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Drag Makeup 101: Building Your Beginner Kit

You don't have to be the makeup obsessed shopaholic that I am to have a versatile, high quality drag makeup kit.

There are all different kinds of drag, many different styles, and all of them are wonderful. Ok, now that we've gotten that out of the way, getting started with drag makeup can be difficult and overwhelming because of all of the different products that are available, where to buy them, theatrical vs. mainstream cosmetics, etc. This post is not about how to do your makeup - you'll have to discover that on your own as you build your persona - but rather about my suggestions as someone who is completely self-taught and has been doing drag for over twenty years. This is about getting some good, useful basics so that you can play and experiment and develop your persona and style.

Another sort of disclaimer: when I'm talking about drag makeup here, I'm going to be speaking about a very feminine style of makeup because that's what I do. Some of what I talk about here might be useful for kings or people who want to do SFX/Monster drag, but I've never done those styles so I'm not the expert. This is just me talking through what I use to create the kinds of looks I create, and hopefully will save you some time and frustration is building up your first kit.


The first area I want to talk about is the complexion - preparing your canvas in order to create a masterpiece. A good skincare routine and wearing sunblock daily is actually a great start to a makeup routine, but regardless of that I suggest starting off with some sort of moisturizer even before putting down a primer. Right now I use a cheap face lotion from Pacifica that has sadly been discontinued, but anything that works with your skin that you enjoy is great. This is especially important if you shave for drag because shaving is a type of physical exfoliation, and not following up exfoliation with moisturizer can cause your skin to become extremely dehydrated and can cause acne if your skin goes into overdrive on oil production. Once you're prepped and ready for makeup, here are the types of products I typically use with some good options that have worked for me.

Note: I have oily skin, so a lot of my selections are chosen with that in mind, and may not work as well for people with normal/combo/dry skin.

Primer: This is one of those steps that's not a must have, and a lot of people skip this altogether, but I do like to have a primer to set everything up. It can help your makeup last longer, especially when you're sweating and dancing and all of that. It can also help with texture and smoothing to make the rest of the makeup go on smoothly.

I have large pores, so I look for primers that have silicone ingredients fairly high up as they cna help blur and disguise my texture. There are a couple of great primers from e.l.f. that I love that are $10 or less: The Poreless Face Primer is a silicone based primer that is very slick and a great staple primer, and the Power Grip Primer is a slightly tacky primer that helps hold on to makeup (it's similar to the Milk Makeup Hydro Grip primer from Sephora, but at like a quarter of the price).

If you are very oily like me, the classic is still the best: Smashbox Photo Finish Control Mattifying Primer is amazing. The brand has been pretty stagnant the last few years, but their primers are perennial faves.

Foundation: She works hard for the money...and you need a foundation that is going to work hard, since you're twirling on a stage, not just surviving under the fluorescent lighting now that your boss has drug you back to the office. I prefer foundations that are matte finish. These are great for people who tend to be oily anyway, but I find that they are great regardless of skin type for drag makeup. Foundations that are described as "radiant" or "hydrating" or "dewy" tend to stay wetter than matte or natural finish foundations, and they can break up more easily when you're on stage and performing. And you want coverage, bitch! Put down those tinted moisturizers and BB Creams - we want Dutch Boy!

There are lots of great foundations out there. Some of my favorites are the Uoma Beauty Say What Foundation, but that company seems to be on the rocks and it might disappear - get it while it's still around if you want to try this one! The original Juvia's Place I Am Magic foundation has good coverage and is definitely matte, but it can feel a little heavy. I still love it though, it's some of the best full coverage out there - this is definitely recommended if you want to cover up dark beard shadow.

For drugstore foundations, I like Maybelline Super Stay the best. There are some ok options from NYX, but I find them to be a little more hit and miss, and and feel like they are always discontinuing and reformulating, so the Maybelline is much more consistent. Hard Candy also has a good foundation, but the shade range isn't great, and it's a little more inconsistent to find in Walmart stores.

Color Correcting: The idea behind color correcting is simple. If you have a color on your face that you don't want to be there - bright pink inflamed cheeks or dark blueish beard stubble - you can hide it by selecting the color that is opposite that color on the color wheel, and lightly blend it over the area to help neutralize it. Makeup is subjective and everyone has to find their own style, but I will say that if someone tells you that EVERYONE needs to color correct, then they don't know what color correcting is. If you don't have a color on your face to neutralize, you don't have to color correct. And over the years, I've mostly done away with color correcting. I have bright pink tones in my face, and so I used to always use a green color corrector under my foundation. But eventually I realized that while that is a great strategy for the "typical" (i.e., non-drag queen!) makeup user, I put on so much foundation that you can't really tell that I've done that step anyway. It's a waste.

