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8 Must-Have Beauty Items for Your Arsenal

There are only a few tools you really need

Four main beauty brushes

Anastasiya Piatrova/Alamy

Four key brushes are all you need.

If the beauty industry had its way we'd be up to our eyeballs in fancy blender sponges, airbrush makeup applicators, $400 blow-dryers and 12-piece cosmetic brush sets. Beauty accessories have become the wingwomen of looking good — in addition to all those products. Which tools are must-haves for us and which just extra gimmicks? Let's stick to eight.

Four makeup brushes:

  • A foundation brush. Use a back-and-forth movement (like painting a wall) to apply and blend so foundation doesn't lie on top, catch on facial hairs or creep into expression lines and wrinkles. A brush with densely packed synthetic bristles uses less makeup more efficiently than fingers or sponges (no streaks, no waste). Look for one that tapers at the edge for coverage in nooks and crannies around nose, eyes and lips. Three shed-resistant brushes from $10.98 to $26 — like the Sonia Kashuk Core Tools Synthetic Pointed Foundation Brush No. 121, Flower by Drew Barrymore for Walmart Ultimate Liquid Foundation Makeup Brush and bareMinerals Complexion Perfector Foundation & Concealer Brush — are equal to those $73 ones. 
  • A concealer brush. Count on the same firm, flat, silky synthetic bristles in a smaller brush for precision work like camouflaging brown spots, hormonal breakouts, spider veins and dark pigment at the inner eye. Use a tapping — not swiping — motion to make concealer melt into background skin. Those with caps by Bobbi Brown or Laura Mercier are a practical and hygienic portable touchup solution. 
  • Flat or pointed edge eyeliner brush. Eyeliner pulls your face into focus fast and restores definition. This is a must for those who prefer gel liners in a pot, or double lining dark powder over pencil to intensify the definition. 
  • A dome-shaped shadow brush. Most good shadow palettes come with dual powder brush and sponge-tips. However, for those who love a smoky eye, a rounded fluffy eye brush makes contouring the crease (use a back and forth windshield wiper motion) in and just above it restore depth and can be used to blend or layer several shadows on lids for that sexy-look-we-love definition.  
Eyelash Curler


You heard of the perfect curl for your hair, how about the perfect curl for your eyelashes!

A quality eyelash curler to open and lift saggy, hooded, tired eyes. A $19 to $21 splurge on an ergonomic curler like those by Shu Uemura, Kevyn Aucoin or Shiseido nabs you a wider curve that hugs the lash line, a cushier silicone pad and an engineered pinch-free hinge so lashes sweep up with one gentle squeeze.

A sonic face exfoliator to supercharge your favorite cleanser. Tried exfoliating AHAs, retinol, enzyme masks, facial scrubs and still experiencing chin breakouts, dull dry skin and blackheads? A waterproof sonic brush or silicone scrubber (with little mini fingers) gently but thoroughly vibrates dead cells and clogged pores away. Choose a soft long hair-like bristle brush like the Clinique Sonic System Purifying Cleansing Brush or a space-age silicone scrubbie with mini bristles like the Instrumental Beauty Sonic Touch Cleansing System. Skip what I call the Emperor's New Clothes — at-home gadgets that promise laser-like skin firming and collagen boosting.

A cordless illuminated magnifying makeup mirror. No more leaving your bathroom or vanity to check makeup in daylight near a window. A mirror that replicates natural sunlight and provides 10 to 15 times exaggeration like the Tweezerman LED 15X Lighted Mirror ($30) or Fancii10 X LED Lighted Makeup Mirror makes application and blending easy.

Travel size ionic hairdryer


Bigger isn't always better when it comes to blow-dryers.

A new lightweight travel-size ionic blow-dryer. I tried the Dyson Supersonic $400 dryer (engineered by jet designers), and it's not just a lot of hot air, but it's simply not worth it. A more affordable ($20 to $30) mini "healthy hair" dryer like the Conair IonShine Double Ionic Port System Hair Dryer or the BabyLissPRO Tourmaline Titanium Travel Dryer are hi-tech enough for now and won't fry thin, damaged, chemically abused hair. It's about technique, not just the dryer. Always use a wide-tooth comb to remove knots, and then apply heat protectant/detangler before rough-drying your hair 70 percent. Then finish your blowout using a round brush to smooth and style.

For more beauty and style tips for women age 50+, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style issue.

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