Of all the items in our makeup bag, cotton swabs veer on the more banal side of things. Scratch that—cotton swabs are the most banal things, period. Even bobby pins have the power to create mind-boggling works of hair arts and can be sprayed and maneuvered to increase their styling powers. Cotton swabs? We’ll throw some in our makeup bag when traveling, but for the most part, they don’t exactly make our pulses race with excitement. And yet. Like the Laney Boggs of your makeup bag, cotton swabs are often underestimated for their boring exterior. But what if we told you they could compete with your shimmery shadows and velvet lipsticks? What if we told you they were full of secret powers to help you finally, finally keep your lashes curled or perfect your contour?
Ahead, you’ll find 10 Q-tip tips that will take your makeup prowess to the next level, sans Freddie Prinze Jr. Trust us—you’ll never look at your homely little friend the same way again.
Keep scrolling for 10 smart Q-tip makeup hacks!
This one is a no brainer, but a reminder never hurts. Have an unsteady hand and can never get your cat-eye quite right? Dip a cotton swab—one in a pointed shape works best—in makeup remover (or eye cream), and gently use it to clean up wobbly lines and perfect your flick. (Makeup artists swear by Muji’s Cotton Swabs, $8, which have a super-fine tip to make cleanups easy).
Or, do the same with your lipstick: Trace the cotton swab around your lips to create a pecise line and remove any lone smears. Then, dip a clean Q-tip in translucent powder and trace it around your lipstick to keep feathering at bay.
An easy way to get that Anja Rubik–esque model-off-duty look? Apply your favorite pencil eyeliner (gel works, too), then take a Q-tip and gently smudge it out from side to side. To deepen the smoky effect, try this trick: Take a new cotton swab, pull out the tip so it resembles a fluffy cloud, then use it to sweep a soft brown shadow in the outer V of each eye. You’re welcome.
Adding a touch of shimmer in the inner corners of your eyes can take you from zombie status to (faux) morning person. The easiest (and most effective) way to add that touch of light? A Q-tip, of course. Dip it in a champagne-hued shadow, like Rituel de Fille’s Ash and Ember Eye Soot ($27) in Sigli, then apply it on the inside corner of each eye, making sure to blend. Sweep whatever is left on the Q-tip below each brow bone to lift your entire look.
Cakey, creased makeup sucks. Luckily, a cotton swab will fix it in one sweep. If your under-eye concealer is caking by midday, dip a Q-tip in eye cream, then gently sweep under your eyes—it’ll make lines disappear like magic.
Contouring seems easy when you already have sky-high cheekbones. For the rest of us, knowing exactly where to add that shaded line can be tricky. Enter: your cotton swab—or should we say, cheekbone ruler? Place the cotton swab so that one end faces the middle of your ear, and the other is near the outer corner of your lip. Use this line to determine exactly where you should apply your favorite contour (we can’t get enough of Charlotte Tilbury’s Filmstar Bronze & Glow, $68).
If sparse, thin lashes are the bane of your existence, this simple hack will save you. Grab your cotton swab, dip it in a translucent powder, like W3ll People’s Bio Brightener Invisible Powder ($24), then sweep it across your lashes from root to tip. Apply mascara per usual, and you’ll notice an instant thickening effect.
In case you missed the memo: Korean women are lighting Q-tips on fire to curl their lashes. The most surprising part? It actually works. Click here to read our editor’s account of how she curled her lashes with fire (sort of).
Nothing is more annoying than the dreaded brow gap—the one that never seems to get filled in no matter how many times you sweep your brow powder over it. Luckily, there’s a simple makeup artist trick that will make this problem a thing of the past. Dip your finger in a cream concealer and pat it over the gap in your brows. Dip a Q-tip in a soft brow powder, like Vincent Longo’s Brow Kit Powder Pomade ($32), then sweep it over the gap. The powder will cling to the concealer and fill in any hair-less areas, and all you have to do is brush everything out with a spooly for a natural effect.
Not all of us have the steady hand required to apply the perfect, thin layer of lash glue required for flawless falsies. To make sure you don’t over-apply, squeeze a blob of lash glue on the back of your hand, then dip a Q-tip in it and use that to apply the glue to the edge of your strip lash. It’ll deliver just the right amount for lashes that stay in place, but aren’t noticeably glued to your eye.
Applying lipstick with a Q-tip is not only more sanitary (especially when sharing a lip color with your bestie), but will give any lipstick a matte effect. Use the edges to spread the formula evenly across your lips, then line your lips for a precise edge with the tip (think of it as a makeshift lip liner).
Have you tried any of these Q-tip hacks? Click here for 13 crazy awesome uses for Vaseline—another beauty staple.