The Makeup Hierarchy

Last week I conducted an experiment via my Instagram. I wanted to know: if you could only wear one item of makeup (blush, highlighter, lipstick), which would you choose?

Due to Instagram’s slightly annoying poll setup, I had to do this in a variety of stages, comparing 4 items at a time and later reducing this to 2 items at a time – but I’ve ended up with a definitive, conclusive ranking of the “top makeup item”, with a sample size of a little under 100 people. The “top makeup items” rank as follows:

  1. Mascara
  2. Lipstick / lip balm
  3. Blush
  4. Eyebrow pencil
  5. Highlighter

The remaining items included foundation, concealer, eyeliner, eyeshadow, moisturiser, bronzer, powder.

What we can conclude from this (very scientific) study is not that mascara is everyone’s favourite makeup item – but that it’s the preferred choice for most people if they can only apply one thing. More of a “making the best of a bad situation” type deal. After all, when can you only apply one item of makeup?

Well let me tell you, my friends! There are many situations when you’d only want to apply one item. If you’re running late, but still you want to spruce yourself up, you might apply only one thing. Or if you simply can’t be bothered, but you want to put a minimal amount of effort in for whatever reason. Or, if you’re travelling abroad and you can’t fit an unlimited number of products into your liquids bag, you’ll have to make a call on what to bring. Basically, it’s useful to create a little list for yourself of what’s most important to you.


I’ve taken this one step further, and created something I like to call the Makeup Hierarchy.

So what is the Makeup Hierarchy? In a nutshell, it’s an order in which you can apply makeup items, and stop at any time and feel “complete”. 

Let’s start with an example. For me, the golden item is the eyebrow pencil. If I could only apply one thing every morning, it would be eyebrow pencil – I just feel like it frames the face really nicely. Very often I do apply only eyebrow pencil. But what if I have time to apply exactly two items? The second item on my list is blush. If I could only apply two things every morning, it would be eyebrow pencil and blush. Continuing this pattern, I’ve composed a full list:

My Makeup Hierarchy

  1. Eyebrow pencil
  2. Blush
  3. Mascara
  4. Eyeliner
  5. Lipstick // Highlighter
  6. Foundation
  7. Bronzer
  8. additional items are rarely used and if so they are applied on an ad hoc basis

Suppose I only have 5 minutes to get out the door, and I’m 100% ready minus my makeup. I’ll start with the eyebrow pencil, and work my way down the list until my time is up and I have to leave. You’ll notice there are two items sharing the number 5 spot. This means that, after having applied eyeliner, I can either apply lipstick or apply highlighter and feel complete and move on to the next item on the list, OR I can apply both lipstick and highlighter and move on. Thus if you start your list with, say:

  1. Mascara // Lipstick

it means you can apply either one and feel complete, but not necessarily both. If you need both items in order to move on to the next item on the list, you should rank them in order of preference. The idea is to free yourself from the idea that you *need* to wear a set number of products at any given time – having multiple items at each step defeats the whole purpose.


It’s a bit of an unorthodox system, but it’s also very efficient and super useful.

If nothing else, it’s a good way of working out what you like to highlight about yourself, and which features matter the most to you. It’s also a fantastic time saver. Finally, and most importantly, it stops you feeling “incomplete” without a set amount of makeup on your face, and helps avoid the mentality that you “need” makeup or are reliant on it in any way.

I should add at this point that I don’t always apply things in this order: if I want a face full of makeup for an event or something, I’ll of course apply things in an order that makes more sense (starting with foundation or whatever). Similarly, if I know I’m on a time or effort budget but have already figured out how far down the list I want to go, I might apply things in a different order than the list. It’s not necessarily representative of the order you apply things, although it can be – it’s more a representation of whether or not you apply things in the first place.

I have a theory that everyone has such a hierarchy (although I could easily be wrong). It might be that some people would pick mascara if they could only wear one item, but would pick blush and eyeliner if they could only wear two. Who even knows. It’s just the impression I get that most people have a preferred order, and that this order is cumulative.


I highly recommend working out what your hierarchy is. The way to do it is this: suppose you can only wear one makeup item. Which is it? Right, ok – now suppose you can only wear two things, assuming one of them is the first item you picked. What is the second? Continue listing things off in this way. Remember that you never wear item number 4 unless you’re also wearing items number 1, 2, and 3. This should give you an easy, comprehensive list of how best to do your makeup, tailored to your needs.


Let me know what you think in the comments, and whether you agree with me that you have a hierarchy (and if so, list your hierarchy as well!)

Milette Xxx

One Comment Add yours

  1. robynsnest1970 says:

    I do have a hierarchy without really knowing that I did. If I could only apply one thing, it would be my CC cream, which serves as my foundation and sunscreen. Next would be my contour. After that would be setting powder. And after that would be mascara, just to name my top 4. Very cute article! 😊


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