The 10 Most Common Makeup Mistakes

Just like a candy store
Just like a candy store

For many of us, a trip to the makeup counter is like a trip to the candy store. So much to choose from -- so many shades of lipsticks and shadows, so many different brands, so many new beauty tools. We chat with salespeople about which products will work best for us, latch on to a few favorites and then despair if they ever disappear from the shelves. Yep, we love our makeup.

But even the most dedicated of makeup enthusiasts is liable to make a mistake here and there when it comes to application and product choices. When you "put on your face" each morning, are you making the same blunder over and over without realizing it? Check our list to make sure you aren't committing any cosmetic crimes.


Wearing the Wrong Color Foundation

There may be no more obvious makeup mistake than the wrong color foundation. When your face is one color and your neck is another, you know the shade of your foundation is completely wrong. Foundation is supposed to even out your skin tone and provide a primer for the rest of your makeup. If your foundation is noticeable, chances are you're wearing the wrong color or applying too much.

According to a study by Estée Lauder, up to 77 percent of women wear the wrong color foundation. Experts believe this occurs because many women test foundation on their hands, which are typically a shade or two darker than their faces. When shopping, choose a few colors that seem closest to your natural skin tone and draw stripes along your jawline using a cotton swab. The foundation that disappears into your skin is the right color. If you have to blend your foundation into your neck, you're wearing the wrong color. And remember, you'll need different color foundations for summer and winter.


Wearing Lip Liner That's Too Dark

Make sure the color of your liner blends well with your lipstick color.
Make sure the color of your liner blends well with your lipstick color.

There's nothing wrong with wearing lip liner. It has two functions: to keep the lipstick from feathering or bleeding, and to make your lips look bigger. However, many women make the mistake of wearing a lip liner that's much darker than their shade of lipstick. This was briefly a trend in the 1990s, but we mean briefly.

Also, sporting a dark outline of lip liner in contrast to a lighter lipstick will give you an odd ring-around-the-mouth appearance, which is simply not an attractive look. Use a lip liner that matches or closely complements your lipstick, or try a clear lip liner. For older women, a clear lip liner is best, because it won't noticeably settle into lines around the mouth as the day goes on.


Applying Clumpy or Extreme Mascara

Run an eyelash comb through your lashes to get rid of clumps.
Run an eyelash comb through your lashes to get rid of clumps.

Mascara is intended to thicken and lengthen the eyelashes, drawing attention to the eyes to make them look bigger and more dramatic. Mascara comes in many brands and forms -- waterproof, smudgeproof, colored, clear, plumping, lengthening, and on and on. When applied properly, mascara gives you a sexy, long-lashed look. But when applied improperly, it just makes you look like a smudged-up mess.

The most common mistake is applying clumpy mascara. This happens when you put on too much, or your mascara is too old. Try using an eyelash comb to separate the lashes and get rid of the excess. And replace old mascara; it's only meant to last three to four months. Another problem is wearing a mascara color too dark or too extreme for your coloring. Your mascara should be two or three shades darker than your eyebrow color, and no more.


Blending Your Makeup Incorrectly

Blend makeup so it isn't too noticeable on your skin.
Blend makeup so it isn't too noticeable on your skin.
Creatas Images/Thinkstock

Most stylists agree that when you wear makeup correctly, it won't be overwhelmingly obvious that you're wearing it. That might sound like a contradiction, but makeup is meant to highlight your best features and downplay your flaws. You're not wearing war paint. And if it looks like you are, you may have a problem with blending.

Your makeup should never have obvious lines. It should be soft and blurry, each color fading into another. It should enhance the contours of your face, not outline them. Experts give the following tips on blending your makeup properly:

  • Always put on your makeup in proper lighting.
  • Use the right tools, like a round sponge or soft brush.
  • Starting with the darkest point of your makeup, gently buff the makeup into your skin. Do this until you can't see where one color stops and the other begins.

Overtweezing Your Eyebrows

Eyebrow shaping trends seem to come and go. At one point, thicker eyebrows were in. At another point, thin eyebrows were in. Today, all that matters is that your brows are well-groomed, never bushy, and never, ever overplucked.

Overly-thin (or missing) eyebrows can make your face look too thin as well, and not in a good way. This look can actually age you. And -- warning -- if you overtweeze your eyebrows too often, at some point the hair follicles can become damaged and the hair actually stops growing back. Experts advise going for a professional brow shaping. You don't have to continually spend the money to upkeep professional eyebrow work. You can simply tweeze them yourself on a regular basis, following the shape your cosmetologist gave you, and staying on the lookout for stray hairs that grow below the brow line.


White "Reverse Raccoon" Eyes

Make sure your concealer isn't too light for your skin.
Make sure your concealer isn't too light for your skin.

