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How to Apply Foundation, According to Pro Makeup Artists

Vogue Arabia, May 2019. Photo: Sharif Hamza

It’s safe to say foundation is one of the trickiest makeup products. For starters, there’s learning how to apply foundation correctly. Then you need to decide the best formula for your skin, along with shade-matching your perfect color.

You’ve undoubtedly watched all the TikToks and seen a bunch of methods, from brushes and blenders to outrageous trends. But if you still haven’t found the right application technique, you may be wondering how pro makeup artists do it on the daily. We’ve all admired the airbrushed, flawless complexions of celebrities, and while some of it may be Photoshop, it could also just be really great foundation.

But when you’ve tried to recreate the same magic, you’re getting streaky and splotchy instead of smooth and soft-focused. What gives? To get to the bottom of things, we asked two pro makeup artists, Nick Barose and Melissa Murdick, to let us in on their methods for applying foundation. Turns out, it’s not as tricky as people make it seem online.

“Applying foundation to give your complexion that healthy glow and even tone is less complicated than most tutorials make it seem,” says Barose, Armani Beauty makeup artist and longtime MUA for Lupita Nyong’o. “First of all, know that your face is not a wall, so you don’t need to apply foundation evenly everywhere. That’s when it’d look unnatural, heavy, and flat. Apply it only to where you need, and always be sure to avoid putting it over areas with lines, like smile lines, since that would bring them out even more.”

Ahead, Barose and Murdick share their definitive guide on how to apply foundation, along with the best products to use.

Skin prep is everything

Both Barose and Murdick insist that prepping the skin is a crucial step, so definitely don’t skip it. After all, it makes sense that foundation needs a strong base for seamless and long-lasting coverage.

“Skin prep is super important before foundation,” says Murdick, founder of The Pretty Fix and Selena Gomez’s longtime MUA. “The first thing I do is assess what each person’s skin needs. I will literally feel around their face to see if their skin feels dry or oily. From there, I typically clean their skin with a bit of toner and apply a moisturizer that will leave the skin balanced.”

Murdick recommends Embryolisse Lait Creme Concentre, Tatcha Dewy Skin Cream, and the Natura Bisse Diamond Gel Cream to get skin in top shape. “I want the skin to feel soft and supple, but not covered in a thick layer of product that hasn’t absorbed. I may apply a primer that is suited to their skin type. Oily folks will typically get a thin layer of Hourglass Veil Primer. Dry folks will typically get the Rare Beauty Illuminating Primer,” she says. Do not use more than a pea-sized amount of primer, since it will be too slippery and potentially cause streaks. Another great trick? “Spritz setting spray over your primer before you do foundation. This really helps everything stay put.”

Barose incorporates a relaxing massage into his skin prep. “I love to first massage a good moisturizer into the skin from face to neck,” he says. “Love Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream. Let it absorb for five minutes, then blot away excess with tissue. This helps prevent excess product from turning the foundation oily.” He also recommends using primer. “Be sure to use the right one for your skin, to keep skin from turning oily. I like La Base Pro Perfecting and Smoothing Makeup Primer from Lancôme to add extra glow. I love Armani Luminous Silk Primer. To smooth out pores and fine lines, I like Mally Beauty Face Defender.”

Start with a brush

The results are in: brushes over blenders. “My absolute favorite way to apply foundation is with a brush because it works the product into the skin so much better than a sponge and gives you more control,” says Murdick. “I love a dense brush like the Anisa Pinnacle foundation brush because it won’t leave any streaks.”

Barose also likes using a brush to save time. “I like to work fast, so using a foundation brush is quickest. My go-to is the Armani Beauty foundation brush. It’s not too big or too small, so you can cover the whole face in no time.”

Once the product is evenly distributed, use a blending sponge to soften and diffuse. “I love adding an extra step by using a damp blending sponge in medium size that’s not too big. I love the small ones from Reall Techniques. I gently pat the dampened sponge to blend and blur foundation out even more, especially jawlines and hairlines, so there are no obvious foundation lines. Also blend it in the undereye areas and smile lines. This extra step helps pick up excess product so it won’t crease.”

Less is more

If you have acne and scarring, you may be tempted to pile on the foundation. Step away from the bottle! “To apply, I never put the foundation straight onto the skin,” says Murdick. “I will either pump it onto a metal palette or the back of my hand so I can pick up a little at a time and control the coverage I am getting based on how much someone needs. If I still see discoloration on the cheeks, for example, I will sweep or pat on a bit extra just in that area. That way I add coverage only where it’s needed. This will lead you to much better results than going heavy all over.”

Use medium pressure and sweeping motions

To start, Murdick recommends applying right beneath your eyes and bringing the brush down and away from the center of your face. “Once I pick up some foundation on my brush, I start right beneath the hollow of the undereye and sweep straight down over the jawline,” she says. “I always move from the center of the face outward, using about medium pressure. This applies a nice thin layer all over the skin, so I can then assess which areas need more coverage.”

Once the product is distributed, change up your hand motions when sweeping product across your face to get even coverage. “I love applying it in every direction, so be sure to stroke your brush in different directions. This will give it a seamless blend and no streaks,” says Barose.

Wait before you set

After you’ve applied foundation, Barose recommends waiting for it to dry down and settle into skin before powdering. “This way you won’t need as much powder,” he says. “The goal is to use the least amount of powder possible, so don’t powder right away when it’s still moist. If you don’t need extra coverage, then a translucent invisible powder is great just to set and control shine. If you need more coverage, then a dual finish powder foundation compact like It Cosmetics CC Airbrush Powder Foundation is great to go over areas that need more coverage.”

Murdick turns to a combination of powder and setting spray, depending on the look she wants. “I either lean toward a great setting spray like Milani Make It Last, or a minimal amount of powder swept on with a nice powder brush.” She recommends using Laura Mercier Translucent Powder, Youngblood Mineral Rice Setting powder, and the BK Cosmetics Tapered Powder Brush. “I will sometimes combine the two—first applying powder and then setting spray to lock it all in and reduce the powdery-looking finish.”

If your face is looking dull and flat, there’s also an easy fix. “For some people, foundation can end up looking dull after, usually from not using enough moisturizer or because your skin is dry,” Barose says. “To bring back radiance, use a facial mist. I like Payot Refreshing Radiance Mist.”

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