing them. However, cleaning your brushes, particularly your foundation brush, and any brushes you use with cream or liquid products is just as important as removing your makeup at the end of the day. Makeup brushes, when used clean, can help you to apply your makeup beautifully and hygienically. When you don’t wash your brushes, you are risking acne, skin infections and eye infections, as well as reducing the efficacy of the brush and shortening the shelf life of your makeup.
I recommend using a spot cleaner every time you use your brushes (I prefer Napoleon Perdis Brush Cleaner) and wet cleaning them with brush soap or anti-bacterial dishwashing liquid every 5-10 uses.
Learn one way to deep clean your brushes in this related article.
Find out more about why you should clean your brushes in this related article.

#2 - Wearing a foundation that doesn't properly match your skin

When you wear a foundation that matches your skin in both colour and formula, your complexion can look even, clear and radiant. It can help you look awake and refreshed, and naturally beautiful.
When you wear a foundation that is a poor match in colour, you can look anaemic (if it’s too pale), like an oompa loompa (if it’s too dark/orange), ashy (if it’s too pink), or jaundiced (if it’s too yellow.)
When you wear a foundation that is a poor match in texture, it can emphasise the texture of your skin in an unflattering way. If you have oily skin and you choose a foundation with a glossy or dewy finish, it could emphasise the shine in your skin. If you have dry or dehydrated skin and you choose a foundation with a matte or velvet finish, it can cling to the dry areas of your skin, making any dry patches more obvious and keeping your skin looking dull and flat.
Foundation is something I firmly believe you should try before you buy. If at all possible, choose a makeup counter based on the makeup worn by the staff – if you like the makeup they are wearing, it could be a good style match. Ask to be matched for a suitable foundation, and ask them to apply it on you. Also ask for a sample to take home.
Try and see how the makeup looks in various lighting situations – sunlight, fluorescent light, dim light – and make sure you are happy with the colour match. Wear it all day and make sure you are happy with the way it wears, and ensure it doesn’t oxidise (turn orange) on your skin after you’ve worn it for a few hours. Wear it for a few days to make sure you don’t have any reaction to the formula, and if you’re happy with all these factors, head back to the store and buy your new foundation!

#3 - Wearing a full face of makeup every day

Skin is a living organ, it needs to breathe in order to function and appear at it’s best. Wearing makeup every day can exacerbate existing skin issues, or create new problems, including congestion, acne, dehydration and flakiness.
Thoroughly cleansing your skin every evening can go a long way towards protecting the condition of your skin, however it’s even more effective to spend some time free of makeup.
Here’s an interesting article about one woman’s experience with going bare-faced twice a week.

#4 - Keeping mascara for waaaaay too long

Mascara is one of the least hygienic beauty products ever. Your eyes are a self-lubricating organs, and as such, they constantly secrete bodily fluids. Eyelashes are explicitly designed to catch any dust and other foreign objects so they don’t get into your eyes.
When you use your mascara wand to apply mascara, the wand comes into contact with the germs from your eyes and the dust and other goobers on your eyelashes. When you return the wand to the tube, those germs and grime are effectively inserted into a dark, moist environment, pretty ideal for incubating said germs.
Mascara has a shelf life of 3 to 6 months MAXIMUM. Any longer than this and you risk causing a potentially awful eye infection.
You can keep your mascara up to 6 months if the formula has not changed in smell, consistency or performance. If you notice any of the following, throw your mascara out immediately

  1. Change in smell
  2. Change in texture
  3. Change in performance
  4. Someone else has used your mascara (NEVER share mascara, it’s gross)
  5. You have conjunctivitis or some other eye infection.
#5 - Ignoring your eyebrows

Although you might not give a lot of thought to your eyebrows, they can really make or break an entire makeup look. That’s not to say that you need to fill them in (although that can look beautiful) or that you need to wax/tweeze/razor/thread them into submission (although that, too, can be beautiful). However if you have spent a lot of time and effort in doing your makeup, and you completely ignore your eyebrows, it can have an impact on the overall look.
When you’re finished your makeup, run a spoolie brush, a clean toothbrush or even a dry cotton bud through your eyebrows, removing any foundation that may have clumped through your brows and making sure your eyebrow hairs are all lying in a generally upward and outward direction.
Feel free to take the additional step of using a brow gel, pomade, pencil or powder to fill them in and set them in place if that’s what works for you.

