Spring Clean Your Makeup Bag

This article was originally published on April 20, 2015. It is loooooong, but chalk-full of juicy information that is still incredibly relevant and timely. Thanks, again, to Erin Williams of Erin’s Faces for guiding us all toward a fresh-faced Spring!

Now that it's finally Spring, it is the perfect time to refresh your makeup bag. At Once Upon a Beautiful Life, we are all about making life a little bit fancier. My dear friend, Erin Williams, and I sat down to discuss the real purpose of makeup and how you can use it to magnify your own inner light. Erin is a makeup artist to the stars and the founder of the all-natural makeup and skincare line Erin's Faces. (P.S. She is also an exquisite performer.)

Less is often more when it comes to makeup. Follow along as Erin helped me whittle down my collection; learn tips and techniques to upgrade your makeup bag, simplify your life, and feel beautiful every single day!


We unpacked every single item I owned onto Erin's adorable, shabby chic coffee table -  my entire arsenal of makeup and skincare products.

Did my supply represent that of the average American woman? Erin encouraged me not to compare. She said that I was on the "a lot of stuff" side of the spectrum, but noted that there is no average. Some women come with only one tiny makeup bag and others, like myself, keep an entire arsenal of every color they could possibly imagine ever needing.

I hope that the lessons I learned from Erin empower you to always put your best face forward.



I love gift sets, and yet I always end up with a ton of products that I never use. According to Erin, "It is impossible for everything in every gift set to work for you."

I unconsciously grew up with a scarcity and lack mentality (as so many of us do), thinking and believing that there is never enough. Though I typically wear the same makeup every day, I had it in my mind that I needed more - more variety, more color choices, more options "just in case."

The "free gifts" and "purchase with purchase" at the mall always seemed like a great way to stockpile a season or year's worth of makeup.

"Take what works and throw the rest away," Erin said. "Please don't just buy to get a free gift, because you have know idea if what is in the free gift is actually going to work for you."

Then Erin saw a Chanel blush that I used with love.

"I would rather you spend your money on one higher end item that you love and will use up, even if it doesn't come with anything," she said.

Give away new, unused products to family and friends who will enjoy them. Erin cautioned, however, that it is important to make sure that the product works for the person to whom you're gifting it. For example, if your mom shares your skin tone, a product that isn't meant for you likely also isn't meant for her.

I knew that Erin was going to offer suggestions for items to toss, but she meant business. Ready to go with a trash bag in hand, Erin was wonderfully ruthless.



The fastest way to upgrade your makeup bag is to go through and toss all expired products. Buy a less expensive product if you are going to have a hard time replacing it at the appropriate time. Women (like myself) are often resistant to spending money on a product that they still see as "usable."

Mascara and lipstick/lipgloss are the biggest culprits! Erin has seen people get infections from hanging onto lipstick or mascara for too long. Though it is tempting to want to use a product up before tossing it, it is not worth risking your health! Put reminders in your calendar to toss and replace these items.

Erin said some clients tape tiny sticky labels on items with the date-of-purchase. This ensures that you won't forget when you bought an item, which is all too easy to do.



Brushes are tools I never paid much attention to, but Erin really opened my eyes to the difference that a nice brush can make.

Low-quality brushes are a no-no in Erin's book. She prefers soft, synthetic brushes that are gentle to the touch, such as a Kabuki brush that I purchased and never used. This particular brush came in a travel case, and Erin suggested that I encourage myself to use it by taking it out of its travel case. (She was right - now I see it and use it!)

Though I was skeptical, the difference between high and low quality brushes is real. First of all, the makeup goes on better with a great brush. Second of all, you can feel the difference in texture. A poor brush will either be rough to the touch or so soft that the bristles completely collapse when even a tiny bit of pressure is applied. Secondly, low quality brushes are likely to come apart and/or have fraying bristles. With a high quality brush, things stay nicely in place no matter how many times you use it.

Erin also mentioned that she is not a fan of the Beauty Blender, a high-priced sponge that has been widely marketed and that many clients own (myself included). Sponges harbor bacteria and are impossible to keep clean. They need to be routinely replaced, and spending that much money on a sponge makes women resistant to throwing them away. Case in point? Me! I didn't want to give mine up. (And I got my Beauty Blender on major sale!)

Buy a less expensive sponge and replace it more frequently - a minimum of every three months.

All brushes should be washed weekly and left to dry overnight.



Color is a very individual thing. Each of us looks better in warmer or cooler tones based on the color of our skin, hair and eyes.

Within my own makeup collection, however, my products ran the gamut. I had things that were better suited to blondes with blue eyes and also to black women. I am obviously neither. Any item not meant for my Mediterranean skin went directly into the trash.

Even within that framework, however, there are nuances. I had been wearing blushes that were natural, but a bit dull and "corporate" looking. Erin recommended a blush in the same color family, but one that was a little bit brighter and more youthful.



