What You Need
Where you do your makeup is important. I think everyone needs:
- Good lighting
- A full-sized mirror
- A magnifying mirror
- A comfortable chair
- Organized makeup storage
It's also really great if your makeup area is pretty and attractive, but that's not as important as the five items above.
Traditionally, the best light has always been considered to be daylight. But if your makeup is never seen in daylight, is that actually true? I think that's a fair question and I'm not really sure I have a good answer to it.
One thing for certain is that you need to see yourself well enough to do a good job. You should be facing the light. If the light comes from above your face or to the side of it, your head will block part of it which will create shadowed areas on your face. That's a disaster. The light should be bright, but not too bright. This might sound easy, but in my experience it is not so easy to get good lighting for makeup in a typical city apartment.
You obviously need a mirror. I think you need more than one mirror. I like to have a regular mirror that shows my whole face as well as a magnifying mirror to work on details. My eyesight isn't that great, but even people with great vision use magnifying mirrors. Magnifying mirrors can distort a bit and tend to be on the small side, so it's best to have both.
Doing makeup takes a long time. To do a good job on a really complicated look can take several hours, so you want to be in a place where you are comfortable.
Obviously you are going to be doing a better job if you don't have to hunt several minutes for every piece of makeup you need. Find a way to organize your makeup, brushes, and the other things you need that work for you.
I could describe the setup I am using today but would that really help you? It might if we have similar amounts of makeup and experience. If you're just starting out, I doubt it will help much, if at all. So instead of telling you how it is right now, I am going to go all biographical and tell you how it was when I was a beginner and how I ended up choosing the workspace I use today.
Up to a point, I would say my evolution is "fairly typical". However, I do realize that at some point some of you are going to think "This girl has gone too far". That's cool and believe me, I'm used to it. Just remember that I am not telling you where you should go. I think you should do whatever you want. I'm just telling you where I've been and how I got to where I am today. I hope it will help you get where you want to go.
I had a few pieces of makeup which I stored in a cardboard box. The mirror was an old hand-mirror with a handle that an ex-gf had left in my bathroom. This might sound pathetic but with the inspiration I was getting from Dom de Luxury, it was plenty good enough to start learning the basics.
I was starting to realize what a pain in the butt it was to use my ex's hand mirror, so I started looking around for a better one. At minimum, I wanted to use both hands to do my makeup and not dedicate one to holding a mirror. The cardboard box was getting more makeup in it, but it was still OK. The big problem was the mirror, so I started ordering mirrors from Amazon. Not counting my ex's hand mirror, I tried three:
The NYX Folding Mirror (link here) which I returned quickly to Amazon. It's a good mirror and it might even be a great travel mirror, but it's way too small for me to use for my daily makeup. As I looked at what was available, I realized I needed magnification. And better light.
The next mirror I tried was The Jerdon (link here) which had solutions for both of these problems. It is a tri-fold mirror (left and right mirrors, plus one in the center), so you can see your left and right sides without turning your face. The center mirror has both a magnifying mirror (5x) and a normal mirror. These are placed back-to-back and you switch between them by rotating it vertically on its axis. This is a really nice feature!
The Jerdon's most interesting feature is its lighting. You can adjust the type of lighting it puts on your face with a slider at the bottom of the mirror. It has settings for daylight, evening, home and office. I used this mirror for a few months and found it a great improvement over the ex-gf mirror. But eventually, I became frustrated with its size. For all its good features, for me, it is just too small. But it's a good, solid product and it might work for you. It folds up for easy storage and it might even make a good travel mirror. And it's very reasonably priced at the moment for around $29, cheaper than the NYX mirror! I ended up giving it to a friend and a year later she is still loving it. If you are in the market for a good mirror, I think it's worth your consideration. You could do a lot worse.
Meanwhile, my cardboard box of makeup started to overflow and I started using some plastic garment bags from Amazon shipments for the makeup. These had sections so I could make a stab at keeping things organized. It was better.
Stage 3 started with me spending way too much money on a new mirror. I bought the Simple Human 8'' sensor mirror with 5x magnification. It is circular and has a ring of light around the outside which attempts to simulate pure outdoor light. I've used this mirror for over a year now and I'm still reasonably happy with it. The main problem with this mirror is its outrageous price - I spent around $200 for it! I still wince every time I remember doing that. But at the time I purchased it, there was not a comparable product with similar magnification and size. I believe today you have more choices, so look around before blowing this kind of cash on the Simple Human mirror.
Aside from the price, the other problems with this mirror are:
- The much advertised 'sensor', which turns on the light when your face is near it, is more of a pain than a pleasure.
- The mirror doesn't fold up for easy storage. It's intended to always be out on a vanity table.
- The power cord is too short. You would think that for $200 dollars they could be more generous with the cord.
For me, overall, these issues are minor and I am basically happy with this mirror and intend to keep using it.
How to use a Magnifying Mirror
Let's take a short detour to talk about how to use one of these things. It's a little counter-intuitive. To magnify a feature you are working on in the magnifying mirror, move away from the mirror. I have noticed that most people people do the opposite. They move closer to the mirror, which is a natural thing to do when you are trying to see better. Unfortunately, thanks to the laws of physics, this reduces the magnification to almost nothing.
