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12 Makeup Bag Essentials Every College Girl Should Own


Whether you’re a makeup novice or have been experimenting with cosmetics for years, it’s crucial to have a collection with makeup essentials that will allow you to create a go-to everyday look. After acquiring the makeup basics, it is that much easier to seamlessly add more playful or trendy makeup products to your collection and incorporate them into your beauty looks.

Below, I’ll lay out the makeup basics every college girl should have in her makeup bag. The following list is also great for those creating a “starter” set of makeup, which is perfect for beginners or those departing for their first year of college.

The list is split into four categories: Face, Eyes, Lips, and Tools.


Primer Foundation Blush Bronzer
Product Info: Primer, Foundations, Blush 1, Blush 2, Bronzer

1. Primer

A primer minimizes pores and creates a smooth base perfect for the rest of your makeup application. This is a step you can skip if your skin is naturally flawless, but if you have any imperfections, it’s a fabulous product that will make your skin look amazing.

2. Foundation

There are so many different kinds of foundation on the market that everyone can find something for their skin type and shade. If you don’t have a favorite foundation already, it’s easiest to start out with a line like True Match or Tru-Blend, because they have so many shades it will be a breeze to find your match. You can also check out MakeupAlley’s reviews – they have some fabulous recommendations.

If you have acne-prone skin, consider Neutrogena’s Skin Clearing line and for sensitive skin, check out bareMinerals foundation.

3. Blush or Bronzer

I consider blush to be a non-negotiable makeup item. A swipe of color on your cheeks is natural and creates a healthy glow. In the middle of finals, a quick swipe of blush will leave you looking awake instead of like you just spent all night in the library.

If your skin is naturally more tan, a bronzer may look more natural than blush. Also, if you’re naturally fair-skinned, like myself, applying bronzer during the warmer months gives you a sun-kissed look without the damages of tanning. It’s best to apply bronzer (with a large, fluffy brush) where the sun naturally hits your face – a curved “C” shape on each side of your face from your forehead to your cheek bone and just a dab on your nose.


Eye makeup essentials: Eyeliner, eyebrow pencil, eyeshadow
Product Info: Eyeliner, Brow liner, Shadow, Mascara

4. Mascara

A black or dark brown mascara is essential for an everyday look. It’s the quickest way to make your eyes pop. We love L’Oreal Voluminous, but Maybelline Great Lash and CoverGirl LashBlast are other CF reader faves.

5. Eyeliner

Eyeliner can be applied in many ways to define your eyes. For an overview, check out our Eyeliner 101 tutorial. A classic black shade is a necessity for most skin tones; if you have fair skin, opt for a dark-brown. Also, light to medium skin tones should consider a dark navy, because the blue makes the whites of your eyes pop; therefore, making you look more awake. I suggest mechanical eyeliner pencils because they are self-sharpening, letting you skip a step.

6. Brow Pencil

Unless you’re blessed with dark, perfectly even eyebrows, you should seriously consider adding a brow pencil to your makeup collection. Brow liners can be used to define and fill-in sparse eyebrows if you accidentally over-pluck them. A defined eyebrow is necessary for anchoring a smokey-eye look and accentuates the natural features of your face.

7. Eyeshadow

For your basic makeup collection, it’s a good idea to have some natural tan, taupe and off-white eyeshadow shades. These shades are perfect for an everyday school, as well as work, look. Nearly all drugstore beauty brands manufacture eyeshadow sets with multiple shades in them. These are perfect for a makeup novice, because it takes all the guess work out of finding complementary shades to highlight and define your eyes.


Lip product essentials: Lip balm, lip gloss, lipstain
Product Info:Balm, Glosses, Stain

8. Lip Balm

As most of you probably know, a great balm does wonders for keeping your lips smooth and healthy, especially during those harsh winter months. Stock up on several lip balms so you can store them in your purse and backpack too, for easy reapplication. The eos balm featured above not only has an adorable shape, but is 100% natural and USDA-certified Organic, to boot.