If you opt for a lighter foundation layer and want to color correct, you can use a pale green for pinkness, a yellow to add brightness to dull skin, and you can use orange to help cancel out those blue tones found in dark beard shadow or when covering over darker eyebrows. Don't' go overboard with this! You're not trying to add that new color - I don't want pink cheeks, but I also don't want mint green cheeks! - so just add a little bit and blend until the color below is neutralized - it should blend in more easily with your natural skintone.

As I said, I don't really use color correctors anymore, but I did love the little palettes from NYX that gave several color options, as well as the green color corrector from Jeffree Star Cosmetics.

Note: These are the types of color correction that I did as a pasty white person...well, light edging into medium, but you get the idea. If you have darker skin, there are different ways for you to color correct, but I'm not an expert in that. There are lots of great black and brown makeup artists and performers on YouTube who can give advice on that.

Concealer:I use concealer the way all of the beauty gurus did back in 2017 - I'm looking to contour the face and brighten my undereye. A lot of common drag makeup (and even consumer makeup) techniques are derived from theatrical techniques, specifically the idea of contour and highlight. We'll talk about shimmer highlight later, but generally highlight and contour refer to areas of your face that you want to make more or less prominent. If you want somethine to stand out, you put a lighter color than your skintone so that it appears to protrude and have more light shining on it. If you want to make something appear smaller or less prominent, you contour with a darker color that makes it appear like there is less light shining on it. If you ever had an art teacher that put an object on a table with a lamp next to one side and made you draw the light and shadow on the object - it's exactly that, but with your facial structure!

For my undereye area, I want that to appear less sunken and more full, so I highlight with a light bright concealer. My current favorite is Jaclyn Cosmetics (may they rest in peace - the company shut down at the end of January 2024!) but I also really like the Benefit Boi-ing concealers. I don't have a lot of strong drugstore favorites, but I do like what Makeup Revolution has been up to in face products lately. Their IRL Filter Concealer is great! The foundation is pretty good too, if you want a cheap, coordinated set to do your face - the foundation and concealer together are only $20 at Ulta. I buy my concealer about two shades lighter than my skintone so that I get that highlight/brightening effect, but if you want something for spot concealing, you'll want something closer to your skintone.

Powder: This is definitely optional! I like to have a few setting and finishing powders in my kit so that they are there if the mood strikes, but you definitely don't need them. Powder is good for a couple of basic things as you are learning. First, if you want to "bake" areas of your face. Baking is where you put a layer of powder over an area and let it sit and soak in. This can be great for over foundations that feel a little wet or tacky, and I generally do it in the areas where I've highlighted with concealer: undereye, bridge of my nose, middle of forehead, and chin. Let the powder sit for a few minutes and then brush away the excess, and you will see that the powder helps create a smooth, even surface. If it's too powdery or cakey looking, follow up with a light mist of setting spray to help the powder fully melt into the look.

My go to powder is cheap and an absolute classic - i guarantee at least one of your grandmothers had this powder! It's the Coty Airspun Powder, and the shade Extra Coverage Translucent is perfect for drag makeup. Walmart usually carries it and a lot of drugstores like CVS and Walgreens have it. You can find it on Amazon, but the price tends to be higher than what it should be "in the wild."

If you feel fancy or just really like powder (and makeup should be fun, after all!), I would suggest the Kim Chi Chic Puff Puff Pass Powder. I love the translucent, and I also sometimes use the shade Ivander - a mix of ivory and lavender - that is cool toned and great for brightening the skin. It's under $20, and it's a great powder.

Sometimes I love a matte face, but having a little shine can help take away any cakeiness in a heavy makeup application. Every now and then I'll finish up by giving a light dusting of a shimmer setting powder. Unfortunately, I don't have any drugstore recommendations for this, but the Jeffree Star Luminous Setting Powder in Natural has just a hint of base color and a gorgeous shine, and it comes in a pretty good range of colors to get that effect on various skintones. It's not a must have, but I love it. It's especially got for photos.

