Easy Makeup Looks for Work: A Step-by-Step Guide

Applying makeup, even in the workplace, is an artform.

Reviewed by Hayley Ramsey

Work makeup

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Haven’t slept a wink? Don’t worry! Makeup can fix it! All you need is a little long-lasting concealer to turn your panda eyes into bright eyes — but do make sure you don’t overdo it. After all, you don’t want to walk in to work at 9am looking like a clown.

Although makeup can be your best friend at work, when applied incorrectly it can turn you from looking polished and professional to a complete and utter mess.

To find out what works for the workplace, and what doesn’t, read on. Here's everything you need to know about work makeup.

The perfect work makeup

Here are ten simple steps for the perfect work makeup look without having to hire a makeup artist.

Step 1: Prep your skin

After you’ve cleansed and moisturized, you should begin your makeup application with the perfect primer for your skin type. You want something that will smoothen the texture of your skin, keep your makeup in place all day and that won’t look too cakey.

If you’re on the dry side, Benefit’s Porefessional primer (paid link) is a great base for your foundation, as the silicon formula will keep your skin from drying out throughout the day. If, on the other hand, you have a combination to oily complexion, you should opt for a mattifying but non-sticky primer. The NYX pore filler primer (paid link) will do the trick, which will smooth out your crater pores and keep your oils from seeping through.

Step 2: Fix your foundation

If you’re blessed with having a clear complexion, there’s absolutely no need to cake your face with products that can cause unwanted breakouts. But if you’re like the other 95% of us that feel the need to hide any imperfections, make sure that you go for a lightweight foundation. And don’t forget to blend, blend, blend! You want the transition to be invisible to the naked eye.

If you’re on the dry side, opt for a tinted moisturizer like the NARS Pure Radiant moisturizer (paid link) which is ideal for warming up your complexion. If, on the other hand, you have a combination to oily complexion, you’ll know the struggle of trying to keep a foundation on for over eight hours is nearly impossible. A Holy Grail to save the day is TARTE’s Shape Tape matte foundation (paid link) — one small application will stay put for up to 12 hours!

Step 3: Conceal any flaws

If you’re feeling run down, tired or stressed from work, you’ll need something to hide the evidence — making a brightening concealer your saving grace. You can hide any imperfections and make your face look brighter and more alert, fooling your colleagues into thinking that you have all your ducks in a line and that you are well rested and prepared for the day ahead.

Rimmel’s 2-in-1 concealer and highlighter (paid link) has the perfect creamy base to glide on effortlessly and blend in with minimal effort — perfect for those that hit the snooze button one too many times in the morning!

Step 4: Apply your eyeshadow

You don’t necessarily have to wear an eyeshadow to work, but if you do, go for a soft natural look with bronze and brown colors to create smoky eyes. It’s also best to go easy on the shimmers; you don’t want to look like you’re ready to hit the club at 9am! NYX’s shadow palette (paid link) is perfect for everyday use.

Another trick that I love is to just dip an eyeshadow brush into my bronzer and drag it across my crease where I would normally use a transition shade. It opens up your eye and gives you a sun-kissed look with minimal effort.  

Step 5: Shape your brows

So many women apply a full face of makeup but often forget to fill in their brows, giving an overall “unfinished look”. Now, I’m not telling you to sit there and draw on every single fiber, but if you lightly apply a bit of pencil or shadow, you’ll appear more professional and confident. The NYX sculpt and highlight brow contour (paid link) is perfect for this, and it’s super easy to use.

Step 6: Bronze and sculpt

You don’t want to be known as the Pumpkin Girl, so you need to go really easy on the bronzer. A little sculpting will give you a natural glow and will highlight your best features. Don’t forget to bring a little color back into your face and blend a subtle rouge into your bronzer. A popular choice of blush is Benefit’s Dandelion or GALifornia (paid links).

Step 7: Bake

Once you’ve finished your face, set it in place with some translucent powder to stop any shine coming through. If you have oily skin, make sure you let it sit on for a few minutes before you dust it off (especially around your t-zone), but if your skin is dry then lightly dust it over your face. A great all-round translucent powder is the Laura Mercier Loose Setting Powder (paid link).

Step 8: Add some highlighter

To make your cheekbones stand out and to pronounce certain facial features, use a dash of highlighter on the arch of your brow bone, your cheekbones, and the inner corners of your eyes. A good and affordable option for everyday use is the e.l.f. cosmetics highlighting powder (paid link).

Step 9: Finish with a lip tint

A nude matte lipstick is probably your safest bet for any corporate environment, especially if you don’t have time to top it up throughout the day; it won’t bleed out of your lip line and it won’t look silly when it starts to wear off like bright red, either. This NYX lip gloss set (paid link) has a good range of colors that are all suitable for the workplace.

Step 10: Set it all in place

Before you head out the door, don’t forget to set all your makeup in place. You can do this with a finishing powder or a setting spray, like Rimmel’s stay matte fix and go spray (paid link), which will keep your makeup locked for up to 24 hours!

