10 Makeup Essentials for the Older Woman

Makeup kit

Makeup kit in a fishing tackle box, just my style!

After decades of rocking a real “no makeup” look, it’s time for Hilda to start using something. Even though I’m blessed with excellent skin, and have only a few signs of aging, my skin needs a little makeup to look it’s best.

There’s also a social component of makeup. If you aren’t very young, a lack of makeup indicates you don’t care about how you look, or that you are a sloppy frump. Even a tiny bit of makeup, skillfully applied, can take care of this. [And it’s often women who care more about this … I once worked in a company where a manager, not mine, complained that I didn’t wear lipstick.]

I’m learning to use makeup well, and in my usual fashion, researching thoroughly. I’m reading books and websites, watching vlogs, haunting the Sephora store … and it doesn’t hurt that my adult daughter is a makeup artist in training. I’ll be posting a lot of what I find out.

In this post I’ll talk about what I find are my minimum essential items for makeup. I expect this list will change as I learn more — I’ll leave this post as is, and add new posts as I learn more. When I can, I’ll include links to the products.

I’m not going to discuss skin care products here, as that’s a subject for a whole post. Besides, skin care varies a lot more than makeup.


I have skin that’s normal — neither dry nor oily (though my eye sockets are slightly oily) and only 1-2 pimples a year.

I have very few wrinkles, no age spots, and a bit of redness around my nose, and a tiny bit of sagging. I do have dark eye circles, especially in pollen season.

I have porcelain to fair skin, too light for many lines of foundation. I have some natural redness on my cheeks, less than when I was young.

I like a minimal makeup look, more of a “you look great!” than “you apply makeup well.”

I’m on a tight budget, and prefer low cost products, though I don’t mind paying more if absolutely necessary.

Highlighted product names below take you to Amazon.com, where you can purchase the item.

#1 Makeup Remover

Trader Joe's Facial CleanserIt may be odd to start with this, but if you are putting makeup on, you need to take it off. Never sleep in makeup.

You should have 2-3 different makeup remover products, plus a supply of washcloths and cotton pads.

First is a good face wash. It doesn’t need to be expensive, after all, it’s just on your face for a minute or so, then rinsed off thoroughly. I use Trader Joe’s Face Wash.

Second is a quick remover product, for when you don’t have time for a full wash. Some women like remover wipes, I use micellar water on a cotton pad. Micellar water is common in Europe, and just starting to show up in the USA. I’m trying Simple brand, another common one is Bioderma.

If you wear waterproof mascara or eyeliner, you’ll need an eye makeup remover, I don’t. My daughter recommends a bi-phase product.

Real Techniques Core Collection

Real Techniques Core Collection, the set I own.

#2. Brushes

Good brushes are critically important. For years, the only brushes I had were a cheap set my mom bought me in the early 1980s. I had some highly rated eye shadow that on me, had no pigmentation. I thought the shadow was at fault, until I bought some new brushes and tried one — now the shadow was bright and strong. It wasn’t the shadow, it was the brush!

Brush technology has improved, and good brushes are available at low prices. The ELF Studio line has good brushes, as does Real Techniques.

Don’t bother with a brush cleaner, use your face cleanser.

foundation products

A small selection of foundation products

#3 All Over Face Color

Finally we get to the makeup itself!

I’m calling this “all over face color” instead of foundation because there are many products that provide a smooth wash of color over the skin, from tinted moisturizers and BB creams to full coverage foundations and theatrical makeup. You should choose one that 1) matches your skin color exactly in daylight; 2) offers the amount of coverage your skin needs. For some of the best advice I’ve seen, watch Lisa Eldrige’s foundation video series.

For me, a tinted moisturizer is enough. I’m using The Balm Balm Shelter in Lighter than Light. You may need a full coverage foundation. Whatever you use, it needs to match your skin color and not sink into pores or fine lines.

Foundation will even out skin color, but it can make your skin look older if you use a heavy hand.

One last note: at this time, the trendy foundation product is the “super fluid” foundation. Most of these contain large amounts of alcohol, which is both drying and irritating. Please keep your skin healthy and avoid products with alcohol in them.

Time Balm Concealer

Time Balm Concealer in my color, Lighter than Light

#4 Concealer

If you use a lightweight face color, you’ll need extra coverage in some areas. For this, you need one or two concealer products. They should match your skin color exactly, so you don’t need to cover them with anything else. If you choose the right product, you can wear concealer alone.

