the beauty toolbox

A lighted magnifying makeup mirror is essential! Conair at Target.

A lighted magnifying makeup mirror is essential! Conair at Target.

We talk a lot about beauty products but sometimes it’s the tools that make all the difference between “artful” and “aarrggh.” Even as a self-described Makeup Minimalist, there are some tools I just do not want to be without.

How did I ever function without a lighted, magnifying mirror? Especially when one is near-sighted, it makes ALL the difference!


While some prefer application with fingers, I’ve found various options that provide a quicker and more even application. If you can splurge, the Kevyn Aucoin Foundation Brush is my gold standard. This baby evenly distributes foundation without waste, and the tapered tip of the brush gets into tight areas like under eyes and the corners of the nose. Because the bristles are so densely packed, liquid and cream foundations and BB/CC creams go on without streaking and don’t require a lot of blending. My only gripe is the long handle which can be awkward when you’re working close to a mirror.

IT Cosmetics has created a line of brushes for Ulta Cosmetics. Karen alerted me to the “Airbrush OMG!” foundation brush, which is a darn good and a moderately priced alternative to the Kevyn Aucoin brush. The shape is slightly flatter and not as tapered, but the application is just as smooth. The bristles are synthetic, so non-allergenic and extremely soft. Karen uses the Velvet LBD Brush as a second step to buff the CC Cream to a velvet and very natural looking finish. I like it to apply a finishing powder.

After reading so many glowing reviews of the BeautyBlender sponge, I had to give it a try. After a getting the hang of it, I get what the fuss is all about. It’s used damp, which prevents absorption of product, and provides a very sheer, very natural looking finish. (You don’t need the special cleanser; a gentle hand soap or baby wash works just as well. Wash weekly.)


Even if you don’t wear mascara (or any other eye makeup for that matter)…if you have straight lashes, before you do anything else, curl them. It will open up your eyes and make you look more awake. After shu uemura stopped selling their cult-status curlers in the U.S., I tried several different options. My favorite so far is this one from Kevyn Aucoin. Remember to warm up your curler with your blow dryer for a few seconds (warm NOT hot!); your lashes will curl more easily and hold the curl longer. Start at the base of the lashes, use gentle pressure and then move to tips, 2 or 3 curls. Opinions vary on how often to replace the pads/curler. I tend to replace the pad every 4-6 months and the curler annually. Remember to use your curler before mascara, less risk of damaging your lashes. And clean your curler regularly; I use a cotton pad dampened with a bit of Bioderma Sensibio H2O.

I’m a convert to tightlining, and find the Laura Mercier Flat Eyeliner Brush used with a waterproof gel liner works brilliantly, goes on very subtly and stays put all day.

When it comes to eyeshadow, I’m a simpleton: one color from lashes to just above the crease. If you use powder shadow, the Trish McEvoy Angled Contour Brush gets the color exactly where you want it in one or two sweeps.

I’m never without spoolies. Keep a few on hand to remove mascara clumps, or dial back eyebrows from Mommie Dearest territory if you’ve gone a bit heavy-handed with the brow pencil.


If you use a powder blush or bronzer, an angled brush provides amazing control over application. For creme blushes, a “stippling” brush can produce a very subtle, natural looking application, especially if working with a very vivid color. Swirl into the product then apply in small circular motions to blend. Try it!

If you use a loose or compact finishing powder, you’ll get a more natural look with a large brush. This one from Sonia Kashuk is good, so is the LBD brush from It Brushes if you need a bit more targeted coverage.

Take It Off, Take It All Off

You know I’m going to flog the Clarisonic again. Even though I’ve dialed back to using every other day on the recommendation of my dermatologist, nothing gets your face as clean. (As one blogger said, it “rattles the crap right out of your pores.”) Be sure to get the softest brushes and use in a gentle circular motion (don’t apply pressure). I noticed a huge difference in my skin when I started using this device.

If you’re using waterproof eye makeup, you may need to start with a cotton pad soaked in an eye makeup remover. There are several out there that are effective; I’m currently using this one from Clarins (bottle lasts for months).

On The Road

I love it when I can find short-handled versions of my favorite brushes. (See “near-sighted” above.) Look for travel sets that include at least 2 brushes you normally use. (The best time though to shop for travel brush sets is before the holidays.)

Whew! What are your favorite Beauty Tools?

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  1. plutrell
    September 24, 2014 / 4:07 am

    You are a wealth of information today! I really like the mirror and since I am an Ulta customer, the brushes info is great to have. Thanks so much…have a lovely CA day!

  2. September 24, 2014 / 6:18 am

    Thanks for all the tips, Une Femme. I have some Ulta points to spend, so . . .

  3. Jane
    September 24, 2014 / 7:35 am

    I love the lighted magnifying mirror but have never figured out – what do you set it on so you can see into it? I don’t have a dressing table, and have a pedestal sink. I once bought one but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I think it’s too large for the window ledge.

    • Rita
      September 25, 2014 / 5:14 pm

      Jane, you need a wall-mounted mirror that extends out. I think Bed, Bath & Beyond has them.

  4. Noel
    September 24, 2014 / 7:55 am

    I have a love-hate relationship with the magnifying mirror. It really helps when I’m applying my makeup, but Oh My Gosh sometimes I don’t recognize the old lady staring back at me!!!

