“Why do we carry around such heavy make-up bags?”

Posted by
Lucy Partington

Why do so many British women lug their entire make-up bags everywhere they go? Stylist examines the national phenomenon and lists the products to save you (and your posture).

Ah, the humble make-up bag. Despite being slightly worse for wear (those grimy foundation fingerprints appear out of nowhere, don’t they?), it’s crammed full of products – some you haven’t used for years – and goes everywhere with you. You know, just in case. 

A surprise Monday afternoon board presentation? It’s there for you. A hasty application on your Wednesday morning commute after pressing snooze one too many times? It’s there for you. Friday night post-work drinks? Yep, it’s there for you then, too. In this age of hot-desking, keeping a few select products in your desk drawer just isn’t feasible – plus you never know when you’ll need that yellow eyeshadow.

And this arsenal isn’t a carefully edited version of your everyday make-up bag, either. It’s everything you own crammed into one bulging vessel that’s carted from home to the office to the bar and back again. We know, because we do it, too. 

A quick sweep of the Stylist team found over half of us lug our make-up kits into work every day like a security blanket. In most cases, a really heavy security blanket: the largest came in at a hefty 1.3kg (yes, we actually weighed it in the name of serious beauty journalism) – the same as a two-slice toaster – and featured eight mascaras, three broken bronzer palettes and a tube of never-been used insect bite cream. No wonder fashion news editor Billie complains about back pain.

It’s seemingly a British habit too, according to our international friends. The two Australians on the Stylist team are mystified by the overflowing make-up bags we haul into the office but often barely touch. 

A straw poll revealed French women only carry a trousse beauté de secours, essentially a beauty first aid kit, and certainly don’t reapply their make-up at their desk as soon as the clock strikes 5pm on a Friday. 

Irish women confess to carrying multiple lip products but not a full make-up kit, while those from Poland only tend to keep teeth whitening strips in their bag. Russians keep things minimal, too – with only a lip balm or pressed powder.

But what’s behind this behaviour? “It’s habit more than anything else,” says therapist Sally Baker ( “It’s reassuring for some women to know they could re-do their entire make-up from scratch just by opening their handbag,” she explains. “It’s often women who feel most confident when they’ve just put make-up on – they equate a fresh face with looking their best, something that feeds into increased feelings of confidence.”

So, to save our posture, Stylist has curated a rigorously thought-out collection of lightweight products – along with some clever make-up bags – to help lighten your day-to-day load. Prepare for a clear-out.


Clinique Beyond Perfecting Foundation and Concealer

Makeup bag

Save valuable space by investing in a single do-it-all product. The ‘magic wand’ in this foundation and concealer duo means you can apply it straight on to your face for all-over or targeted coverage. It’ll save you getting the dreaded foundation fingers, too.

Weight: 133g


BareMinerals BareSkin Perfecting Veil

Makeup bag

There’s nothing worse than that cloud of dust when you a) open a pot of loose powder, or b) swirl your brush in it. Instead, choose a pressed powder that can be  surreptitiously dabbed on to your face with a foundation sponge when you need it most.

Weight: 58g

Foundation Sponge

Real Techniques Miracle Complexion Sponge & Travel Case

Makeup bags

Weight: 30g 

Use dry or damp (face mist will help to saturate it if you’re on-the-go) to blend foundation, or use it to dab powder onto your face. The rounded sides are designed to blend bigger areas, like cheeks and forehead, the precision tip targets imperfections, while the case will keep it protected in your make-up bag.


Charlotte Tilbury Instant Look In A Palette in Smokey Eye Beauty

Makeup bags

Weight: 149g

A compact palette housing everything you need to create a barely-there look all the way to an all-singing, all-dancing smoky eye. With three eyeshadows, two blushers, a bronzer and a highlighter, this is an investment to keep in your handbag even if you refuse to carry anything else.


Pixi LashLift 188

Makeup Bags

Weight: 21g

This clever mascara has two wands: the large one works to add volume, and the smaller one grabs on to even the tiniest of lashes so every single one is coated. The latter is also good for layering and separating dried, clumpy mascara, which saves having to take it off and reapply from scratch when it’s time for a post-work pinot.

Face Mist

Lumene Arctic Spring Water Enriched Facial Mist

Makeup bag

Weight: 70g

Almost completely weightless, this face mist is made with a combination of arctic spring water and mineral-rich Nordic birch sap. You can use it to dampen your make-up sponge, and it’ll also hydrate thirsty skin as needed. Spritz before make-up application, or at the end of a long day to refresh and revive.

Double-Ended Eyeshadow Brush 

Spectrum Siren B09 Double Eyeshadow Brush

Makeup bags

Weight: 6g

Arguably the only eyeshadow brush you’ll ever need – for application at home or on the move. Use the angled end to apply product straight on to the lid and along the lower lash line, then use the fluffy end to remove any harsh lines and blend the colour upwards, outwards or into the crease of the eye.

Multi-Purpose Balm

Lanolips 101 Ointment

Makeup bags

Weight: 30g

No make-up bag is complete without a do-it-all balm. Use it to tame unruly brows or baby hairs, or as a makeshift highlighter and eye gloss. This ointment is fragrance-free, it’s not too greasy and, if all else fails, chapped winter lips will thank you for it.

Brow Pencil

Eylure Brow Magician

Makeup bag

Weight: 12g

Use the specially angled crayon (that doesn’t ever need to be sharpened, hoorah) to shape your brows and fill in any sparse areas, then comb and set them into place with the tinted brow mascara on the other end of this dual-purpose tool.

Total weight: 509g

Make-up bags to be proud of

For the minimalists

Makeup bags

After decreasing the amount of kit you carry around with you, this slogan pouch can also be used as a clutch bag.

Katie Loxton The Perfect Pouch

For the make-up mid-weights

Makeup Bags

As chic as it is practical, this bag is big enough to carry all the essentials – and can be personalised.

The Daily Edited Black Large Cosmetic Case

For beauty junkies

Makeup bags

If you insist, this clever bag stores all your make-up and opens up flat so you can see everything and tidy it up in seconds.

Donna May Clitheroe 2-in-1 make-up bag

Images: Courtesy of brands 

Main image: Pixeleyes


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Lucy Partington

Lucy Partington is Stylist’s beauty editor. She’s obsessed with all things skincare, collecting eyeshadow palettes that she’ll probably never use, and is constantly on the hunt for the ultimate glowy foundation.

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