9. Lip Gloss or Stain

Glosses are the clear winner over lipsticks for college students. They have a sheer, natural look and are so much easier to apply than a lipstick. A swipe of gloss is the perfect finishing touch for any look. For longer-lasting wear, you might opt instead for a lip stain which will last through all your classes without touch-ups.


Brushes, Tweezer, Q-tips
Product Info: Brushes, Tweezers, Q-tips

10. Brushes

It’s easiest and most cost-effective to stock up on brushes all at once by purchasing a brush set. Look for a set with a large powder brush, a slightly smaller brush for contouring and several brushes for shadow and liner application.

It’s a good idea to invest in some quality brushes, because as long as you clean them regularly, they will last you a long time. If you’re not convinced, try applying some shadow with a cheap quality brush then again with one of higher quality – you will see an obvious difference.

11. Tweezers

For all the obvious reasons. We love Tweezerman tweezers – in our experience, they really do work the best, and, okay, they also come in the prettiest colors and patterns.

12. Q-tips

These are great for smudging eyeliner and soaking in makeup remover for quick touch ups. Even better? They’re super inexpensive.

Now… Store it!

Now that you’ve got this starter set of makeup, you need a place to store it. For those living in a dorm or sharing an apartment, I recommend bags or Caboodles. They are perfect for traveling, too. Makeup bags are lined inside with an easy-to-clean fabric. Those with clear pockets are great for viewing all of your makeup without digging through the bag. Here are some bags and Caboodles to consider:

Bags and Caboodles
Product Info: pink cheetah print, tan cheetah print, little beauty bag, green & yellow caboodles, extra-large caboodle

If you have the space, whether in a vanity or your bathroom counter, it’s a good idea to devote a drawer or two to your makeup. Use some small jars or plastic boxes of the desk-organization variety to store your beauty swag.

  • More Beauty Storage Ideas:
  • Emily of Cupcakes and Cashmere shows how she organized her “cosmetic clutter” using some plastic dividers. Check it out here.
  • Another blogger, Laura Thoughts created a unique and space saving “makeup magnet board.”

Your Thoughts?

Do you already have all of these makeup essentials? Are there any non-negotiable makeup products in your bag? Also, are there any basic makeup products you think should be added to this list? What are some superfluous makeup products that you just love? Leave a comment to let me know!

Posted on on August 23, 2011 / Filed Under: Beauty & Hair / Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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42 Responses to “12 Makeup Bag Essentials Every College Girl Should Own”

  1. 1
    August 23rd, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    I would suggest if you have the counterspace available to use it using acrylic or plastic storage from Target or the Contaner Store. Being able to have your brushes upright is really beneficial as far as keeping them a bit more sanitary (of course you have to clean them still).

    I love the last pick for the make up kit, I have one and used it when I lived in my sorority. It kept things organized and in their own section, but in regards to the brushes I had to clean them a lot more often due to my face breaking out when I didn’t.

  2. 2
    August 23rd, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    Don’t forget concealer! When I’m in a hurry I skip everything except under eye concealer and a touch of finishing powder. Eyelash curler is a must for me as well because no mascara can seem to stay on me for longer than a couple of hours.

  3. 3
    August 23rd, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    I agree with Maria. Under eye concealer is great! Especially for tired college students.

    I like to organize my make up using one of those small sets of plastic drawers from target, ikea, places like that.

    I actually prefer lipstick to lip gloss. I don’t think lip gloss looks very natural because it makes your lips so shiny. Also it sticks to cups when you drink. I like lipstick better because its matte so it looks more natural. I don’t find it much different to apply than lip gloss.

  4. 4
    August 23rd, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    I looove lipstains for classes because it looks more natural than gloss and less “made up” than lipstick. Balm is a must if you are using stains though. My personal favorite is Jack Black’s!

  5. 5
    August 23rd, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I have really dry skin and I need moisturizer. I really enjoy Olay’s.

    As a side note, has anyone with dry skin used primer instead of moisturizer? I have never used primer before.