Check out our infographic for a quick rundown of work makeup:

Work makeup infographic

The dos and don’ts

When applying your makeup, keep these things in mind:

1. Do: Go easy on the makeup

The trick is to make it seem like you don’t have any makeup on at all. I know that sounds impossible, but to the untrained eye, the subtle tips mentioned above will make you look fresh and alert. Celebrity makeup artist Christina Ouloupi says: “Use a lightweight tinted serum like Rose Inc Skin enhance liquid serum, along with a concealer where needed so that it doesn’t feel too heavy all day in the office. This can be dusted over with a translucent setting powder to stop too much shine coming through.”

2. Don’t: Apply falsies

False lashes look great when you’re at a huge event or party, but trying to apply falsies at 9am seems like the worst idea and can be time-consuming. Besides the hassle of applying falsies, you’ll constantly be worrying if they’ve unstuck throughout the day. Imagine one falling off mid-meeting? Doesn’t scream professional, does it?

3. Do: Use a nude lip color

Although there’s talk about a power lip and all that jazz, you don’t want to embarrass yourself by having red lipstick running down your face or half-off after lunchtime. It’s best to stick to soft nude, pink and peach colors or to simply wear a lip balm.

4. Don’t: Get a fake bake

If you’re a fake tan lover, leave any experimenting for the weekend. After all, you don’t want to rock up to work with a patched tan or one too many shades too dark. Remember that scene in Friends when Ross got a spray tan?! Make sure that’s not you by avoiding tan during the week.

5. Do: Be mindful of office lighting

Office lighting is super unflattering; the fluorescents will show any lumps and bumps, as well as any unblended and over-applied cosmetics. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to put on a full face in 10 minutes in dim lighting.

6. Do: Ditch the glitter

Any glitter at work is a big no-no, whether it’s a frosty lip or a glitter eyeshadow! You’re never going to progress if you spend more time applying your eyeshadow than you do going through your emails.

7. Don’t: Touch up at your desk

If you’re guilty of applying makeup at your desk, stop what you’re doing immediately! Can you imagine what your boss would think when he sees that you’re painting your face on company time? It’s time that you woke up 20 minutes earlier to get yourself dressed and ready for the day.

The essentials

Here's what you need for your makeup bag:

Blotting papers

Blotting papers are the best thing to keep in your bag or office drawer, especially when the temperatures start to rise. You can just pop one out, gently pat your face, and it will look like you’ve just applied a full face of makeup by taking the oil and shine away.

Lip balm

A good lip balm is understated — it’s perfect for the hot and cold months when your lips are chapped. You can also use it to blend it the residue of your lipstick after lunch, making your lipstick look fresh again.

Hand moisturizer

If your hands tend to dry out, keep some nourishing moisturizer on hand. You don’t want to extend a rough and ridged handshake now, do you?

Perfume or body spray

To keep your personal hygiene intact, it wouldn’t harm to have some perfume, deodorant or body spray tucked away in your bag. You just never know what the office temperature will be like or how your body will react to it!

Makeup ideas and looks to copy

Need some inspiration? We've got you covered!

A soft glossy glam

Soft glossy glamsuzyclarkemua via Instagram

If you want some inspiration for a simple everyday look, you can use this image as inspiration. Get the look by applying a thin layer of foundation or tinted moisturizer and skip the bronzer and just use blusher and highlighter instead. It will give you an instant glow. Finish off with a lip tint or gloss.

A soft winged-eyeliner look

Soft winged eyelinersuzyclarkemua via Instagram

If you can’t go anywhere without your eyeliner, then this type of makeup look will work for an office environment. Create your base as you normally would and draw a thin winged eyeliner before applying your mascara. Finish off with fluffy brows and a neutral lip shade.

The no-makeup look

No makeup looknikki_makeup via Instagram

For a really natural office look, you can go bare-skinned and apply a little concealer and bronzer to give yourself a fresh and sun-kissed look. Then add a little mascara, brow gel and lip gloss and you’re good to go!

The simple shadow

Simple shadownikki_makeup via Instagram

Give yourself a sun-kissed glow with this type of makeup. Enhance your eyes with some soft nude eyeshadows. You can use a darker color as a transition color and then use matt nude shadows for the rest of the eye. Finish off with a creamy lipstick and some fluffy brows.

Final thoughts

Although makeup is by no means essential in most lines of work, it can make you feel more put-together and professional, and it can act as a shield — kind of like a game face.

Besides that, it can help you feel more confident in the workplace. Although some may say it’s superficial, when you feel like the best version of yourself, you will naturally feel more confident. And makeup has the power to make us feel more beautiful (although it’s by no means necessary). I personally love how makeup can easily transition or enhance a specific look; with a few simple makeup products, specific facial features can be heightened.

Have you got a go-to everyday makeup routine? If you do, join in on the conversation below to let us know what it is!


Originally published on July 27, 2018.