Contour/Bronzer: I'm not convinced that there is a real difference between bronzing and contouring, except for the fanciness of the packaging. People say you are putting bronzer where your face would be "kissed" by the sun, but those are generally your highlight areas. Contour is where you want your face to recede - often under your cheekbones, under your chin, along the hairline, etc. and that seems to be where most people put their bronzer, so I'm combining them.

I love a cream bronzer to more seamlessly blend with my foundation, though I will sometimes emphasize it with powder on top. Once again, Makeup Revolution has really created a banger here: the Ultra Cream Bronzer is one of the best cream contours I've used in a while, and it's less than $10. I will say that I LOVE the Trixie Comsetics Trixie Stix Cream Bronzers and the Flower Power Bronzers for powder, but the inventory at Trixie Cosmetics is notoriously inconsistent - once something goes out of stock, you never really know when - or if! - it will ever come back. Buy them if you see them, because they are worth it, but don't rely on them as a staple of your kit.

Eye Primer: This is a controversial one, because some people think that eye primers just aren't necessary, that they aren't any different than concealers, etc. As you grow in your skills, you can play around with different primers, using them or not using them, but I think they are very helpful for beginners, especially if you are building up your kit on a budget. Why? Because eyeshadow palettes are probably one of the highest cost items that you'll be adding to your kit, and it is much harder to find really good eyeshadows for cheap than it is almost any other product in your routine. An eye primer can help you get more mileage and coverage, as well as better performance, from cheaper eyeshadows while you're learning what you like and what you want in your kit, and then you can make better investments in more expensive shadows later.

In terms of primers, I think everyone should have a matte eye primer in a beige-y nude shade, and one in white. White is great for using really colorful shadows and making them pop, and the more beige shade (or one closer to your skintone) can help you get a smoother blend on more muted or neutral shadows.

I love the Ulta Matte Eye Primer - it's simple and effective and only costs $12 at retail, and is often on sale. I also really like the Urban Decay Primer Potion in Eden. They used to have one - Espresso, I think? - that was a nude for medium to deep shades, but it seems to be discontinued. That's a shame, it was a good option, and not a lot of eye primers do a deeper nude. A warning - I don't recommend the Anti-Aging Primer Potion from Urban Decay. I find it greasy and creasy, and it doesn't help my makeup do anything except break apart. 0/10, do not recommend.

In terms of white primers, Juvia's Place I Prep, I Prime in shade one is almost white, and it works pretty well for most of what I use a white primer for. My favorite is the white primer from Gloss Gods, but they are an indie brand from Sweden, so if you're going to place an order, be ready to wait a bit for the shipping, and it might be worthwhile to wait until you have a bigger order in mind to potentially get free shipping (though the threshold is $150, so don't buy $100 worth of extra stuff to save $10 or whatever the shipping is!).

Color Cosmetics

This is where the makeup starts to get fun! You've set up a gorgeous canvas - so get to painting your masterpieces! The color cosmetics section is divided up into eyes, cheeks, and lips, and while the eyes are probably the most obvious, as they as usually the most colorful part of the look, you can experiment with different looks by doing a very subtle, nude eye look with a very wild colorful lip, or go 80s-inspired with very heavy blush draping! This is where the makeup is more playful and fun, so I'll try to give you some basics, but as you find a little extra money from time to time in your makeup budget, these are the places where it can be great to splurge!

Eyeshadow: This is the big one. This is where you'll probably end up spending the biggest chunk of your makeup budget. There are a lot of options, a lot of different finishes, and so much of what is going to work for you is going to depend on what kind of drag you decide to create.

Here is my advice for you as you are starting out: learn how to work with matte shadows to create a really great structure for your look, and then dress it up with shimmers, metallics, glitters, etc. It's very easy to get caught up in gorgeous shimmer shadows and multichromes, and I'm absolutely guilty of that too! But most of the time it's not super effective to just smear a bunch of multichromes all over your eyes. Mattes help to build structure and create depth to your look so that the impactful shimmer shades can really shine.

Ready for the bad news? I don't really have any good drugstore recommendations for you. Drugstore or "mass market" makeup brands have come a long way in improving their formulas and performance, but eyeshadow seems to be where most of these brands still lag. That's why I recommend a primer - it can help you take something that's not the greatest but still get plenty of mileage out of it.