    Thanks for all your tips and keep them coming – I’ve used many of them in the past year or so and you are always spot on!

  5. Kathleen
    September 24, 2014 / 8:12 am

    I ordered that stipple brush for my beloved Bobbie Brown pot rouge cream blush when you recommended it awhile back. It is fabulous the way it picks up the color from the compact, applies just the right amount, and blends naturally. As Bobbi says, “instant pretty”.

  6. Bungalow Hostess
    September 24, 2014 / 8:42 am

    I have a foundation brush by Bobbi Brown and an eye lash curler, several brushes for seahorse and brows and I too am a make up minimalist.
    The Olay brush is cheaper than the Clairsonic and I use it several times a week as I have sensitive skin with rosacea.
    I thought that I was alone in using the same shadow everyday….good to know you do too!

  7. Thea
    September 24, 2014 / 8:43 am

    You are PSYCHIC! Just turned an under-used secretary into a dressing table! This mirror will be perfect! Imagine how great I will look doing my face while next to natural daylight instead of in the dark bathroom!

    Thanks, Sue!!

  8. Linda
    September 24, 2014 / 8:54 am

    Such great suggestions! I’m with you re the Clairsonic. I used to use it every day, but have scaled back to every other day, also on advice from my dermatologist. Not only does it really clean, I think it helps with the circulation and puffiness. I have been looking for something like the spoolies for years! So glad to find out about them!

  9. September 24, 2014 / 10:39 am

    OK, I adore the beauty blender. It’s the only way I can apply makeup and make it look natural. Adore it! I also love the stippling brush for putting on blush. Especially cream blush. I’m with you about ALWAYS curling my eyelashes. I need to get a new one and it will be the Kevin Aucoin one. Now I also use a Shu Uemera badger angled brush 6 0B for putting on eyebrows. I use an eye shadow “ebony” from Senna to get the perfect greyish taupe non color for my eyebrows. It doesn’t turn yellow, orange or blue. 🙂 I also love the pointed Japanese Yashiro Kabuki brush from Nars for putting on bronzer. It’s point keeps eveything very precise. It’s my new bronzer appliction favorite. I also use Guerlain’s KissKiss LipLift around my lips to keep the lipstick from traveling up my lines. ( don’t tell anyone I have lip lines) I’m scared to use the clarisonic. I’ve got VERY sensitive skin. You know some of the French dermatology experts thinks it’s too rough on the skin. Who knows.

  10. karen
    September 24, 2014 / 10:40 am

    I use the softer brushes on my Clarisonic too. I only use mine a few times a week. Trying to go really easy and loving on my skin now…

  11. Duchesse
    September 24, 2014 / 12:01 pm

    Not sure what has happened to me but I make up less as the years go by; is it Isabel Marant wearing none (for day) or am I just lazy? At any rate, a lick of Cover Girl Clump Crusher mascara (seems to work as well as costly ones) and a little lippie, maybe a skim of eye pencil, and done. Your makeup always looks subtle and pretty. I also love the effects of a not unbearably hot steam room @ gym.

  12. September 24, 2014 / 12:52 pm

    The only problem I see with Isabel Marant is that she is probably 40 years younger than I. But at the same time. I recently was made up at the Giorgio Armani counter and he suggested much lighter lipstick and blush than had been suggested before. Thus instead of a berry color blush that EVERYONE had suggest he gave me a pale. pale peach the same with lipstick. Made a huge lighter brighter difference . I love Clump Crusher also and like you I’ve tried them all. Love your blog Duchesse.

  13. September 24, 2014 / 1:07 pm

    Have you posted about beauty products purchased when traveling? I was recently in Italy and everyone was telling me to get their sunscreen, but I wash’ sure why. I love going to the Farmacia, but never sure what the good buys are. would love to see a post on that!

  14. Renata
    September 24, 2014 / 1:44 pm

    I am a fan of Shu Uemura cleansing oils. I use them with a Clarisonic and find that they do a good job of removing stubborn eye makeup. I was nervous about using an oil on my face – years of greasy T -zone but it doesn’t make me break out at all.

  15. KPL
    September 24, 2014 / 5:15 pm

    Couldn’t get along with a magnifying mirror. I use my fingers for blending everything which is convenient and works well for me – although like Duchesse I’ve become very lazy about makeup unless we’re going out.

  16. Eliizabeth
    September 25, 2014 / 3:08 am

    Great tips and product advice. As far as eyes go, I am a convert to lash extensions. Properly done, they last for a month at a time, and after the initial investment, the appointments for fills are quick and (relatively) cheap. The bonus is that you look “done” and awake with almost no other effort. Highly recommend!

  17. Nicole
    September 28, 2014 / 11:24 pm

    I love the jane iredale Purebrow Brow Gel that colors a fading half of one brow with the bonus of keeping the hairs groomed (in the same direction). I don’t know if this is good brow maintenance but I’ve also begun trimming brow hairs that are too long rather than plucking them from fear that they will not grow back at this certain age. I’d rather have a fuller brow as I age, and I imagine that the “stenciled-on” fad will wane (I haven’t tried it).

  18. Joan
    October 6, 2014 / 5:34 am

    A while back you wrote about a handled box that you found was working well for cosmetic storage. Could you please let me know what that was called again and where you got it? Thank you. I enjoy your posts very much.

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