#6 - Not wearing blush

I get it. Blush can be tricky. You spend time applying foundation to hide the redness in your skin, so why would you then go back in with blush and risk turning into a clown. Here’s the thing though, when you apply foundation (particularly medium to high coverage foundation) and concealer, your face becomes a blank canvas – flat and lifeless. Unless you go back in and add some colour and dimension, you risk looking ill or even corpselike.
If you’re concerned about the “clown factor”, try and choose a sheer finish blush in a dusty rose colour. Take a vary sparse fluffy brush (duo-fibre brushes tend to work well) tap it once into the blush, dab it on the back of your hand a few times to remove any excess product and then apply it, at the back of the apples of your cheeks. You’ll add a barely discernible flush of colour that you can build up, without having to go into damage-control mode.

#7 - Using your bronzer to contour your face

This is a controversial point. There are many schools of thought and much debate on the issue of using bronzer to contour your face. For photography, when you’re trying to create the illusion of shadow in a photo, you simply can’t use bronzer. It looks weird and artificial. In this situation you really should be using a grey tinted powder, but if you wear this in real life, you’re going to look like you’ve got dirt on your face.
Here’s the thing. Bronzer is designed for bronzing your face (crazy, right?) It’s meant to simulate a tan, and is generally designed to be applied to the high points of the face, so the hairline, the tops of the cheeks, the bridge of the nose and so on. A good bronzer provides lift as well as colour. Contour is meant to emphasise the low planes of the face, so the hollows of the cheeks, the sides of the nose, the sides of the temples and the jawline, and provide the illusion that they are receding. Can you see that a product that works well as a bronzer will not necessarily work well as a contour?
If you want to try and contour for real life, I recommend starting with a sheer, powder product 1-2 shades darker than your skin. A tinted face powder a shade darker than your normal powder would be ideal. If you do want something a little more intense, try one of the products designed for contouring (I know Kevyn Aucoin, Charlotte Tilbury and Napoleon Perdis all make dedicated contour powders). If you do want to use a bronzer, make sure that is it matte, and leans more to the cool side of the colour spectrum.

#8 - Extreme contouring for day to day wear

I’m not one to tell you that there are things you should or shouldn’t do on your face. If you love a super bold contour, go for it. This makeup “mistake” is for the women out there that feel like they have to contour on the daily, or they won’t look finished.
I personally am not a fan of contouring, except for photography. I prefer to use light to tweak or emphasise the planes of the face (otherwise known as strobing), but I think for most women, if they want to explore contouring, it is best suited for special occasions (and preferably at night).
The type of contouring that has been made popular by the likes of Kim Kardashian is a technique originally perfected in drag makeup.
I guess I’m not saying you CAN’T wear a full contoured face every day, but please take this point as permission not to.
Lily Pebbles has a great video sharing her feelings about contouring.

#9 - Extreme instagram eyebrows

If intense blocked-in eyebrows is your thing, then you do you baby, but as a general rule, it’s not the most flattering look for in real life. Like extreme contouring, it’s a look that comes from drag makeup and can add a certain theatrical masculinity to your appearance.

#10 - Not blending your eyeshadow enough

Whether you’re contouring your eyes, or creating a sultry smoky eye look, blending is pretty much the most important step in the entire process. It elevates an eye makeup look from “I have no idea what I’m doing”, to “I have mad makeup skills”.

If you’re struggling to blend out your edges, or you find that no matter how much you try to blend, your eyeshadow just won’t blend out properly, here’s a few tips:

  1. Layer your eyeshadows – start by laying down a base of eyeshadow from browbone to crease (and possibly lower) of a matte eyeshadow the same colour as your skin. In a pinch, face powder will work equally well. As you apply your different eyeshadow colours, try to apply the in order from lightest to darkest. This way, when you apply your darker colours, they will have the lighter coloured shadows to blend into, crating a smooth gradient, rather than grabbing to any sticky base or primer you may have applied.
  2. Use a clean blending brush – if you apply your eyeshadow with the same brush you use to blend, you’ll probably find your eyeshadow look starts to get muddy, or the colour seems to run away from you when you blend out. It’s an easy fix, use one brush to apply, and a separate, soft, fluffy brush to blend your eyeshadow.
#11 - Not tailoring your makeup to flatter your features
This is mostly relevant to contouring, but to a point, can apply to any makeup you apply.
You’ve been looking at all those amazing contouring tutorials, and you decide to give it a try on yourself. Before you start, take a moment to think about the purpose of contouring, and whether it suits your needs. The standard E3 contouring technique (where you apply a contour product in a 3 shape from your temple, under your cheekbones and along your jawline) is designed to make your face appear thinner, your cheekbones more prominent, and your jawline sharper.
What if you have a thin angular face already? You may not want to further emphasise that.
Before you blindly follow a makeup tutorial, think about the intended purpose of that technique, and if it’s right for you.
Nic from Pixiwoo made a great video demonstrating some alternative contouring techniques.
#12 - Using illuminating concealer on textured skin
Although makeup can’t completely conceal textured skin, there are techniques you can use to minimise the appearance of acne, scarring and other textures. This also means that there are certain makeup techniques that will emphasise skin texture.

If you’re someone with textured skin, and you don’t want to emphasise it, you really need to steer clear of highlighting, illuminating, shiny or sparkly products in the affected area. Using anything that offers any sort of dewiness or shine will catch the light, emphasising every lump, bump or indentation on your face.

If you really feel like you must highlight the textured area of skin, try using a light, matte shade, rather than anything reflective. It will bring light to your face without putting too much focus on the areas you’re trying to hide.

#13 - Applying makeup to unprepped skin
Skin preparation is possibly the most important step in effective makeup application, both in a macro sense and a micro sense. When makeup is applied to unprepped dry or dehydrated skin, your skin absorbs all the moisture from the products, leaving it looking patchy. When makeup is applied to oily unprepped skin, it can slip, separate and melt off your skin.

Big picture, a regular skincare routine can do wonders for your skin, and is the first step in makeup preparation. It impacts the quality and texture of your skin, which in turn impacts the appearance of your makeup application and longevity.

Even if your skin is not in the best condition, there are steps you can take to ensure your makeup applies as beautifully as possible.

  • Make sure your skin is freshly cleansed, and if it has been a while since you last exfoliated, exfoliated.
  • Moisturise your skin. Yes, even if it’s oily. The trick is to find a moisturiser that works for you. If your skin is oily, try a very lightweight or oil-free formula. If your skin is dry or dehydrated, try layering facial essence and/or serum under a richer moisturiser. Whatever moisturiser you apply, give it as much time as possible to absorb into your skin before you apply your makeup. 20 minutes is ideal, but whatever time you can give is better than nothing.
  • If you find that your makeup is still not performing as you would like, you can use a primer to prepare your skin. For oily skin, try using a microscopic amount of a thick, silicone-rich primer (dimethicone should be a key ingredient) or apply a light dusting of translucent powder under your foundation (yep, you heard me right, UNDER). For dry skin, you might find that a moisturiser is enough, but if not, look for a primer designed to add hydration to your skin.
#14 - Not reevaluating your foundation seasonally

There are a few things to consider with your foundation as the seasons change. In summer, your skin will generally become at least 1-2 shades darker, and although it can be dehydrated, will generally become less dry or more oily due to an increase in temperature leading your to sweat more. Summer beauty trends also tend to lean towards sheerer foundations, dewy finishes and “no-makeup” makeup. In winter, your skin will generally become at least 1-2 shades lighter and will typically dry out a little. Winter beauty trends tend to lean towards fuller coverage and velvet, cashmere or matte finishes and fuller coverage.

It’s not realistic to use only one foundation all year around, and have it work well for you all the time.

Whenever the seasons start to change, or when you start to notice your foundation is not performing as well as it used to, it might be time to reassess what you’re using. Once you find a great summer foundation, and a great winter foundation, you can often play at-home chemist and mix the two foundations to get you through the trans-seasonal period.