Stage four started when I tried to solve two new problems. I now had way too much makeup for my plastic organizing bags to handle. And because I had so much stuff now, it was a real pain to setup and take down a makeup station every time I needed to do makeup. So I decided to allocate a permanent section of my home as a makeup area. I used an inexpensive, square folding table for the area and bought two large, sectionable plastic tubs from The Container Store to hold and organize my makeup and smaller tools. They stayed permanently on the table along with my brushes (held in pretty water glasses with rice on the bottom) and my magnifying mirror.
Of course, as time went on, I added even more makeup and now the two plastic bins are overflowing. And I've become dissatisfied with some things about my makeup area. I still like the magnifying mirror from Simple Human, but to do good makeup you also need a large regular mirror. There are times you really need to see your whole face (especially for eyebrows and lips) and even the best magnifying mirror can distort. My full size mirror is in the bathroom, so I had to go to another room to use the it, then return to my makeup table. This was getting old. And I wanted more light - the light provided by the Simple Human Mirror does not provide as much as I would like and doesn't really eliminate the shadows that are thrown on my face by the ambient light in the room. This brings us up to today and my latest work area, which I finished just this week, entering what I can call Stage 5.
To solve my growing frustration with my stage 4 setup, I decided to purchase a vanity. These are desks with a lighted mirror that either mounts on the wall or sits on the desk. I knew this would be expensive but my frustration was so intense that one morning I woke up and said, "I gotta have a vanity! I don't care what it costs!"
At least that's what I said until I started shopping. Vanities set a new standard for being "way overpriced". It turns out that they can cost anywhere from $2000-$5000. What's worse is that even at the highest price-point, while they look amazingly beautiful, they don't offer the features I craved (like a really well-lit mirror and lots of drawers for makeup).
The DIY Bug Bites
So I decided to make my own. How hard can it be? You get a desk and then you get a mirror. Problem solved. The desk part was actually easy. I have met a lot of makeup people since I got involved in all of this and almost all of them love the Alex drawers from IKEA for makeup storage (link here). You can combine these with what IKEA calls a LINMON top, basically a nice piece of finished wood that rests on two Alex drawer units (or has legs on one side, and a drawer unit on the other). I have always loved the nice, clean look of IKEA's products, and have several things by them. I liked this solution. And the price is fair: $207 U.S. for the version with the two drawer units plus a pleasant hour or two of assembly time. Here's a picture of the Alex desk with one drawer unit:
Nice, right? The one with two drawer units just replaces the legs on the right with a duplicate of the drawers on the left.
The Mirror and Lights
The mirror with the lights, which was what really had my motor running, proved to be more challenging. The best known company for desk top vanity mirrors seems to be "Vanity Girl Hollywood". I have a friend who owns one of their products and she loves it. For myself, I wasn't feeling it. They have three desktop models:
I think you need lights across the top as well as along the sides for proper lighting, so the middle one was out. The one on the left is too narrow for my tastes, leaving the one on the right, which they call their "Infinity Mirror". I have construction issues with that one. And I have price issues with all of them. Vanity Girl Hollywood is currently running a sale and I could buy the Infinity Mirror for $369 (free shipping). This would put my total expenditure around $576 which is a lot better than $2000, but the mirror was just not calling out to me. If it is calling to you, I get that. Buying one is for sure easier than building your own. So if you're interested in pursuing that route, here's the Vanity Girl Hollywood Website. If you do buy one, please let me know which one and how you like it.
The DIY Bug Burrows Deeper
I started investigating other solutions. Searching on Amazon, I discovered that there are companies that make lights which attach directly to a mirror. These all use double sided sticky tape from 3M to attach the mirrors. Some of the prices for these products on Amazon are crazy cheap, with the emphasis on crazy. Decorative vanity light bulbs are not cheap, and it seemed to me that some of these sellers must be selling at a loss (or else using really crappy products). However, they got good reviews. I saw attachable light hardware, (light bulbs included) with 10 lights, selling for $32! The best price I found for 10 good light bulbs was $35, so this really seems like a crazy price.
But I have to admit that, over all, the reviews were positive. These are only the lighting, you have to buy the mirror, but you can find nice mirrors for around $30. That would give you a lit vanity mirror (with a dimmer switch, which I consider essential) for around $70!
Unfortunately, despite the many good reviews, these products gave me nightmares. I couldn't shake the image of these things falling down around my head leaving broken glass everywhere. And a few people did say that the lights didn't stay attached. Do I need this kind of stress while putting on lipstick? That's stressful enough! So no, I'll pass on this option. But it might work for you. I don't want to give specific links because I don't have any experience or advice to offer, but if you are interested, a search on Amazon.com for "vanity mirror lights" will get you a ton of products to choose from.
Thanks to this search however, I found some beautiful chrome vanity light bars, originally intended to be installed on the wall in your bathroom. This led me to a solution to my dilemma. I made myself a beautiful 45" x 30", 16-light vanity mirror with matching desk for around $250! This compares very well with the Infinity Mirror which has only 13 lights and no desk at all for $369 (on sale). To see what I did in all of its gorgeousness along with complete instructions on how to make one yourself, please see part 2.
That's it for now. As always, questions, comments or anything friendly can be sent to me on Twitter