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How To Apply Foundation Like A Makeup Artist + Find Your Next Holy Grail Product

Hannah Frye
Author:
December 27, 2022
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor
By Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
December 27, 2022
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Foundation is arguably one of the most personal items in the makeup bag. Depending on your skin type, coverage goals, and ideal finish, what foundation you swear by likely won't be the same as your neighbor's, best friend's, or family's. 

And while foundation can be a useful tool, it's important to remember this product is meant to make you feel better in your skin—not hide it completely or make you feel more insecure than before. 

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At the end of the day, foundation is simply personal, and for good reason. That being said, how you apply the product can make all the difference in how it turns out and thus, how confident you feel in your makeup. To follow, the best methods experts recommend and a few must-know tips. 

A step-by-step guide to applying foundation.

Unlike products like mascara, which have a fairly universal application process, foundation can be used in countless ways. Even if you take the same exact product, each method will reap a slightly different look. 

We're going to walk you through the basic steps professional makeup artists take and how to customize the process to fit your needs. And remember: As professional makeup artist Jenny Patinkin tells mbg, "I don't think there's any right or wrong way to apply foundation, as long as you are happy with the end result."

1.

Skin care prep. 

Whether you're going for full coverage or barely there makeup, skin care prep is an essential step. After cleansing your face, you should at least use a moisturizer before going in with any makeup products, Patinkin says. 

However, if you want to level up your pre-glam routine, here are a few products that might help you achieve even better results: 

  • A gentle exfoliating cleanser: If your skin has dry skin buildup or appears dull. 
  • Witch hazel toner: Helps balance oil on the skin—reserved for oily skin types only. 
  • Hyaluronic acid serum: Helps with bounce, hydration, and glow—shop here
  • Panthenol (vitamin B5): Helps calm sensitized or reactive skin
  • Face oil: Adds glow and holds moisture in the skin—shop here.
  • SPF: A must if you're going outside. 
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2.

Prime (optional).

While some people won't even let a tinted sunscreen hit their skin without primer, others prefer to skip this step entirely. How you decide to prime your skin is completely up to you and the finish you want. 

Some primers are formulated to help your makeup stay put, while others boost hydration, and some help mattify an oily complexion. Here's a quick list of the best ingredients to keep in mind for your goal:

  • For more supple skin: Hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and coconut water.
  • For oily skin types: Niacinamide, rosemary extract, green tea, licorice root, and agave.
  • For a dewy glow: Botanical oils, vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid.
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3.

Grab your ideal foundation.

Now that your skin is prepped and primed, it's time to select your foundation. There are six basic types of foundations, Patinkin says, and each one offers different results in terms of coverage. However, each product also varies with the finish—think dewy, matte, natural, etc. 

First, you want to know what finish you want, and then keep an eye out for the type of product that can help you achieve your coverage goals. In general, powder formulas will offer a mattifying effect, while liquid formulas can be dewy or matte. 

Here's a quick breakdown to keep in mind: 

  • Tinted serum or tinted SPF: Light coverage.
  • Loose powder: Light coverage.
  • Pressed cream or powder: Buildable coverage; medium to full. 
  • Cream foundation: Buildable coverage; medium to full.
  • Liquid: Buildable coverage; medium to full. 
  • Stick: Full coverage. 
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If you have combination skin (i.e., get oily in the T-zone and dry in other places), then you might consider using two different types of foundation. For example, you can go over the dry spots of your face with a tinted SPF or liquid foundation and use a pressed powder on your T-zone to minimize shine. 

The most popular of the bunch for everyday wear is liquid foundation. "Liquid has a lot of versatility," celebrity and editorial makeup artist Delina Medhin tells mbg. "You can make it really thin so it's almost like a tinted moisturizer," she adds. 

If you don't love the idea of wearing liquid foundation every day but enjoy a bit more coverage, concealer can work wonders while feeling a bit lighter on the skin—more on that to come. 

Pro tip

"Remember that oil and water don't mix. So, if you are using a water-based foundation on top of an oil-based primer, you might not get the smoothest application," Patinkin says. Here's a quick way to check your product's compatibility if you're curious.
4.

Apply your base layer.

From brushes to sponges to the low-lift finger-painting technique, there's more than one way to get your foundation from the bottle to your skin. As a general guideline, "If you want a lot of coverage, I think putting the foundation directly on the face is helpful, but if you want light or medium coverage, I think putting your foundation on your hand first and picking it up with a brush is the way to go," Medhin says. 

So, if you're using a product like a tinted SPF but you want it to mask as more coverage, apply it straight to the skin. If you're using a full-coverage foundation but want to nail a no-makeup makeup look, then apply the product to a blending tool first. 