#15 - Not washing your face properly after wearing makeup
Related to #3, if you wear makeup, it’s really important to make sure you remove it at the end of the day. Sleeping with your makeup on can cause breakouts and skin congestion. It can dehydrate your skin and make it look dull. It can emphasise flakiness, and create new dry patches.
Double cleansing is the most effective way to remove all your makeup. Use the first cleanse to remove your makeup, and the second cleanse to remove any residue, and any other gunk on your face.
Caroline Hirons explains this FAR better than I ever could, so you should read her double cleansing fact sheet.
#16 - Using your hand or arm to colour match your foundation

If you’ve been matching your foundation to the back of your hand or your arms, please stop it. Stop it now. I can almost guarantee that you’ve ended up with a foundation that is too dark every time.

Try visiting a makeup counter and being colour matched, but remember, many counter makeup artists are inexperienced, and their first priority is to sell products, so wear the colour they recommend, check it out in a variety of lighting situations, and makeup up your own mind.

For expert level colour matching, your foundation should match the skin on your decolletage (your chest plate, the part of your chest you can see when you wear a v-neck t-shirt.)

#17 - Buying before you try
Buying certain makeup products on spec is fine. There have been times when I’ve bought an interesting eyeshadow or an appealing lipstick because I liked how the product looked in the packet, but I will generally still look up swatches and reviews online – at least to check that the quality of the product is worth the price.

HOWEVER, if a product is designed for skin, especially foundation, there’s no way I would buy it without trying it. To me, products that I apply directly on my skin are the most investible part of my makeup routine, so I buy the best I can afford. Whatever your makeup budget, if you’re buying the best you can afford, you want to know that that product is going to be right for you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a sample of foundation, and a good makeup counter should be perfectly happy to give you enough for about a week. This should be enough time for you to decide if the foundation is the right colour, formula and finish for you. If there’s anything you dislike about it, don’t be afraid to go back to the counter with your feedback and ask for a sample of something that could work better for you.

Through a process of elimination, you should be able to find the exact formula you’re looking for. and end up happy with your purchase.

#18 - Applying extra powder when you should be blotting

Face powder serves a couple of purposes. It can help to set your makeup, it can add extra coverage, and it can remove shine from targeted areas of your face.

What you might not realise it that powder is not necessarily a handbag staple. If you are using powder to touch-up your makeup through the day, you might find that your makeup is caking up and looking very obvious by the end of the day.

If you do suffer from oily skin or shine breakthrough, try using blotting paper, or even a single ply of tissue to dab the shine off your face. If this doesn’t work for you, try a blotting powder. It’ll absorb the shine without adding additional product.

#19 - Powdering your whole face

Even if you suffer from oily skin, you probably don’t need to powder every inch of your face. It can actually make your face look flat and dry.

If you have dry skin, you might not need to powder your face at all. Regardless of your skin type, if you do apply powder, try using a small fluffy brush and only apply it where you don’t want any shine, or where you tend to get oily.

#20 - Not curling your eyelashes

Almost everyone wants to make their eyes look bigger, and one easy way to do this is to curl your eyelashes. It makes your eyes look bigger and brighter, and can help you look more awake.

#21 - Lining your bottom waterline with black

As a teenager, I used to line my bottom waterline with black eyeliner every. single. day. I didn’t feel complete without it, and I still see many women doing the same thing. There are obviously times that this look can work, but for most women, and for day-to-day, it can be very unflattering.

Wearing dark colours on your lower waterline closes your eyes in, making them look smaller, and although it is intended to make your lashes look thicker, it can be very harsh and obvious in daylight.

Try wearing a nude, flesh coloured liner on your lower waterline instead. It will make your eyes look bigger, brighter and fresher.

#22 - Leaving a tide line
When you apply your foundation, it’s so important to blend it out properly. If your skin is in good condition, you probably only need to apply a sheer foundation to the centre of your face and blend it out.

If you’re wearing a fuller coverage foundation, and you’ve matched it to your decolletage, please remember to blend it down your neck. Nothing screams “I’m wearing makeup and I have no idea what I’m doing” like a harsh line where your foundation finishes and your skin begins.

#23 - Wearing bright or matte lipstick on chapped lips

I love bright, bold, matte lips. It’s one of the easiest ways to “dress up” your face with a minimum of effort.

If your lips are dry or chapped, it’s also one of the quickest ways to draw attention to this area.