Because I have a romantic heart and an obsession with fairy tales, I love adding a little sparkle to my life. Erin explained that there is a difference between glitter, shimmer and frost.

It turns out that I had some glitter in my collection. Erin defines glitter as larger pieces of sparkle in any color. Glitter is most appropriate for teenagers. I also had a ton of frost - intense metallic - that reads senior citizen. What I really needed was shimmer! The sparkles are super tiny and much more subtle than glitter or frost.

I had been carrying around an old Chanel liquid eye shadow that they discontinued years ago. (I guess I was secretly hoping that I would find it again.) Luckily, Erin's Aurora shade is super similar to that Chanel product that I loved. To my delight, Erin gave me one to try. I've been using this shimmery, liquid eyeshadow for several weeks now, and it is my new favorite!

Side note: I really adore liquid eyeshadow! It stays on ALL day, is super quick and simple to apply, and it sure beats lugging around a palette.



One of the greatest lessons I learned from Erin is that makeup is a a way to practice authenticity. Rather than thinking of it as a tool to hide your flaws, use makeup as an expression of who you are.

"Your makeup should be an extension of who you are and the message that you want to send," Erin said.

She recounted an exercise that she recently gave to a group of young Girl Scouts. "Which three adjectives would you want someone to use to describe you?" she asked them.

Erin used me as an example:

"Your message is inclusivity, fairy princess, warm ... That's not green eyeliner; that's a shimmer lip gloss!" she said.

"Each step of your makeup needs to have a purpose. What do you want to be communicating to the world? Your makeup helps you do that."

She emphasized that make up is "not about being pretty," as we are all beautiful. It is about "sharing yourself with the world."

Looking at my original makeup collection and big bag of trash, she said, "This is not a message. This is chaos." According to Erin, the mishmash read as "I don't know what I'm saying or who told it to me, as opposed to 'I am very clear; I am defined - curated."

Erin noted that a person's taste and style may change over time with growth and life experience; but there is no reason to feel that you must constantly be changing up your look.

Even red carpet makeup generally stays the same. The makeup artist might pump up the lip or do a smokey eye, but a celebrity's basic look stays the same from event to event, and day to night.

"If you want to try a fun, color trend, go to the drugstore...so you don't feel bad if it doesn't work and you end up throwing it away," Erin said.

"I would rather you have five things that look amazing on you than have fifty that look bad - that are not flattering."



Erin was a bit surprised by my minimalist skincare collection. In all honesty, skincare keeps taking the back burner in my life. Erin explained that skincare products are actually more important than makeup because they go directly on your face and can help to delay the aging process. Makeup, on the other hand is simply a top layer that covers things up.

We discussed adding a gentle exfoliating scrub for my face, as well as a hydrating mask. She recommended that I actually use my eye cream!

A tip for actually using your eye cream: keep it on your nightstand so that you don't forget to use it each night. This way, there's no need to convince yourself to get back out of bed once you remember. (I've been trying this - it works!)



Erin is very wary of petrochemicals (essentially like putting gasoline on your face!) Unfortunately, they are prevalent ingredients throughout the cosmetics industry. To make matters worse, companies are not always transparent about their ingredient lists.

We looked up a few products that, by all appearances and advertising, seemed completely safe. We were shocked to find that petrochemicals were among the top ingredients in these products. You need to pick your battles, and it is not easy to find certified-organic make-up and skincare.

Erin suggests that you read labels and, if a petrochemical is in the top half of the ingredients list, skip the product. Smaller amounts of these chemicals, though not ideal, are less offensive.

To do this, you will need to familiarize yourself with the various terms for toxic chemicals. Erin has a great vlog on this topic.

While some people say, "If you can't pronounce it, don't buy it," Erin doesn't agree with that. Asorbic acid, for example, sounds nasty, but it is actually a form of Vitamin C.

We discussed upgrading to a silicone-free serum and an SPF/moisturizer with zinc or titanium dioxide instead of potentially toxic chemicals. Erin and I discussed that even many dermatologist-recommended products are not as "pure" as one would assume.

While my current products are not terrible, I look forward to finding new skincare solutions that better fit with my skin's needs and my personal "clean-living" values.



Erin and I reduced my makeup and skincare collection by at least fifty percent. Now it only covers half the table!

Spring is the perfect time to go through your makeup bag. If you are ready for "out with the old and in with the new," here is a summary of items to toss:

  1. Makeup that has expired (reference Erin's handy chart)

  2. Poorly made brushes

  3. Colors meant for another skin tone

  4. Products for another age bracket

  5. Items that cloud your authenticity

  6. Petrochemical-laden products


I was so proud of myself for leaving the trash bag with Erin! An enormous weight has been lifted that I didn't even realize I was carrying.

Parting can be frightening, but it feels so good! I challenge you to spring clean your makeup bag and to post the before and after pictures on Instagram! Let me know how it goes in the comments below :)