When you start, you'll want to begin with a thin layer. This will help even out your skin tone and gauge how much more coverage you need and in what areas. Try to keep the foundation out of the eyebrows and the under eyes (the latter if you plan on using concealer after). 

Whether you're looking for a matte or dewy finish, the less product you can have on the skin, the better. Remember: It's always better to start out small and apply more if you need it rather than have to start over because you applied more than you fancy. 

Pro tip

"Be careful about placing foundation under the eyes. Foundations can be more slippery, so it can crease more and can age you in areas under the eyes where it can make lines more prominent," Medhin says.
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5.

Do additional passes if needed.

Let your makeup set for a minute or two and see how you feel. "I think that's always super helpful because a lot of foundations will oxidize and/or self-set," Medhin says. Translation: The color and finish may look different after a minute or two. 

If there are certain areas that you want to go over again, then add a bit more foundation to your tool or use your hands to blend it in. For example, you may want to build more coverage around the nose if that area gets red, or on the cheeks if you deal with hyperpigmentation. Adding another layer of foundation isn't necessary by any means, but if you feel it will make you feel better about your skin, it can certainly help.

6.

Go in with concealer. 

As a general rule, applying concealer after foundation will help you avoid a cakey finish. See, if you apply concealer before your foundation, you'll end up wiping the product around and then needing to go in again afterward. 

For covering breakouts, you may opt for concealer instead. So, don't worry if your acne is coming through your foundation base, as concealer formulas tend to be higher coverage and easier to use for masking breakouts. 

How you apply concealer and where you choose to conceal is up to you. However, that's a whole other topic—so check out this guide for more details

Pro tip

For concealing zits, let your concealer sit for a few minutes before blending it in. After blending (use a light tap with a small brush or fingers for best results) dab a tiny bit of setting powder on the concealer. This is key to all-day, natural-looking coverage. 
7.

Set. 

You don't have to use a setting powder for everyday makeup if you don't want to. Depending on the finish you want, you can decide to use setting powder or setting spray. If you're prone to under-eye creasing or slippery makeup, then powder might be for you. 

"It's also helpful to remember that powder products blend better on top of powder and cream products work best with other cream products," Patinkin adds. 

How to find a foundation for you.

As we mentioned, foundation is personal. Given the massive amount of foundations on the market, it's not always easy to find one that works for you in the first place. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Skin tone: While there is certainly room for improvement, the beauty space has become more inclusive than it was a few years ago, especially in terms of shade range. Shop brands that offer a wide range of shades—both for your own benefit and to support this standard. 
  • Skin type: Skin type matters, too. As mentioned above, keep an eye out for the finish of the product. If you have oily skin, then a super-dewy finish might not fit your fancy. On the flip side, dry skin types might want to stay away from mattifying formulas, etc. 
  • Undertone: Get to know your skin's undertones. This will help you determine whether warm, cool, or neutral shades are the best for you. Once you know this, then you can select depth, finish, etc. Here's a helpful undertone quiz to get you started
  • Texture preference: Experiment with different textures (cream, powder, liquid, etc.) to find your favorite. 
  • Finish: Again, the finish matters. Most foundations will explicitly say what finish they have—from dewy to matte to neutral, etc. 
  • Coverage: There are plenty of foundations out there perfect for a barely there look, including tinted SPF. If you want a foundation that's full coverage, your best bet is liquid, cream, and stick formulas. 
  • Acne: If you're acne-prone, you'll want to be extra careful when picking a foundation. While not all comedogenic ingredients will break out every person, it's better to be safe than sorry. You can run the full ingredient list of your foundation (found online) through this pore-clogging ingredients checker from Acne Clinic NYC. 

Foundation tips.

Over the years of reporting on makeup and interviewing countless experts, we've collected a lengthy list of foundation tips at mbg. Here are a few of our favorites for even more guidance to help you set up your base like a pro: 

  • Combine a tinted SPF with your foundation for a natural finish that looks like a second skin—read more about that here
  • Apply your foundation at the same time as your blush and contour for seamless blending. This is also known as underpainting—read more here
  • Mix your foundation with a few drops of a humectant polyglutamic acid (PGA) serum for a boost in hydration and smooth application—read more here
  • Never mix oil-based products with silicone or water-based products unless you want pilling—read more here.
  • Apply your makeup in reverse order for a barely there look—read more here
  • Always clean your makeup tools including brushes and sponges—here's why.

The takeaway. 

At the end of the day, how you apply foundation comes down to personal preference. If you take time selecting your foundation to match your coverage goals, skin type, and undertone, any method will suffice—be it using hands, brushes, sponges, etc. Ready to shop? Here's a curated list of our top 13 clean foundations to get you started. 

Hannah Frye
Hannah Frye
mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.