How to Learn Makeup from YouTube Gurus

I started watching YouTube makeup videos when the community was still a fragile baby bird. It was mostly awkward teenagers using their webcams to record ultra-grainy, unedited videos, sharing their genuine excitement in a brand-new medium. That time is past now, and I do sometimes miss the homegrown authenticity, but of course there are many more recent videos I enjoy for their crisp images and fantastic editing.

I learned a great deal of what I know about makeup from simply watching YouTube tutorials. But today's saturated YouTube beauty field is very confusing for new makeup lovers who don't know where to start.

How to Watch YouTube Videos as a Beginner

Just watching some videos is not going to magically make you better at makeup. Just like sitting through a semester of archaeology lectures won't make you Indiana Jones. You gotta get your hands dirty, practice, and actually walk the walk. Most people watch beauty YouTube videos for entertainment. But if your goal right now is to get better at makeup, here's how.

  • Watch beauty experts not just any pretty person with an eye-catching thumbnails. Your goal is to consume excellent material, because as a beginner, it can be hard to unlearn bad habits acquired from not so talented "gurus." There are various experts at different levels of professional development- but make sure not to stray too far into amateur pretty-19-year-old-lifestyle-vlogger territory. Beauty enthusiasts sharing their thoughts as a consumer are a valuable resource when you're more experienced in makeup- but for now they will be a distraction.
  • Stay away from review videos, haul videos, and favorites videos (for now!) These are fun to watch, but they are counterproductive to your learning journey. You don't yet know your own product tastes or even what all these products are meant for, so don't make the mistake of being seduced into hauling a bunch of stuff you'll never use. Trust me- in a few months, you will look  back at your early wishlist and wonder what the heck you were thinking.
  • Follow along with tutorials. When I started doing this, I saw my skills skyrocket much faster than I would have expected. Simply watching someone practice a motion while you follow along with your own tools and products is so helpful, it completely outranks practicing from your fuzzy memory of a tutorial you watched last night. I think most people don't do this- and its importance cannot be overstated. You can pause and rewind, so don't feel limited by the guru's speed or editing.
  • Watch with an eye for categories not products. If you end up watching 5 tutorials and thinking each time wow I really need a matte brown pencil for the looks I want to accomplish, then now is the time to shop for a matte brown pencil. Do not decide you need Tarte Shape Tape just because one pretty lady used it, and it looked really nice on her. Most YT gurus make money from promoting product- period- so you cannot rely on what they use as gospel for what you should buy. As a beginner, you will acquire a not-so-perfect makeup stash and that is how you learn what you love. Buy as little as you possibly can, and be open to the idea that you will outgrow products as your tastes and skillset grow.
  • Repetition is key. Practice from the same video or few videos for weeks at a time. Do not try a smoky eye on Monday, abandon it for the rest of the week, then try again next Monday and cry that your skills haven't evolved. You will build muscle memory and your own understanding of your face by doing the same techniques many days in a row. For now, you don't get to be Crazy Makeup Lady who wears a different look every day. You get to practice the same basic look for as many days in a row, from the same tutorials, as it takes to nail it down. Then you can use that acquired knowledge for the next look you tackle.

List of YouTubers to Trust

Okay, you're just taking one woman's opinion on this. But you gotta start somewhere! The whole point is to start with a basic, limited list, and as your tastes and skills develop, you don't have to take anybody's advice anymore- you can find what you love all on your own! This is a mix of professionals and amateurs- both have something to offer, but for the most part, seasoned professionals who have experience doing makeup on people other than themselves are your best bet.

Charlotte Tilbury (this is a brand channel, so ignore the products as best you can, just follow along with techniques, as hers are sound)

Karima McKimmie (an amateur who is extremely good at communicating techniques and concepts)

Jaclyn Hill

Samantha Ravndahl (although she's a generic vlogger now and skews more beauty guru than expert, she is another semi-amateur/semi-professional who is excellent at communicating technique)

My Favorite "Beginner Friendly" Videos

How to Apply Lipstick by Rebecca Shores

This is a pretty high-effort tutorial, considering lipstick can just be swiped on in 20 sec. But if you are new to lipcolor, struggling with application fundamentals, or trying to fix asymmetry, this will give you a flawless finish. And you can always tweak the techniques to suit your needs.

Natural Shimmery Summer Glow by Lisa Eldridge

Healthy, glowy, sunkissed- practically everyone wants to master this look.

In Depth Bridal Tutorial

You don't need to be planning a wedding to want a special-occasion, flawless, "glamorous natural" look in your pocket. Jaclyn Hill has a big personality, but it's her fundamental, careful technique and solid laymen's explanations that make her an excellent source.

Brows by Lisa Eldridge

There is no such thing as timeless- well- really natural makeup is probably timeless. But Lisa always balances trend and technique- she favors a brow look fixed more in personal flattery- not fixed to a specific dated trend (skinny 90s brows, bushy 80s brows, crisp 2010s brows etc.) For most people, brows are not an accent to be played with- they are more of a foundation piece. You want them to look basically the same most days, and you want them to be the best shape and color for your face. You might play with 10 different shadow placements and color schemes in a week, but it's likely your brow experimentation won't be a focus.

Mary Greenwell's Natural Makeup Masterclass

Again with natural makeup- don't roll your eyes at me! Great natural makeup skills underpin every single successful experimental/funky makeup style. If you don't know the rules of making makeup "pretty" you can never figure out the best ways to break those rules and create interesting makeup. Mary Greenwell has a no-nonsense style which relies a lot on hands, multi use products, and natural earth tones. Like all of the gurus I discussed, her videos are a wealth of information and you can't go wrong following along to any of her tutorials.

Sam Ravndahl's Halo Eye

A technique that is both intriguing and challenging to beginners, the halo eye is a high-impact eye looks that actually takes relatively little skill. However, it's a confusing placement and concept when you haven't tried it before- Sam's videos are excellent for shadow placement as she's very specific in her descriptions, and she zooms all the way in to show where and how she applies each color shadow.

Concluding Thoughts

Most people don't take advantage of the wondrous resource that is Beauty YouTube. They approach it as entertainment, and that's perfectly ok unless you're trying to improve your skills. If you are unhappy with your makeup skills, approach the project like a challenging class or subject in school. Use a variety of trusted resources, study and practice every day, and trust the process. You will not become an expert in a few weeks, but within a few months you can grow your knowledge a great deal. 


  1. This is fantastic, thank you! I keep forgetting about Mary Greenwell's videos on YouTube. Also, Lisa Eldridge has some fantastic wedding tutorials that I consulted when planning my own wedding makeup.

  2. Love this! People usually just say "watch youtube videos to learn makeup techniques," but the Youtube beautysphere is SO oversaturated that it can be hard to know where to start. The videos you posted are very helpful and I'll definitely be sharing this post the next time someone asks me about learning how to do their own makeup. :)

  3. Great guide! Youtube is such huge community now that it can definitely be overwhelming as a beginner

    1. I appreciate your reading my posts and commenting so much encouragement, thank you Emmy! Also the kitty in your profile pic is darling.

  4. It’s been months and I still use this article on the regular, I have it bookmarked on my phone. Thank you!