  6. 6
    August 23rd, 2011 at 2:11 pm

    I thought the keyword was “essentials” not a whole list of almost every make-up product available :\ Nice list, though :)

  7. 7
    August 23rd, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    This was a great list of essentials! I’ve never tried primer before,but that’s going to be the next item to add to my kit. I’d also add an eyelash curler to the list of essential tools – makes such a difference and really opens up your eyes.

  8. 8
    August 23rd, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Blush for me is definitely NOT an essential- my cheeks are naturally so pink that other girls try to not-so-subtly hint to me that I should wear less blusher… I end up using concealer to make my cheeks LESS pink :(

  9. 9
    August 23rd, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    I can’t believe concealer is not included, that is my #1 makeup essential lol I could go without anything else, except concealer. That is a “must” that almost every girl needs :). …blush? Not so important

  10. 10
    August 23rd, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    While the extra-large Caboodle may work for some people, I personally do not reccomend it! Not good when you have a lot of makeup and not a lot of time to find it! Things get caught in the very back where you can’t see them, especially when you have larger eyeshadow palettes (which barely fit!) Also, they tend to take up a lot of desk/shelf-space. I used mine all freshman year, but for this school year I purchased a clear cosmetic organizer – more efficient use of space.

  11. 11
    August 23rd, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    I actually don’t like lipgloss, but I love tinted lipbalm (really digging Covergirl’s natureluxe balm right now) and lipstick, my favorite colors are Revlon’s Fire and Ice and Maybelline’s Red Revolution.

    For storing makeup, I still have one of those insanely ugly Caboodles boxes. Say what you will, but they’re super convenient!

  12. 12
    August 23rd, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    Confession: I have large pores and other flaws, but still don’t notice a difference when i use primer. I’ve tried many free samples from sephora and got nothing; wish it could work the magic everyone says that it works!

    I agree with Maria, concealer is a must.

  13. 13
    August 23rd, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I actually really appreciate this post. For the most part, I wear no makeup everyday. But, I think it’s still important to have some of the basics. I’ve asked a couple people at my local MAC and Lancome. They usually look at me like I’m crazy and then list off a bunch of products.

    So thank you for this post!

  14. 14
    August 23rd, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    Most of the time i wear minimal make-up, but don’t like lip glosses, but would rather wear lisptick, as my lips are full and don’t need the extra shine. Might want to try lip stain.

    Mineral powder foundation is a must for me for all seasons, and eyeliner / pencil as well. Eyeshadow is a bonus but not a necessity.

  15. 15
    August 23rd, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Great post, I agree with all of your beauty essentials. My favourite mascara is definitely L’Oreal Voluminous, my friend got me hooked on it! For foundation I would recommend Revlon New Complexion, it’s in a compact and goes on creamy but dries like a powder, it’s so much more efficient than applying a liquid foundation and then a powder and still provides good coverage!

    I am absolutely in love with Laura Thoughts’ magnetic makeup board idea, I might have to try it out myself! Thank you so much for linking it :)

  16. 16
    August 23rd, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I’ve never used primer, either… I don’t really feel that it’s necessary for me personally. But I do use everything else you mentioned.

    I was so happy when I saw that you used CoverGirl Shimmering Sands as your eyeshadow pic. We used to be required to cake it on for dance recitals, and I just kept using it from then on (in lesser amounts, of course). It’s really pretty, can be put on lightly for everyday or heavily for a “smokier” look. I’ve been using that exact color all the time for years!

  17. 17
    August 23rd, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    Oooooo Yessss I agree with all your essentials- I never use concealer though and actually I dont even think I own any. What brands of primer do you suggest?? I’ve never used it before. And Yeah I always use an eye lash curler. Love your suggestions!

  18. 18
    August 23rd, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    @ Maria, Sam, Gracie – I’m so glad you left comments mentioning concealer! I had considered adding a few extra makeup items for people to consider as an “essential” or basic and concealer was one of them. I don’t personally use it that often but I know how useful it can be.
    So, I’m really glad you mentioned it in your comments :)

    @Emma+Jordan- Many mascaras promote curling + lengthening, but you’re right that an eyelash curler is a great way to make your lashes stand out. I’m gonna start using mine more now.

