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What are the Different Types of Makeup?

By C. Ausbrooks
Updated May 21, 2024
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Makeup can be classified into three categories: everyday, medical and theatrical. These categories include items that improve the appearance of or highlights the face, eyes, lips or nails. Some are designed to be used with other makeup.

General Classifications

Several makeup categories exist. The most common group includes everyday products worn to enhance natural appearance. Some items also fall into the medical category and are used for things like covering scars or reducing the visibility of rashes. The last group is theatrical, television and film makeup, which actors and actresses use so their features look better in bright or harsh stage lights. Within each of the three general classifications, individuals may use products designed for facial skin, the eyes, lips or nails, including lipstick, foundation, blush, mascara, eyeshadow, eyeliner, nail polish and complimentary products.


Lipstick is a mixture of waxes, pigments and oils. Referred in Britain as “lippy,” it has a cylindrical shape with a pointed tip, with the entire cylinder housed in a hard case known as a tube. People apply this product to the lips to add texture and color. Women wear this makeup most commonly, but some men wear it, as well. Lipstick especially for males, which individuals frequently use for the theater, is called “manstick.”


Foundation, also known as base, goes on the skin to smooth out the complexion, cover flaws and blemishes and create an even skin tone. It comes in various colors, coverage types and formulations. Some formulas are oil and emollient based, but these foundations are falling out of favor with many women because they can clog pores. Powder types are lighter than oil-based kinds, provide greater coverage and adhere to the skin more readily. Mineral foundation has become extremely popular around the world due to its light weight and superior coverage.


Blush, also known as rouge, adds color to the cheekbones to create a rosy, youthful look. It is usually made of talcum-based powder with pigment added, and people apply it with a soft brush. Some blushes are more like a cream or pressed foundation and go on with a soft sponge applicator. Women are more likely to wear blush today, but historically, both genders have worn it. Men applied it to their cheeks during the Regency period in England, for example.


Mascara goes on the eyelashes to make them appear longer, thicker, darker and fuller. It is available in the form of a liquid or cream and goes on with a small applicator wand. Invented by French perfumer Eugene Rimmel in the 19th century, it originally was made by mixing coal dust and petroleum jelly, but today it is most commonly made from wax thickeners, water and pigment.


People apply eyeshadow to the eyelids and under the eyebrows to draw attention to the eyes and make them look attractive. It complements the natural color of the eye and creates depth and dimension. Manufacturers generally use mica and powder to make it. Although both genders around the world use this item, in the Western world, people view eyeshadow as a woman’s cosmetic.


Eyeliner is a makeup applied across the eyelids along where the lashes grow out. It is shaped like a pencil with a very soft tip. It comes in wax, powder and liquid forms. When used alone or in conjunction with eyeshadow, it defines the eyes. This item has associations with the Gothic, emo and other alternative fashion subcultures, especially when worn heavily.

Nail Polish

Nail polish, also known as nail enamel, is a clear or colored lacquer applied to the fingernails or toenails with a small brush. Some versions are formulated specifically to strengthen and protect the nail, but the main purpose is to highlight the nails and give a finished, coordinated appearance to a wardrobe choice. Many individuals have a manicurist apply it professionally during a manicure or pedicure, but people routinely do simple nail polish work at home.

Complimentary Makeup

Some types of makeup are complimentary, meaning people usually use them with other products. An example is concealer, which people apply prior to a foundation to hide blemishes and imperfections. Facial powder is another example. It goes on top of foundation and sets it, providing a matte finish. Individuals also use lip liner, which is similar to lipstick but which is applied only on the outer edges of the lips to prevent lipstick from “bleeding” outward onto the skin.

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Discussion Comments
By anon960117 — On Jul 08, 2014

@anon960062: What you need to do is to go to a department store makeup counter (I recommend Clinique for beginniners) and tell the associate you don't know a thing about makeup. I guarantee he or she (probably a she) will be absolutely thrilled to walk you through the process of doing makeup.

Probably some of the best advice you'll get is how to choose flattering colors and how to apply the trickier things like eyeliner and mascara. You may even want to buy one of the products. Clinique makes good products and I'd recommend them.

Let a professional help you out. You won't regret it.