Perhaps you had a late night, aren't feeling well, or simply were unlucky enough, like this writer, to inherit dark circles under the eyes.

Concealer can hide those circles, but unfortunately many women use a shade that's much too light for their skin tone. This results in the appearance of white circles around your eyes, and the look is much more obvious in photographs. Your concealer should be no more than one shade lighter than your skin. Makeup experts suggest applying it to well-moisturized skin with one finger, which helps soften it, and then topping it with a thin layer of foundation to blend in with the rest of your skin. Another tip is to avoid concealer with zinc in it, which will accentuate the "white ring" look.


Over- or Under-moisturizing Your Skin

Everyone with skin is trying to find the perfect moisture level for it. We admit it's not easy. But how moisturized your skin is can greatly affect the makeup you put on top of it.

If your skin is too moisturized, your foundation can slip into your pores, highlight your lines and wrinkles, and generally give you a blotchy look. You can combat this by using a very light moisturizer and letting it absorb into your skin for a few minutes before applying your foundation.

If you have dry skin, your makeup can look dull and uneven. So, first prep your skin with a creamy moisturizer and give it some time to soak in. Apply liquid foundation (powder foundation will just settle into fine lines and patches) with special moisturizing ingredients.


Over-application of Blush

Smile, then apply blush to the apples of your cheeks.
Smile, then apply blush to the apples of your cheeks.

Too much of anything is overwhelming. This includes your blush. Follow these tips (along with our blending advice) to make your blush look as flattering as possible:

If you want the flushed look, smile and apply the blush to the apples of your cheeks. If you want a more structured look, follow your cheekbones and then blend the blush upward to avoid creating stripes. The thing with blush is that you can always add more. But if you've been a little overzealous in the application, try adding a little loose powder over the cheek to tone it down. Or gently wipe it away with a tissue. If it's a cream blush, try gently removing the excess with a clean makeup sponge.


Highlighting Too Many Parts of the Face

Many women like to go for a dramatic look on the eyes or lips. I say, "go for it." However, problems can occur when you try to go for both at the same time. You don't want different parts of your face to have to compete for attention.

If you want to go for a bold eye -- maybe a smoky eye, cat eye, bright-colored eye shadow with super-long lashes -- give yourself a more natural-looking lip. This way, your eyes will pop and everyone will pay attention to them. If you want to go for a bold lip -- bright red and super glossy, perhaps -- keep your eyes simple. You can wear shadow and mascara, just don't go crazy. The attention will go straight to your lips, so make sure you apply that lipstick properly!


Sleeping with Your Makeup On

Always, always wash your face before you go to bed.
Always, always wash your face before you go to bed.

This might be the worst mistake you can make with your face. No matter how late it is or how tired you are, always take the time to remove your makeup before you go to bed. Besides the fact that you'll wake up with panda eyes, it's really bad for your skin.

Makeup clogs your pores, which prevents them from doing their job -- releasing sebum, which lets out dead skin cells and other irritants. When sebum isn't released, it builds up and results in acne. Leaving your eye makeup on can be even worse. It can cause irritation, an allergic reaction, or even an infection. Not really worth it to save those couple minutes, is it? Always clean the makeup from your face with a gentle facial cleanser or cold cream.


Clean Out Your Makeup, Like Right Now!

Clean Out Your Makeup, Like Right Now!

When was the last time you cleaned out your cosmetics? HowStuffWorks talked to an LA-based makeup artist for advice on how often we need to toss it.

Related Articles


  • Chang, Bora. "Makeup Mistakes That Can Make You Look Older." Daily Glow. 2012. (Aug. 10, 2012)
  • Gold, Gloria. "Common Mascara Mistakes and How to Fix Them." Killer Lashes. Jan. 16, 2011. (Aug. 10, 2012)
  • Jackson, India-Jewel. "Blush - Just How Much Is Too Much?" Feb. 2, 2012. (Aug. 10, 2012)
  • New Beauty: The Beauty Authority. "The Makeup Mistake Too Many Women Make." Feb. 6, 2012. (Aug. 10, 2012)
  • Nolan, Milly. "Well Covered." MindFood. Apr. 24, 2009. (Aug. 10, 2012)
  • Taylor, George. "A brief history of skin care & cosmetics. Part 1: Ancient times." Bare Faced Jan. 18, 2012. (Aug. 10, 2012)
  • White, Jessica. "Little Things That Spoil Your Look." Cosmopolitan. 2012. (Aug. 10, 2012)
  • Whitmore, Elizabeth. "Is it bad to sleep with my makeup on?" Aug. 20, 2008. (Aug. 10, 2012)