In terms of what kinds of shadows you should get, my first recommendation is to get a good rainbow palette with lots of matte shadows. I think that Blend Bunny's Blends palette is the perfect starter palette for drag makeup. At $39 for 30 shades, it is definitely a bit of an investment, but it gives you a lot to work with. It's an all matte palette that gives you 10 different color families (including browns and grayscale) where you have three different mattes in that color: one light pastel, one medium, and one deep. This will give you so many options and tons of practice in how to blend colors together to get nice gradients, and how to start combining colors. You can do an easy monochromatic look in each of these colors by doing the inner half in the light shade, the outer half in the medium shade, and then creating depth by darkening the outer V with the deepest shade. Once you have a handle on that, you can start adding shimmers on the lids, or combining the color families together. You can make your gradients more complex by lightening and darkening the shades with the white and black This is such a great beginner toolkit and I really think that this will help you learn the basics as you learn and develop your own style. Then just add palettes to your kit for more options as your budget allows.

Blush/Highlight: In terms of the cheeks, the two main products here are blush and highlight - and this time highlight means shimmer, baby! I love a LOT of highlight, but some people choose to use none at all, so it's certainly not a must have. When I first started drag, I found the cheeks to be boring, so I put all the emphasis on the eyes and lips. You'll have to decide what kind of cheek will work for the look your doing, but I'll give you some basic pointers.

Blush comes in a wide range of colors from more natural, nude looking beiges, pinks, and peaches to more vivid pinks, red, orange, violet, and even blue or green. When picking out blushes, here are some things to consider: what is your undertone (cool, neutral, or warm)? Do you want your blush to work with your natural color, or in contrast to it? Do you prefer a matte blush, or do you want some shimmer? Do you want a heavy, obvious blush look, or just a subtle sheer flush over the cheeks?

Some favorite drugstore blush option include L'Oreal blushes (True Match for lighter, more natural looks and the new shades of Infallible for a more vivid look) and either the baked blushes or the rose blushes from Milani. Juvia's Place is a little bit of a step up from drugstore but still reasonable, and their blush duos are gorgeous but very pigmented - go in with a light hand unless you're going for a very blush dominant look!

If you love blush and want to have some fun, I really love the matte and shimmer blushes from Oden's Eye, but this is another EU-based company, so be prepared for a slightly longer shipping time. There are four matte and four shimmers, very warm pink, orange, peach in tone, so you don't need them all by any stretch, but they are silky and gorgeous to work with. If you like cooler, blue-based pinks, you're in luck - since the Barbie movie came out, every brand under the sun has that sort of bubblegum pink in some sort of formulation.

Blush palettes are a great option to get a number of shades to try while paying less per shade than you often have to pay for singles. Blend Bunny has two great blush palette options, Bare Cheeks for the more subdued girlies and Juicy Cheeks for those with a more vivid style. Each palette is $32, making each of the 8 shades only $4, a pretty good value considering how good the quality is.

Note: I'm recommending powder blushes here because I find them easier to learn with than cream or liquid, which I find a bit...fussy. If you love these formulas, then by all means look for those instead!

In terms of highlighters, there are three main things you want to look for and decide what you want. First, do you want a strong base color, or do you want it mostly sheer with a shift of shimmering color when you catch it from certain angles? Second, do you want a more natural glow, like a champagne or pearl, maybe a light petal pink, or do you want something vivid like a bright pink, blue, green, etc.? Third, do you want glitter in your highlight, a more metallic finish, or just a shimmery glow?

I'm a whore for highlighters, so I've tried so many and I love most of them! In terms of drugstore options, Maybelline does some pretty good highlighters, and the trio palette from Milani is a great natural shade staple to your kit. Ofra's Glazed Donut is probably my favorite champagne highlighter of all time, but it is a little spendy. Glamlite's Cookies N Cream Hershey's highlighter duo was a pretty good alternative, but it's been discontinued - keep an eye out at TJ Maxx for it, because if you can find it it's just as good and much less expensive! And if you love glitter in your highlight and don't mind laying out FIFTY AMERICAN DOLLARS per shade, the Jeffree Star Extreme Frost really are gorgeous! But if you love highlighter and want several options at a reasonable price, I'm once again going to refer you to Blend Bunny: the Noctilucent palette has six options for only $40, and they are relaly special and shifty, definitely a great investment if highlight is one of the things you really want to emphasize in your looks.

Lipstick: Although eyeshadow is the most obviously colorful part of the look, I have a special love for lip products. When I'm doing a little "soothe shopping," I love to add a new lipstick to my collection. You can go for nude shades, pinks, reds, peaches, or even wild colors like black, green, and blue.