By anon960062 — On Jul 08, 2014

I am a beginner. I don't know what order to put makeup on, what to put on, how to put it on, what brushes to use, what all to use to do a full face of makeup, nothing. I really want help. Anyone up for helping a completely clueless person? Thanks guys.

By giddion — On Nov 20, 2012

My favorite type of makeup artistry is making designs with nail polish. I never buy the kits with the stick-on nails that have already been painted, because I like to create my own images.

I start with a solid color polish as the background. Once that dries, I do a variety of dots, flowers, stripes, or whatever strikes my fancy.

I like to do white, orange, and yellow stripes for candy corn nails around Halloween. Near Christmas, I do designs with glitter polish on top of red and green nails. In summer, I once made a beach scene with palm trees, seagulls, and the ocean, and that is probably my most detailed nail art to date.

I tried using a nail pen, but I found that it just made ruts in the color. I can work best with the brush that is already in the nail polish bottle.

By Perdido — On Nov 19, 2012

@orangey03 – I love my mineral foundation. I have a few freckles and age spots on my face, but this makeup smooths them out rather well.

It came with a short, fat makeup brush that I dip in the mineral powder and swirl on my face in a circular motion. I cover my whole face twice, and I take the brush with me in its case in my purse for touch ups.

If you need to cover red pimples and major blemishes, then this makeup is not for you. However, if you are just looking to smooth everything out and achieve a natural look, mineral foundation is the perfect choice.

By orangey03 — On Nov 19, 2012

I've been wanting to try mineral foundation for awhile now. I just have a hard time believing that it can conceal a spotty complexion. Has anyone here tried it, and does it provide adequate coverage?

By OeKc05 — On Nov 18, 2012

@italy12 – I have a makeup tip for women who want to wear lipstick but find that it is too drying. Try the kind of lipstick that is full of natural emollients. There are kinds out there that are supposed to offer a burst of moisture every time you press your lips together.

I have been using a lipstick like this for years, and I have to say that it is my favorite kind. I don't even need lip balm on top of it.

In fact, if I do put lip balm or gloss on top of it, then the lipstick slides off and I lose my color. I love having plenty of moisture right in the lipstick itself.

By SteamLouis — On Nov 17, 2012

@burcin-- Hi hun! I remember going through the same stage when I was in school so I completely understand you.

To keep your look natural, I recommend that you use a tinted moisturizer and some powder if necessary instead of foundation. Foundation rarely looks natural. You can apply a brown eyeliner to your lash line and a clear mascara to open up your eyes.

For cheeks and lips, I think a dab of pink lip or cheek tint looks very good on your girls your age. You will look beautiful but no one will know you have makeup on. Good luck!

By stoneMason — On Nov 17, 2012

I'm a beauty blogger so I am very interested in this topic. I wear makeup daily and I try to teach others about it.

I wouldn't say that the function of makeup is to alter someone's appearance. To the contrary, even after wearing makeup, someone should still look the same. The goal of makeup is to enhance someone's natural physical features to make them more prominent. Basically, you want to define your facial features without taking away from your natural beauty.

Using different types of makeup to achieve this is an art and I have a lot of respect for makeup artists who are able to do this. It really is not easy. I have been learning about makeup for about three years now and I still feel that I have a long way to go.

By burcinc — On Nov 16, 2012

I want to wear makeup to school without going overboard. I just want to look pretty and put together but I don't want it to be very apparent that I'm wearing makeup.

Which makeup items should I use to achieve this? Please help!

By anon251830 — On Mar 02, 2012

What are the most famous types of cosmetics in America?

By anon242681 — On Jan 24, 2012

I don't feel so clueless now. Thanks!

By SilentIce — On Aug 13, 2010

heart 297- Many African American women struggle with what blush works best with their skin tone. Avoid blush shades that have light pink undertones. Instead, choose blush shades that have bronze, red, fushcia or plum undertones.

By heart297 — On Aug 13, 2010

What is a good shade of blush for someone with dark skin tones?

By italy12 — On Aug 13, 2010

Many women are now turning to lip gloss and lip balm as an alternative to traditional lip stick. Lip stick is very matte and can often leave lips dry and chapped. Lip gloss and lip balms are actually good for your lips and leave them feeling moist and healthy.

If you like wearing lipstick, but want your lips to be more moist, try applying a nude lip gloss under your lipstick. The lip gloss will leave your lips moist but your lips will still retain the color from the lipstick.

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