    @Jordan- I personally use Make Up For Ever HD Primer- it’s awesome and even comes in different shades for diff skin problems. I’ve always heard good things about Urban Decay’s primer as well. However, you should be able to get comparable results even from drugstore brands. Let me know what you try & if it works for you!

  19. 19
    August 23rd, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    @Christina – I’m sorry to hear that about the other girls commenting on your natural blush! Have you tried using any primers with a green tint? The green is supposed to help neutralize redness so maybe it could help with rosy cheeks. Make Up For Ever has a green tinted primer and so does Physicians Formula for much less.

    The reason I feel blush is a great essential is because all of the times I’ve recommended it to friends or my sisters it always made such a difference just brightening their faces and they usually become addicted to using it. However, everyone has different skin so it’s a challenge to decide on basics for everyone.

  20. 20
    August 24th, 2011 at 2:05 am

    While I think this list is nice, I don’t think these are necessarily essentials. I’d consider lipstick/stain/gloss, eye shadow, and blush/blonzer as an added bonus in any collection. In fact, essentials should actually probably start with beauty products like cleansers and exfoliants. But this list would make a great Make Up Product Basics 101 with a few minor tweaks like the inclusion of primer, concealer (and I know so many girls already commented on it), and lipstick (I love it personally). What would also be awesome is how some products could double, like using old brown eyeshadow as a bronzer. :) ~I love eco-friendly make up.

    Word of warning: I tried the L’oreal True Match Liquid and Powder foundation. It’s pretty good as far as quality. My sister even claims she put it on a HUGE zit once, and it was gone in a day or two. However, getting this stuff on anything BUT skin is a serious problem. It ruined a nice button-up blouse of mine, and my sister complained about how hard it was to remove from the sink. :/ ~Not good.

    Sorry the post is long, but thank you for your article. :)

  21. 21
    August 24th, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I have to agree with Alex, moisturizer is a big part of my beauty regimen. I have combination skin, and after washing my face every morning, I moisturize (I use Benefit Triple Performing Facial Emulsion), and let it set in for about 5 minutes before I apply my makeup. Though I used to use a primer as well, I didn’t feel it was necessary, as my skin tone began to even out after a few weeks of moisturizing. At night after I wash all my makeup off, I use Benefit Total Moisture or BeFine Night Cream which are both very hydrating… and smell good! It’s super important to use moisturizer, even if you don’t have dry skin because every time you wash your face it strips the natural oils and causes skin to dry out and produce even more oil which can cause pimples, or for me, redness of your skin (which sucks).

    I definitely agree with the rest of the essentials, and the comments posted. Two specific products I use are Benefit Dallas which is the perfect combo of a bronzer/blush and Urban Decay Naked eyeshadow palette (which also came with an eyeshadow primer), it has all the perfect neutral colors and is amazing. It’s the only eyeshadow I’ll ever need.

  22. 22
    August 24th, 2011 at 10:35 am

    This is a really good post! I am just starting to collect make-up and it can be overwhelming with so many products in the market. It really helps when you break down the basics. Thanks.

    PS Loreal True Match was my first ever liquid foundation and i absolutely love it. Super blendable, but you have to set it with a powder or you will end up with a shiny face if you have oily skin like me. :)

  23. 23
    August 24th, 2011 at 12:12 pm

    I have all of these except blush and a brow pencil. I have thick, dark eyebrows that prefer to grow bushy and into a unibrow. So my daily brow care involves plucking those tiny hairs as they grow back in, between waxings. I also have naturally red cheeks, but the kind where the whole area of my cheeks feel like being red. So, what I do instead is use Smashbox photo finish color correcting like a foundation. That tones down the red, but what still shines through is the red that is most concentrated on my cheekbones. In short blush pretty much makes me look like a red-faced clown.

  24. 24
    August 24th, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    I liked this article! I absolutely love makeup and lately I’ve really been into drugstore brands because they are so inexpensive and fun! And they really work just as well as those sold at Sephora.