There are two major types of concealer: heavy, which is great for spot concealing but tends to crease under they eyes, and creamy, which doesn’t crease but may shift its place (you ca pat the creamy concealer back into place easily).

For a heavy concealer, I use The Balm Time Balm. I don’t have a creamy concealer, it’s on my list.

Note that many foundations and concealers need to be set with a tiny amount of face powder.

Clump Crusher Mascara

My Mascara

#5 Mascara

Age thins lashes. I still have good lashes, but they’re thinner than they used to be, and a bit shorter. My eyes look better with a light layer of mascara

There are plenty of excellent mascaras at the drug store. I’m currently using Cover Girl’s Clump Crusher, in the neon green tube. It comes in dark brown, which looks more natural on me than black. And it stays put, no flaking,  and it lasts until I wash my face at night.

It’s also cheap enough that I don’t feel bad about following safety guidelines and tossing the tube every 3-4 months.

Lipsticks and pencils

Lipsticks and pencils. I use a color similar to the lipstick on the far left, applied sheerly

#6 Lip Color

Lips get thinner with age, and current fashion wants full lips. The right color can make lips look fuller, and a lip pencil can be used to slightly overdraw lips for a fuller look.
Lip color is also one of the most obvious signs that a woman is wearing makeup. Si if you need to look like you are wearing makeup, color your lips!

A lip liner pencil in a shade close to your natural lip color is good for overdrawing, and a lipstick in the same shade range as your lips but stronger and deeper is also useful.

Quick Tip: a strongly colored lipstick can be applied with a finger for sheer coverage. Since I don’t like the feel of lip products, I do this often, with a deep berry lipstick.

brow products

A random selection of brow products

#7 Brow Color

Eyebrows on older women seem to go in two different ways. Either they thin out to almost nothing, or they turn gray and grow long and wiry. I have the second sort.

Every couple of weeks, I take my contacts out and have a thorough brow grooming session. (Details in a later post.) When I’m done, my brows are at a fashionable size, with some white hairs and a couple of thin spots.

At this point, I need the same thing as women with thin brows. A little brow color, in pencil, powder or cream, will add color to the thin spots and darken white hairs.I use a NYX pencil.

Be careful not to go too dark or too heavy. The goal is to make your brows look as if they grew that way naturally.

Eyeliner Styles

Different ways to apply eyeliner. My favorite is the “no liner”

#8 Eye Liner

Eye liner has been used throughout history. These days, it’s used to make the base of the lashes look thicker and for dramatic effects.

I won’t go into dramatic liner here. To darken the lash base, choose a color close to your lash color (dark browns and dark grays look softer than black) in pencil or powder and apply with a stubby brush as close to the lashes as you can. Lining just the top looks more natural than lining both top and bottom.

Before I used any other makeup, I’d apply dark brown powder from the Sonia Kashuk collection (discontinued). I also have a brown Sephora eye liner pencil I’m learning  to use.

Paula's Choice Nude Matte palette

Paula’s Choice Nude Matte palette

#9 Eye Shadow Palette

Eye shadow comes in more colors than you can imagine. Best for older women getting used to makeup are “nude” eyeshadows in a range of creams, browns and grays. You can buy these colors in palettes containing from 4 to 20 neutral shades.

My daughter the makeup artist in training suggests buying a palette that contains shades from very light (lighter than your skin tone) to dark enough to work as eye liner. I prefer matte shades; she says that moderate shimmer is ok. With a full-range palette, you can produce anything from a minimal makeup look to a dramatic smoky eye.

I have two Physician’s Formula matte quads (toss the foam applicators and use a good brush) and the Paula’s Choice Nude Mattes palette is on my Buy list. (Discontinued, I missed my chance. But theBslm’s Meet Matt(e) Nude is excellent.)

 blush products

A variety of blush products

#10 Cheek Color

For a natural look for older women, I recommend skipping the current trend of highlight and contour, and just using a blush that matches your natural blush color.

When I was younger, I had so much natural cheek color a makeup counter clerk decided I needed lessons on how to apply blush sparingly! With age, much of that color has faded, but not all. On my “makeup to buy” list is a blush that matches my natural color exactly, so I can enhance and reshape what I have naturally.


If you have one good for you product (or several) in each of these categories, you’ll be set for makeup. Of course, you can buy more, but if you are just starting out with makeup, the items listed here will serve you well.

In future posts, I’ll go into detain on these, and other makeup items.


16 March, 2018: Edited to clean things up a bit. My choice of products has changed a lot; that’s fuel for a new post.


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