For drag performance, I prefer a liquid lipstick as it dries down and has more longevity than a traditional lipstick. For photo shoots I might go with a lipstick, but for performing and hosting, where I have little time between to mess with my makeup (and I don't want to have to drag a whole makeup kit to the venue if I got ready at home or the hotel), I really prefer to use liquid lipsticks to get more staying power. The best one that I know is also a drugstore find (Yay!) and that is the Maybelline SuperStay Matte Ink. These paint on beautifully, they stay in place, they blend well if using multiple colors for an ombre effect, and they are often putting out extra shade extensions in little capsule collections. I'm obsessed, and I rarely say that.

Most brands have some sort of liquid lipstick offering, and feel free to try them and find new colors you like, but in terms of getting started and setting up a basic kit, the Maybelline is a perfect starter lip.

Other Considerations

I'm not going to go too deeply into it, but there are other products that will round out a beginner kit.

Eyelashes & Mascara: Even if you have amazing natural lashes, for the theatricality of drag you will probably want to think about some false lashes. There are tons of great options at all prices, so lurk around the lash section at Ulta and see what strikes your fancy. Kiss and Ardell are two great brands that are available fairly inexpensively almost anywhere, and Duo Lash Glue is an easy favorite.

Even if you wear lashes, unless you have naturally pitch black lashes you'll want to have some sort of mascara to blend the falsies to your own lashes (or add pizzazz if you decide to go without falsies). Never, never, never overpay for mascara when you are first starting! If somewhere down the line you decide that mascara is your "thing" and you really love it and have money to throw around, fine. But if you are only using it for drag, you probably don't even need full size mascara anyway (it goes bad after just a few months!) and if you do want full size, the Essence Lash Princess is amazing and only $5. I but a mascara occasionally if there is a good sale, but I honestly mostly just get by with the deluxe samples I get from Sephora and Ulta.

Pencils: Pencils are good to have, so adding some cheap eye and lip pencils in a few stock colors can be helpful. If you cover over your brows, you'll want to figure out something for drawing on your new brows, and you can do that with pencil, shadow, water-activated liners - there are tons of options, and lots of tutorials on YouTube. Still, having a black, brown, and red pencil in your kit as a baseline, and maybe a beige or white pencil for the waterline, can really give you some versatility.

Nails: Alaska said, "If you're not wearing nails, you're not doing drag," and well...fuck that, but I do think that nails can be an excellent addition to your look and are available in a lot of pre-decorated styles for less than $10 a set. They do a lot of the work in feminizing your hands, if that's something you care about, and I think the Kiss brand nails are always doing something that excites and impresses me.

Sprays: Setting spray is another one of those things that is controversial, with some people claiming it's a total waste of time and money. It's definitely not an essential, but I do think having a setting spray can be good when you're using a lot of powder products, especially a setting powder or if you're baking, to make things melt together a little more seamlessly. It doesn't need to be on your initial kit purchase list, but it's good to have one just in case, and also for wetting shimmer shadows if you want to foil them (a more advance technique that can give your shimmers more impact).

So that's my advice for building a beginner drag kit. If you want the TLDR, if I were buying a brand new kit for myself or someone else, here is what I would pick up:

e.l.f. Poreless Face Primer

Makeup Revolution IRL Filter Foundation and Concealer

Makeup Revolution Cream Bronzer (for contour)

Coty Airspun Powder in Translucent Extra Coverage

Ulta Matte Eye Primer

Blend Bunny Blends Eyeshadow Palette

Blend Bunny Juicy Cheeks Blush Palette

Blend Bunny Bare Cheeks Blush Palette

Blend Bunny Noctilucent Highlighter Palette

3 or 4 shades of Maybelline Super Stay Matte Ink

A black and a brown eye pencil

Duo Lash glue and 2 or 3 pairs of lashes

Essence Lash Princess Mascara

That would get me back in business pretty quickly and fairly inexpensively. If you wanted to pair that down, you could opt for one or the other of the blush palettes, or just get one Juvia's Place blush duo if you know you want to focus on just pink or red or peach blush.

Please let me know in the comments below if you have any other "getting started" type questions, or check out my YouTube channel for lots more makeup content. I'm thinking of starting a Drag 101 series there, so if there are any pressing topics you'd love to know about, let me know!

Note on Links and Products: None of the links in this post are affiliated and I earn no commission from any of them. They are simply provided for convenience. I have received one PR package from Blend Bunny Cosmetics in the past, but all of the products mentioned in this post are part of my collection and were purchases with my own money long before the brand ever sent me any PR.

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