Every successful makeup look needs a foundation, but that doesn't mean you have to use one. For most complexions, semi-sheer tints give just the right amount of coverage and let your glow shine through. Choose a product with built-in SPF, such as Clinique Moisture Surge CC Cream Hydrating Color Corrector Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($35, clinique.com) or Shiseido Urban Environment Tinted UV Protector SPF43 ($30, shiseido.com). Optional: Add a translucent setting powder to your list if shine is an issue.
If you're not using a stick concealer, it's time to get on board. No other type covers dark under-eye circles and blemishes as completely as these do, whether you blend them with your fingers or a flat, skinny brush. Try L’Oreal Paris True Match Super-Bendable Crayon Concealer ($8.95, lorealparisusa.com) or Hourglass Hidden Corrective Concealer ($32, hourglass.com).
We love a bright blush, but a neutral shade that won't clash with your lipstick (or your outfit) is the ultimate makeup bag workhorse. Not only will a nude pink hue like Nars Cream Blush in Penny Lane ($29, narscosmetics.com) help chisel your bone structure, it'll give you an instant glow. You can substitute a bronzer, too, as long as it's matte; try Laura Geller Baked impressions Bronzer ($38, QVC.com), a super silky powder that comes with a cute mini kabuki brush.
Don't skip this makeup step just because the results are subtle. Well-placed highlights make all the difference between average and amazing. Swipe a luminizing pen or powder over the tops of your cheekbones, the corners of your eyes, the Cupid's bow of your upper lip and in the folds around your nose and mouth for an instant boost. Opt for a highlighter with a subtle sheen instead of over the top sparkles. Yves Saint Laurent Touche clat ($40, sephora.com) and Laura Mercier Matte Radiance Baked Powder Compact ($34, sephora.com) both fit the bill.
We surely don't have to tell you the difference a few swipes of mascara can make. To get the most out of yours, choose a mascara whose wand has bristles that multitask, like the dual-sided brush in Lancome Hypnoses Star Mascara ($28, lancome-usa.com). Revlon PhotoReady 3D Volume Mascara ($7.49, target.com) has a clump-busting plastic brush with a spiky tip that grabs teeny corner lashes.
For a two-minute smoky eye, pick a palette with at least three colors: a medium shadow to wash over the lid, a dark shadow to create depth along the lash line and in the socket, and a pale, shimmery shade to highlight the inner corners and center of the lid. NYX Cosmetics The Natural Eye shadow Palette ($6.99, ulta.com) is a total steal with six wearable colors. Chanel Quadra Eye Shadow in Premier Regard ($59, chanel.com) features four smooth-wearing powder shadows in one luxe little package.
When a situation calls for more drama, liquid or gel liner is the only way to go. Use these inky essentials to create a cat eye, or dot them between your upper lashes to make them look fuller. With liner, cheap versions like E.L.F. Essential Liquid Eyeliner ($1, eyeslipsface.com) are usually a decent stand-in for pricier products. If your fair, opt for a chocolate brown instead of black; such as Bobbi Brown Cosmetics Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner in Espresso Ink ($23, bobbibrowncosmetics.com).
·Daytime Lip color
There's a subtle difference between a bare-naked lip and barely-there lip color, but slicking on a healthy pink has serious payoff when it comes to looking pulled together and wide away. CK One Color Shine Lipstick in Frenzy ($16, ulta.com) is a shiny sheer pink that's universally flattering. Fresh Sugar Petal Lip Treatment SPF 15 ($22.50, sephora.com) keeps lips soft and protected from the sun (lips get wrinkles, too!) with the barest hint of color.
·Pop of Color
Whether you prefer to play up your lips or your eyes, a pop of vibrant color is like an instant makeover for your look. Take an all-black outfit to the next level with bold blue lids or a bright pink lip. Maybelline Eye Studio Color Tattoo Metal 24H Cream Gel Shadow ($6.99, maybelline.com) has a colorful foil effect that lasts and lasts. Givenchy Le Rouge in Fuchsia Irresistible ($36, sephora.com) is as hot pink as it gets, plus the luxe leather case is a bona fide statement accessory.
Day, night, or anytime in between, a red lip is always appropriate. With the right shade in your makeup bag, you'll always have a fallback look you can pull together in a few minutes flat. MAC Lipstick in Ruby Woo ($15, maccosmetics.com) is a classic for a reason: the true red shade works with a multitude of skin tones. And CoverGirl Lip Perfection Lip Color in Hot ($7.99, cvs.com) happens to be one of our favorite drugstore shades.