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How to Start a Makeup Kit for Cheap!

Updated on December 31, 2014

Where to Start

After deciding to become a makeup artist, the most difficult challenge you face is getting a workable kit together without spending money you haven't made yet. Before you can move forward, you need that kit, so how DO you get everything you need?

Wenger Patriot Rolling Case
Wenger Patriot Rolling Case

Your Makeup "Briefcase"

You've chosen a career that is deeply based in appearance, so every detail counts to your clients. There are many ways to cut costs for your first kit, but one of the priciest items you will need to buy is a case to carry it all in. This needs to be a professional piece of luggage that will protect the products you use and your growing investment in them. It must look tidy and classic, not cheap. Your case is part of your first impression arsenal, second to your website and face. Showing up with an armload of mismatched handbags, totes, or (heaven forbid) Caboodles in which you struggle to find the items you need will not build her confidence in you. This is your office and it should look professional. Now, what goes inside?


  • Foundation/Concealer, 4 - 6 Shades
  • Primer
  • Travel Size Unscented Lotion
  • Powders for Setting & Contouring, 1 Translucent, 2 Other Shades
  • Blushes, 3 Shades
  • Neutral Eye Shadow Palette(s)
  • Mascara, Black & Brown
  • Eye Liner, Black & Brown
  • Brush Set

Disposables & Sanitary Items

  • Lip Wands
  • Eyelash Brushes
  • Beauty Wedges
  • Palette (or hand)
  • Palette Knife
  • Spray Bottle with Diluted Isopropyl Alcohol
  • Hand Sanitizer

Makeup Kit Essentials

I struggled to find an affordable foundation for my first kit. I tried some off-brand palettes from ebay for this, but was really disappointed. Coastal Scents had some very good YouTube reviews, and remains a good option, though I haven't tried their palette myself. I will use this brand often as a good go-to first time kit builder and they have a good reputation for affordable, quality products. If you are completely lost, visit their website for ideas and guidance. The foundation I found to work well for a great price was Rimmel's Stay Matte Foundation and the matching powder. You can get 1oz tubes for $5 each online through Ulta. They are also in drug stores for about $7. Get four shades, depending on your demographics, and three Stay Matte powders in translucent, medium, and deep tones. You will also use these for contouring. Because these foundations are made for oily skin, pick up a lotion to mix it with when you need to work on women with normal to dry skin.

Don't go crazy with eye shadows. Unless you plan to focus in entertainment makeup, most women do not want to be that daring for the events and weddings you're hired for, even if they say they do. Get a 10+ palette of neutrals to start with, include a matte black and brown, you're done. You won't have to spend more than $20 on this, often a lot less. I paid $10 for an 88 color palette on ebay. You will quickly learn which colors you use the most and you'll know what you're looking for in a higher end palette for the future.

For any palette, lip, foundation, concealer, etc... just search ebay. You will find high end items like Bobbi Brown's BBU Foundation Palette for $240 alongside a no name 6-well concealer palette that ships from China for $8. Brand names are important for artists because it builds trust and confidence between you and your client, however your business is starting at $0 and as a business person, you should invest as little as possible while you grow, using your earnings to build a better kit and not your personal finances. It is good practice to keep your company funds separate from your personal.

The CS Revealed eye shadow palette has shimmers and mattes that every woman wants.
The CS Revealed eye shadow palette has shimmers and mattes that every woman wants. | Source

Cleanliness and Sanitation

Keep your personal makeup completely separate from your kit. If you do use anything from your palettes, practice the same cleanliness routines you would in front of a client. Dip into your palettes with knives and put product on the back of your hand or an clean palette for use. Do not touch your palettes with the same item you apply it with. Avoid contaminating your investment in any way. If you need to remove excess powder or shadow from a brush, tap the side of the brush handle on the table to jar the powder from the brush head, never blow on it.

If you are not already, you need to get in the habit of using disposable applicators. Cut off the applicators on the wands that come with kit pieces like mascara and lip gloss. You will never accidentally use them on a client or yourself again. Bulk applicator wands for lips and eyelashes can be bought in beauty supply stores like Sally's, or online at Amazon and ebay without minimum order requirements.

Use hand sanitizer in front of your clients even if you've already washed your hands. Remember, this career is about appearances. Place your palette knife in a small cup of diluted rubbing alcohol or witch hazel between dipping, keeping a clean towel on hand to wipe and dry it off with. Store used tools and brushes separately from clean ones when packing up.

Always wash your brushes after every use. If you are doing a lot of appointments in one day, it makes sense to have several brushes of he same size to use on different clients. You don't need fancy washes, baby shampoo works just fine. The cleaning gloves are good if you have a ton of brushes to do, but you can find smaller tools like the Original Brush Egg for washing for cheaper. The ridges are important for removing all that caked in powder and foundation.

Let your brushes dry while lying flat over the edge of a surface so the hairs are not touching anything. They will dry faster and lower the chance bacteria will develop.

The Truth About Makeup Brands

There are some specific products each brand puts out that different artists swear by. For example, Mac Paint Pots are a wonderful eye primer that I can't live without, but not all Mac products are the best at what they do, especially for the price. The reason brands are important is because the general public thinks they matter. Did I mention this business is about appearances? The only reason to have a completely name brand kit is because it makes the client perceive you as a "true" professional, even though you can do the same looks with brands like Wet n' Wild, Cover Girl, and Rimmel.

Starting off with drugstore or no-name brand products, you are justified in feeling self conscious when showing up to your appointments. You can do a couple things to improve your professional image in this scenario.

First, know why you use the products you do. If your client wants to know why you use Rimmel instead of MAC, let her know: With Rimmel Stay Matte, you get long lasting moderate to full coverage that stays matte, stays put, and looks natural. Because the product works so well for a fraction of MAC's price, you can keep your fees competitive. It's good business practice and no one can fault you for it.

However, most clients won't come out and ask why you're using drug store brands. I tended to narrate what I was doing when I first started out. Why I was putting on this, how I was doing that, etc... It helps women feel comfortable when you don't have a reputation yet, to know that you're thinking about them and how your kit is built around their needs and what you're doing for each individual.

Once you have a little cash flow, get some names into your kit that people will recognize and feel good about. The quality might be the same as what you've been using, but they don't always understand that. Clients want to see quality without having to hear a lecture about how there might or might not be a real difference. Give them what they want. Add a little at a time as your business allows.


Brand does matter in brushes. Sigma and MAC are among the most popular brushes out there, but starting out, I'm not going to recommend buying $400 in just brushes. Search ebay for "makeup brush kit" and you will find plenty of very acceptable alternatives for super cheap. Do your first couple months with a $15 "MAC inspired" (but not MAC) 32-piece set and gradually replace them with your choice of professional brush. Try different brands out and read/listen to reviews before committing to an entire set.


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