If you’re wearing a bright or matte (or both) lipstick, make sure your lips are in the best condition possible by staying hydrated, using a lip scrub (a bit of caster sugar mixed with a drop of olive oil, or a soft toothbrush should do the trick) and priming them with a thin layer of a great lip balm.

#24 - Using the same brush to apply and blend your eyeshadow

When you use a brush to apply your eyeshadow, that brush gets covered in eyeshadow. The purpose of blending your eyeshadow is to diffuse the edges and create sort of an ombre effect where the product fades out into your skin.

When you use a dirty brush to blend your eyeshadow, it doesn’t tend to work very well. What you’ll find happening is that you’ll be laying down more product and simply extending the edge of the product. Your blend at best will look muddy, and at worst will get completely out of control. Think Taylor Momsen when you were going for Taylor Swift.

My recommendation would be to simply use one brush to apply the colour, and then another brush (probably a fluffy blending brush) to soften out your edges. Try this trick and you’ll really up your smoky eye game.

#25 - Curling your lashes with mascara on

So you’ve tried curling your lashes, and you love how it looks. Your eyes look bigger, and you look more awake! Excellent! Just remember that you really need to curl your lashes BEFORE you apply mascara. There’s a few reasons for this.

  • It’s a bit gross to smear mascara all over your lash curers. Mascara is a bit disgusting anyway, and you do’t want to find bits of dried mascara gumming up the seam between the curler and the pads.
  • It’s messy. There’s a good chance you’ll end up with mascara smeared onto your eyelid if you’ve curled them with wet mascara.
  • It can RUIN your eyelashes! The mascara can act like a glue, glueing your lashes to the curler, then ripping them out by the roots. The mascara can also make your lashes temporarily more brittle, so even if you don’t rip them out by the roots, you can actually snap them! Bye bye lashes.

So just make sure you curl your lashes when they’re clean, and apply your mascara afterwards.

#26 - Wearing foundation with a high spf to an evening event
As foundation formulas become more advanced, this is becoming less of a problem, but have you ever been to a party looking FINE, but when you look back at your photos, you look like your foundation is about 5 shades too light for you? Yes?

My friend, you have been the victim of flashback.

Flashback is generally a problem when you’re wearing a foundation with high spf in the evening, and someone takes a photo with a direct flash (like on your phone, point and shoot camera, or the flash that’s built in to your DSLR).

It’s not usually a problem for professional photographers, who would typically use a diffused flash, but if you know you’ll be taking selfies at a party, it’s worth testing your foundation.

It’s as simple as taking a photo on your phone, in dim light, using flash, and looking at the picture. If you look normal, then you wear your foundation and don’t give it a second thought. If, however, you find yourself with “ghost face” then you’ll probably want to buy a second foundation to wear for evening events.

#27 - Not blending your lipliner

This is not a makeup mistake I thought I would commonly see this century, but with the current obsession with 90’s trends and the interest in lip contouring, thanks to Kylie Jenner, lip liner is once again “a thing”.

Yes, you can fake larger lips with the careful application of lipliner, but the key to this is to make it look natural. If you’re taking your lipliner, overdrawing your lips and then applying lipstick between the lines, I can almost guarantee you’re going to end up with an obvious ring around your lips, and it’s not pretty.

Part of the problem with lipliner is right there in the name. It sounds like you should just use it to draw the outline of your lips, but there’s a bit more to it.

If you’re just starting to experiment with lip liner, try filling in your lips completely. It will make your lipstick last longer, wear off more gracefully, and is an easy way to overdraw your lips in the most subtle way.

If you’re looking for more advance liplining techniques, and you’re wanting to contour your lips to make them look fuller again, then begin by overdrawing your lips. Once you’ve drawn the outline, use the pencil to feather a little bit of colour from that line, onto your lips, keeping the innermost part of the middle of your lips completely bare (this is where they should look the fullest.) Take a tiny, stiff lip brush with quite short bristles, and blend out the lip liner that you have applied. Keep the edge of the liner as crisp and sharp as you can, and blend out the product on your lips so there are no harsh lines. Apply your lipstick over the top of this, and finish with a spot of gloss, just in the centre of your lips.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on makeup mistakes. Do you do any of the things I’ve said? Have I missed anything that you can think of? Let me know in the comments.