    I have to agree that blush is non-negotiable! I wear it almost everyday and have different shades/palettes for different times of year, outfits, or moods! But I definitely have my favorite, which is from a makeup boutique in Brasil. You are so right, blush just warms up your face; if there is only one item I would wear it would be blush (after putting on moisturizer…).

    After that eyeshadow is the clear winner!
    Thanks for the great post :)
    ps: thanks for using drugstore brands in your post as high-end makeup can be so overpriced.

  25. 25
    August 24th, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    While this is a nice guide, I find it a bit ridiculous that these are “essentials every college girls should own.” It’s a lot of different products! Also, some girls don’t wear make up and while it’s probably not meant this way, it kind of implies that every girl needs to wear this much makeup. It’s also fine to feel comfortable not wearing makeup (in fact, it’s probably better for both your self confidence and your skin).

  26. 26
    August 25th, 2011 at 8:14 pm

    @Alessandra – glad to hear from a fellow blush girl!

    @J – The article is really about the “makeup bag” essentials college girls should consider when starting a makeup collection. It’s definitely not necessary to wear all these products every day, but they can serve as a base for many makeup looks and to create an everyday look.

  27. 27
    August 27th, 2011 at 1:07 am

    i love this list! I’m gonna be a freshman at university of cincinnati and am so excited so see a bearcat writing here! This was so helpful and I love reading your articles, I want to soak up all the wisdom I can get before (and after) I move in in a couple of weeks! :)

  28. 28
    September 1st, 2011 at 9:02 pm

    Definitely wouldn’t wear so much make-up if I didn’t have acne. I would say tinted moisturizer, mascara, blush and lip balm is fine for girls that don’t need heavy make-up :)

  29. 29
    September 8th, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    I’m pretty sure that I’m the only one who feels this way, but if I had time to put on one beauty product in the morning, it would be eyeliner. My favorite right now is an emerald green that compliments my eyes, but I also really like blues, grays, black, purple, and for when I need to look “more natural” I have a glittery brown. I couldn’t live without my eyeliner….

  30. 30
    June 7th, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    This is a fantastic article, helpful for anyone just starting out building their makeup collection as well as college girls

  31. 31
    October 24th, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    the time has come for me to clean up all the junk i have in my make up bag and this list has really helped me alot (: except im such a girl that i have a whole lot more in my make up bag. but i need to buy a new purse and a new bag ! my make up box goes with me WHEREVER i go. ADDICTED <——–
    lol. i love make up but i can honestly say i also look beautiful without it as well. i was just make up shopping and i thought it would be perfect to stop by and get some ideas. i wasn't going to come make up shopping if it wasn't for my beautiful loving mother that bought me a new make up box ^_^ thanks momma.
    so i am getting a little carried away with this because for some reason i thought i was on my blog -_- silly muah. well, catch me on youtube guys (KISSES(:HUGS)

  32. 32
    December 21st, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Mirror and comb also..:)

  33. 33
    April 23rd, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    this is a really nice post! it has actually helped me with my makeup dilemma. i didn’t know what exactly i needed. so thank you so much! :) anyway… i just would like to ask what blush, tinted moisturizer (i think foundations are too heavy) :) and brushes you can recommend. thanks!

  34. 34
    September 13th, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I have a hugeeeee makeup collection lol! I personally love the vera Bradley extra large makeup bag. It has room for everything, and of you use smaller bags inside of it, it is super easy to clean. Plus the handle allows for easy carrying to the community bathroom since I have horrible lighting in my dorm. My two must haves are blush and mascara, although I own every product mentioned and then some haha. I definitely recommend changing the colors you use based off of what season it is. Toodles and good luck gals!

  35. 35
    December 28th, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    All anybody needs for makeup is
    1) Lotion for dry skin, and
    2) A bright smile!
    I am 16 and I firmly believe in this.

  36. 36
    April 12th, 2014 at 10:22 am

    I really love this post since I am using only half of the items and I thing I want to be improved

  37. 37
    July 16th, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    I just realised that when I feel that I have heaped a lot of make-up it doesn’t count as minimal make-up for normal girls. The only things in the list I had were lip balm, gloss , eyeliner, blusher and Q-tips!
    Nice article though

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